Is Living In A Van A Good Idea?


Van living has become increasingly popular, especially on social media. If you try browsing through Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, you will most probably come across well-composed, photogenic images of van life. These pictures will show happy faces and amazing views from many different places. #Vanlife is filled with the images of a perfectly happy, carefree life far from the 9-5 humdrum that most of us get stuck with. And after consuming hours of content on this kind of lifestyle, it can be tempting to get a van and jump into it right away.

However, one has to stop and consider the question: Is living in a van a good idea? It depends on your lifestyle. Van life could be perfect for some people, especially those who love the outdoors and wouldn’t mind living with only a few possessions to their name. If you need a lot of space and enjoy spending most of your time indoors, this may not be the lifestyle for you. 

In this article, I am going to tell you the pros and cons of living in a van, as well as some things you need to consider and prepare if you are planning to pursue this lifestyle seriously. 

Pros of Full Time Van Life

Let’s take a look at the great things van life has to offer!

Freedom

Image Source: “Apollo 4 berth Deluxe” by apollorv is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

The number one advantage of van life, especially when compared to traditional brick and mortar living is the freedom it gives you. You are physically free to determine where you want to live, where you want to sleep every night–whether you want to go on hikes and exciting outdoor activities, or if you want a quieter day inside your van, a cafe, a museum, or a library.

Most van lifers also do not have traditional 9-5 jobs. This lifestyle gives you free reign over your time and commitments. Of course it is still possible to get a regular 9-5 job if you want to, but you will not be confined to the wake up – drive to work – go home – go to sleep daily routine that might eventually bore you.

Living in a small space pushes you to make the most of the world around you. There is not much to do inside a small van, so you will need to regularly fill up your time with activities that could be unconventional for most people. This can lead you to so many new places and experiences.

Learning New Things

Image Source: “Camp Bestival 2015 7” by [ Greg ] is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Most campervans are usually DIY conversions by the people living there. After all, vans, being the smallest, are usually the cheapest motor homes to purchase and convert into a livable space, as compared to larger RVs and trailers.

If you are on a budget, your best course of action would be to buy a van and convert it yourself, or with the help of some friends or professionals. Because of this, you will need to learn some different skills to put your campervan together. You will need to learn about installing electrical circuits for your lighting and devices, car mechanics, piping for your different tanks, and general construction. 

Of course you can get other people to do these things for you if you have the money, but in order to maintain your vehicle, you will need at least some basic knowledge on these areas. This way you can fix any potential issues yourself and not keep relying on other people, which might cause some delay.

Learning doesn’t stop once you get your van set up, though. Once you start traveling, every day can be a learning experience. Every place, every person that you meet can teach you so many new things. This is especially true when visiting places far from where you originally come from. There are so many cultures and subcultures all over the country (and the world!), with such rich histories, that even a year of traveling would not be enough to learn and experience all of it.

Simple Living

Image Source: “Picture 031” by Spaceships Rentals is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

Once you decide to live in a van, you start committing to a minimalist lifestyle. A van is small–much, much smaller than even a small apartment. And since you will be living in it, you will have to set your priorities on what items go in the van and what things you leave behind to store or sell.

You will have to prioritize your essentials–a sleeping area, food storage, water storage, heat, and power. If there is room for a composting toilet, you may want to prioritize that as well. You will also need storage for your tools and spare parts. This leaves little room for your clothes and other trinkets you may want to possess while living in your van. 

Although this may seem terrifying for someone who is used to having a lot of stuff around, van living is one of the most straightforward approaches to a minimalist lifestyle. When you live in a van, there is no leaving a minimalist lifestyle. There is literally very little physical space for you to accumulate a lot of possessions.

Living a simple or minimalist lifestyle also leads to simpler and more streamlined routines. You have less stuff to mess with and worry about. You won’t struggle picking out what outfit to wear every day–you only have a few sets of clothes! 

Lower Cost Of Living (Most Of The Time)

Image Source: “Beta 2S (premium) campervan” by Spaceships Rentals is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

Living in a van means downsizing–a lot. With less stuff, this would usually mean spending less as well. One of the most popular reasons why people look into living in a van is to save money. Of course, the initial purchase of a vehicle and the expenses for converting it into a livable vehicle would be pretty expensive and will cost you a few thousand dollars, but more often than not, you get to save money in the long run.

You will not have to pay rent or mortgage, which would save you a lot of money, especially when you live or work in a big city where rent expenses are high. You will not have to pay electricity or water bills, which are prone to inflation when living in a traditional living space.

You will need to spend on fuel and battery power, however. Setting up a solar power system would be a bit expensive on the get-go, but in the long run it will save you quite a significant amount. You’re basically charging your batteries for free (thanks mother nature)!

Be warned, though. As you travel, you will be tempted to spend and spend on location-specific attractions and souvenirs. It is okay to indulge yourself every once in a while, but remember that this would reflect on your expenses. You are living in your van, and it might feel like a permanent vacation, but it is your life now and you need to manage your expenses carefully. If you don’t, you might end up spending even more than if you just stayed in your apartment!

Personal Growth

Aside from the economic benefits of living in a van, there is also a personal, almost spiritual side to living in a van. Being able to travel as far as you can, and living a simple lifestyle will give you a wealth of life experiences. 

You get physical freedom from being able to move from place to place as often as you want, while also being free to learn and pursue any passions and interests that you may have. You may love the outdoors and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, cycling, or mountain climbing, and now you get to do these things as often as you want. You won’t have to worry about finding accommodations or renting out a room in a hotel or inn–you have your entire house with you!

You learn to become more resourceful. You won’t have room for a shower and possibly not even a toilet in your vehicle, so you will be forced to find different, creative ways to keep up with your daily routine. There can be a bit of a learning curve and an adjustment period, but you end up getting some new life skills you did not even know existed, such as finding out where to get cheap or free showers and toilet breaks, or how to make your vehicle look like no one lives there when camping in places you’re not supposed to (shh!).  

However, just because you live in a vehicle doesn’t mean you have to keep traveling every single day. You can also stay for a while longer whenever you want. This can be a good opportunity to learn more about other places and cultures different from yours, and hopefully gain an appreciation and respect for many walks of life. 

Aside from getting to know more about different cultures, you also gain a much greater appreciation for nature and the world around you. This is especially true if you spend a lot of time in more remote areas or doing outdoor activities.  

You get to see firsthand how beautiful nature can be, but you can also see how decades of unchecked corporate production practices that produce the demand for consumerism have destroyed our environment. 

For many, this has awoken the desire to help save the environment in whatever way we can. This starts of course in our personal practices to reduce our own carbon footprint, but hopefully we would be able to escalate into calling for accountability from the world’s biggest polluters, for the benefit of communities directly affected by these damaging practices. After all, this is, in my opinion, the best thing we can learn while living: we are all connected.

Cons of Full Time Van Life

Everything in life has a bad side. Here are some disadvantages of van life you might need to know.

Hygiene 

Once you decide to live in a van for an extended period of time, you will have to let go of the need for daily showers. Very few vans can accommodate the space needed for a shower to be installed. You will have to drive around and look for public showers, or get gym memberships to be able to avail of these services.

You can survive off of public toilets and showers while in urban areas, but this will get tricky if you go camping off-the-grid. There are very few to no refilling stations and public establishments with usable bathrooms.

Of course, you can bring water tanks on your van to give you a supply of clean water, but if you travel a lot, you may need to plan your water usage meticulously. You will need it for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and laundry. Sometimes, being able to survive means skipping a few showers and reusing clothes every now and then.

Limited Living Space

A van is a pretty small vehicle. It’s only a little bigger than a car! For most vans that have been converted into a living space, even standing upright could be difficult, unless you pay more than a few thousand dollars extra to have a high top installed.

There is very limited space, which would be mostly consumed by essentials, leaving very little space for personal belongings or leisure. Having more than one person living in a van would divide this already limited space into much smaller parts, which means that living in a van would mean living with just the barest of necessities.

If you wish to cook or use the toilet in a small van, you would have to block most of the space. You will most probably not be able to use a countertop and stove at the same time (because most of the time, you don’t have both!), making the process trickier and more difficult. 

Another disadvantage of living in a small space is how often you have to clean it. Clutter can accumulate very quickly in a van, which means that every time you do something, you will have to clean up right away, otherwise you will be left with a messy, disorganized living space in almost no time.

Aside from the physical difficulties of living in a small space, there are also emotional and mental difficulties to it as well. Living in a small van could feel a little cozy at first, but for many people this could feel claustrophobic, and it would be especially hard if more than one person lived in a van. The lack of personal space could cause some relationship tensions which could break into fights.

Inconvenience Of Repairs And Maintenance

Your vehicle is your house now, and because it is still primarily a vehicle, it will need regular maintenance and occasional repairs. This means that there will be times when you will need to find alternative housing for at least a few days or until your vehicle is ready to go again. It can be rather annoying and difficult to keep moving out and in again.

There is honestly no way in getting around this, since in order to avoid more expensive and time-consuming repairs, you will need to get your vehicle maintained regularly. Take care of your van, and make sure that it is in tip top shape. Accidents are unexpected, but avoid them as much as possible by driving safely. This is your home, after all.

When the time comes that your van is spending more time in repair shops than traveling the outdoors, it might be time to replace it. The constant repairs when added up could really burn a hole in your pocket, and would render useless your decision to live in a van so you could save money.

Weather Inconveniences

Have you ever stayed in a closed vehicle with the power off? It gets really hot really quick, and the temperature becomes unbearable. Now imagine living in said vehicle. You can’t really keep the heater or air conditioner running at all times or you will be out of power very quickly.

Maintaining a comfortable living temperature, especially during extreme weather, can be difficult. If the weather is hot, the inside of the vehicle will be scorching, and when the weather is cold, you will be freezing.

This will limit the time you will want to spend inside your van, prompting you to go outside and do other things, which, depending on the activity, would probably force you to spend money. During storms or extreme weather, you can’t do this though, so you will have to endure the temperature inside your van, or consume power to run your heater or AC.

Having pets with you will add to your concerns. You cannot simply leave them in your vehicle the way you would in a traditional brick and mortar home. If the engine is off, you would run the risk of suffocating them. You could keep the vehicle running, but this will limit the amount of time you have in order to do what you need to do. If you need to go somewhere that does not allow pets, and you will have to be away for a few hours, your best option is a pet daycare. These will be difficult to find in more remote areas, though.

One way to work around this is to plan your trips based on the weather. Do your research beforehand. During summer months, you could drive up north for cooler weather, and the other way around during winter months. Find somewhere warmer to stay. If you are planning to do weather-specific activities however, like skiing during winter, it is best to find at least a temporary home base–a hotel or a friend’s house–if you want to remain comfortable and you cannot handle staying in your van.

Another way if you cannot afford maintaining constant air conditioning and heating is to plan your ventilation and insulation. When constructing your van build, it can be tempting to block your windows and build shelves over them. But if you could, try to keep windows unblocked as much as possible, so you can open and close them whenever you want, and install proper insulation. These can help control your vehicle’s interior temperature.

Stigma

Nowadays, although van life is getting more exposure especially through social media, a lot of people still do not understand it. It is a lot different and more unexpected than living in a traditional home, and many people, especially from older generations, are not as keen in accepting this lifestyle.

There will be people who will assume the worst about you just because you do not have a traditional brick and mortar home. They will assume you are lazy, homeless, unemployed, a gypsy, and other terms people turn up their nose at. You will not be the most popular person in a lot of places, and as of the moment that is something you will have to deal with.

This can be especially difficult if you want to date around or find a partner while living in your van. You will seem interesting to some people, but realistically, a lot of people would find it difficult to consider you as a potential long-term partner.

Things To Consider

Aside from weighing the pros and cons of van life, here are some important factors you will have to consider and settle before moving into your van full-time.

Employment/Funds

Image Source: etmoney.com

Living in a van can definitely be less expensive than living in a house or apartment. However, you will still need money to maintain this lifestyle. You will need to decide on how you are going to fund your van life. Are you currently employed? Is your salary enough to fund your travels? Do you need to report to a physical workplace or are you able to work remotely? Your answers to these questions will affect how far and how often you will be able to travel. 

If you are employed and would be able to work remotely, that’s great! You can travel anywhere you want as long as you have connectivity. You will need to maintain a constant line of communication with your workplace and coworkers. 

Relationships

Evaluate the significant relationships you have in life. Will you be traveling alone or with someone else–a romantic partner, perhaps? Many van lifers are traveling couples or friends, so it is doable. 

If you are traveling with someone else, make sure to manage your expectations. It is great to have someone around so you could help each other out with any issues you might face. However, you should also learn to manage any stressful situations brought about by the lack of personal space that comes with living in such a small vehicle.

If you are in a relationship and your partner does not want to live in a van and travel with you, have a talk with them. Evaluate each other’s needs in a relationship. You may need to make some difficult decisions. Can both of you handle a long distance relationship? If you decide to stay in the relationship, don’t give up on them. You could work out a schedule where they come along and travel with you a few times a year–whatever works in your situation.

Connectivity

These days, cellular service and internet/data connectivity have become essential, especially for people who do online or remote work. Having cell service and internet connectivity can also help us feel more secure when traveling, since we could hypothetically be able to call for help whenever we need it.

If you are planning to travel a lot, you may want to invest in more than one data plan. Do your research on where you wish to go, and look at the strongest data providers in those areas. This way, if one service provider does not work in one place, you have some backup. Purchasing a pocket wifi device is a good starting point. It is portable, rechargeable, and it provides decent signal depending on the area.

Belongings

Living in a van is living a minimalist lifestyle. Because of the very limited space, you will need to give up most of your things. If you are used to living in a house and having a lot of things, this could be a rather difficult transition.

Before moving into your van, you need to sort through your things and decide what you will bring and what you will need to get rid of. You can organize an auction or yard sale to sell off most of your things. You can use the money from this for your van or for any essential supplies you do not have yet.

If you have some things you don’t want to let go of, but you don’t have the space for them in your van, you could leave them at a friend’s or family member’s house if they would let you, or you could rent a storage space. The latter option will cost you, however. Renting a storage space could cost around $1500 a year on average.

Conclusion

If living in a van full time interests you, do weigh your options carefully, especially if you do not have a lot of money to begin with. Know what you want and what you are willing to give up for this lifestyle, because for most people this would be a big transition. Do not be afraid to take your time deciding, and do some practice drives and trips while you’re at it. Prepare, but know what you want and trust what you are capable of. Adventure awaits!

References

https://dengarden.com/misc/Vandwelling-Pros-and-Cons

Ash

Hi! this is a filling profile to remind me to make a better one AND figure out how to get my pic on gravatar ;)

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