PanAm by the Numbers

The people who reach out to us are often in the planning stages of their own overlanding adventures, and we love to hear their plans and answer their questions as best we can. A typical, and obvious question is; “how much did you budget and/or spend on your trip”? Luckily for them, Rob is an engineer and could not help himself from making a detailed record of our expenditures over the course of the trip.

To be honest, we felt that tracking our daily burn-rate was really helpful to ensure we did not exhaust our limited funds too soon. By keeping a close watch on our receipts, we learnt how each country placed varying demands on our money (fuel vs. food vs. accommodation etc.). Understanding that in real-time helped us make decisions on how, where, and when to live and travel.

For example, the fuel was relatively expensive in Argentina and the driving distances are huge, so we decided to take the shortest possible routes and not stray off the major highways much. Whereas in Ecuador the fuel was extremely inexpensive, so we didn’t hesitate as double back on our route if we heard of something amazing that we had to go back and see.

Similarly, the costs of camping in Chile were quite high so we tried as often as possible to find free camping spots (usually sandwiched in with the locals at the beach). Conversely, the costs of camping in Peru and Colombia were relatively low, so we felt good about paying for the amenities and security of legitimate camping spots nearly every night.

The Budget

Based on our preliminary research, some basic calculations, and a lot of assumptions, we decided on a budget of $100 CDN per day. This was meant only to cover all daily living costs for our family of 4 once we arrived in South America.

Therefor, our planned 300 day duration required a budget of $30,000 CDN.

Unfortunately, this original budget was NOT sufficient. In the end we averaged around $124 CDN per day, when we were “overlanding” and closer to $150 CDN per day when including the periods spent in hotels and hostels.

Thankfully, we also assumed that assumptions are usually wrong, and that we should expect some of the unexpected (vehicle repairs, medical expenses, emergency flights home etc.), so we also started with a separate $10,000 CDN contingency fund.

Admittedly, this contingency fund was seriously abused in week 1 of the adventure when we decided to splurge on last-minute flights to Easter Island.

Also note that this budget does not include the purchase of our vehicle, the vehicle modifications, vehicle shipping, or any of the supplementary equipment and supplies, such as:

  • Clothing
  • Camping & cooking equipment
  • Spare parts
  • Electronics (computer, iPads, cameras, drone)
  • Kids toys & school supplies
  • Medical/travel insurance (Tugo approx. $1,200 CDN)
  • Vehicle shipping (see below)

Vehicle Shipping

As mentioned above, the costs for shipping the van were budgeted separately and, in the case of the initial Vancouver to Valpariso container shipping, they were paid for well in advance of the start of the trip.

Vancouver to Valparaiso

We shipped our van in a 40′ high-cube container from Vancouver, Canada to Valparaiso, Chile. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t use a smaller/cheaper 20′ container because the van was just over 21′ long and we needed every inch of the 9′ height of a high-cube to clear the roof-mounted solar panels.

The cost for the container shipping was about $3,500 USD.

Also unfortunately for us, we didn’t understand the importance of using a local agent to navigate the bureaucracy and translate the ‘BS’. Without an agent to represent us, the receiving company in Valparaiso thought we’d be an easy target for some light-extortion and told us that they would have to keep our container in storage until we paid them more money!

We don’t believe that it is in anyone’s best interest to submit to this kind of corruption. So, we immediately searched out and hired the most amazing local agents to help us out. The husband-wife team, known as Villa Kunterbunt, came to the rescue and extracted our van in a matter of days, and offered us the warm hospitality of their amazing 100-year-old home while we waited! The cost of their services was around 300 euro. And we would highly recommend speaking with them BEFORE you ship to/from anywhere in South America!

Cartagena to Veracruz

Shipping from Cartegna, Colombia to Vercruz, Mexico was accomplished using a Roll-On Roll-off (RORO) ferry. We reached out to several shipping agencies, including the highly regarded International Vehicle Shipping Services or IVSSUK, to obtain schedules and quotes.

The cost of the RORO service we selected was approximately $2,100 USD.

We also immediately hired local agents in Cartagena, Enlace Caribe at a cost of about $340 USD, and Cevertam in Vercruz for about 5,000 MXN. Both were indispensable and are highly recommended.

The Breakdown

First, some small-print regarding the breakdown below:

  1. This analysis focuses on the 223 days we spent “ovelanding” (i.e. camping and living out of van). We have removed the costs of the 67 days we spent living in hotels, hostels, or friends houses.
  2. We stopped recording our expenditures once we re-entered Canada. From that point on, we were staying entirely with friends and family and so our expenses were no longer useful for comparisons.
  3. All figures are in Canadian Dollars (CDN) and are based on the exchange rates for the local currency at the time (2017/2018). 

We categorized the costs 6 ways:

  • Fuel
  • Accommodation (camping)
  • Food
  • Beer
  • Activities (park passes, entry fees, guides)
  • Other (tolls, ferries, taxis, laundry, souvenirs)

As you can see below, the average daily cost of overlanding varied significantly by country. Only one country, Bolivia, was below our budget of $100 CDN per day. However, Peru, Mexico, and Ecuador were pretty close.


We started our adventure in Santiago Chile, where we spent the first 13 days living in AirBnBs and a guest house waiting for our van to arrive from Canada. We spent two separate stints in Chile. First as we made our way South through Patagonia and later, once we completed our tour of Argentina, to travel North through the Atacama.

A significant expense for overlanding in Chile are the toll roads and, when travelling along the Carratera Austral, the ferries. Fuel is also relatively expensive, which is costly in a country that spans 6,000 km. Food costs were probably above average.


Argentina is a VERY large country, so it is no surprise that fuel was the largest portion of the expenses. The road tolls also add up quickly. Thankfully, there was plenty of opportunity for free camping, which helped bring down the total daily cost. We spent about a week in an apartment in Patagonia and another week in a hostel in Buenos Aires to get a break from van-life.

The cost of visiting the national parks in Argentina were high. Unfortunately, non-residents are asked to pay a multiple over the locals rate for a lot of activities there. If you are savvy, ask around for deals.


The fuel in Uruguay was the most expensive of our trip at about $2 CDN per litre. Gratefully, it is a small country and we wanted to spend the majority of our time completely stationary, enjoying the beaches and BBQs with the friendly locals. The cost of camping was definitely above average here, but the amenities were nice.

The “other” costs were bumped up significantly in Uruguay by an expensive ferry ride from Argentina and an oil change for El Condor. Food wasn’t significantly more expensive here, but we did eat a few expensive restaurant meals (swordfish!) and more than a usual amount of ice cream.


We probably didn’t spend enough time in Bolivia to get a good sample size for the costs. However, it is clear that it was the least expensive country of our trip by far. Food is purchased from markets, which keeps those costs way down.

Purchasing fuel in Bolivia was very unique because the price is negotiated at the pump, so that could go well or badly, depending on your bartering skills and the mood of the gas station attendant.

The “other” costs were bumped up in Bolivia due to the purchase of some beautiful wool sweaters. Trust me.


Peru is a fantastic country for overlanding. No debate. The diversity of landscapes is unmatched, the fuel and food costs are relatively low, and safe camping sites with good amenities are plentiful and inexpensive.

The cost of visiting the endless amazing archeological sites, such as Machu Picchu and Moray etc., did add up quickly, but there are definitely no regrets. We partook in several other fun activities, such as chocolate making class and dune buggy rides! We also found one our favourite South American craft breweries in Peru, Sierra Andina, which did bump up that category a little!


Ecuador is also a gem of a country for overlanding. It is diverse, small, well developed, and friendly. The food was a bit expensive, but the fuel is EXTREMELY cheap at $0.30 CDN per litre. The official currency is the US dollar, which probably elevates the cost of living here, but at least it puts the brakes on the typical South American runaway inflation.

There is a LOT to do and see in Ecuador. The camping costs were quite low, but the amenities were fairly sparse.

The activities category was inflated by an unforgettable multi-day trip to a lodge in the Amazon. The “other” category was bumped up due to some scheduled maintenance for El Condor.


Unfortunately, due to our vehicle shipping deadline, we didn’t get to spend much time overlanding through Colombia. We thought it was a fascinating and welcoming county. We did spend a week in a luxurious hotel enjoying the beautiful colonial city of Cartagena while organizing our vehicle shipping to Mexico. When we did need campsites, they were secure and usually inexpensive with decent amenities.

Road tolls were a noticeable expense here, however it was the costs of the border entry visa ($200 CDN) and emergency flat tire repairs ($250 CDN) that really jacked up the “other” category.

In case you were wondering, The Bogata Beer Company was our other favourite South American craft brewery. However, in a feat of great self-control, we kept the beer budget in check.


Another top-pick for ovelanding greatness; Mexico hit our sweet-spot for adventure, cost, and comfort. It is, however, a deceptively large country and thus fuel was once again a major budget item.

In Veracruz, we spent our longest amount of time out of the van (15-days) while waiting for El Condor to arrive from Colombia. The costs off camping were fairly high in Mexico, but you could usually count on a pool, or a view, or both.

The $500 CDN ferry ride from the mainland to the Baja peninsula hit our budget pretty hard.


We didn’t spend a lot of time overlanding through the states, considering the amazing opportunities that dotted our route North. Instead, we had a week-long date with the grandparents at a comfy hotel in Disneyland.

Food was possibly the most expensive here, but it was the cost of camping that really limited our desire to linger in the USA for very long. Even the bare-bones State Parks campgrounds could eat up over half of our daily budget. We spent a few nights parked on friends driveways to lower that average cost.

A gift for MJs birthday and new rear brakes for El Condor hit the “other” category fairly hard right at the end of our adventure. We also clearly decided to indulge in the (expensive) local beers more than we had anywhere else.

Hopefully these breakdowns will be helpful for those of you in the planning stages of your trip, or are at least somewhat interesting to the armchair-overlanders out there.

Clearly, our originally estimated budget of $100 CDN per day was significantly off-the-mark. Our average daily burn rate was $124 per day while overlanding and $146 per day including all of the nights spent under a hotel/hostel/guest house roof.

Of course, you could spend less (or a lot more) on your own PanAm / South American overland adventure. It really comes down to the “style” of travel, individual preferences, and comfort levels.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions. Happy planning!

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