You’ve seen the hype around #vanlife. You’ve seen the stunning photos on social media. Now you want to throw everything to the wind, quit your job, and live a carefree life of traveling in a camper van.
If you’re prepared and have the right mindset, van life can be a great way to cut your expenses, see the world, learn about yourself, and refocus on what really matters in your life. But there are a few things to think about before you make the leap to living in a van full time.
This page is designed as a jumping-off point for your personal vanlife journey. We go over the pros and cons of this lifestyle, exactly how to live in a van, some of the reasons why full time van life is awesome, and some of the drawbacks. We answer the most frequently asked questions about living in a van – everything from bathrooms and showering, to making money on the road, to finding sweet camping spots.
We also include links to more in-depth resources if you want to delve more deeply into a question. So go ahead – explore this page and decide if living in a van is right for you. Then get out there and begin your journey!
What is Van life?
Van life is a social movement of nomadic individuals who reject the way we are all “told” to live in favor of minimalism, simplicity, adventure, and reassessing what is truly meaningful in life. Van life is commonly associated with willy-nilly travel and glamorous images on social media, but the reality of this lifestyle is often far different than it is portrayed.
To some, #vanlife is just an escapist hashtag. To others, it represents freedom, travel, adventure, or minimalism. But to the people living it, van life is a movement, a way of life, a means of living more in harmony with ourselves, an act of resistance against the status quo.
At its most basic, van life is just that: living in a van. But to us, it has little to do with the van itself. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, or where you spend most of your time. It doesn’t matter what specific kind of vehicle you drive, or how much you spent converting it into a DIY camper. It doesn’t matter whether you travel all over or stay around one area, or whether you’re in your rig full time, part time, or just on weekends. Vanlife is about much more than this.
Van life is the process of taking control of your life. It’s about leaning into your fear of the unknown in order to pursue what makes you feel alive. It’s about meeting strangers from all over the world and accepting them for their differences, while openly seeing the commonalities we all share with each other.
Vanlife does involve living in a van, yes. And since vanlifers may not be tied down to a lease or a mortgage there is often travel involved. But deeper than that, vanlife is about the commitment to create the most fulfilling life you can for yourself. It’s about not settling for all the “shoulds” that others try to push upon you. It’s about focusing on what’s meaningful in your life and shedding what isn’t.
It’s about creating your own path.
Why Would You Want to Live in a Van?
There are many reasons why people choose a nomadic lifestyle. Some do this part time, some for a temporary road trip. Still others sell off their belongings and commit to van life full time. But however you go about it, living in a van is rewarding. It’s exciting. And it’s a ton of fun – if you allow it to be.
Ultimately, your mindset will dictate your experience. But if you remain open to sudden changes and new adventures, if you allow yourself to go with the moment, if you learn to make do with less and appreciate simplicity, then embarking on a vanlife journey will be one of the most important transitions you can gift yourself.
Here are just some of the reasons why you might consider living in a van:
Reason #1: Vanlife Embraces the Excitement of the Unknown
Living a nomadic lifestyle means you’re constantly diving into uncertainty – which can be terrifying, but also very exciting. Every day on the road is an adventure. Every day has the possibility of something different and unexpected happening.
In any given day we may not know exactly what will happen, what we’ll do, who we’ll meet, or where we’ll sleep that night. This feeling of uncertainty that comes with van life adventures has a way of making you feel alive, more in tune with the present moment, and accepting of change.
Reason #2: Van living is a Challenge that Leads to Personal Growth
Despite how it may look on Instagram, living in a van is not easy – in fact, it can be a tremendous challenge at times. You will deal with a lot of uncertainty and discomfort. You will spend a lot of one-on-one time with yourself. Making full time van life work financially takes a lot of hustle. You will need to learn to make do with less and embrace simple pleasures with gratitude.
Real van life will challenge you in ways that you never thought possible, but it carries rewards that will change you for the better. You’ll be thrown into many uncomfortable scenarios that will force you to confront yourself at the deepest level. You may discover that your patience isn’t as strong as you had believed. You may find that you need stability – or that you need to go with the flow more. You’ll experience the importance of flexibility and open-mindedness. And if you’re honest with yourself, this will lead you down a path of incredible personal growth.
Reason #3: Van Life Means Freedom, Flexibility, and Adventure
Many vanlifers choose this nomadic lifestyle for the freedom and adventure that awaits on the open road. It’s quite wonderful not being tied down to a house or an apartment, to have everything you need with you at all times, and to be able to go wherever the road takes you. Your days are often much more flexible, and you have the general sense that your time is your own.
Maybe you want to visit every National Park in the US. Vanlife is a great way to do that, all while saving on transportation and housing costs. Maybe you have friends and family scattered throughout the country. Van life can enable you to spend more quality time with them.
Maybe you’ve never been to the West Coast (or the East Coast, or Alaska, or South America, or Europe, or Asia, or *insert place here*). Traveling in a van is a great way to see new places – all while bringing your house with you and continuing to work and live your life.
And, van living allows you to change your plans at the drop of a hat. Maybe you want to stay longer in a place you really like. Maybe someone tells you about an awesome waterfall the opposite direction of where you were headed. Maybe you want to check out a new city, or escape out into the wilderness. Maybe the weather isn’t to your liking and you want to head south (or north, or to the coast, or up to the mountains). When you live in a van, endless possibilities are open to you.
Reason #4: Van Life Allows You to Focus on Hobbies (rock climbing, surfing, hiking, skiing, music, whatever)
Depending on how you live, vanlife may allow you to focus more time around your favorite hobbies. Maybe you want to wake up at the beach and surf all day long. Or maybe you want to spend more time hiking, rock climbing, or skiing. Or maybe you want to focus on your music, or your writing, or your artwork. Whatever hobby you have that ignites your soul, living in a van can free you up to make it a larger part of your life.
While the freedom and flexibility of van living can allow you to direct more of your time to what’s meaningful to you, it’s important to note that you won’t have endless amounts of free time. Some things just take longer when you live in a van. You’ll need to spend time traveling, finding places to sleep, restocking fresh water, setting up and breaking down camp, etc. You may be surprised by how much time gets eaten up by these activities.
But van life also allows you to save tons of time in other areas. You may not need to make that long commute to work anymore. Your needs will be simpler, so you may not need to work all those hours just to afford unnecessary things. Or you can work seasonally, save money, and take off for part of the year.
The point is, the overall freedom and simplicity of vanlife really opens up your horizon of possibilities and gives you greater freedom in how you direct your time.
Reason #5: Van living Can Help You Save Money (or reach other financial goals)
Some people choose to live in a van to save money – especially on housing. There’s no doubt about it, housing costs are out of control in many parts of the country. Vanlife allows you to eliminate rent/mortgage/utility payments, which probably represent a huge portion of your monthly expenses. The money that you save on housing could allow you to go back to school, or pursue that business idea, or save for retirement, or get out of credit card debt, or finally pay off those student loans.
That said, it’s important to note that van life is not a magic way to spend zero money. Although you can save on housing costs, the rest of your spending depends on your lifestyle and your priorities. Just like you can spend very little money while living in an apartment if you’re frugal, you can spend a ton of money while living in a van if you’re not careful. It all comes down to how you choose to live, and your choice of housing is only part of the equation.
Reason #6: Learn to Live a More Minimalist Life and Appreciate the Simple Things
When you live in a van, you just don’t have space for needless things. This forces you to evaluate the things that you have, and reduce your belongings down to only what you really need and use. This can be a tremendous boost to your psychological well-being.
Having fewer things takes a weight off of your shoulders that you might not know you were carrying. There’s far less to worry about and there’s much less stress swirling in the back of your mind when you have only what you need, when everything is within arm’s reach.
And because you have limited space in the van, it’s tough to impulsively buy things that you don’t need. This forces you to learn to be content with what you have, and to look for ways to make do instead of solving your problems through buying stuff (this also helps with saving money). Learning to make do and embracing uncertainty also encourage you to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life, instead of constantly craving for the next thing.
Reason #7: Meet new people and join an awesome community
It might seem strange to say that living in a van is a great way to meet people and experience community, but it’s true. There are tons of interesting people who choose this lifestyle, and when you meet another vanlifer you’ve probably met a like-minded person who instantly understands your life in ways that others do not. This means that you can often skip the bullshit and quickly form deep connections with people.
The internet and social media have opened up a ton of possibilities for connecting with other vanlifers no matter where you are. We’ve connected with several people via the internet who later became camping buddies and instant friends. Even though we’re not physically near each other most of the time, we’re still able to stay in contact, keep up with each other’s travels, and chat with people who “get it”.
And there’s nothing like a bunch of nomads coming together at a big van life gathering. These are awesome events where we can meet each other in person, tour each other’s rigs, and swap stories around a bonfire.
Reason #8: Reject Societal Norms and Direct Your Own Time
We’ve reached a tipping point in our society where we’ve seen behind the curtain and revealed that the American Dream is not all it’s cracked up to be. For many that are attracted to vanlife, the idea of mortgaging our lives away for the questionable promise of an uncertain retirement just isn’t all that appealing.
Our time is our most valuable resource. None of us knows how much time we have on this earth. Choosing to live in a van is an acknowledgement of that fact. It’s a celebration of the limited time that we have, and it’s honoring that time by striving to enjoy it.
That said, vanlife is not a vacation, it is an alternative lifestyle. Vanlifers still need to work and make a living (in fact, we often work more than we did in our former 9-5 lives). The difference, though, is that you have a greater degree of freedom in determining your life. You dictate your own time instead of someone else dictating it for you. And that freedom is what it’s all about.