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Should You Make Your Van Life Dreams a Reality?

Should You Make Your Van Life Dreams a Reality?

The ride of a lifetime is not for everyone.

You’ve likely seen the photos on social media showing the possibilities of transitioning from traditional home life to a more exciting van life adventure. Couples, families and solo nomads are increasingly jumping on the bandwagon to experience life off the grid, embracing the freedom that comes with living on the road and becoming van life pros in the process..

However, if you’re considering van life for yourself, it’s important to immerse yourself in a few ideas about this new living space. Read our blog post to learn more about this alternative lifestyle, including some of the pros and cons of being a van lifer. 

What are you waiting for? Van Life adventures await!

What exactly is “van life”?      

Van life means different things to different people. 

For van life purists who make the transition in search of a nomadic lifestyle, living in a van is about rejecting the status quo and building a life that’s truly their own. Many van lifers see the (admittedly) limited space in a camper van or RV as a means of finding freedom and adventure outside of the rigid confines of modern life. 

This is exactly what defines real van life and the nomadic individuals who are committed to this lifestyle for the long haul.

Is a camper van in your future?

There are those who became attracted to van life because they saw a hashtag on social media or like the idea of being more off the grid. These van lifers are usually looking for a temporary escape. 

While they might live the van life for a few weekends a year, or as an extended vacation, van life is not a way of life for them. Many who think they’re ready for van life see the glorified images of tricked out camper vans on Instagram and want to mimic that experience, complete with gorgeous sunsets and slick compact living areas.  

Neither of these interpretations of van life are better than the other. People just have different intentions with why they are interested in van life and how much they’re willing to commit to this lifestyle. 

Perks of van life

If you’re considering making the transition to van dwelling of some kind, it’s important to understand all the pros and cons of your decision. First, let’s talk about the upsides of van life and why some are drawn toward this lifestyle choice. Here are the seven biggest perks of transitioning to van life. 

You get to simplify your life

Living the van life means serious downsizing, especially when you're making this transition permanent. Your life is able to fit inside your camper van, meaning you don’t have a house to keep up, a lawn to mow or any of the responsibilities of living in (or owning) a home. 

For many of those living the van life, choosing this lifestyle means getting really clear about what actually matters to you—and what actually doesn’t. So often in society the refrain is “more money, more money,” and the need for it never seems to stop. Van life can bring you immense clarity about your priorities and how you really want to spend your precious time here on Earth. 

You’ll be able to travel

Whether you prefer the East Coast or somewhere out West, if you enjoy going on road trips, your new lifestyle is basically one long journey on the road. You can go from place to place, visiting national parks, a friend’s house a few hours away, family members, landmarks—wherever you want to travel to, you can go. 

how to live in a van
(amriphoto / Getty)

For many van lifers, travel and seeing the world is a big priority, hence the emphasis on the nomadic lifestyle and the flexibility to be anywhere, as long as you’re willing to drive there. You really can explore the whole country at your pace. 

Sure you’ve got a great coffee shop and a warm shower in your hometown. But do you know how many coffee shops there are in North America? Hell, why stop there - you can even keep heading south until you hit South America if you want!

You can make your own schedule

Whether you’re in a Sprinter Van, a Ford Transit, or something out of an RV park, with van life, you decide where to go next. Of course, if you do remote work or your kids are in school, there will be some constraints as far as when you need to be online and when kids need to be at school (unless you are homeschooling). 

But you can decide if you want to drive somewhere new or stay put for as long as you want. Having a mobile home, so to speak, lets you make your own schedule and truly control the direction of your life. 

You can downsize your possessions to just the essentials

It’s safe to say that most of us have way too much stuff. When you embark on van life, you’ll need to get rid of anything that’s not necessary because you’ll only have so much space. The whole process of whittling down your possessions to just what you really need can be very liberating. 

By doing this you get to focus more on what really matters, not wasting time doing endless loads of laundry because you have a whole closet full of clothes, or cleaning dust from all of your clutter. One of the most fun things about a minimalist lifestyle is that there are a number of mental benefits that come along with it, and this is a major perk of van life because it can alleviate a lot of stress.

You could save money

When you become a vanlifer, you’ll have fewer overall expenses, especially if you’re going all in with this lifestyle. You won’t have rent or a mortgage to pay on your home, for one. And you’ll be freed of the various expenses that come with home life, like paying for utilities and having to fix things that break or wear out in your house. 

After investing in your van, you’ll be able to save a lot of money if you’re able to work at your job remotely or go freelance working for various online businesses, picking up work as you go. There are also a lot of ways to make extra money when you have downtime on the road, which can impact your bottom line for the better. 

You always have the comforts of home with you

Your vehicle dwelling isn’t a house, but it can be your home. You’ll have all the essentials you need to be comfortable and happy as you travel. You’ll be able to stock your refrigerator with food you like to eat, you’ll have your favorite items of clothing tucked into your closet and you’ll be surrounded by the best of the best items that you’ve kept from your previous life. 

When you’re tired, you can rest in your bed. When you’re sandy from hitting the beach, you can shower. When you’re hungry, you can cook a meal. It’s simple but meaningful at the same time. 

You’ll spend more time with your family

living the van life
(Cavan Images / Getty)

Whether you’re going to do van life with your partner, your kids, your dog or a combination, living with other people in a camper means that you’ll be spending a lot more time together than you did previously. There’s no escaping your loved ones in a small space. 

You’ll be able to go on adventures together, cuddle up when it’s time for bed and work together to choose your next destination. The experience will no doubt bring you closer than ever. 

Downsides of van life

A few things to keep in mind when you’re considering van life are the downsides of this lifestyle. The following seven drawbacks to a nomadic existence may be deal breakers for some people. For others; they’re minor annoyances that are worth it to reap the benefits of being a vanlifer. 

Only you know for yourself if this lifestyle truly is for you.

Your expectations might not match reality

If your only exposure to van life is the #vanlife movement on social media, you may be in for a rude awakening when you embark on your journey. While many Instagram posts show vanlifer couples enjoying the sunset over the beach—in a very posh camper, no less—you’ll more likely see the sun go down in  RV parks or a Costco parking lot, not over a sparkling ocean. 

Why? Because you usually can’t park overnight at the beach and you’ll need to find a spot to hunker down before it gets dark and cold. One of the biggest misconceptions about van life is how it is glorified on social media. Make sure you talk to people who have actually lived the van life about their experience before making the jump. 

You may not love the bathroom situation

One thing you don’t see on #vanlife posts on Instagram? The fact that many campers are equipped with a composting toilet. What this means is this: You’ll need to empty the waste regularly (at a facility that allows for this) and you may have to deal with a smell that you don’t love in a small space. 

There’s something to be said about having access to modern plumbing and the bathroom situation in your van certainly will not. Even if you have a chemical toilet, it still needs to be emptied periodically.

You won’t have a lot of space

Clearly, spending time in a van will be more cramped than living in a house or an apartment. However, you may not be prepared for living in a small amount of space day in and day out. If you get claustrophobic easily or don’t like feeling cramped, van life may not be for you. 

You’ll need to find new ways to maintain a social life

One of the major challenges of a nomadic type of life is making and maintaining friends. You may already have a solid group of friends that you can stay in touch via phone and email. If this is enough for you, that’s great. 

You may also make new friends on the road with whom you can travel or meet up every few months. But if you prefer to have a group of friends you can see each week reliably, van life may not be for you. Other nomads will come and go from your life and may not be as consistent with keeping in touch. 

Your tricked out van will cost you 

Those beautiful built-out vans you see on social media don’t come cheap. First, there’s the cost of a van itself which can vary if you buy it new or used. But to put in the custom kitchen, bed, bathroom and other amenities you could be looking at an extra $200,000 in build costs. 

Then, you need to think about maintenance on your vehicle and all of its bells and whistles. If you’re cool with popping a mattress in the back and using a hot plate, you can easily avoid all of the costs and time needed for a build out, but not everyone will feel comfortable living so sparingly. 

You can run into unexpected challenges

Another aspect of van life that social media doesn't usually show are all the challenges that come from being on the road. Like, if you have a broken toilet—or a heater on the fritz—and there’s no local hotel for you to stay at. 

You can also come across bad traffic, bad water and bad road conditions. Your van could break down in an inconvenient location.  Of course, anywhere you live can be problematic - appliances break down in houses all the time. But when you’re on the road and don’t have easy options to turn to for help (or comfort) it could be really stressful.

You might get burnt out

Being “location independent” isn’t for everyone. Just like you can get burnt out at your job or living in a certain city, there may come a day when you’re just over doing the van life thing. Having a plan for what you might do if this day comes is important. 

For many people, you just don’t know how you’re going to like living life on the road until you try it for a long period of time. But you don’t want to jump into it and then realize after a year that “location independence” is not for you and that you shouldn’t have sold your house. 

Taking the time to understand if it’s truly for you before making huge life decisions is the best option, if you can swing it. 

What is van life insurance, and do you need it?

One important point to consider is how you will insure your van life vehicle. Just like you need to have car insurance to operate a motor vehicle, you will need van insurance to ensure that you’re covered on the road in the event of an accident or theft situation. Whether you have an RV, a camper van or a similar vehicle, you can expect to pay $1,300-$2,000 per year to insure your van life mode of transportation.  

living on the road
(hnijjar007 / Getty)

Because your van may also be your home, there are some specific considerations to keep in mind, particularly if you want your van insured for its full value. If you’re planning on building out your van, you may want to consider having the work done professionally in order to be able to insure the total value of your vehicle. 

If you do the van build work yourself, you won’t be able to show receipts for the labor cost of tricking out your camper van. So if your van gets stolen, for instance, you may not recoup all of the money (and time) you spend on your build out. And some insurance companies will only value upgrades to your van if they were professionally done (unless you are a professional yourself).

Before making the transition, it’s worth calling around and doing research on whether you’ll be able to get insurance, at what cost and at what value. 

Making the van life the transition

Ready to try out van life? Make the transition by renting a camper van and taking a road trip vacation. When you get a taste for this kind of adventure you’ll know for sure if it’s a way of life you’ll want to adopt over the long term.

Whether or not you choose to make the full transition, know that van life is always there when you need to get some adventure in your life. Selling your home and giving up all of your possessions may feel like too much of a stretch, but you can always opt for a van life vacation to help you unwind and get a sense of the freedom this lifestyle has to offer.

And if you’re feeling like making a major lifestyle change, get ready for the ride of your life. Van life isn’t always easy, or glamorous, but this nomadic lifestyle sure is fulfilling for those who truly relish it. 

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