Living In Tiny Houses Versus The Van Life

The Van Life experience has steadily become more than just a trend as more people are enticed to experience it. It has become even more popular nowadays as the world slowly shifts and opens up to the life we had before the pandemic. Families, adventurous couples, and border-breaking individuals have long craved the experience of traveling the world. With that said, people have been wondering if living in a tiny house resembles the van life experience.  

What is the difference between van life and living in a tiny house? A Van has smaller space, fewer amenities, and weaker insulation, but it will be mobile, flexible, and cheaper. A tiny house will give you more space and amenities, and better insulation. The drawback for tiny houses is the non-mobility and priceyness.

The Van Life experience is similar to living in a tiny house in the sense that there is definitely limited space. The advantages that a van dwelling gives are often mirrored as a disadvantage in the tiny houses. In this article, I will talk about  the advantages and disadvantages of each option to assist you in making an informed and worthwhile decision. 

The Van Life Experience

The Van Life Experience is what people call the way of living wherein adventurous people pack up their things and live in a customized van. Some people do this way of living as a means of reducing cost of living, while some do it for the fun and challenges it brings along as you travel the world. 

In recent years, the van life experience or van life movement has started to go mainstream due to the popularity of instagram and of course instagram’s predecessor, travel magazines. There is something alluring and enticing when someone sees pictures and videos of vanlifers.

In the US, van lifers are common in states like Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Arkansas. These states get to have so many van lifers because they have tourist spots, national parks, and most importantly, less population density. As for advantages, you can expect the following: mobility, flexibility, and affordability. On the other hand, you will run into the following disadvantages: limited space for living, fewer amenities, and weaker insulation from weather increments.

The Van Life Experience Is Challenging 

It is better to start things out with one of the disadvantages or perhaps a drawback to the Van Life experience. Many longtime members of the van life community testified that the experience brought some levels of struggle and challenge. 

In fact, in the obscure part of youtube and instagram, you can see and watch testimonies of van lifers who quit because they could not sustain or endure the way of living. The struggle comes from the fact that you have to manage a lot of things including van maintenance, travel planning, weather forecasting, and of course driving.

As a person who is interested in entering the van life community, you should watch out for the first few months as the most challenging. This is due to the fact that you have zero to no experience, especially planning and supplies procuring. 

To assist you, you might want to download a handy van life app or perhaps talk to some veterans of the community. Once the honeymoon stage of the van life experience wears off, usually after the first two weeks, get ready to deal with a lot of things.

The Van Life Experience Is Mostly Affordable

Moving on to the advantages brought about by the van life, especially when compared to tiny house living. Customized vans are by no means cheap, but they are relatively cheap when compared to the cost of building or buying a tiny house. 

A typical van, like the Mercedes Benz Sprinter, would often cost $30,000-32,000 to customize. However, as technology improves, there are Van Lifers who willingly shell out up to $100,000 to customize their vans with updated materials, features, and systems.

As for the monthly spendings, you should expect around $1500-3,000 per month for expenses like gasoline, auto insurance, groceries, laundry, maintenance, emergency medicine, etc. The rough estimate will also be increased by expenses on wifi, camp entrance fees, and activity expenses. 

Simply put, the van life experience is affordable if you are just looking for a home to sleep in but quite expensive when you include all the other expenses that make the experience fun.

The Van Life Gives You Flexibility And Mobility

Aside from the relative affordability of the Van Life, another advantage it has over tiny houses is the option to travel. The mobility and flexibility of vans are primarily the reason why people join the van life experience. People want to travel the countryside, go border to border, set up camp in lakes and beaches, all while riding and sleeping in their vans. This option is something that tiny houses can never provide!

Aside from the fun of it, vans are useful when calamities are about to strike. Let’s say a hurricane is nearing, van lifers can easily avoid the incoming storm by just driving off to a secure location. During extreme weather conditions, van lifers can just dodge the struggle by traveling to another state where the weather is good. A tiny house would have no choice but to stand its ground and hope for the best.

Places To Set Up Camp With Your Van

There are a number of options to park your vans depending on whether you are staying temporarily or relatively longer. If you are looking for a place to sleep after a long drive, you can just go to truck stops and parking areas of Walmart, Costco, and Cracker Barrel. However, if you are going to stay for days, weeks, or perhaps months, then you can visit RV Parks, National Forests, National Grasslands, Bureau of Land Management Areas, etc. 

The best RV parks and campground areas offer services like wifi, shower rooms, activity sites, and full hookups on water, sewer, and electricity, for a fee. The activity sites that are often available are biking terrains and kayaking, to name a few. An RV park would usually charge around $15 to $60 per night, depending on the popularity of the park, amenities offered, location, and many more factors.

Other Disadvantages With The Van Life Experience

Let us go back to the disadvantages and drawbacks brought about by the Van Life experience. These other disadvantages are factors you should consider before choosing between living in a van and living in a tiny house. Factors such as amenities, insulation, and space management are very important things to consider.

Lesser Amenities

Aside from the innate challenges it brings, living in a van will make you accept the reality that you do not have as many amenities as a regular house would have. For starters, you will definitely have to choose between having a mini fridge or having a burner or stove. The space that vans provide, even the biggest ones, is too limited to have both a mini fridge and a burner, unless you plan on compromising on other important amenities, like beds, tables, and chairs.

Weak Insulation

Another disadvantage that vans have against tiny houses is insulation. Vans and RVs have weaker insulation than houses, whether regular or tiny. Due to the innate nature of the van life experience, extreme weathers are problematic, and may sometimes be hazardous. Staying in a van during blizzards, snowstorms, and heat waves is definitely difficult because of the insulation.

Management Of Space Is A Crucial Task

If you think tiny houses or RVs have small space, then the space of customized vans is even less. This disadvantage is hand-in-hand with the advantage of mobility. A van needs to be small for it to be mobile and roadworthy. However, one or two persons can easily live in a van because the van life experience does not actually require you to always be inside the van, lest you wanna miss out on all the fun!

Dealing With The Disadvantages Of Living On A Van

To deal with the disadvantages of living in a van, you must first know your priorities. If you live on a van just to save up on some expenses due to the priceyness of buying a house and lot, then you can invest more on the RV or campground expense and less on fuel. On the other hand, if you want to travel around, then plan ahead and maximize your fuel expenses by staying in free areas like Walmart, National Parks, and Truck Stops.

You should also know your limitations. If you have a secondhand or depreciated van, then you should probably avoid states that have extreme weather conditions. Planning ahead is part and parcel of the van life experience.

The Tiny Houses Of Tomorrow 

Tiny houses are simply houses that are small, around 60-400 square feet in size. These tiny houses may refer to miniature versions of regular houses or may also refer to trailers. Tiny house living became popular due to the increasing problem of overpopulation. House and lot, or even just the lot property, are too expensive nowadays. 

Aside from the expensiveness of lot properties, people are considering tiny house living to minimize environmental impacts. States like Arizona, Texas, California, Florida, and Georgia are some of the places in the US where tiny houses are prevalent. 

The tiny house movement, as most people call it, is also popular in other countries like Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, and other European countries. However, just like the van life experience, living in a tiny house has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Tiny Houses Are Almost As Expensive As Regular Houses

Tiny houses, just like regular houses, are more expensive than customized vans, or even some RVs. A trailer-type tiny house would cost you around $50,000 to $70,000, while a more complete tiny house could cost you up to $150,000. The exorbitant amount is due to expenses on roofing, insulations, doors and windows, electrical wiring, light fixtures, furniture, and of course for lot property for fixed tiny houses.

However, monthly expenses in tiny houses are quite lower than the monthly spendings on van life. If the van life experience costs on average $1500-3000 per month, then tiny house living would cost only around $500 to $1000. The expenses are mostly on electricity, water, internet, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Tiny Houses Are Usually Fixed On The Ground

A tiny house would normally be just a miniature version of a regular house, fixed on the ground. However, trailers are also considered as tiny houses. Nevertheless, one big disadvantage of tiny houses is the fact that you cannot travel with them, or even when you can, it is limited. Trailers are so difficult to travel around with because of their weight.

With that in mind, you should consider building permits and other local municipal permits as an expected expenditure. In fact, you should actually first check if tiny houses are allowed in your state, lest you want to be called a vagrant. Some states do not allow tiny houses due to zoning and safety regulations.

Tiny Houses Have Better Amenities Than Vans

Now let us start discussing the advantages of tiny houses over vans. For starters, tiny houses will surely have better amenities because of their relatively bigger space. That means you won’t have to compromise on amenities like fridges, stoves, shower rooms, and cabinets. In fact, a well-designed tiny house can easily accommodate a PC set and a storage room, something that is near impossible for a van to all fit in.

Aside from the better amenities, the bigger space is worthy of discussion. With the additional space you have, you are not restricted to living in a cramped environment, while at the same time maximizing space. It also helps that tiny houses are also more stable than vans or RVs. 

Tiny Houses Have Better Insulation Compared To Vans

This advantage is even better than better amenities and space. Tiny houses are innately better insulated than Vans and RVs. This is because tiny houses will definitely have roofs, walls, windows, ventilators, and etc. Also, the bigger space gives you the opportunity to have air conditioning or heaters, depending on your needs.

Monthly maintenance for the insulation is also less frequent because your tiny house is not traveling to places with different weather conditions. Monthly maintenance could be twice or thrice a year, depending on the weather conditions of your area. Lastly, you have the luxury of choosing what type of tiny house you can want, from wooden, concrete, and even plastic!

Factors To Consider When Choosing Between The Two

There are factors to consider when choosing between the Van Life Experience or the Tiny House Movement. These factors cover your personality, financial capability, and ability to prepare for expenses. Aside from the three main factors, there are also other unexpected ones that may surprise you, such as insurance, local laws, and community reputation.

Your Personality Should Affect Your Decision

It may seem trivial but your personality should definitely affect your decision. An outgoing person should heavily consider going for the van life experience because either way, you are going to be restricted by the space. 

On the other hand, a claustrophobic person, or perhaps an introvert, should not go for the van life because they would struggle a lot. Nevertheless, do not allow yourself to be overly influenced by the glamour of Instagram or social media in choosing between the Van Life Experience and the Tiny House Movement.

Going back to fears, you should also consider those because a person who is afraid of the dark or in the woods would struggle in the Van Life experience. Both the Van Life Experience and the Tiny House Movement have challenges that come with it and so you should consider your personality, mood, and preferences. You do not want to regret the decision and end up quitting in just a few months.

Financial Capability

Aside from your personality, you should also seriously consider your current financial capability. If you have lesser savings but expect a consistent flow of monthly income, you can opt for the Van Life Experience because customized vans are relatively cheap, but monthly spendings are quite a lot. However, if you have more savings but lesser monthly cash flow, you should go for tiny houses.

Watch Out For The Overhead Expenses

You should also watch out for overhead expenses. Amazingly, most people do not consider these expenses before making the decision. As a result, they struggle to manage their finances, which may affect the overall experience. Overhead expenses include rent, electricity, wifi, and water supply. 


To summarize things up, living in a van and living in a tiny house each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Both are popular nowadays because of the universal dilemma of overpopulation. The Van Life Experience is better for you if you desire adventure and traveling. On the other hand, the Tiny House Movement may be better suited for you if you are in for the long haul, enjoy living in a small space, and overall living the “Marie Londo” approach in life. Whatever the decision you make, what is important is that you have thought things through before making the decision.

Recent Posts