Living in a Van: Van Life for Beginners
Ever found yourself daydreaming about the open road, with the wind in your hair and a world of adventure at your fingertips? Yeah, me too! Since I was just a wee one, I’ve been captivated by the allure of a “traveling home”—a magical home on wheels where wanderlust and freedom collide. And let me tell you, when I finally took the plunge, it was everything I’d hoped for and more.
Of course, van life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows; there are ups and downs to this nomadic existence, particularly for digital nomads like ourselves. It’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even if you’re only planning to roll with it for a little while. So, buckle up, and let’s explore the wild world of van living together!
Let’s hit the road!
Why Live in a Van?
If you’re an adventurer and want your home to be your means of travel at the same time, living in a van will most probably be a life-changing and refreshing experience for you.
Van life provides you with a whole new sense of freedom. You won’t ever feel tied up when you’re on the road in the comfort of your own home. The joy of simultaneously feeling at home and exploring new places is very hard to beat.
Pros and Cons of Van Life
It’s not a piece of cake getting the guts for once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as living in a van. Even if you’re not going to continue to live in a van for a lifetime, it’s sensible to think through the pros and cons of van life.
Pros of Van Life
Van life has many perks: economically, physically, and mentally. Find below some of the most fantastic aspects of living in a van:
- The freedom to travel: When you live in a van, you don’t need to worry about means of transport and try and find the perfect hotel or a convenient Airbnb. You can just pick a destination and take the journey in the coziness of your own home.
- Cutting back: Van life lowers monthly expenses like electricity and internet bills. If your main objective is not to travel but to save money, a stationary van life reduces your spending considerably because you don’t spend much on gas either.
- Being at home regardless of your location: Being surrounded by your stuff and having everything you may need at hand is an advantage as you travel. Plus, designing the interior of a van is a fun project.
- Van life is very pet friendly: You don’t need to find someone to look after your pet as you travel if you’re living in a van. What’s even better is your pet will have more freedom.
- It’s a life-changing experience: Having the freedom to constantly travel on your terms broadens your horizons. It allows you to explore as a way of living.
- You’re remote from tumult and noise: Van life is a great escape from the chaos of urban life. You might as well want to shut down social media while you’re at it. You’ll return to your regular settled life fresh as a daisy.
- Becoming more aware of what you need and what you don’t: When you pack to fit in a van, you realize your life is full of stuff that most of which you don’t need. You decide to go for a more minimal way of life, and this change releases you from the burden of the lumber that surrounds you.
- Entering a new network: When you live and travel in a van, you get to meet with people that share the same lifestyle as you along the way. These encounters can turn into lifelong friendships.
Cons of Van Life
As I’ve partly listed above, van life has countless perks. However, it has its downsides, as well. Here are some cons of van life to keep in mind just in case:
- Toilet and shower: It may be hard getting used to a composting toilet or installing a shower system in your van. Both appliances require considerable maintenance and effort to fill and dump the tanks.
- Doing the housework: Simple tasks such as dishwashing may be harder to handle in the van.
- Not having much space: Living in such a compact space may be overwhelming sometimes. You have all the space in the world when you simply step outside, though.
- Accidents and breakdowns: Such unexpected situations may be annoying, tiresome, and costly, especially if you’re at a location where you can’t access help for repair easily.
Preparation Steps for Van Life
There are a few steps you can follow while preparing for your life on the road. To give a smooth start to your van adventure, try and make sure you do not miss the steps I’ve listed below.
Conduct thorough research and pick the best suitable vehicle for you taking your needs and lifestyle into consideration.
Set up the appliances you’ll be needing in the van and design and furnish the interior.
Work up the know-how of the van life. Learn where to sleep, how to maintain the appliances, how to deal with severe weather, etc.
Improve your troubleshooting skills and be prepared for mechanical inconveniences.
Make sure you always have an escape plan to put into action in case overwhelmed by van life.
Buying a Van
The most crucial thing while buying a van is to know your budget and needs. It is useful to consider how much storage you need, where you drive your van, and how long you’ll be living in it.
For instance, if you’re planning to drive on bumpy roads in wet climates, and need a lot of storage space, a 4×4 van like a Mercedes Sprinter is a good option for you. If you prefer something more modest, on the other hand, Ford Transit might be just the right van for you. They have a relatively fairer price and ceiling height where you can stand up and walk around. It is not as hotshot as the Sprinter on rough roads, though. You may consider Chevy Astros, Chevy G Series, or Ford Econolines if you have a lower budget.
Depending on your budget, preferences, and craftiness you can also consider building a van yourself or buying a previously used one.
New vs. Used Vans
Buying a used van can be advantageous depending on your budget and the duration of your van living. There are perks and advantages to both new vans and used vans. Here’s yet another pros and cons list:
Pros of Buying a New Van
- Unused and trustable
- Comes with warranty
- Absolute customizability
- Provide much better longevity than a used van
Cons of Buying a New Van
- Insurance is more expensive
- Takes more time to get on the road
Pros of Buying a Used Van
- Faster to get on the road
- Insurance is cheaper
Cons of Buying a Used Van
- Can have mechanical problems
- Quality uncertainty regarding the build
- Not as trustable and typically does not come with a warranty
Van Living: Auto Insurance
Typical auto insurance policies cover the vehicles but not your entire build. If you prefer to get an absolute insurance policy covering all components of your van, you may want to opt for an RV Insurance policy.
I, personally, recommend RV insurance especially if you’ve spent generously for your van’s conversion. Having a comprehensive insurance plan will come in handy in all sorts of situations.
Living in a Van and Tips for the Road
Since van life is a whole new experience for most people who decide to go for it, it’s useful to get a few tips before hitting the road. Here are some I’ve gathered for you:
- Checking websites, maps, and apps for the best free campsites
- Learn how to find dump stations and fresh water, and refill your tanks
- Figure out how and where you can shower
- Get familiar with the rules and knacks of using public facilities
- Learn about stealth camping: where it’s legal and where it’s not
- Sort out your utilities like the internet and the electricity
- Make sure you’ve done thorough research on safety tips
- Blend into the van life communities
- Try and get used to preparing easy meals
Van Living: Bathroom and Shower Facilities
If you don’t have a composting toilet or a shower tank installed in your van, there are a few options that van lifers go for to fulfill these needs:
- Gym memberships
- Public spaces
- Recreation centers
Before you hit the road, make sure to check if these sorts of places are available in the places you want to go.
How to Find Water FillUps, Dump Stations Showers, and Laundry
Van life apps are once again a helping hand while seeking these kinds of facilities. If you’re not using such an app, note that there are a few spots where van lifers find dump stations and freshwater:
- Grocery stores
- Gas stations
- Public parks
- Houses of friends and family (the best option)
Van Life: Cooking
Since a van kitchen countertop is a squishy space, you need to adjust your skills accordingly. The amount of water and other supplies is relatively small, as well. So you need to learn how to economize on them.
Planning your meals and doing your shopping in advance will help you avoid spending a lot and will reduce the chances of missing ingredients when camping in the middle of nowhere. Planning your meals weekly will do you a great deal of good.
Another useful thing would be to fill yourself with a notebook of easy recipes that requires the employment of the fewest utensils as possible.
How to Get Mail on the Road
Getting mail while on the road is a bit tricky, but it’s manageable. You can have your mail and packages delivered to family or friends that reside on your travel route. If you prefer to have them delivered in your P.O. Box, however, you can ask a friend or family member to pick them up for you to collect when you get back.
Finding Free Places To Park and Camp
Free camping is the best option to save money while living in a van. Although established campgrounds offer many comforts, free camping has its perks, too. For instance, it usually provides better views and great tranquility. You can use related apps, websites, and maps to locate free places to park and camp.
Camp regulations are different in each country. If you're starting your van life in a foreign country, you'd better check out their regulations.
Getting WiFi in Your Van
One of the challenges of van life for digital nomads and remote workers is finding stable internet connections. In my experience, it’s best to use a limitless data plan on your mobile. If you favor doing it cheaper, on the other hand, libraries and cafes are great stopping points to use reliable, stable internet.
Costs of Living in a Van
The cost of living in a van varies according to the van you choose to buy, conversions you make in the van, places you park and camp at, and how often you travel. In short, it almost entirely depends on your choices: meaning if you plan your budget, you can enjoy van life at a very low cost of living.
To give you a general idea, I can say that monthly expenses for van life vary between $1,000 – $3,000, including gas, bills, camping fees, food, insurance, etc. As for the van itself: the price of a Ford Transit starts from $37,000 whereas the Mercedes Sprinter costs at least $56,000.
Is Van Life Safe?
It may feel unsettling to live in a van at first, especially if you’re going solo. However, you get used to it in time. Researching and implementing the safety tips from other van lifers go a long way, too. For instance, parking your van in a position that you can easily drive away, having a built-in toilet to avoid going out during the night, and hanging blackout curtains to ensure a sense of privacy will reduce the risk of an invasion and relieve your fears simultaneously.
If you have a lot of work to do, long periods of inactivity in your van can cause sluggishness and health problems, so make sure you take regular breaks to stand, stretch, and walk around.
Is Van Life Legal?
No law prohibits you from living, traveling, or sleeping in a van. However, you should be careful not to park on private property, provoke a disturbance, or trespass.
Bringing Dogs or Cats Into the Van
Can you bring your dogs and cats into your van? Well, of course, you can! As I’ve mentioned earlier, van life is even one of the best suitable lifestyles to live with animals, especially dogs.
Necessary Gear for Living in a Van
It is best to live and travel light in a van due to having a very limited space. Just keep it simple and practical. Bring only the things you’re sure you’ll need. I know it seems hard at first, but you’ll be glad to be living minimalistic when you’re on the road.
Solar panels or additional battery storage will be necessary to power your inventor and keep your laptop charged and ready to use.
An office space or tabletop to use as a desk can aid in long hours of typing, and a USB-powered desk lamp can light the way for evening work as the sun goes down.
Remote Job Ideas for Van Lifers
If you are already a remote worker, that’s great. If you’re not but want to explore van life, we can say that van life and remote work are very compatible. Below are some job ideas to consider for your potential future van life.
- Digital Marketer
- Data Analyst
- Graphic Designer
- Customer Service Representative
- Web Developer
- Online Teacher
Time To Hit the Road
I’ve tried to provide you with the essentials of van life. All in all, living in a van is a life-altering, glamorous experience that teaches you a lot about the world, sustainability, at times austerity, minimalism, joyfulness, troubleshooting, etc. It also provides you with a chance for self-discovery.
It’s a great adventure you should take if you have the slightest intent and the opportunity.
Is living in a van less expensive than living in a house?
For some, it is a less expensive way of life than renting a standard home. Depending on your lifestyle, living in a van full-time can be a wise way to save money. There are, of course, additional van-related expenditures to consider, such as insurance, breakdown coverage, and fuel. However, living full-time in a van will almost surely save you a lot of money when compared to the cost of renting an apartment.
Where should I park my van?
One of the most fantastic aspects of van living is the abundance of possibilities for parking in some of the world's most beautiful settings and national parks. However, finding a place to park your van overnight may be one of the most difficult aspects of van life. Safe alternatives include established campgrounds and RV parks.
However, free camping is less expensive. Throughout Europe, there are various free overnight parking options.
What are the disadvantages of van life?
Although van life offers many advantages, it also has many disadvantages. Here are a few of the most typical disadvantages of living in a van:
- Hygiene and cleaning
- Finding a parking spot for the night
- Stability in social life
- There is no privacy.
- Mechanical problems
- Showers are available.
- Finding petrol stations
What is it like to live in a van?
It's exciting to start your van life journey, but it may also be overwhelming. There's a lot to learn and consider, such as which van to purchase and where you'll shower, rest for a few hours, and sleep at night.
Van life gives you the freedom to visit places you've always wanted to visit on your schedule. Living in a van and having such a little area requires a simpler lifestyle with less stuff. You'll have to prioritize the most important areas of your life and let rid of the less important and superfluous aspects.