January 2021 Cost of Being a Nomad

Boondocking (free camping) at the American Girl Mine area in California. We stayed here for two weeks with two other couples.

We finally made it back to the dentist in January. Last February we rushed from Texas to our dentist, Dr. Bernal, in Los Algodones, Mexico because Greg had lost a crown (and a bit of tooth with it). The dentist pulled the tooth and put an implant in its place. The implant needed at least 6 months before the cap could be put on it so we went on our way doing what we do. This past summer we met up with nomad friends who also needed to go to the dentist. And while we were all hanging out we heard from another traveling friend who needed dental work too! So we made a plan to visit the dentist together once we were all in the Southwest in November.

But first, we had a few parties. We ended up hanging out with our friends for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years’. And when all the partying was done we finally planted ourselves in the California desert while we traveled back and forth across the border getting lots of teeth fixed.

But we are a fun group. And every trip to the dentist had some adventure. We ate street tacos, sampled Mexican pastries, and drank a few beers. Honestly, I doubt anyone has ever had so much fun going to the dentist as we had in Los Algodones.

Our spot at American Girl Mine wasn’t the prettiest spot but it was free and not too far from the dentist in Los Algodones and just a little bit farther from Yuma, AZ where we could get groceries, do laundry, etc.

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 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.
Sunset at American Girl Mine.

And our total expenses for December were…


Here is the breakdown of categories…

Expenses December 2020
Gas $26.93
Insurance/Registration $96.62
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $0.00
Van Total $123.55
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $0.00
Utilities $28.91
Camping $0.00
Household $131.16
Laundry $10.00
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $3.00
Van Life Total $173.07
Phone $78.87
Mail Service $0.00
Communication Total $78.87
Food $243.08
Booze $119.92
Cleaning/Paper Products $19.07
Medicine Cabinet $39.21
Consumables Total $421.28
Drinks/Eating Out $32.73
Museums/Attractions/Music $5.00
Entertainment Total $37.73
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $3.25
Dentist $500.00
Health Total $503.25
Clothes $0.00
Gifts/Charity $157.18
Gear $407.90
Personal Total $565.08
*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.


The moon, the stars, and Ballena Blanca at American Girl Mine.
While we were at American Girl we had a laundry and shopping day in Yuma. A friend was camping at the nearby Fortuna Pond. We decided to pay her a visit and spend the night before heading back to the California desert.

Our expenses were a bit high. The $500 dental bill explains part of it. We spent over $150 on DVD series for my mother-in-law. She has found it hard to read lately and with the isolation of the pandemic, she has been spending a lot of time with the one DVD series she owns – ‘Downton Abbey’ – watching it from start to finish multiple times. Since we can’t be there to entertain her in person – we sent her a couple of other British families to keep her company, ‘Monarch on the Glen’ and the ‘Downton Abbey’ of the 70s, ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’.

And then there are a few new things we bought for the van (household). A new blanket (because it has been so freaking cold!!) and a propane tank and hose for our little Buddy Heater. We usually refill the non-refillable 1lb propane tanks to use with our heater but after a friend posted an article about how unsafe it is to refill the non-refillables I started to look into alternatives. We ended up with a small 5lb propane tank that hooks up to the heater with a hose. I’m hoping the new tank will last longer, I like that we can get it filled wherever we get our big tank for our stove filled, and because we got rid of the 1lb tanks the space that the new tank takes up has simply been displaced.

And finally, the other big expense of the month was Gear. And the big expense in Gear was a movie projector. I had been thinking about a projector for a while and it seemed like it would be fun when we were hanging out with all of our friends – especially when the weather started turning nice in the evening. So I ordered one. It arrived the day that the gang all went their separate ways.

At the dentist’s office in Los Algodones. They were taking the pandemic very seriously. When you entered the office there was a mat to wipe your feet, you were sprayed with some kind of disinfectant, your temperature was taken, and then you were given sanitizer for your hands.
Cake at the dentist! This is the 4th time we have been to our dentist and have been given food. Twice before it was dental assistant appreciation week and I got cake two days in a row. A couple of years ago we went on Thanksgiving and were offered to make a plate from potluck dishes before they closed the doors and celebrated. And this day was Three Kings Day, a holiday celebrating the three wise men’s homage to the baby Jesus. Juan, the office manager offered us a slice of King Cake and a cup of Champurrado, Mexican hot chocolate made with corn masa.
We brought our friends from Scamper Squad with us on our first trip to the dentist. Afterward we went out to eat. They were taking things pretty seriously at the restaurant we settled on.
Drinking Mexican beer in Mexico!
On our next trip to the dentist, we ate lunch from street vendors. Mark orders fish tacos from everyone’s favorite fish taco stand. Notice the molars on the pillar behind Mark – Los Algodones is a dental town.
Maya, Liesbet, and Greg. Maya says I like street food too!
Liesbet picks out a Mexican pastry.
To get to Los Algodones you drive to the border, park, and walk across to Mexico. No passport check or customs stop. Getting back to the US is not quite as easy. There is a long line to get through customs. Venders work the line for all your last-minute impulse buys before you checkout of the country. Since the pandemic, the border closes at 3 pm MST. If you are not through the gate to the US at 3, you spend the night in Mexico.

A few stats you might be interested in

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

8 – nights at a State Wildlife Area
23 – nights on BLM land

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 25. I realize that this is a very small number. Perhaps it is because we filled up right before the beginning of the month and right after the end. Or maybe because it hasn’t been hot and we have been drinking less. Or maybe I have missed writing something down. Maybe Greg is just that good of a dishwasher! But honest, we aren’t dehydrated and we wash up every day, I promise!

Number of miles driven: 318

Number of times we kayaked: 1. This brings our kayak expense down to $21 per use. A lot cheaper than renting a kayak and because it is inflatable it fits in the van!

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 Mark, Liesbet, and Maya at Roaming About.

*All pics are click to enlarge.

Another unusual expense in January was for a $5.50 bottle of peanut oil. We have been told that peanut oil makes the best popcorn. So Greg decided to put it to a test. He popped 3 batches of popcorn with 3 different oils – olive, canola, and peanut and we did a blind tasting. Each couple got a bag labeled one, two, or three made with the different oils. Which do you think won?
Mark must be tasting the olive oil popcorn. It came in last. Number two was canola oil. And number one was peanut oil!
So sad that the projector didn’t arrive before everyone parted ways. We could have spent less time staring off into the distance looking at all this silly beauty.
Free Camping at Mittry Lake in Arizona. After we parted from the gang we ended up here. We could sit in the van and watch all kinds of wildlife in the pond just down the hill from our spot.
Our internet connection at Mittry Lake was poor so after 8 days we ended up back at American Girl so I could write more blogs and we figure out what to do and where to go next.

10 thoughts on “January 2021 Cost of Being a Nomad

    1. The skies have been awesome lately. I hate the dentist but almost always have fun when we go to the dentist in Mexico.

  1. Implant! I had one and it was awful. I should have tried your dentist I think. It looks like you-all had a great time, Duwan. My dentist didn’t spray us but made me rinse my mouth with hydrogen chloride. No big deal–that’s my preferred method of teeth whitening.

    1. The spraying thing was kind of odd but since it was just on our clothes it was no big deal.

      So sorry your implant was awful. Finding a good dentist seems to be a tricky thing. We have had no bad experiences with our dentist.

  2. Okay so we have heard of medical tourism but not dental tourism and to think there is a whole DENTAL town! Wow, that was surprising. Now I on the other hand go to Chicago for my dental work, which is pretty ironic as of course it costs the earth but I am one of those people that only trusts MY dentist, having had some sketchy dental experiences in the past in both Nicaragua and Sri Lanka. Did find a great dentist once in an emergency in Indonesia though! Great post, thoroughly enjoyed your dental visit stories with your friends.Totally novel!

    Peta (& Ben)

    1. Thanks Peta!

      I totally understand sticking with a dentist you trust. We got lucky with the dentist we found in Los Algodones. Everyone who had their teeth worked on this time was pleased.

      Going to the dentist in Mexico is about a third of the cost as it is in the US. Dental practices are big in lots of border towns but I think Los Algodones has the most. As you drive along I-10 from Yuma the highway is lined with billboards advertising dentist.

      It certainly is a unique place.

  3. You did it again! You beat us with your monthly expenses in January. But only because my dental visit was more expensive than Greg’s. 🙂 Oh, and we bought $500 worth of Lithium battery parts as well. Your post is very similar to the one I have planned for tomorrow. If the WiFi works well enough. I was going to use a bunch of your photos as well. I never had so much fun going to the dentist, for sure. What a positive experience. And, thanks again to Greg for recommending his dentist! 🙂

  4. I swear I left a comment to you post earlier in the week… Where did it go? Maybe the internet was so flaky that it appeared to post and then disappeared?

    Hm… I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of that it was fun to hang out with all of you in the desert for a few weeks, and, of course, to explore Los Algodones together. I also mentioned that you beat us with the expenses for January, but only because my dentist expenses were higher. 🙂 And, I wrote my expense post would be similar. By now, I have posted that one as well.

    See you soon in Mexico! 🙂

    1. You did leave a comment before. For some reason you comments are having to be approved now. Perhaps because you are using a different cellular network?

      And I thought I had approved the first comment but apparently it didn’t go through. We went back to Mittry Lake so internet was poor to non-existent. Now we are at Logan NWR and internet for my phone is just ok to poor/non-existent.

      Anyways. I haven’t looked at your post yet. I can’t believe we beat you again. January must have been your biggest expense post ever. I’ve have been wondering when that battery expense would show up.

      Hope it is sunny in Mexico. It is rainy here.

      1. Rainy again? Must be the rainiest month ever in Arizona!! Ha, I saw both posts show up now. Good to know about the approval thing. I’ll keep that in mind and be patient, haha. The sun is shining here. A few colder days over the weekend, but next week, it should reach the eighties. I’ve been planning to write you an email for a while and will make it happen over the weekend!!

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