Life | Personal Stories | Article

This Singaporean Couple Travelled Across USA in a Van with Only US$1,000 per Month. Here’s How They Did It

by Lionel | 20 Mar 2023 | 5 mins read

Many of us dream of travelling and exploring faraway places. But how many of us can afford to put aside our nine-to-five jobs and travel full time? 

A Singaporean couple in their mid-twenties have made what seems to be an impossible dream a reality.  

Ooi Yee Jia and Gracia Ng, who are in their mid 20s, have been making their way around and exploring the United States since January 2022. To date, they have visited 42 states and been to major cities including New York City, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. 

As a week of travelling in the US costs around US$3,158 for two people, you might think that this couple is rolling in cash. 

But believe it or not, they have been getting around with a monthly budget of US$1,000 while living out of their trusty van 

Vanlife is an alternative lifestyle where people who choose to live in vans or other vehicles outfitted as mobile homes. 

Their adventure was inspired by Instagram posts and YouTube clips of people using vans as a mobile home to live a simple life and travel the world. 

In fact, Yee Jia spent his free time watching YouTube videos of vanlifers in the US to the point that Gracia urged him to “get your butt there and do it yourself”. 

Started saving at 18 

Making the dream work required planning, though, and they started saving when they were both 18. 

The couple worked during their schooling years to save for the trip and were fortunate to find internships which were “very generous with renumeration”. 

“Gracia also moonlighted and gave frequent piano lessons and foreign language (German and Spanish) classes on the side before we embarked on this trip”, explained Yee Jia. 

They grew their funds further by investing in the stock market and their portfolio is managed by Yee Jia, who is “trained in a professional finance setting”. 

Though they declined to disclose how much they had saved and invested, the couple recommended a budget of around US$20,000 for anyone thinking of following in their footsteps. They also confessed to liquidating “a very substantial share of our portfolio for this trip”. 

“Eventually, you might sell the van for a profit, so actual trip expenses could be around US$10,000 or more depending on circumstances,” they added. 

Around US$3,500 in savings 

For Yee Jia and Gracia, they spent US$6,000 on the van itself (which they got from Facebook marketplace) while the cost of outfitting it was between US$2,000 and US$3,000. 

They invested more into outfitting the vehicle to make it “as comfortable as possible”. 

“The typical biggest expense for a tourist is hotels. The cheapest hotel per night easily runs from US$100 a night. We never stay in hotels unless we fall ill”, said Gracia. 

The couple can also keep their cost of food down when they cook in their van. 

Jia Yee said: “A typical meal you could probably get while eating out is US$15 per person (including tips). Our kitchen in the van makes cooking convenient, thus we have the option of cooking and eating in the van rather than spending on food.” 

In terms of accommodations, they told Stackedhomes that they save almost US$2,700 on rent each month. As for food, the savings come up to somewhere between US$700 and US$800 per month. 


Budgeting | Personal Finance | Article | 4 Aug 2020

Effective Budgeting for the Lazy

The van helps with three major expenses — transport, food and accommodations — but living off US$1,000 a month is still challenging. Many veteran vanlifers agree that the realistic budget is around US$1,500 to US$4,000 a month. 

But the couple accomplishes this financial feat by managing their expenses closely and trimming back when necessary.  

The couple shared their monthly cost works out to US$200 to US$300 for gas, US$200 to US$300 for groceries, US$25 for individual phone plan and US$150 for insurances.  

They spend another US$100 on miscellaneous experiences (including entertainment) and US$100 to US$150 on dining out. 

Lastly, a simple US$10 per month for a country-wide gym membership at Planet Fitness allows them to enjoy hot showers. 

Blindsided by van breakdowns 

Despite the couples’ conscientious management of their travel finances, they are not immune to budget blunders. 

One costly expense which blindsided them in the early days is van breakdowns. 

“A trip to a mechanic minimally costs us US$500, and easily gets up to US$1,200. Breakdowns are a huge toll on our monthly budget of US$1,000”, lamented Gracia about their van breaking down in Florida.  

“As a Singaporean, you are equipped with many skills. However, hard labour and mechanical skills are not taught to us. When the van breaks down, we are always at the mercy of the mechanics and mechanics are very expensive”, Jia Yee added.  

Another instance is their visit to Universal Studios, where “the tickets were quite pricey at $200 per person”. 

Despite the challenges — including feeling jealous “because we can’t afford that restaurant” — Gracia said that the “entire experience of living in the van makes it worth it”. 

No doubt, planning a trip similar to Jie Yee and Gracia’s seems inconceivable. 

Funds aside, it takes much courage to put one’s career aside, live out of a van and experience life in ways that most of us can only guess. 

However, they are also living proof that travelling on a small budget is possible if you’re determined.  

As Jia Yee said: “You’ll never be ready, but good luck and go for it!”