Tag Archives: propane

10 Ways to Save Money on the Road


Living on the road is certainly less expensive than paying rent or maintaining a sticks-n-bricks, but living on the road still costs money. Lots of rubber tramps and nomads survive on a fixed income and would like to see their money go farther. Today I offer you ten tips for saving money while living on the road.

Obey the speed limit and don’t waste your money paying a speeding ticket.

#1 Obey the law and avoid costly fines. I don’t like authority figures telling me what to do either, but getting a ticket is expensive. Don’t exceed the speed limit. Feed the parking meter. Don’t park in a spot reserved for folks with disabilities unless you can display the proper paperwork. Don’t park in any spot your rig isn’t supposed to be in. Don’t drive in the carpool lane (aka High Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lane) if you’re the only person in your vehicle.

#2 Improve your gas mileage. Keep your tires inflated to the correct pressure. Don’t overload your rig with unnecessary weight. Change your air filter regularly. Driving the speed limit (or slower!) will help you in this regard too. (See Car Bibles for more tips on improving gas mileage.)

#3 Use gas price apps to find the lowest cost per gallon in the area you’re in. I’m not a big fan of driving across town to save 20 cents, but maybe you can plan your route to save on fuel. A 2014 article from CNN Tech suggests GasBuddy, Gas Guru, Waze, Dash, and MapQuest Gas Prices.

#4 If you boondock in remote areas for weeks at a time, don’t make daily trips into civilization. Go to your camping spot with supplies to last a week. Do a supply run (paired with fun town activities, if you like) at the end of the first week, and get enough of everything to last until you’re ready to move to your next destination. You’ll save money on fuel, and you won’t have as many chances to make impulse purchases.

#5 If you’re in the market for a rig think about gas mileage. A minivan will probably get better gas mileage than a conversion or cargo van. A Class B motorhome will probably get better gas mileage than a Class A. A small Class C will probably get better gas mileage than a large Class C. A Prius will probably get better gas mileage than anything else.

#6 Do regular maintenance. It will probably cost less to have something maintained than repaired, and a breakdown may require a costly tow. Even during a routine oil change, mechanics usually look around for obvious problems.

#7 Learn how to do your own routine maintenance and make basic repairs. Check and top off your fluids. Change your oil. Replace your brake pads. Change your air filter. You’ll learn more about the mechanics of your rig and you won’t have to pay someone else for the cost of labor.

#8 Compare insurance rates. Does one company offer lower prices than another? Just remember, sometimes lower cost means less protection.

Can you get a better rate by using a different address for your domicile?  I saved about $200 a year by using the address of one family member over another as my permanent residence.

Can you eliminate options to save a few bucks? I pay a little extra for roadside assistance through my insurance, but if I had AAA or God Sam Club coverage, I’d probably drop the roadside assistance option on my insurance policy.

#9 Invest in a large propane tank rather than the green one-pound tanks. I resisted this tip for a long time because those small green propane tanks are just so convenient. However, now I’m a believer in using the bigger tanks. They’re a better deal than the one-pound tanks even if you do the Blue Rhino exchange (available at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, supermarkets, hardware stores, and convenience stores). You save even more if you refill the tank at places like U-Haul, Tractor Supply, AmeriGas refill and refueling stations, and RV parks.

#10 Seek out free and inexpensive entertainment. You really can have a lot of fun for little money, especially in cities and town.

This is public art stands on Main Street in Mesa, AZ.

Look at public art. I especially like murals, but sculpture can be fun too.

Public libraries often offer free admission to movies, concerts, and public speakers, and they sometimes have galleries where patrons can look at art for free. Most libraries also offer free internet access, and even if you don’t have a library card, you can sit around for hours reading books and magazines at no cost to you.

Many museums offer free admission on a designated day once a week or once a month. Plan your trip to an area to coincide with free admission to a museum you want to visit.

Parks are nice free places to hang out. Cook a meal at a picnic table. Walk around the park for exercise. Sit under a tree and read. Especially in the summer, parks often offer plays, concerts, and movies at no charge.

If you’re more of a boondocker and less of a city dweller, get out and enjoy the natural beauty where you are. It’s free to hear the birds sing. Go for a hike or a brisk walk. Watch the sunrise or the sunset. Heck, watch then both. It won’t cost you a dime.

Blaize Sun has been mostly on the road since 2009. She’s traveled the U.S. with very little money, so she’s had to figure out ways to make every penny count.

Please share your favorite money saving tips in the comments.

Blaize Sun took the photos in this post.

Cooking While Van Dwelling (Stoves and Refrigeration)


None of my vans have had a built-in kitchen. I’ve used several different methods for cooking and keeping food cold. Today I’ll share what I’ve learned about stoves and refrigeration while van dwelling.

I’ve used three kinds of stoves while van dwelling: one-burner propane, two-burner propane, and one-burner butane.

The one-burner propane was my least favorite. With this kind of stove, the propane bottle sits in a round base. The burner screws into the opening on the propane canister and sits on top of the contraption.

Coleman 2000010642 Single-Burner Propane Stove

The pros of this cooking method include:

#1 The unassembled stove uses minimal storage space.

#2 It’s easy to find stores that sell propane canisters.

The cons of these stoves include:

#1 Even with the propane bottle sitting in the base, the whole setup seems precarious, especially if a strong wind is blowing while a heavy pot of beans is sitting up there.

#2 The cook needs a lighter or matches on hand to light the flame.

#3 The cook has to set up the whole contraption before any actual cooking can occur.

The last time I looked at Wal-Mart, the price on these one-burner stoves was between $15 and $20.

During the time I was fighting to heat beans and rice on my one-burner stove, my vendor friend Mr. Phoenix turned me on to a flat, one-burner stove that burned butane. I bought one of those stoves at Wal-Mart for about $20, then sold the propane stove for $5 at a flea market.

I loved the flatness of the butane stove. No longer was my pot of food up in the air, perched precariously on a burner. I also like that the stove was self -igniting. I didn’t have to fumble with a lighter or a match; one turn of the knob, and I had a flame.

What I didn’t like about the stove was finding butane. Not every Wal-Mart carried it. In one desert tourist town I had to run around to five businesses before I found the canisters I needed at the hardware store. While propane canisters tend to run about $3 each at Wal-Mart, the smaller butane bottles tended to run from $3 to $4.50. (The best deal I ever got on butane was packs of four canisters for $6 at one of those stores in a tent in Quartzsite in the winter.)

I also didn’t like the perpetually low flame on this stove. Because the flame didn’t get very high, it seemed to take forever to heat food or bring water to a boil.

I wasn’t longing for a new stove, but one day I saw a Coleman two-burner propane stove in a small-town thrift store.

My Coleman two burner stove with lid closed.

My Coleman two burner stove with lid closed.

The price? $10 I scooped it up. I don’t use both burners very often, but it’s nice to have them both when I need them.

My two-burner Coleman stove ready for cooking action.

My two-burner Coleman stove ready for cooking action.

In addition to the convenience of two burners, this stove also has stability because it’s flat. Although I do need to have a lighter or a match on hand to light it, the flame gets really high, and my food is ready to eat much sooner than with the butane stove.

After I bought the two-burner stove, I sold the butane stove to a vendor friend at the Bridge for $5. The flat stove was an upgrade from the one-burner upright propane stove she had been using.

All of the stoves I’ve mentioned so far were Coleman brand. I tried using two Ozark Trail brand stoves from Wal-Mart several years ago, and was left sorely disappointed. My ex and I were going to a music festival, so we bought the cheapest Ozark Trail double-burner propane stove. When we tried to use it before we left for the festival, it didn’t work. We exchanged it for the more expensive Ozark Trail model. We tried it in the parking lot, and it worked, but when we got to the festival, it didn’t work. We had the displeasure of eating cold soup all weekend. Since then I’ve used Ozark Trail stoves friends had, and the stoves worked fine. However, I would never buy an Ozark Trail stove at a thrift store unless I was absolutely desperate. If I were buying new and I had the extra dollars to go with a Coleman, I certainly would.

Despite the warnings on all of the camp stoves I’ve had, I do cook in my van when I need to. I prefer to cook outside on a table, but that’s not always practical if it’s dark or cold or rainy when I’m ready to cook. If I’m cooking in the van, I make sure a window is open. If it’s not too cold out, I completely open the windows on both side doors. Usually I’m just boiling water or heating beans and rice, so I don’t have the stove on for a long time while cooking a complicated meal.

I’ve never had a refrigerator in my vans either. What I do have now is an ice chest. I’ve tried several methods of storing food in an ice chest until I found something that currently works for me.

The first method I tried was simply dumping the contents of a sack of ice over the food in the cooler. As you can guess, after a couple of days, my food was floating in a sea of melted ice. My cardboard egg carton was a soggy mess and water had leaked into the container of hummus. Gross! The results were just about the same when I left the ice in the bag. The bag was riddled with holes and the water leaked out as the ice melted.

Next I bought a cheap plastic dishpan and put it in the cooler. Then I put a block of ice into the dishpan. The block melted more slowly, but if I didn’t stay on top of dumping the pan of ice melt water (which involved removing all of my food from the cooler), the water ended up out of the dishpan and in the bottom of the cooler. Of course, once water was sloshing around in the cooler, all of my food got wet, and some of it was spoiled by the water.


Egg suitcase closed (and too much flash in the photo–sorry).

Before I hit on my current cooler method, I did buy a plastic egg suitcase in the Wal-Mart sporting goods department. In this plastic case, the eggs are protected much better than they are in a cardboard carton. In the past I sometimes lost eggs to breakage once the carton got wet and disintegrated. Not anymore! Also, the egg suitcase talks up less space than a carton. I paid under $3 for mine, and I think it was well worth the investment.


Egg suitcase open and full of eggs.


This photo shows my plastic Coleman ice chest and (to the right) my closed up Coleman stove. The stove does not take up much space when it’s closed.


Here’s my current food cooling system: a Styrofoam cooler inside my plastic Coleman cooler, with ice between the two. (Coleman has not paid me to endorse its products.)

My current cooler system consists of a Styrofoam cooler in my plastic ice chest. The food goes into the Styrofoam cooler and the ice goes between the Styrofoam and the plastic. Yes, this system leaves less space for food, but I’m willing to make that trade-off in order to keep my food out of the melt water.

Food in the Styrofoam cooler.

Food in the Styrofoam cooler.

At some point, the Styrofoam starts floating in the water from the melted ice, and I can’t get the plastic cover to close. When that happens, I drain the water through the spout underneath. Sometimes ice gets under the Styrofoam cooler, pushing it up too high for the plastic cover to close, and I have to take out the Styrofoam cooler, dump the ice into a container, and reassemble. It’s a pain in the ass, but (to me) not as big of a pain as losing a container of hummus that’s now full of water.

Please feel free to post comments about what kind of stove and refrigeration system you use in your vanhome.

Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove, 22,000 BTUs
Coghlan's 511A Egg Carriers -

Staying Warm


My #1 way of staying warm while living in my van is to go somewhere warmer when the weather gets colder. For example, in 2014, I left Northern New Mexico at the end of October and went to Southern New Mexico, where I stayed for November and December. In January 2015, I went to Arizona and stayed in various places in that state until I went to the California mountains at the end of April.

People often ask me if I stay warm enough in the van at night. Staying warm at night is not a problem. My bed is raised about two feet, so my body heat isn’t lost to the floor, and I have storage space. I sleep on two layers of memory foam, which is notorious for making people hot. I wear long underwear and socks to sleep when I need to, as well as a hat if it’s particularly cold. I have plenty of blankets, including two sleeping bags and a knitted (crocheted?) blanket stored flat under the memory foam and on hand for any really cold situation.

My bed lies across the back of the van, up against the back doors. On the side opposite the back doors, I have a curtain (a sheet I paid $1 for at a thrift store strung on a bungee cord) that I can pull for privacy. I found out early on that the curtain holds in quite a bit of my body heat. In hot weather, I often have to leave the curtain open at night so I don’t get warmly uncomfortable. When it’s cold out, I’m glad the curtain holds in the warmth.

Once I’m in bed, I’m warm. Sometimes I even get too warm and have to push the covers down for a while so I can cool off in the chilly air.

The problem in cold weather is getting out of the bed, either to get dressed and get out of the van or to move around inside the van (to tidy up or to cook, for example). Sometimes it’s too cold inside even to sit up in bed to read or write.

While I was in Southern New Mexico, temperatures were getting down in the low 30s at night. I researched how other rubber tramps stay warm in their vehicles.

One idea I found on a couple of websites was burning a candle. Candles (supposedly) raise interior temperature in a vehicle by 10 degrees. Of course, one must be careful with the open flame. (I have a lot of fabric in my van—curtains, rugs, blankets, clothing strewn about—so I have to be particularly careful not to catch everything I own on fire.) One must also be careful not to let the candle use up all the oxygen in one’s enclosed space, which can lead to death. This means one must leave a window open at least a crack when using a candle inside a vehicle.

I wondered if leaving the window open—even just a crack—negated any heat produced by a lit candle. However, I was willing to give it a try, so I walked down to one of the locally owned gift shops and bought a small (overpriced, artificially scented) candle. I tried burning the candle a couple of mornings. I (thankfully) did not catch anything on fire, but I didn’t notice feeling any warmer when the candle was burning. I decided the candle experiment was a failure.

At the time, I was staying in an RV park with electrical hookups. I considered going to Stuff-Mart and buying a small electric heater. (I think they run $15-$20.) I decided not to do that because I very seldom stay in my van in places with electrical hookups. Even a small heater would take up precious storage space when not in use, and I wouldn’t use it enough to justify having it.

The last week I was in Southern New Mexico (the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve), the temperature dropped to 28 degrees. I was lucky because I had gotten a house and pet sitting job. I stayed in a lovely warm house with a nice cat and a nice dog, and I didn’t have to think about heating the van.

During my internet research, I’d read a bit about portable propane heaters. Several van dwellers I read about swore by them. I didn’t rush out to buy one because #1 they’re a little pricey and #2 burning propane in the van causes the same concerns as burning candles.

At the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), I talked to people who used propane heaters in their vehicles.

The Divine Miss M had a Mr. Heater brand Portable Buddy heater, which was a popular choice among folks at the RTR. (I don’t know why exactly, maybe I heard someone else refer to the heaters this way, but I call this type of heater Mr. Buddy.) Miss M loved hers, said it got her station wagon plenty warm, but did stress the absolute necessity of leaving a window open a crack when using the heater inside. She assured me that the heater produced enough heat to overcome the cold let in through the partially open window.

I stored the info in my brain file for future reference. I wasn’t in the market for a heater, although on some chilly mornings in the Arizona desert, I would have welcomed a few minutes of concentrated warmth.

At one of the very last group gatherings at the RTR, during announcements, a man said he had a brand new Mr. Buddy heater for sale. He said he’d just bought it from Amazon.com for $69 ($20 less than normal price, I was told) but had found a heater he liked better at the Big Tent. He wanted to sell the heater for $69, plus another $20 or $30 for the supplies to hook it up to a large propane tank. When I went to talk to the guy selling the heater and told  him I was interested in the heater but not the accessories because I didn’t have a large propane tank, there was a grumpy old man already looking at the items. The old man snapped at me that I needed a larger propane tank because it was cheaper to buy propane that way. Rather than snap back at the old coot elder, I just told the guy with the items for sale that the old guy could buy it since he was there first.

Before I could get back to my van, the seller had come after me to say the old guy didn’t want the heater and I could have it for the $69 he’d spend on it. I bought it.

I tried it out a couple of times before I left the RTR (thanks to the bottle of propane Miss M gave me to use with it). It worked great, warmed the van quickly. It was just enough heat to get me motivated to get out of bed and get dressed. I told Miss M that Mr. Buddy was my new boyfriend!

Then I went back to the City and didn’t stay in my van for upwards of three months. Mr. Buddy was packed in a plastic storage tub, and I didn’t think much about him. Until…

It’s cold in the California mountains, even in May. Seems like the temperature starts dropping around 4:30 in the afternoon (16:30, military time) and doesn’t warm up again until the next day around noon. Sleeping is fine. Actually, I sleep better when it’s chilly and I can snuggle under piles of blankets, so sleeping is excellent. It’s the between times that are trying.

I get up early to do a check of the campground, sweep the restrooms, make sure there’s enough toilet paper. I decided I needed the warm motivation only Mr. Buddy can provide, so I’d already planned to unpack him when I heard the high the next day was expected to be only 41 degrees, and there was a possibility of snow. I pulled Mr. Buddy and his propane bottle out of the plastic crate and fired him up before I crawled into bed. In about ten minutes, the van was toasty.

When I got up in the morning to pee, I fired him up again until I warmed up. Oh yes, Mr. Buddy and I are sure to have a long and happy relationship.

I took this photo of my boyfriend Mr. Buddy in my van.

I took this photo of my boyfriend, Mr. Buddy, in my van. The propane bottle fits right in on the side.

Safety Precautions I Follow with Mr. Buddy

#1 I open at least one window at least a crack before igniting Mr. Buddy’s flame.

#2 Because there is an actual flame, I make sure no fabric is near Mr. Buddy’s front.

#3 I never leave him unattended. I DO NOT exit the van or go to sleep while Mr. Buddy is on.

#4 When I turn off Mr. Buddy, I unscrew and remove the propane bottle. Some people don’t do this, but I take this precaution so I know no propane is leaking.

While writing this post, I remembered another idea for getting/staying warm. I learned this one years ago from a New Englander in New Orleans. Drinking or eating something hot is a good way to warm up from the inside. However, when I’m cold first thing in the morning, I don’t necessarily want to crawl out of my warm bed to heat water for tea.

img_2813For my birthday, my host family gave me a Stanley thermos. It keeps water hot for a long time. I used it while working the essay scoring job so I’d have hot water for my lunch. I’d heat the water in the morning, put it in the thermos, and the water would still be hot enough at lunchtime to prepare noodle soup (ramen noodles and the like). One day I didn’t use the water for lunch, and the next morning (24 hours later) when I opened the bottle, the water was still very warm.

So this is my idea: Before I go to bed, I’ll boil water and put it in my Stanley bottle. I’ll put it next to my bed, along with my mug and a teabag. When I wake up in the morning, I’ll pour myself a cup of hot tea before I even get out of bed. Sounds lovely.


I did not receive any compensation for the endorsements of the products in this post. I wrote this post after I already owned the products. I just like ’em, and I think my readers might like them too.

If you click on either of the photos below, you can shop on Amazon through my affiliate link. If you do your normal Amazon shopping through my affiliate link, I receive a commission from your purchases at no cost to you!

Stanley Classic Bottle 1.1qt

Mr. Heater F232000 MH9BX Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU Indoor-Safe Portable Radiant Heater