December 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

Walking along the road at Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest with our friends Mark, Liesbet, and Maya the dog.

December found us spending lots of time with our nomadic pod. The month before we had hooked up with these friends, 2 other traveling couples, for a Thanksgiving/Birthday/book launch celebration in the desert outside of Tucson, AZ. After the festivities, we all eventually went our separate ways but made plans to reunite for Christmas and New Years’. For the most part, since we have started traveling, we haven’t celebrated the holidays unless something special is going on like last year’s Christmas Bonfires on the Mississippi River, staying up to midnight and eating grapes on New Year’s Eve with our friend Wayne in Mexico 2019, and Christmas at Lorraine’s impromptu potluck in the Bahamas way back in 2013. Perhaps this year due to the pandemic it would have been just as well to be nowhere with nothing special going on for the month of December. But then there was our pod, our little pandemic bubble of nomads. And as a group, we like any excuse to make a pitcher of margaritas.

We returned to Tucson on the first of December and spent some more time camped out in our friends’ vacant lot in front of their house. Thanks again, Julie and Jason! Not only did we have plans to celebrate Christmas with our friends we also decided after nine years of traveling and pinching our pennies that we could afford to buy Christmas gifts for our family. We wanted to support small businesses that had been hit so hard by the pandemic so we shopped at a couple of open-air markets and bought handcrafted gifts with a southwestern flavor for Greg’s family and my niece and her boyfriend.

During the second week of December, we took off again with 1/3 of the pod for a short tour of southern Arizona before meeting up with the whole gang again for Christmas in the desert around Ajo, AZ, then moving with the whole group to a hot spring in California to bring in the New Year.

Camper vans Ballena Blanca and Zesty. Our first campsite on our tour of Southern Arizona with our friends was at Madera Canyon in the Coronado National Forest. We snagged one of the free 10 designated campsites and spent a couple of days hiking the canyon and the Santa Rita Mountains.

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.
Greg and Duwan on the Old Baldy trail with Old Baldy/Mount Wrightson in the background.

And our total expenses for December were…


Here is the breakdown of categories…

Expenses December 2020
Gas $167.00
Insurance/Registration $96.62
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $0.00
Van Total $263.62
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $0.00
Utilities $14.89
Camping $0.00
Household $0.00
Laundry $10.00
Showers $1.50
Tolls/Parking $0.00
Van Life Total $26.39
Phone $78.72
Mail Service $0.00
Communication Total $78.72
Food $397.00
Booze $165.20
Cleaning/Paper Products $10.85
Medicine Cabinet $29.26
Consumables Total $602.31
Drinks/Eating Out $115.75
Museums/Attractions/Music $28.32
Entertainment Total $144.07
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $0.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $0.00
Clothes $12.73
Gifts/Charity $464.29
Gear 100.29
Personal Total $577.31
*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.
Zesty and Ballena Blanca. Free camping at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area in Arizona.
We saw these pronghorns on our morning walk before we left Las Cienegas.

I think our numbers look pretty good this month considering the $464 expense on gifts (which includes postage to mail the packages). We spent a little extra on food but doesn’t everyone during the holidays? Our Drinks/Eating Out category total was the biggest it has been since February. We got carry out once with a friend in Tucson and had a socially distanced meal in her back yard and we ate and drank out al fresco with our traveling friends a couple of times during our Southern, AZ tour.  Included in our Gear total were some new ankle weights for Greg (he has been very dedicated to staying in shape) and a renewal of our Boondocker’s Welcome subscription which allows us access to a network of other traveling folks who offer up their driveways and land for free overnight stays.

For a year full of the unexpected, our December had no real surprises. We got to spend it making the most of what we had – good friends and a love being in new places.

We spent one night in this Bisbee, AZ parking lot on our Southern, AZ tour.
Ballena Blanca and Zesty at a free camping spot at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.
Dispersed camping site outside of Tombstone, AZ.
The gang hanging out at our campsite outside of Tombstone.

A few stats you might be interested in

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

14 – nights in a vacant lot owned by friends
3 – nights in a National Forest
1 – night at a BLM National Conservation Area
1 – night in a city parking lot
3 – nights at a State Wildlife Area
9 – nights on BLM land

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 31

Number of miles driven: 1090 (this makes our December 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 in May 2020. So far we have visited 14 national park sites, a BLM site, and 2 National Forest sites on our pass, a $421 value bringing our savings up to $341 savings so far!

To see all of our expense reports, click here.

If you are interested in reading other expense reports from nomads who really know how to live cheaply while still having a good time, check out the blog from our friends who live in Zesty at Roaming About.

*All pics are click to enlarge.

And the pod reunites. Scamper, Zesty, and Ballena Blanca at a BLM boondocking site outside of Ajo on Christmas Eve.
Santa found us in the desert! Who told Santa where we were?
Maya keeps Greg company while he cleans up the Christmas dinner cooking pot and pans.
Christmas dinner in the desert. We didn’t have to go out for Asian food, we made our own! Spring rolls, sushi, and curry.
At our camping spot. Mark, Liesbet, Maya, Duwan, Greg, and Ellen in front of Locomotive Rock in Ajo, AZ. Photo by Scott.
From Ajo, we headed west. After a day of shopping in Yuma, AZ we spent the night at the BLM American Girl Mine area in the California desert before continuing on to our New Year’s Eve location further west the next day.
Free BLM camping spot at Five Palm Hot Springs in California.
Greg and Mark play backgammon on New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve van pizza dinner and Limoncello shots!

8 thoughts on “December 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. So many things to comment on, Duwan. First, I spend a whole lot less on gas than you do and a lot more on maintenance (figure that out). I love the natural eating. I don’t like packaged food either and am inordinately annoyed a ‘green’ folks who throw all that packaging in the trash. I love that some of you wear masks, some not (it’s your pod, after all) and everyone is cool with that.

    Keep these posts comin!

    1. Hey Jacqui! We usually don’t wear masks when the pod is together but do always have our masks ready when we are out hiking and put them on whenever we see another hiker. I think we had just came back from a hike when that pic was taken and some of us just put our masks on for the picture.

      I hate how much packaging comes with food. It is hard to recycle in the van although we do whenever we can. We have become really conscious of how much trash we make living in such a small space.

      I hate it you have do much car maintenance. I guess we are lucky that we don’t have more than we do!

  2. Happy new year from Apres Ski. Sounds like the nomad life is agreeing with you. Have to say though that the figure for booze seems awfully low!!
    We most likely will be staying in Jensen for the winter, if you get this way lets go sailing.

    1. So good to hear from you! We’d so love to go sailing but it doesn’t look like we will be anywhere near Florida for a while. Hopefully, we will be in your area in the Northeast at the end of the summer or early fall. Would love to see you and Chris! We will try and bump up the booze expense then, for sure!

  3. I just love seeing all these photos of us having a good time! Now that I posted our own expense report, I can relate to some of your higher costs, like groceries and gifts. So far, I’ve singled out the photos of just Zesty being camped, but I’m looking forward to writing and posting more about our pod and our grand tour of Arizona in a future blog post. Phew, that parking spot in Bisbee looks unlevel. Good for one night. 🙂

    You had a very good expense month, considering it was December. Soon, it’s time for our yearly reports, right? Thank you for the lunch treat in Tubac!

    1. I was surprised reading your expenses report that you had similar higher costs. But we had a good time didn’t we.

      That spot in Bisbee was a bit unlevel but we have stayed in more unlevel places. It was worth it to have an evening in town.

      Yearly reports! Got to get on that. Lots of pie charts and bar graphs for mine. We now have 3 years of tracking to compare. It should be interesting.

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