November 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

Ballena Blanca reflects the sunset at our housesit in Tucson.

We spent all of the month of November in the Tucson, AZ area and the majority of that time was spent house sitting – living in a real house with real running water, real heat, a real oven, real rooms, and all the other real conveniences of living in a structure that stays in one place all the time.

We have now been on the road full-time for 13 months. We usually have a break from living in Ballena Blanca during the summer when we return to Cabbagetown to house sit and earn money. Our summers have also been a time to regroup, making improvements to and cleaning Ballena Blanca. Since we continued to travel this past summer we missed this regrouping. So when our friends Julie and Jason asked us if we wanted to house sit their cat, Friday, in Tucson for a couple of weeks there was no hesitation, we said yes right away.

Honestly, I thought we’d spend our time during our house sit doing some of our normal stuff, taking walks in the morning and exploring a bit of Tucson as well as enjoying just hanging out at our friends’ house looking for birds in their backyard and cuddling with Friday. But that’s not how it worked out.

We emptied the van. We refinished the floors and the countertops. We washed all of our bedding. Aired out our mattress. Resewed some pillow shams. Defrosted and cleaned the refrigerator inside and out. Cleaned every single object we own that has a surface. Scrubbed out, repainted, and refurbished our composting toilet. Cleaned the inside of Ballena Blanca. Washed and waxed the outside of Ballena Blanca. Took her for an oil change and had work done on her brakes. There were also various other little repairs, sorting and culling of things, and then putting everything back together.

We did manage to have a little fun in November, though. We had a small socially distant party with our Tucson friends before they left on vacation. Greg got to visit his grandson who was visiting his other grandparents in Phoenix over Thanksgiving week. And at the end of our house sit we went off into the desert to hang out with and celebrate a birthday and a book launch with other traveling friends.

Our charge for 17 days, Friday.

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 high-speed 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.
Every first Saturday in November there is a festival in Cabbagetown (the little neighborhood where we used to live in Atlanta) called Chomp and Stomp. The neighborhood closes down the streets, sets up music stages, invites craft vendors, beer and food sellers. The “Stomp” (music) is all local and Americana harkening back to the roots of the neighborhood, a mill village originally populated by people from Appalachia and rural Georgia. The Chomp of the festival is a chili cookoff. This year, because of the pandemic, the festival was virtual so we decided we could celebrate in Tucson. Here, I am getting ready to make my Chomp Chili.

And our total expenses for November were…


Here is the breakdown of categories…

Expenses November 2020
Gas $76.80
Insurance/Registration $245.07
Maintenance $89.09
Repairs $432.85
Van Total $843.81
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $63.52
Utilities $3.75
Camping $0.00
Household $8.70
Laundry $0.00
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $0.00
Van Life Total $75.97
Phone $78.72
Mail Service $0.00
Communication Total $78.72
Food $266.16
Booze $95.57
Cleaning/Paper Products $7.59
Medicine Cabinet $7.82
Consumables Total $377.14
Drinks/Eating Out $79.71
Museums/Attractions/Music $0.00
Entertainment Total $79.71
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $0.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $0.00
Clothes $44.00
Gifts/Charity $0.00
Gear $63.78
Personal Total $107.78
*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.
Another reason to celebrate in Tucson was that many ex-Cabbagetowners now live in Tucson. Our friends Julie and Jason (to the right of Greg) whose house and cat we were sitting moved from Cabbagetown about 3 years ago. And then coincidently one of their friends, John (to the left of Greg along with his partner, Sarah), who used to rent an apartment from them in Cabbagetown moved to Tucson shortly after they did. So we got together wrote a song about our beloved neighborhood and made a video to share with all our friends back east.

Here is our little video:

Chomp and Stomp festivities usually start with a 5K run called Romp and Stomp. Greg, Julie, and I did a 5+K walk along the Rillito River in Tucson on Chomp morning.
Pearl tagged along too!

Again it wasn’t a bad month considering we had quite a few extra van expenses. Most of those extra expenses were for Ballena Blanca. Her biannual vehicle registration was due. She had an oil change and tire rotation. She needed some repairs done to her brakes. But the most unexpected extra expense was what we are calling her “$260 wax job.”

Perhaps you are thinking she must be really extra shiny! But no. The wax was $10, the labor free, but replacing the driver’s side mirror when the waxer and his ladder fell on top of it was $250. Luckily the waxer (Greg) wasn’t hurt and our insurance covered the repair minus a $250 deductible.

Greg’s grandson Gabriel has grandparents that live in Phoenix. Gabe and his parents flew out for the Thanksgiving holiday week. Greg took a day off from housesitting and van projects to drive up to see them while I stay in Tucson to wrap things up at the house sit and look after Friday. (Orange sticky-note pad is for writing down observations.)
They met at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden. Chris (Greg’s son-in-law), Jessica (Greg’s daughter), and Gabriel. It was a great opportunity to catch up with them since we decided to not go back east this fall.
It’s all good with Gabe. After the gardens, Greg took everyone out to lunch.

A few stats you might be interested in

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

7 – nights in a vacant lot owned by friends
17 – nights house sitting
6 – nights boondocking in a BLM National Monument

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 25 (since we spend 2 1/2 weeks house sitting we used little water in Ballena Blanca)

Number of miles driven: 582 (this makes our November gas cost about 13¢ per mile)

We like to keep track of the value we have gotten out of our $80 National Park pass that we bought in May 2020. So far we have visited 12 national park sites, a BLM site, and a National Forest site on our pass, a $348 value bringing our savings up to $268 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:

Far Out Ride
Roaming About
Just Call Us Nomads

*All pics are click to enlarge.

After our housesit, we drove out into the desert with some other traveling couples to celebrate Thanksgiving, a birthday, and the book launch of Plunge, a memoir of my friend from Roaming About, Liesbet, sailing years. We watched a beautiful full moon rise from where we were boondocked in the Ironwood Forest National Monument.
There was a pretty spectacular sunset too.

6 thoughts on “November 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. Wow you were productive while at your pet sit. Funny I like to wash my car when I do that too. Great job getting the van all clean inside and out, that is a BIG JOB. But ouchie with the wax job. Glad you got to hang out with some friends from Cabbagetown, I loved hearing all your stories from there. I’m sure that chilli was tasty and awesome Greg got to visit with grandson and family. Big hug to you both. :*

    1. Hugs back to you too! I think everyone enjoyed the chili. If you like chili next time I see you I will have to make some – and some grilled non-pimento cheese sandwiches to go with! We were really productive! It was so good to get this stuff checked off our list.

  2. What an amazing shot of the full moon and all of our campers, Duwan! Once we had Zesty and combined house sitting with road tripping, we would use our house sits to clean the entire van, fix issues (houses have garages with lots of tools and amenities), wash every item, and the like. Each time you think you’ll get to relax some and actually enjoy the comforts of a house, you immediately start thinking about to pros of the situation to get work done and do that! 🙂 Not a bad month, based on the high camper expenses.

    1. Thanks! It was amazing to have such a spectacular moon for a great weekend of celebrating. Yes, not too bad of a month. We will see how December goes with more celebrating and the trip to the dentist.

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