October 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

The sunsets on Ballena Blanca in the North Fruita Desert in Colorado.

Our main motivation for traveling in October was keeping warm. We got waylaid in Rapid City, South Dakota waiting for some merchandise I ordered through Lowes to arrive. When we finally got on the road again the cold started closing in. We had been talking about going to Dinosaur National Monument for years but the temperatures were always dipping down when we were in the area. The weather channel told us that soon it would once again be too cold for our comfort level. We decide to skip most of the things we had planned to do in South Dakota and make tracks to the monument.

Once at Dinosaur we only had five days before the cold arrived so as soon as it looked chilly we made another move south to lower elevation in the Grand Junction area of Colorado. Although we had passed through Grand Junction before I had no idea how much the area had to offer. We spent a week catching up on things – blogs, laundry, shopping, and a week touring around. But before we were done with all our sight-seeing more bad weather threatened. This time it was going to be bitter cold – in the teens at night and hovering around freezing during the day.

I had thought we would take a leisurely pace back to the southwest but the bad weather was coming up fast behind us and would be following our path straight south. We packed up, spent a long travel day getting to Page, Arizona, took a day off to find some interesting birds, then drove another long day to Tucson, Arizona the following day.

Which is where we are now – parked in a vacant lot owned by friends adjacent to their house. We have spent many months here before. It is a little like coming home. And soon we will be living in an actual house home – moving into our friends’ cute casita to take care of their cat, Friday, while they head back east for a few weeks to visit friends and family.

For over two weeks we will have showers every day, a real oven to bake in, unlimited water, heat, more than one room to sit in, unlimited internet, and a very independent but sweet cat to hang out with while we plot and plan on how we will stay warm this winter.

Dispersed camping spot in the Black Hills National Forest on our way to Hot Springs, SD.

Notes about us, some of our expenses, and our rig:

  • All expenses are in US dollars.
  • We drive a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van that we upfitted ourselves to live in. Currently, the van gets about 17 miles to the gallon.
  • Our van is registered in Florida as a standard cargo van. Our van insurance is through USAA.
  • We are vegetarians and we cook – eating little packed or prepared food.
  • We get our health insurance through the ACA exchange in Florida. Our insurance is very basic and is mostly good only in Florida where we are residents, but hardly ever visit. Our costs for health insurance are one of the few things we don’t include in this report.
  • Our phone plan is with Google Fi. We pay a monthly fee of $70 plus tax which gives us unlimited calling and text and up to 22 gigs of highspeed internet, after which it slows down. Our data plan works internationally with no extra cost. With Google Fi we can make phone calls over wifi from our phone, tablet, or computer. The plan provides an extra sim card for our table at no extra cost. At any time we can switch to a metered plan which costs $20 a month for phone and text and $10 for each gig of data we use.
  • We receive our mail through St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, Florida. We pay $11.99 per month for the basic service plus an extra $7.99 to have the envelopes scanned and small additional fees to have the envelopes opened and the contents scanned. There are additional charges if we want anything sent to us on the road. We keep $100 in an account with the service. When this runs low they charge us for another $100.
  • Our dentist is in Los Algodones, Mexico. If you would like to read more about our experience with our Mexican dentist, click here.
There were 4 free campsites with picnic tables and fire rings at the Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area in Nebraska as well as an open field for overflow.

And our total expenses for October were…


Here is the break down of categories…

Expenses October 2020
Gas $375.99
Insurance/Registration $98.09
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $254.95
Van Total $729.03
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $5.25
Utilities $12.10
Camping $0.00
Household $13.29
Laundry $7.75
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $10.00
Van Life Total $48.39
Phone $78.22
Mail Service $100.00
Communication Total $178.22
Food $290.16
Booze $55.34
Cleaning/Paper Products $21.27
Medicine Cabinet $13.15
Consumables Total $379.92
Drinks/Eating Out $0.00
Museums/Attractions/Music $64.26
Entertainment Total $64.26
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $0.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $0.00
Clothes $0.00
Gifts/Charity $32.41
Gear $40.34
Personal Total $72.75
*Utilities include our water, propane for the stove and heater, and items that are required to run our composting toilet.
*Gear is anything we think we need but probably don’t. These are the things that make our life more fun, interesting, keep us entertained and informed. Our NY Times subscription goes here. As well as expenses for hobbies, computer devices, books, kayaks, bikes, etc. These are the things that make us not quite minimalist.
Our spot at the Kiowa State Wildlife Management Area. I had read that you are allowed to camp overnight at any Nebraska WMA but in the morning we had a police officer knock on the van and tell us that we weren’t in a safe place. We let him know that we were moving on shortly.
Dugway Campground was a free BLM campsite in Wyoming. There are 5 campsites. It was right on the river in a very nice location. We could have spent more time there but we were hot to get to Dinosaur before it got cold.

So it wasn’t a bad month even though we had a few surprise/unusual expenses. While we were in Rapid City a set of car keys got lost. After we each separately retraced our steps in the area where they could have disappeared we gave up. I had heard that replacing a car fob was expensive. And it is. Our new key cost $254.95! There are cheaper online options besides getting a new fob from a dealer but ordering anything online means more waiting (which we had already done too much of in Rapid City). In my brief search there also seemed to be multiple steps involved – get the fob and then find someone to cut the key. There was also the fear that we might get a fob that didn’t work and we would have to spend even more time dealing with it. In the end, getting a new key from a dealer was quicker and we felt good that if there was a problem that we could get it fixed immediately.

BTW – the new car keys live on a string tied to a carabiner that is attached to a belt loop at all times.

Another expense that seems to keep popping up too often is our mail service. At the bare minimum, our service should cost us about $20 a month ($240 a year – see “Notes about us, some of our expenses, and our rig” for more info on our mail service). But with another $100 charged to our account in October, we are already up to $419 this year. This is mainly because we have spent a lot of money getting things mailed to us General Delivery. Since we are always on the move we have everything sent 1 to 2 days express mail. It’s expensive. But mostly we are having important things sent like checks, credit cards, and so incredibly important this year – our absentee ballots for the election.

Dispersed camping right outside of Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. We had to drive through the monument to get to this spot which was right on the monument boundary. My camping app indicated it was on BLM land but I think it may have been state land. Whichever no one bothered us and the view was spectacular!
Dinosaur NM is a big one that spans two states, Utah and Colorado. After 3 nights in the Utah part of the monument, we found another boondocking site in the Colorado part of the monument.

A few stats you might be interested in

Camping totals (all camping is free unless otherwise indicated):

1– night in a Cabella’s Parking lot
– night dispersed camping in a National Forest
2 – nights at Nebraska Wildlife Management Areas
1 – night at a BLM campsite
8 – nights boondocking on BLM Land
10 – nights in a designated BLM campsite
2 – nights at a Walmart
6 – nights in a vacant lot owned by friends

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 33

Number of miles driven: 2510 (this makes our October gas cost about 15¢ per mile)

We like to keep track of the value we have gotten out of our $80 National Park pass that we bought it in May 2020. So far we have visited 12 national park sites and a BLM site with our pass, a $340 value bringing our savings up to $260 savings so far!

To see all of our expense reports, click here.

If you are interested in reading other expense reports from people living on the road, check out these links:

Roaming About
Far Out Ride
Just Call Us Nomads

*All pics are click to enlarge.

There were lots of different free BLM camping options in the Rabbit Valley portion of the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area in Colorado. We ended spending 10 nights at a designated dispersed site. There was a limit of 7 days for camping here so we left for 3 days and returned for another 3. We never saw a ranger and no one asked us to leave.
Sunset in Rabbit Valley.
Inbetween our stints in Rabbit Valley we moved to some different BLM land the North Fruita Desert not far from McInnis Canyon. The view was pretty nice but the road to get to our site was long and bumpy.
Beautiful skies and mountains in the North Fruita Desert.
Greg waits while I take pictures in the Colorado National Monument.
Mailing in our election ballots from a post office in Jensen, Utah.

8 thoughts on “October 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

    1. Thanks Craig! We are looking forward to being in one place for a bit. I hope to take some time to learn a little more about my camera and do some Tucson birding!

  1. So glad you were able to vote! Such a wild election.

    Over half your expenses are the van–no surprise. 20% ish is food. Being vegetarians, do you gather from the land? Cook or eat those foods? And I was wondering about the phone. I have a separate line through Google Voice that’s free–phone calls but probably no texting. That probably wouldn’t work for you…

    Interesting post!

    1. The key fob really pushed the van expenses up and that we drive all the way from South Dakota to southern Arizona last month.

      No we don’t do any foraging. It would be interesting to learn about mushroom foraging but I don’t have time to pursue many of the other things I’m interested in already.

      Our phone plan may be a little expensive but it gives us 22 gigs of data and works at no extra cost when we go to Mexico. Maybe someday I will find time to research a new plan.

      So glad we were able to vote. It would have been devastating if we weren’t able to support our candidate.

  2. Not a bad month, despite the extra expenses. Mark and I only have one key fob and the spare key is just that, a key. We keep it in the built-in safe of our camper. Not a good spot, Per se…

    This might have been a solution for you (having one fob, not the safe remark), since only the driver really needs the fob? Wow, that mail service is expensive. Maybe it’s time to engage a family member or friend again? 🙂

    Concerning the express delivery of items, maybe you can have the mail service send you stuff to a spot further afield? We always order everything general delivery now (after confirming the seller ships the item via USPS) and work around that. So far, we never had to wait around for anything, as the post office usually holds items for up to two weeks.

    Enjoy your time being settled. I was jealous reading those first lines of your blog about the luxuries of a house/casita. So nice you get to spend more time with Friday. Enjoy Tucson!

    1. A safe is actually a good idea and I hope to put something like that in our next rig.

      I like having my own fob – that way we always have a spare if it is lost but we probably should have a spare that is just a key.

      We may be dumping the mail service. Besides the expense we are rarely in Floriday anymore but because we have residency there Florida is where we have to see doctors and vote. Some friends have offered to let us have our mail sent to them and we might take them up on it.

      I think next time we have something sent to us we will have it sent the cheapest way we can have it tracked. This may be more time waiting but usually we have time. This is the first year we have used General Delivery and we are learning!

      We are loving the daily showers and Friday is a dear.

    1. Thanks Veronica! There are always surprises – so I guess they shouldn’t be too surprising.

      Happy day to you too!

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