Have you heard of van life? These days, more and more people are seeking ways to live their most authentic selves. While some work hard towards getting their own homes, there are also those who prefer living a more nomadic lifestyle. Living out of a van sounds challenging and a bit uncomfortable, but as you’ll find out, these are just some of the most common misconceptions about this lifestyle.
What Is Van Life?
Because of its viral nature, interest in this lifestyle has also grown rapidly. Most people, however, seem to think that it is simply a way of nomadic living that primarily revolves around a van or the individual’s vehicle of choice. Sure, at first glance, this might be so, but there is more to it than meets the eye.
More than just mere vehicle dwelling, it is also the embodiment of how people have shifted their way of thinking from wanting more, to choosing much less. It isn’t just a small movement, either. Van living is an entire sub-culture of individuals who are reassessing what the essentials truly are and finding the simple answer to that all important question: how to be happy?
Think about it: just how many hours in a day do you have set aside for yourself? That is, if you have energy left at the end of a work hour. Self care often takes a backseat when it comes to the fast-paced lives we all live. What are you doing it for? We all work so we can enjoy more of life, right?
Van life offers a more balanced lifestyle, but it also isn’t for everyone. If you’re alright with letting go of some of your possessions and placing a priority on creating experiences instead, then it might work for you. It’s all about carving a path for yourself and creating the life you want. Think of it as breaking the work-sleep cycle that so many of us live.
It also provides a sense of escapism, no different from the idea of cottagecore and goblincore, which focuses on adding more whimsy and comfort into an individual’s life.
Vanlifers come from all walks of life. You have your weekend warriors who are looking for a short escape from their weekday nine to five routine. Traveling is the best form of self-care, if you ask us. So while they may not be living out of a van full-time, they are still considered part of the community. There are also short-term adventurers who would rather opt to live out of a van rather than rent out a boring hotel room.
Some van life folk are also full-time travelers! They live, work, and journey in their home on wheels. These are the digital nomads who are living life like it’s one big road trip. They also comprise a significant chunk of the community. Alongside them are those who chose a living the van life for retirement; basically, they live part of their days on the road, and part of it in a traditional home.
As you can see, there’s no single definition for what van living is. Every individual in it creates a new meaning for themselves and that’s part of what makes it beautiful.
Pros and Cons of Van Life
- Flexibility: If you’re looking to break the cycle of your nine to five lifestyle, then the van life is a good option to look into. You’ll have more control of your time and what you want to do with it. Many who practice van living are also digital nomads, meaning they take their work with them wherever they go. As long as there is a decent internet connection, then they will be able to work.
- Simplicity: Living the van life will, for lack of a better word, force you to live a simpler life. You will have to make changes in just about every aspect of living. This lifestyle will make you rethink what is truly essential; from the clothes you wear, the furnishings you have, and the personal memorabilia you choose to keep. The philosophy of Hygge will surely help you with this.
- Cost: How much are you paying for rent on a monthly basis? What about your mortgage? By downsizing, you can also make your life most cost-effective. Contrary to what some might think, however, living in a van isn’t without its costs. It all depends on the city you live in, the kind of van you have, and what utilities are in it.
- Mindfulness: Mindful living can mean many different things for people. For some, it could mean living a slower and more conscious lifestyle. To others, it might mean living according to one’s own pace and style. In general, however, van life will make you more mindful of your actions and how it might affect others. This, in turn, creates stronger and more thoughtful relationships.
- Amenities: Fact is, living in a van means saying goodbye to a lot of the creature comforts and conveniences you enjoy at home. This includes bath tubs, hot showers, laundry machines, dishwashers, and so on. The same goes for your kitchen set-up. At most, you’ll have the most basic kitchen essentials and not much else—including counterspace.
- Daily Grind: If you’re thinking van living is akin to a vacation, then you need to do more research. The reality for most people who have this kind of lifestyle is that it can begin to wear on you. Of course, it really depends on where you’re located, but some things to consider include: finding safe places to park in, areas where you can shower, and affordable spots where you can plug in your van for electricity.
- Space: On average, all you’ll really get is 60 square feet. Sounds like it might be enough, but when you’re living in it? Not so much. Remember that you’ll have to divide up that 60 square feet to accommodate your stuff, and your personal living space. You’ll need to employ some serious “Tetris” strategies to make sure everything fits in and the space is kept organized, too.
- Cost: It is cheaper living in a van, but do remember that you’ll also need money for essentials like: fuel, maintenance, buying or building your van home, insurance, phone and internet bills, and so on. Just because you’re living on wheels, it doesn’t mean you can escape from all of these responsibilities, too.
Who is It Best Suited For?
If you’re someone who is capable of adjusting to an entirely new way of living, then this could be the change you’re looking for. While photos on social media might show a more romanticized version of this lifestyle, the reality for many is far from it. Sure, you can apply elements of Hygge to make everything cozier and aesthetically appealing, but that’s just the surface level of things.
Another thing to remember is employment. Some people can make working nine to five while living in a van, but it can be difficult to manage. If you’re ready to make the switch when it comes to your job as well, then van living might be suited for you. It really boils down to how big of a change you are prepared for, your personal preferences, and what sacrifices or compromises you’re willing to make.
Getting Started with Van Life
So now that you have, more or less, a good idea of what living in a van entails, it’s time to move on to putting everything together. This isn’t an overnight change you can make and most people take months to prepare for it. To make sure that you get the best out of your experience and avoid any huge mishaps along the way, here’s our guide and checklist of things you must remember.
Build Your Van
What are the best vans for van life? You’ll find varying answers if you look through sources such as van life YouTube, a van life blog, and a van life forum. Let us help you out by narrowing down the top choices to just five.
Ford Transit – Starts at $34,510
Many consider this to be the best since it has something for everyone. It’s ample space for a van life interior. The Transit also comes with three different body lengths, two types of wheelbases, three types of engines, and three roof heights. The only drawback, especially for those looking for a secondhand camper van, is that it is one of the newer models, so used ones are hard to come by.
Mercedes Sprinter – Starts at $33,790
For the taller folks among us, the Sprinter van life provides plenty of standing room. It comes with a 170-inch high roof model that can easily accommodate even individuals who are over six feet in height. When you plan on living in a van, even the smallest bit of additional space matters. There are also older models of this available secondhand, which can save you thousands. The drawback is that it has an overly complicated emissions system and maintenance costs can be hefty.
Ram Promaster – Starts at $30,245
Similar to our first two options, the Promaster is available in a number of different configurations, which should suit everyone’s needs. You have the 118-inch, 136-inch, and 159-inch wheelbases, along with two different exterior heights. The most commonly brought up drawbacks for this camper van include low ground clearance and the vehicle’s maneuverability.
Chevy Express – Starts at $32,500
If roof height isn’t your biggest priority and you’re alright with adding a pop-top, then the Chevy Express might be for you. This model has been around for almost four decades and is a favorite, not just for the casual campers, but also for those in the van life community. There are three versions available: 1500, 2500, and 3500. For those looking for a good DIY camper van, this is most ideal for that purpose. There are also many used models, if you’re on a budget. That said, those looking for van life tech and other similar upgrades to modern camper vans might find this one a little too “old-fashioned.”
Nissan NV – Starts at $30, 140
From the exterior alone, the Nissan NV already stands out from the rest. There are three different models that come with a standard or high roof. One of the biggest appeals of the NV is its price and the fact that it works well for van life conversion. This is especially so if you’re looking for a roomier cabin and don’t need that big of a cargo area. You’ll find plenty of van life layout ideas online. Though it is currently one of the least popular models on our list, the NV is still worth considering. The only major gripe some people have is that it doesn’t get very good gas mileage.
Van Life Essentials
So you have your van, what else do you need? Think about the things you’ll need on a daily basis and how it might affect van life cost. You might be surprised by the fact that there’s a lot of things you can do without. Of course, there are essentials that you NEED to make van life more comfortable, convenient, and safe. Here’s a checklist.
- Solar Panel
If you’re aiming for full-time van living, this will make you more self-sufficient and enable you to go off-grid whenever you please.
- Portable Power Bank
For those who haven’t bought a solar panel or don’t plan on investing in one, these are useful for charging your gadgets instead of relying on a cigarette lighter. This is especially so if you are worried about accidentally draining your camper van battery when it isn’t running.
- Cigarette Lighter Charger
When used properly, this is a must have. This will be helpful for keeping your devices charged while you’re driving or if your van life job requires being constantly online. There are also Quick Charge versions, which are capable of giving you a full battery four times faster than your regular USB charger.
- Electric Blanket
For cold nights, but one where you don’t really require the use of a heater. Heating is a major consideration for van life cost as well, so keep this in mind.
- Heater (ceramic, electric, wood stove, butane, propane, or butane)
Each one has its own merit, but if you’re planning on using wood or gas heaters, it is important that you also purchase a carbon monoxide detector along with it. Size matters, too, so make sure to get one that is just right for your space. Make sure it fits your van life interior.
- Roof Top Cargo Box
This is great for seasonal items, especially bulky ones that will take too much space from your interiors. Many secondhand travel vans for sale often have this installed already.
- Roof Racks
Aside from the cargo box, it’ll be wise to maximize all the available space in your roof by getting roof racks. Make sure they are heavy duty and fit your van. This is a must-include if you’re building a DIY camper van.
Van Life Shower:
- Pressure Shower
If you’re staying somewhere that will enable you to shower outdoors, having a pressure shower will be beneficial. It’ll warm up your water and you only need a foot pump to keep it going.
- Solar Van Life Shower
Even without the use of electricity, this will help give you hot water for each shower. You just need a high enough spot to hang it from and let the sun do the rest.
- Local Gyms
For city-dwelling van lifers, local gyms are certainly a blessing. Some won’t even require a membership for you to use their facilities. If you can get an affordable membership, though, consider it among your van life essentials.
- Portable Camping Oven
If you have space in your camper, this one is nice to have and can serve multiple purposes. That said, this is more of a luxury for living in a van and isn’t a total essential if you don’t cook much.
- Gas or Electric Stove
These come in many different styles and sizes, so you’ll be able to find one that best suits your needs. Choose one according to your van life layout, as well as your preferences. Do you cook often and a lot? If so, it might be more efficient for you to purchase a larger stove.
*You will also need a refrigeration system, especially if you plan on storing meat products or other perishables while on the road. Even a simple cooler would serve this purpose, but for full-time van living, you would want to look into something heftier.
- Solar Lights or Battery Operated String Lights
Choose lighting that will not consume a lot of power, yet provide you with both bright and ambient lighting. This should be a major considerationn when it comes to van life designs.
Other Miscellaneous Items to Consider:
- Vehicle Maintenance Tools
- Window Shade or Blackout Curtains (For extra privacy)
- Bluetooth Speaker
- Portable Film Projector
- Car Vacuum Cleaner
The Best Camping Food for Van Life
- Root Vegetables and Squash
These are great for living in a van. They have a hard skin, which helps keep them from getting dehydrated and rotting. You can also bring along garlic, onions, carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. These will stay good even in warm weather, but do store them somewhere dark.
- Grains, Flour, and Cereal
Not only are these filling, they are also shelf-stable even if you’re full-time living the van life. Stock up on items like corn mean, rice, quinoa, rolled oats, and whole wheat flour. Keep these in airtight containers and room temperature. Thinking about what you can do with these? Check out our article on camping food ideas!
- Beans and Lentils
These are a great source of protein and also one of the most affordable, which helps with van life cost. They are very shelf-stable when dehydrated. Items like chickpeas, lentils, mung beans, and black beans can supplement any meal. Want some sprouts? You can grow some using these beans.
- Pasta and Noodles
These will keep fresh for months and are shelf-stable straight from the store, which makes it perfect for van life. Some noodles like rice vermicelli and rice noodles don’t even need to be cooked. Just pour some boiling water and it should be ready within minutes.
- Nuts and Dried Fruit
Keeping fresh fruit can be challenging if you’re staying in camper vans, but take cues from hikers and outdoor adventurers who look to dried fruits and nuts for sustenance. These will keep your energy high and are great road snacks. They are also fairly inexpensive and can even be added to your oatmeal or bread.
Important Things to Remember for Van Living
- City Ordinances for Overnight Parking
Aside from knowing where to park, it is also important to know if you’re doing it legally or not. There are different ordinances for different cities so it’s best to be familiar with them. Some aren’t too friendly with van living so check a different van life forum or two in your area.
- Health Insurance
Van life is no different from traveling. It is just as important that you get proper health insurance, for anything that might happen along the way. You’ll be able to travel more confidently this way, too.
- Vehicle Insurance
Issues with your vehicle are inevitable when you’re on the road and if you travel often. This should help you avoid any major bills and help you keep up with the necessary maintenance needed for your vehicle. This is important so make sure you factor this into your van life cost.
- Don’t Skimp on Personal Conveniences
This depends from person to person, but the common denominator for most people is having at least a somewhat proper bathroom. Whatever you might be comfortable with, make sure you don’t sacrifice it too much. There is some room for small luxuries, even in a cramped space.
- Keep Your Mind and Body Healthy
Van living can eventually take a toll, even if it’s something you’ve always wanted. Always plan for breaks and strategies that you will employ to stay mentally and physically fit. This should help you avoid burnout as well.
Top Van Life Influencers on Social Media
Looking for inspiration to get you really motivated about making a change? Here are some of our favorite van life influencers on social media.
If you thought that van life isn’t suited for families with children, then this family of three might make you change your mind. With over 90,000 followers on Instagram, they go from from city, to woodland, to an entirely different country! They make van life with kids look so dreamy.
Have you ever dreamt about living in a van and traveling with your beloved pets? Alison Turner is living that dream. This solo van lifer and dog rescuer often hits the road with her pack of four! Get inspired to plan your own adventures by checking out her posts on social media.
Ever wondered who created the #VanLife hashtag on social media? That’s none other than Foster Hunting, who is also one of the most popular van lifers at present. He has over a million followers and has been in the van living community since 2011. While he is living in tree houses at present, he will inspire you to rethink your current lifestyle and try something different.
Van life isn’t for everyone, this is a fact. However, what’s stopping you from giving it a try? Whether you’re going for a weekend trip or doing a month-long one, this should enable you to gauge if this lifestyle is right for you. Yes, there are risks involved, but you can always prepare ahead. We hope this article helps provide you with all the information you need to get started!