The decoupling of people from the office made possible by recent technological advancements has created many lifestyle possibilities that simply weren’t in play for many people just 20 years ago. The most obvious example of this is the digital nomad.
But freelance writers aren’t the only ones these days with the option of pulling up roots and hitting the road full time. More people than ever are retiring early, while others are riding the wave of record-high stock valuations. And of course, there are still those who just can’t contain their wanderlust. If you’re thinking of pulling up roots you need to read on.
Why Would You Want to Live in a Van?
There are a lot of reasons someone may want to live in a van. Some people just can’t seem to sit still. Others are tired of making rent or mortgage payments and don’t have anything, in particular, tying them to one specific address. They work remotely and can do their job from anywhere they can find an internet connection.
So they think “Why not?” Still, others may have retired early (or not so early) and just want to cut the cord from the life they’ve been living.
Of course, there’s a flip side to that coin. While some people are thriving in today’s high-tech, global economy, others are not.
Their reasons for wanting (or having) to live in a van are not quite as rosy as those outlined above. Maybe they can no longer afford to pay the rent or mortgage. And a nomadic life is the only realistic option open to them. But whatever the reason, living in a van won’t be particularly easy. And we’ll get into why now.
What are the Challenges of Van Life?
While living on the road can open your eyes to the world, it comes with some very real challenges. So before you give your landlord 30 days’ notice or put your house up for sale, consider the following:
- You’ll come face to face with fear – Most of us aren’t aware of how much fear motivates our actions until we do something like move into a van. Suddenly we’re afraid for our safety, afraid there might be an accident, afraid someone might steal our house on wheels while we’re in the convenience store and more.
- People look at you differently – Your free-spirited friends will envy you. Most people though, while outwardly supportive, will inwardly think you’ve lost it. Most folks are security-oriented. And anyone who doesn’t buy into that outlook is branded disruptive or lazy or crazy. It’s called peer pressure and it can get intense.
- It can get lonely – Say goodbye to your social life as you know it. You’re going to have to devise an entirely new one based on your van life. That’s going to mean lots of fleeting campground friendships and long twilight hours traversing the wastelands of Wyoming or resting in Walmart parking lots. Memorable? In many ways, sure. Lonely? It’s bound to be from time to time.
“When your entire life is based on wheels, you need to be able to think quick and work efficiently when faced with challenges.” – Nathan Bernal, Travel Blogger, We Who Roam
Choosing Your Van
If you don’t already have a van, you’re going to have to find just the right one to empower your new life. Here are some things to consider:
- Budget – The ideal situation is that you already own a van that’s road-ready and livable. The reality is that most people need to buy and convert a van before they can hit the road. You can spend $50,000 on a new van and another $10,000 – $20,000 to really trip it out. But is that actually in your budget? A better bet for most people is to buy a decent used van, put a few thousand into ensuring it’s mechanically sound and another 5 grand or so into making it livable.
- Space – How much space you require from your van will come down almost entirely to 1 question: Are you going alone or taking a hostage, er, companion with you. If your intention is to hit the road solo and find yourself somewhere in the endless expanse, you won’t need more than a standard Econoline and a mattress.
If, however, you are hitting the road with your special someone and you want the relationship to survive life on the road, you’ll need something bigger. Like a genuine camper van with a high roof or a mid-sized RV.
- Facilities – If your plan is to convert one of those Econolines we just mentioned, you’ll be hard-pressed to find room inside for a toilet and/or kitchen facilities. If those things are really important to you, you’ll need to drop some serious money to convert a larger van or simply purchase one of the aforementioned RVs that already have those facilities built-in. Of course, you’ll need to be mindful of the fact that the larger the vehicle, the more you’ll spend on gas.
How to Live the Van Life?
To live the van life with any success you’ll need to find a way to deal with these issues:
- Where to Park – The eternal question. Walmart has opened its parking lots to road warriors and is somewhat legendary in the van life community. Casino parking lots are another relatively easy place to park and sleep. Since they’re open 24/7 and well-lit.
Bureau of Land Management-controlled land is a place where you can stay for free for up to 2 weeks. But it can be hard to find and there’s almost none in the Eastern US. If all else fails, try a highway rest area. They’re plentiful and have restrooms. The downside is they can be dangerous.
- Taking a Shower – Staying clean on the road is another challenge that isn’t easily remedied. There are no showers in Walmart parking lots or in rest areas. If you’re in need of a shower, your best bet is a state or national park or paid campground. With the roadside campground probably being the best choice. There are a lot of them. Most don’t require reservations and almost all have showers.
How Much Does Living in a Van Cost?
Living in a van costs anywhere from about $750 per month to $2,000 per month and up. If you don’t have at least $2,000 per month to spend, your van life may well be a boring one of camp food and cheap thrills. Your mobility will also be limited since gas costs money.
However, if you have plenty in the bank or are a digital nomad who can earn as you go, you shouldn’t have any problems. If you’re working on a strict budget we’d advise you to bring plenty of books to pass the time.
Some talk about life on the road as if it’s one long epiphany. Others describe it as an intolerable slog they can never escape. The reality will probably occupy the area in between those extremes. You’re likely to have plenty of peak experiences coupled with days where you’re bored and uncomfortable and can’t find a shower.
The key to making the most of it is to be realistic, stay within your budget and accept the bad with the good. If you can do that your van life is likely to be an eye-opening odyssey like few others.