Girl sitting out of the back of a van near the ocean.

Van Life 101: How to Live in a Van

Looking to set out on a new adventure off the grid doing what you love? Consider van living! From cooking and working to sleeping and showering, using your vehicle as your home on wheels is a way that lets you travel and live life on your time. Ready to learn more about living on the road? Check out our guide to van dwelling below!

What Is Van Life?

The term “van life” is pretty self-explanatory—it literally means living out of a van. But the lifestyle behind it is so much more than that. Using a van as a mobile home, van dwellers (also called nomads) are able to live a simple life that allows them to travel the world on their own schedules.

Everyone approaches this lifestyle differently. Some live on the road full time; others only stay in vans on weekends and holidays. Some live alone; others have their entire families with them. Some like to stay completely off the grid; others like to park at campsites. Regardless, many nomads find it freeing.

Why Choose Van Life?

Those who have adopted van life customs have done so to embrace minimalism, limit their carbon footprint on the earth, veer away from the standard 9 to 5 job, or focus on the hobbies and passions they enjoy. Here are some of the reasons why people decide that living out of a van is right for them!

Freedom

Couple sitting on the back of their van looking out at the mountains. Photo by Instagram user @gnomad_home
Photo via @gnomad_home

Want to spend a few days hiking in the mountains during the middle of the week? Being a vanlifer allows you to have the freedom to go on a trip or see a place you have always wanted to visit without having to figure out a schedule. Your time is more flexible, and you’re not tied to any commitments like being locked into a lease or mortgage.

Simple Living

Van with all paneling on the inside with white cabinets. Photo by Instagram user @doratheexplorervan
Photo via @doratheexplorervan

Living in a van pushes you to think about the things in life that are important to you and reduce items you don’t need. Because there is limited space inside a van, it’s harder to make impulse purchases or bring ten pairs of shoes with you on the road. Not to mention, living minimally takes away the stress of worrying about leaving precious items behind.

New Adventures

Two people sitting in chairs outside of their yellow van by the mountains. Photo by Instagram user @vanlife.living
Photo via @vanlife.living

When your home is a van, every day is a new adventure! You can wake up to a new view, meet friends within the vandweller community, take in another city’s culture, or discover some of nature’s hidden wonders. Van living means every day is different and unpredictable!

Save Money

Woman folding her clothes in a van. Photo by Instagram user @irietoaurora
Photo via @irietoaurora

One of the major reasons for living in a van full time is the amount of money you can save. Rent, mortgage, utilities, cable, and internet are monthly expenses that can add up quickly. Van life lets you eliminate these costs so you can help save toward paying off any loans or credit cards you might have.

Be Your Own Boss

Guying hanging in a hammock in his van while working. Photo by Instagram user @cyrus_sutton
Photo via @cyrus_sutton

Working remotely has become more popular over the last five years, so van life works well for digital nomads. However, some van dwellers use living on the road as an opportunity to start their own businesses and make money through hobbies. Popular van life jobs include writing, blogging, photography, painting, or selling homemade goods.


Challenges of Living on the Road

Living out of your vehicle, traveling across the country, and spending your days relaxing or working on your own schedule may seem like a glamorous life, but there are lots of challenges that come with van dwelling that you might not always see on social media. Here are few van life challenges to be aware of.

Always Need a Plan

Map on an ipad. Photo by Instagram user @hi_mynameis_bear
Photo via @hi_mynameis_bear

While it might seem like vanlifers go wherever the wind takes them, a lot of planning goes into every aspect of traveling. Where you’re going to sleep, get gas, shower, use the bathroom, get more groceries, refill water, or use WiFi are a few things that you need to plan out before driving to your destination.

Keep Your Van Secure

Girl sitting in the door of her blue van by the ocean. Photo by Instagram user @excampingex
Photo via @excampingex

When you’re living out of a van, you don’t have the comfort of a hi-tech security system and cameras that a home would to keep you safe. You and your belongings become more vulnerable when on the road, so it’s crucial to take measures to protect yourself by avoiding unsafe places, practicing stealth camping (i.e., making it look as though you’re not living in the van), using emergency communication devices, and never leaving your things unattended for too long.

Maintaining Your Vehicle

Girl fixing the tire on her van. Photo by Instagram user @practicalparadise
Photo via @practicalparadise

Just like a car or a home, you might run into unexpected expenses with your van to make it safe to drive and live in. A flat tire, broken fan belt, dead transmission, or busted stove are all things that could happen on the road that you’ll need to get fixed immediately.

Limited Space

Couple laying on the floor of their small van. Photo by Instagram user @irietoaurora
Photo via @irietoaurora

Living out of a vehicle means you don’t have much storage space, let alone livable space. A van can get messy easily if you have too many items, so it’s crucial to pick out things that are multi-purpose or important for your travels in order to stay organized. It’s also a good idea to make sure you can carve out some time for yourself if you plan on traveling with others, as privacy is limited in these spaces, too.

Adapting to the Elements

Van bed with a snow storm in the background. Photo by Instagram user @dynamoultima
Photo via @dynamoultima

One of the most unpredictable aspects of living on the road is the weather. You might run into heavy rain, snowstorms, or excessive heat. That’s why it’s important to properly prep your van for the elements with insulation, heaters, or fans, as well as map out where you want to be with apps like Windy to avoid inclement weather.

Life on the Road Can Get Lonely

Girl laying in her van looking out the back at the mountains. Photo by Instagram user @jess.wandering
Photo via @jess.wandering

If you’re going on a solo journey in a van, being on the road could get lonely at times because you don’t always have someone share the experience or help with setting up camp and taking it down. However, there are many ways that you can connect with others in the van dweller community, such as Facebook groups, Instagram, and meetups like Vanlife Diaries.

Types of Van to Live In

Before you buy a van and start doing van conversions, you need to think about budget, mileage, and space. Check out a few types of vehicles that are popular among van dwellers below!

Vanagon

A Vanagon van with an open door in a field. Photo by Instagram user @vwt3spain
Photo via @vwt3spain

Vanagons are the popular Volkswagen vans that have been around since the 1950s. They’re perfect for those looking to have a big layout in their van with a kitchen, eating area, and full-sized bed. However, theses van tend to need more repairs and are more ideal for campgrounds rather than stealth camping.

Sprinter Van

Couple sitting out of the side of their white sprinter van. Photo by Instagram user @simplholistic
Photo via @simplholistic

Sprinter vans are some of the most common in the van dweller community, as they provide a lot of space, are reliable, and have long life spans. Many nomads who use this van have bathrooms, showers, or cabinets for storage located inside, as these are easy to customize.

Cargo Van

White cargo van near a lake and mountains. Photo by Instagram user @kangurfamily
Photo via @kangurfamily

Cargo vans are easy to customize and have the ability to blend into cities for stealth camping (since many companies use cargo vans for commercial work). They’re also very affordable, can reach up to 300,000 miles, and are built for driving on rougher terrain.

Camper

White camper driving by trees. Photo by Instagram user @camprest_com
Photo via @camprest_com

Campers are the go-to option for those who want to head out on the road with a vehicle equipped with everything, such as a toilet, shower, kitchen with appliances, storage space, and bedroom. These are best for staying on campgrounds or in national parks.

High Top Conversion

Couple standing on top of a white can in California. Photo by Instagram user @_gypsytribe_
Photo via @_gypsytribe_

High-top vans are already built for van life and involve very little customization. They provide van dwellers with ample headroom, lots of storage options, and really good mileage at an affordable price!

Skoolie

Guy standing next to a white school bus with his dog. Photo by Instagram user @bus.roaming
Photo via @bus.roaming

Skoolies, also known as school buses, are used by nomads who travel with groups of friends or with families. Due to their large amount of space, they don’t require much reconstruction, and they allow you to customize to fit your needs and style.

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Need to store items while you’re living on the road? Extra Space has more than 1,700 self storage facilities throughout the U.S. that can help. Find a storage unit near you!

How to Live on the Road

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