When #Vanlife meets the $300 tank


Britt Ruggiero and Justin Giuffrida purchased a 2002 Bluebird school bus in February 2021, with plans to convert it into a 30ft house on wheels. At the time, diesel fuel prices in their home state of Colorado averaged about $3 a gallon, the same as the national average.

The engaged couple, new to the nomadic lifestyle of #vanlife, gutted their bus, which they dubbed the G Wagon, created a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, and installed the plumbing and solar energy. They also planned an ambitious year-long trip across the country: they would travel first to Florida, then north to Long Island, then see California top to bottom, before returning to the Southeast to winter holidays. They hit the road in March, only to quickly realize that gas prices weren’t what they expected.

“We went to Florida practically in a single weekend, and it was kind of a slap in the face,” Mr. Giuffrida, 29, said of filling the bus. “We were estimating it would be around $200 and lately it’s been around $300.” With a 60-gallon tank and fuel consumption of around 8-10 miles per gallon, the G Wagon needed gas every four hours. The couple’s first trip cost them nearly $2,000 in gas alone.

In mid-March, the national average for a gallon of diesel reached $5.25 and has since continued an undesirable rise: the price this week averaged $5.72 per gallon, while the national average price unleaded gasoline hit $5 a gallon. . These are the highest average prices on record, according to AAA, the automotive group, just as the busy summer driving season begins.

Ms. Ruggiero, 30, and Mr. Giuffrida are still on the road, currently in Santa Cruz, Calif., after a recent stop at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. But in response to fuel prices, they altered their trip, spending more time in each destination and removing some national park stops from their itinerary.

“This year of construction work, we’re definitely not going to let it go to waste,” Ms Ruggiero said.

Like countless other vanlife travelers, they are adapting to cut costs. Staying longer in destinations, using gas apps and subscribing to fuel cards allow vanlifers to stay on the road without giving up the freedom their lifestyle affords.

Jupiter Estrada, a 28-year-old RV owner from Texas who uses the pronouns they/them, has been on the road since 2020 and has no plans to settle down. “Gas is very expensive; it’s not up for debate,” they said. “However, I am in a very good position where gas is, essentially, my rent. My garden is where I want it.

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The #Vanlife trend is accelerating during the pandemic

While the precise number of vanlifers in the United States is unclear, the trend has taken off in 2020, thanks to low gas prices and a pandemic that has prompted travelers to rethink planes and other transportation options by common while allowing remote work. But even before the coronavirus made it to the United States, the #vanlife hashtag on Instagram was filled with stunning travel photos of influencers choosing to live and work remotely in converted vans, buses and motorhomes. . (While Instagram makes life more glamorous, these travelers face their fair share of challenges: finding free or cheap overnight parking, sharing cramped quarters with partners and pets, and a lot, look for the next shower or toilet. )

Chris Kochan, 31, and his girlfriend, Sarah Shaeffer, 26, started the skoolielivin.com website after buying a school bus in 2018 to explore their home state of Wisconsin.

Even with higher gas prices and more people returning to the office, they say, skoolielivin.com, where travelers can buy and sell used buses as well as share tips on bus renovations and travel, continues to grow in popularity, with a 200% increase in site traffic in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. There has been a noticeable change.

“We have seen an increase in the number of people asking about the fuel consumption of different buses and the cost of living on the bus,” Mr Kochan said. “However, that doesn’t seem to have dampened interest in living a nomadic lifestyle in a school bus conversion.”

In addition to school buses, motor homes and motor homes are popular options for living on the road. Although the type of fuel can vary by vehicle make and model, the majority of school buses run on diesel, which is often more expensive than unleaded gasoline. Motorhomes, which start at around $45,000 in cost with customization ranging from $5,000 to $100,000, have the best gas mileage, hitting between 20 and 30 miles per gallon, while school buses and motorhomes typically get 8 to 15 miles per gallon.

In addition to fuel costs, amenities that non-vanlifers take for granted — plumbing, heating — can add thousands of dollars in conversion costs. Mr. Kochan and Ms. Shaeffer spent over $4,500 to add a wood stove, propane furnace, water tanks and a toilet to their vehicle.

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The start-up costs are not minimal. Take Ms. Ruggiero and Mr. Giuffrida: the classic RVs and rear-wheel-drive vehicles they considered cost $100,000 for the vehicle and necessary homework. Instead, they paid $4,500 for the bus and $25,000 for the conversion.

Gas prices, Ms. Ruggiero said, were factored in, but they didn’t think that would be a problem. In Colorado, they were paying about $2,000 a month in living expenses.

“Even if we travel every weekend, the price of gas will never exceed that,” she said. “Then obviously things changed.”

Slow down for the summer

While some travelers are content to avoid the states where fuel is the most expensive, such as California, Nevada and Illinois, others have chosen to save money by parking in the same place. for months at a time, working freelance and waiting for fuel prices to drop. drop.

Berkeley Martinez and Monica Ourada are parked in Bellingham, Wash., on Bureau of Land Management property, and have been living in their 1991 Dodge B250 motorhome since December.

“We weren’t planning on staying very long, and then all of a sudden gas prices skyrocketed to about $5 a gallon,” said Mr. Martinez, 29. for a moment. Now it’s been six months.

The pair plan to stay parked all summer, avoiding the most popular and expensive travel season of the year, and hoping September 2022 will bring cheaper gas prices across the country.

“Our goal is to leave after Labor Day,” said Ms. Ourada, 26. The couple will assess gas prices, she said: if they “are at $4, or hopefully less than $4, we’ll probably travel a little faster, stay four to five days at the same place before we go. If prices stay where they are, we’ll probably find a place to explore for a month or two.

Navod Ahmir, 28, drives slower. The 28-year-old financial associate recounts his travels in his 2018 Ford Transit online as a navodthenomad since 2020. Last year, he landed a job that allowed him to work remotely while driving from his state of origin, North Carolina, to California. Now the challenge he faces is budgeting for another trip across the country.

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“I just got back from California, and gas prices on the East Coast are exactly what California generally feels like,” he said. “But once I pass, I consider slowing down to save money. Typically, I drive through a state in two or three days, then spend a day there before moving on. Now I plan to stay in each state for two or three weeks.

Jupiter Estrada, 28, the content creator from Texas, has been bouncing around New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California and Baja, Mexico since 2020.

“It used to be $150 to fill up my new RV, and now it’s closer to $250,” they said. “I was in Utah a few weeks ago and gas was about $4.80. I shed a single tear when I crossed the border into Colorado and saw gas for $3.89 They also started using apps like GasBuddy to plan their route.

Carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles running on diesel or regular gasoline drive climate change, and tiny particles of particulate matter from tailpipes have negative effects on human health. But those looking for cleaner fuel alternatives may be out of luck. An electric van from Volkswagen the ID. Buzz, offers a range of 300 miles, but is currently only available in Europe. Ford’s E-Transit Pro has a range of up to 126 miles and is aimed at commercial customers.

Rob Novotny is the founder and owner of Glampervan, which builds custom vans in Oakland, California. He said travelers could benefit from better electric van options, but current battery range is too limited.

“If you have a short-range electric van, that means your independence is now reduced,” Mr Novotny said. “Especially if you’re in the middle of Death Valley and they only have three Tesla charging stations.”

Mr. Ahmir, for his part, remains addicted to the freedom and opportunities that the nomadic lifestyle offers, regardless of the price of fuel.

“Before the pandemic, I hadn’t traveled far outside of the surrounding states,” he said. “It opened so many doors to do a lot of different things and do it whenever I want.”

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The post When #Vanlife Meets the $300 Tank first appeared on The New York Times.


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