Vanlife is a trend these days. You see all the pictures all over Instagram about the places vanlifers traveled, and you’ll come to think if it’s possible to live in a van. The short answer is yes. However, it is not that easy, and I know you have all these questions in your mind that are yet to be answered. Stay tuned as I answer all the frequently asked questions about van life and some tips to live worry-free on the road.
1. Why Do People Choose to Live in a Van?
This question is probably the first thing people would ask of vanlifers. I mean, you are sacrificing your comfort if you live in a van. Yes, traveling is fun, but vans cannot compare to homes, and there are many unsafe spots for an overnight stay.
Here are all the good reasons people choose to live in a van. The first is to save money. Vanlife is very economical as you don’t have to pay rent every month, which is considered one of the highest living costs.
People often relate vanlife to freedom. Van life provides you with the ultimate freedom of not being stuck with a mortgage, rent, and a nine-to-five job, with the privilege to travel places full time and a chance to work remotely.
To live is also for personal growth, where you are living a normal life with a choice to be away from technology and social media. You also have an opportunity to live off-grid and be happy with the simple way of living.
Lastly, van living is a real challenge for many. This is a chance to chase your unique passion while living a unique lifestyle and learning things while you travel the world. Traveling solo can give you time to meditate, think things through, evaluate yourself, and make long-term goals. It is also a way to take care of your mental health.
2. How Do You Shower and Use the Toilet?
Some vans have a built-in shower and toilet, the most convenient choice, but may cost a lot for a van build. These toilets and showers are complete with the water supply you need, so much like taking a bath at home, but only work for bigger vans. Built-in showers and toilets also need constant access to dumping stations, where you will dispose of your wastewaters.
If installing a shower and toilet does not fit your van, you can choose the alternatives. Public restrooms are the first on the list that provides toilet use. These are found in gas stations, truck stops, trailheads, and some restaurants, basically anywhere there are people.
Another alternative is using campgrounds and RV parks restrooms and showers, a constant amenity in campgrounds. You can also own a membership at gyms, where you can freely use their shower or install both a portable toilet and a solar shower in your van.
3. How Much Will It Cost to Live in a Van?
The cost of van living depends on the lifestyle you want, including all the daily and additional expenses you and your van needs. Some van lifers can spend as little as $800 per month, while others spend up to $2000 a month or more.
Here is a breakdown of your expected expenses for van living. The first thing to note is the van build cost, which varies if you’ll go for DIY conversion or hire a company to do the conversion for you.
Some DIY van conversions start from $10,000 to $20,000. If you are doing everything yourself, you should shop for materials with the best value for the price or use second-hand but high-quality parts for your van. You can check my article for some tips on van build here.
New conversion companies may charge a lower price of $40,000-$60,000. Take note that this lower price may come at a risk, as these companies may have done just a couple of conversions and not established ones to trust your van with. Hiring a conversion company may also be a great idea, especially if you’re not skilled in van conversions.
Experienced conversion companies who have converted hundreds of vans throughout the years charge a higher price of $125,000-$175,000. The price is high, but you’ll get what you pay for, a high-class converted van.
Another factor to add to your vanlife expenses is your van’s cost. Here is a rough estimate for some popular panel-style vans for conversions. The least expensive panel style van, Dodge Promaster, starts at $33,00 and Ford transit at $37,000. On the more expensive side, Mercedes Sprinter starts at $56,000. Note that these are only the cost of the van, excluding the van build expenses.
You might also want to consider buying a used van to cut expenses. It can be an empty van for conversion or a used converted van, which you will just need to modify to your liking. Additional expenses for van purchase and registration taxes are around $700 a year.
After the van and van build costs, you’ll also need to allot money for your daily expenses. This includes gas expenses, especially if you’re traveling a lot. It ranges between $200-$600 a month depending on your van’s fuel efficiency, the current gasoline prices, and the distances of the destinations you are traveling.
Paid campsites for overnight parking and use of facilities costs $15-$30 per night on average. You would spend around $450-$900 a month if you decided to spend each night in paid campsites.
Food expenses also vary depending on your preference (dining out or cooking in the van). You may allot around $600-$800 a month for two people only. Other van life expenses include RV insurance (estimated $1500 per year), health insurance (around $100-$450 per month), vehicle maintenance, phone bill, gym memberships, tolls, and other personal expenses.
If these amounts are bothersome, you can follow these simple tips to save on vanlife. Cooking your meals, buying food in bulk, and utilizing free campsites are the easiest ways to save. When doing outdoor activities, choose activities that do not require paying, like hiking and camping.
Most importantly, you need to save money every day for emergency purposes.
4. Where To Park Your Van at Night?
One of the primary concerns in van life is searching for a parking space at night. It can be a bit stressful but is a big part of your van life adventure, and having the skill to pick the perfect spot is a major plus for you.
Here are some recommended parking spaces which are safe and specifically established for van living. Campgrounds and RV parks are designated parking spaces for recreational vans. There are plenty across North America, offering a stay for a night up to a week and complete with facilities you can use like water and sewer hookups, hot shower, laundry, and WiFi, costing around $30-$60.
Check out websites like freecampsites.net or iOverlander to find free or cheap camping spots. These applications can also find you a spot for boondocking, a kind of dry camping without hookups and no facilities available.
Membership sites such as camping on a host’s property with annual membership fees offer a variety of parking places you can choose from, such as wineries and farms. Generous land owners may sometimes offer things other than parking space like electricity, water, and even WiFi connection.
5. Where Do You Get Water and Electricity?
This question is a common concern by people interested in van life, and the answers are so easy that they may surprise you.
Getting water in your van can be any of these methods. First, you can have a water tank refilled in various places like campgrounds. Choose a hose with an inline filter to ensure that only clean water enters your tank. Water hookups are one of the amenities you can enjoy when staying in a campground.
Grocery stores, gas stations, and public parks are also great water sources. Grocery stores
have purified water vending machines to refill your bottles like your 5-gallon water jugs. Gas stations may offer free water refill, and public parks have some water refilling features for vanlifers.
Installing your van water system is a hassle-free choice made during the van build. It is built by professionals and includes the whole plumbing system in your van. This is probably one of the most convenient ways to get water and have it right in your van.
There are numerous ways to have electricity in your van. First is the use of solar power. It is one of the most popular power sources for vandwellers, which produces clean power using solar panels. However, it is not a consistent power source.
Another great option for off-grid travel is using generators, a common power option for van lifers. It uses a gas or diesel-powered engine in producing electricity and is designed to run for long periods and sustain electric supply.
Generators are practical energy sources that produce consistent power day and night, unlike solar panels that only work during the day. It can be easily moved around and produces great power for air conditioners, microwaves, electric heaters, and refrigerators. However, the excellent backup option is costlier and noisier compared to solar power.
An alternator is a little component bolted to the engine. It has a wheel on it, and a belt on your engine spins it while driving. The spinning manner generates electricity, like how windmills and hydro generators produce power. The electricity from the alternator powers lights, radio, car controls and charges the starting battery.
It can also charge some devices using its 12 volts socket. The only downside of this power source is it only works when the engine is running and stops as soon as the van does.
RV hookups are ideal for travelers who often stay at RV parks and campsites. Using RV hookups is common for most vandwellers, which are plenty in paid campsites and RV parks. It is a clean and quiet energy source and can power big appliances like microwave ovens and air conditioners.
6. Can You Cook in a Van?
Most converted vans are equipped with a kitchen, sink, shower and toilet, mattress, and water and electricity setup. You can cook inside your van. Depending on your van layout, you can also run several electrical pieces of equipment like refrigerator, oven, coffee maker, dishwasher, and blender.
Other cooking alternatives are propane stoves and portable camp stoves, used for cooking indoors and outdoors. These types of equipment are handy and do not require electricity. Furthermore, it needs caution when using as they require gas in cooking.
You get the same feel as cooking at home when cooking in a van, just with a tighter space and limited cooking area.
7. How Do You Plan Your Travel?
Living in a van requires a lot of planning. You should always plan a general route, the destination for the day, and the places you want to check out on your way. Book a place at campgrounds or RV parks, where you can find a safe place to park at night.
Before booking a spot in these campgrounds, you should read online reviews on their websites, compare them with other campgrounds, and choose the best that fits your preference. Make sure the campground caters to vehicles of your size, and make a reservation ahead of time. Popular campgrounds may be fully booked during high seasons, and it may be hard to find a place to sleep on the spot.
Locate some potential parking spaces for the night. Your parking space can be anything from chain stores or gas stations that allows overnight parking. It may be your last resort if you don’t find a spot in fully-packed campgrounds or if you don’t reach your destination in time and need to park for the night.
Plan your route relative to your battery. Ensure you have enough power throughout the trip to reach the destination with an electrical outlet before your battery runs out. For boondocking, conserve your battery so you make it out of the wilderness before you run out of power.
Use online applications to find a nice travel destination like RV planner apps that scopes out a good route for you. You may check out some trip planning apps like iOverlander, Allstays, and Roadtrippers.
8. Can You Work in a Van?
Van lifers can work remotely in their vans, especially during these times of pandemic where many companies agree to work-from-home setup. Use this opportunity to set up a computer in your van and have the freedom to work anywhere, so long as there is an internet connection and electricity.
Suppose you’re still looking for a job while on the road. You can start a Youtube channel and create a van life vlog about the perks of day-to-day living in a van. Vlogging is a great potential source of income to make partnerships or affiliate marketing.
Be creative with your content. It should be something that helps people debunk the chronicles of vanlife and all the interesting facts there is to learn about living in a van. Increased subscribers and views on your channel may give you a large amount of money in the long run.
You can also work as a freelancer. Use platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to find you a client that offers transcription jobs, content creation, social media managing, and many more. If you qualify, you can also be an online teacher teaching English to kids in different countries.
This job requires a stable internet connection, consistent power supply, and a willingness to work in unusual hours.
There are also seasonal works like fruit picking in the Okanagan or working part-time at campgrounds in exchange for cash and a stay in the campsite.
9. Is Vanlife Cheaper than Renting?
Living in a van is cheaper than renting. There are no rental contracts, and buying and converting a van is only a one-time investment. Plus, you can live in your van as long as you want with as little as $800 a month, compared to US apartment rentals costing up to $3500 a month.
Vans don’t have rising rental costs, so you can save this money instead of paying rent. Furthermore, van living builds your credit. When you take out a loan on a van, you’ll end up owning it, whereas, in houses, you have no chance of owning the place if you’re renting it monthly.
Going full-time in van life takes a lot of planning. You should be ready to downsize your expenses to save money. This way, you can do a remote job while living the best time of your life.
10. Can I Bring My Dog to Live with Me?
It is highly possible for dogs to live in a van but takes a lot of extra preparation and planning. Food supply and medicine, their comfort spot, and dog accessories when going out are just some of the basic things to prepare. Furthermore, dogs are sensitive to hot weather and need to be trained on long road trips.
Dogs are great company for solo travelers and also provide additional security. They bark at uninvited people lurking in your van at night and warn people that you have some aggressive protector with you.
Here are some tips to give your dog optimum comfort throughout your trip. Use sunshades to cover your van windows, especially if a van sits under the sun for a long time. It may get hot easily, including the inside of the van, which may cause discomfort for your dogs.
Install additional covers for windshields as they are a great source of radiant heat in your van. Installing sun shades lessens heat inside the van, accompanied by proper ventilation such as fans and air conditioners.
Open windows to let in some breeze. Letting air in keeps the interior temperature closer to outside temperature and does not trap heat inside the van with your dog.
Install a remote temperature monitor inside the vehicle and measures heat and humidity. This monitor sends an alert through SMS if the temperature inside the van rises above normal levels.
It is essential to monitor the temperature as we all know that dogs are not safe in hot areas. Higher temperatures may not be good for dogs, especially when left in the van, which you should not often do.
Only leave the dog in the van when you are eating out at restaurants, doing groceries, going places where dogs are not allowed, raining outside, or when the temperature outside is not good for dog exposure. Park where you can see your dog, near windows or doors overlooking your vehicle.
11. Is Living in a Van Safe?
Living in a van is safe, but it requires a lot of preparation to create your safe home on the road. This includes being smart in choosing your parking places, planning your stopovers, and choosing the safest place to stay at night.
When doing so, always listen to your gut feel and leave immediately if a place feels off. It is also recommended to have multiple overnight parking alternatives just in case you’ll need to transfer from one place to another.
Here are some vanlife safety tips you can follow.
Be aware of your surroundings and know who and what is around you. Stay in well-lit parking lots near residential streets and look for installed CCTV cameras for added protection.
Keep doors locked both when camping in town or outdoors. Doors should be locked while you’re inside the van or if you leave the van, especially during nighttime. I also recommend using blackout curtains, which completely block people from peeking inside your van.
Be always ready to leave at any minute. Keep the driver’s seat clear and place your keys in the same place for easy grabbing. Furthermore, orient the van allowing for an easy exit, so you can leave anytime you feel unsafe.
Bring some self-defense tools. It can be anything from a pepper spray, knife, taser, or any heavy object used as a weapon.
Lastly, keep your valuables out of view. Valuables may attract the attention of thieves and make them choose you as the next target to rob. Hide your valuables and cash, especially when leaving your van to do some outdoor activities. Place them in a spot that isn’t too obvious, even with someone sitting inside your van.
12. Can the Van Stand Summer and Rainy Seasons?
Properly insulated vans can withstand any season. You should invest in good insulation to brave off the cold-weather climate and protect the van and you from the harmful UV rays. Here are some insulation recommendations for you.
Reflectix is one known insulation for a van. It is a thin bubble wrap with a reflective coating that acts as a radiant heat barrier, reflecting heat away from the van. You might also want to consider sheep’s wool. This renewable insulation material is non-toxic, has a low market price, and has great moisture management properties, making it perfect for your van.
For the sweat seasons, you should get your van ventilation. This helps the insulation relieve heat inside the van and keep you fresh throughout your trip. Here are some ventilation recommendations for you.
Roof vent fans get rid of stale air in the van and create a cooling current. You can pair it with interior fans to provide additional cooling and help cool air circulate throughout the van. Place several of them in the sleeping area and kitchen for even air distribution.
For maximum cooling, install an air conditioner perfect for the hot places you’ll visit.
A combination of these ventilations on your van would be great to ease the heat and make your van a comfortable place to sleep in.
Other tips in staying warm during the winter are bringing warm blankets and extra socks, preventing any draft areas in your van, and covering windows and any openings in the van.
13. What are the Downsides of Living in a Van?
This question is often asked by people who want to be realistic about vanlife. They know that van life has pros and cons, and it’s not always the good days on the road. Here are some of the downsides you might encounter that would have you thinking twice about being a full-time van life.
You have limited space for all your belongings in a van, from your sleeping space to kitchen and cooking and the clothing and storage areas. All things needed to be squashed inside the van.
Showering is not easy. Campsite facilities charge fees, and you always need to look out for gyms and yoga studios. Having a shower inside your van is also space-consuming and does not apply to smaller campers.
There is always a possibility of a van breaking down while you’re on the road. You always need to be ready for repairs, setting aside money for emergencies like this.
Lastly, looking for places to dump waste and fill water tanks may be stressful. You need to dump the wastewater before it gets full and causes leakage and a bad smell to your van. However, it’s hard to find dump stations in off-grid areas, and filling up the fresh water tank may be costly, more so if you cannot find free water.
14. How Do You Manage to Put All Your Stuff in a Van?
A van has limited space for all your belongings, and you need to plan well what things you’ll bring and what you’ll need to leave behind. You should only bring the essentials, think of the things you cannot live without; those are your essentials. This includes food, clothing, beddings, kitchen essentials, and toilet and bathroom essentials.
Here are some tips to maximize your space.
Cut down on your clothing. Only keep the versatile pieces and clothes that are easy to take care of. You are also encouraged to use multipurpose items like foldable tables and chairs to save space for other important luggage.
Always be organized. Designate a place for each item in your van, like clothing, kitchen essentials, and outdoor gears, to maximize the little space in your van. Use dividers, storage boxes, and shelves.
There are a lot of pros and cons in van living, and it is only you who can determine if vanlife is for you or not. But if I were to be asked, I would recommend trying and experiencing van living, as the challenges that come with it make van living an ultimate experience. Plus, the pleasure of going places and enjoying your trip would be more than enough reason to say yes to van life.