Posts Tagged van life

Van Life: Enjoy The Journey To Your Next Adventure

Van Life: Enjoy The Journey To Your Next Adventure

living the van lifeAre you ready for the ultimate in freedom lifestyle? Van life has the potential to be as romantic as it sounds—just you (and maybe your significant other, or your pet … or both) on the open road.

I met Van Lifers Wesley and Savannah (and their pet hedgehog Hermie, who has more Instagram followers than I do) at our Portland conference. I got to check out their fantastic van and I just fell in love with the whole idea of living the van life. I can totally see myself driving around the U.S. seeing all the national parks in a van like theirs. After meeting them, I’ve been very tempted to hit the road and become a YouTuber as I tour around.

Living in a van as an alternative or “less-traditional” approach to the tiny life is certainly an awesome option. Van life lends itself to portability like nothing else, which is why this lifestyle is perfect for many outdoor enthusiasts and those who have wanderlust. After all, if you love spending time mountain climbing, biking, or surfing, living in a camper van provides the perfect way to take your home base right into the outdoors.

What is Van Life?

what is the van life

Consider it a step up from camping. With van life, you’re converting a van into a camper or a tiny home. Van life offers a nice cozy shelter, plus the ultimate mobility of a car. It’s perfect for singles or couples looking for the pursuit of Instagram-worthy adventures on the open road.

You may scroll through the awesome pictures of #vanlife on Instagram or watch YouTube videos of people who make living in a van work well. It’s the ultimate in simple, minimalist lifestyle options. Most converted camper vans offer significantly smaller square footage than a traditional tiny house.

The biggest factor about living the van life is asking yourself if you can handle living (and driving) in your tiny house. This is especially something to consider if you’re taking your relationship on the road. While tiny living itself presents logistic issues in terms of privacy and space, van life takes those challenges to the next level.

van life on the road

But for many van lifers, freedom, and adventure are worth the sacrifice. Besides, as I learned more about the van life, I realized it’s really not far from living in a traditional tiny house like mine. It’s all about learning to simplify and owning only what you need to survive. Minimalism isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it and let go of your attachment to owning “stuff.”

Most people who live the van life do it because they love travel, exploring, and adventure, and they love being outdoors. This makes van life an especially popular option in warmer, outdoorsy areas like California, Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

Van life has been around for decades, in fact. Think back to the images of VW vans decked out with shag carpeting and custom murals as they journeyed to Woodstock. Eventually, van life gave way to the more practical, family-style camper van that was popular in the 80s and 90s. Over the last two decades, however, there’s been a return to the original love of the free and easy lifestyle of van life. Young couples realize taking their lives on the road (and sharing their adventures online) is exciting, fun, and yes, even comfortable.

ask the experts

Advice you’d give to someone just starting the van life?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Try the life out in your car for a while. Go on road trips in your car or SUV before you fully commit to the lifestyle. There are a lot of ups and downs, and pros and cons, in vanlife, just like in life. While the freedom to do as you please is appealing, there are still so many chores vanlife requires on a daily basis, like, finding where you are going to sleep for the night, every night.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Learn to minimize and prioritize the necessities but also things that you love. As you are minimizing, keep high quality multifunctional things.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Try it first. Hire a similar vehicle for a week or more and try to get a feel for vanlife. Create different scenarios, sleep in different environments try to replicate real van living, source water from various places for example and be honest with yourself.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“If you’re taller than 5’10” make sure you double check the width of your van!”


The Pros & Cons of Living in A Van

pros and cons of van living

The challenges of van life come from living in a very small space, of course, which is an issue for tiny lifers as well. Vans being vehicles present other challenges too, such as weather that’s too hot (vans have AC, but when you’re stopped, it gets very warm) and too cold (most vans aren’t awesome when driving in the snow). There are ways to insulate your van, which will help with temperature control, as can connecting to an alternative power source. There’s also general car maintenance that’s necessary, but the cost of caring for a van is typically lower than caring for a more traditional dwelling.

Most people who live the van life are young with mobile careers, allowing them to work from anywhere. Some earn a living as social media influencers living the van life and sharing their gorgeous photos online. Some are sponsored by companies who support their outdoor lifestyles (surfing, skating, climbing, running, etc.).

the van life

But not all van lifers are Millennials and younger folks. Van life is also a great option for adventurous seniors. After all, many original “hippie” Baby Boomers are approaching retirement age and they still have a fondness for the freedom of van life. What better way to see the world than traveling around in your camper van, living the original van life dream?

Are you wondering if living in a van is right for you? Here are a few great resources I’ve found with honest takes on the pros and cons of van life:

The greatest aspect of van life is that you can go anywhere! Settle in any spot for the night, camp out in your van and move to the next spot tomorrow. Van life is always an adventure. With many options for DIY van conversions and customization, you’ll have a comfortable bed, kitchenette, and storage added to the van, making it essentially a very tiny house on wheels.

So, if you’re ready to pack up and hit the road, consider van life a great option. Check out these van life photos to get inspired!

ask the experts

Best thing about the van life?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Surprisingly, the community. The people and the connections we’ve made on the road feel like we have a pretty extended van family. Sometimes we catch ourselves van-pooling for months at a time with strangers, but it feels like we have known each other forever. We trade stories and skills like climbing and surfing. We connect with each other and make lasting relationships. We always say we have friends all over the world because of vanlife.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“The freedom to bring your home to many amazing places in this world and often have the best views right out of your bedroom window.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“It’s the perfect balance of comfort and freedom.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“The freedom, and the low cost of living.”

What Are the Best Vans to Live In?

what are the best vans to live in

There are several vans that appear on almost everyone’s van life list. These conversion van options range in price, performance, and details.

The most popular vans for living the van life, seem to be:

  • Mercedes Sprinter
  • Mercedes Metris
  • Classic VW Bus
  • VW Vanagon (with or without Westfalia pop-ups)
  • Ford Transit Connect
  • Dodge ProMaster
  • Nissan NV 200
  • Converted Cargo Vans (like Chevy)

What it really comes down to is whether you plan to go with used/pre-owned and do the buildout yourself (unless you find a conversion van that’s already outfitted), or you buy a newer camper van. Obviously, much of this question comes down to a matter of your budget and your preference for DIY van conversions and customization (which is one of the aspects of van life many find appealing).

Most van-lifers recommend going with a used van and converting it into a camper. This is especially true for many of the classic vans like the VW Bus, which is no longer manufactured (although rumor has it, they’re releasing an electric version in the near future). If you buy used, you’re limited by your budget and the availability of a conversion van that suits your needs.

vintage vw bus

Like any car purchase, you’ll want to shop around carefully, unless you find a great deal you can’t refuse. Think about what you’re looking for in a van. Read reviews, consider gas mileage, cargo room, headspace (if any), and options.

Explore these resources to help you figure out which van is best for you:

Once you get an idea of what you’re looking for, I recommend you start shopping around. There are many vans for sale out there, but you want to purchase one suited to your lifestyle and plans.

ask the experts

What van did you choose?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“2007 Dodge Sprinter (used)”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“2014 Mercedes Sprinter 170 wheel base passenger van. We bought it used.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Mercedes Sprinter – used”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“2006 Dodge Sprinter Van – used”

How Much Does It Cost to Convert A Van into A Camper Van?

how much does it cost to convert a van

Much like any used vehicle purchase, cost varies depending on a lot of factors; mileage and condition of the van, where you buy it, and how picky you want to be.

As you’re shopping for conversion vans (or vans to convert into camper vans) you’ll want to check your local listings as well. I’ve seen great vans on Craigslist, third-party seller sites, and even eBay. You can find affordable vans priced between $2,000 and $8,000. Factor in the history, age of the vehicle, and the number of miles. You can always do an engine rebuild, but it’s not cheap. So, if you’re new to the van life, search for a van that runs (or plan a repair in your budget).

Building out the camper van interior is an additional expense too. The cost completely depends on the materials and equipment you plan to use and the overall look and functionality you’re seeking. Converting a van for full-time living will look different than weekend warriors seeking short term travel with a camping option.

van life conversion cost

Here are a few very different van conversion cost breakdowns from people who completed the van life conversion (Some include the cost of living on the road month-to-month as well!):

As you see, it definitely depends on many different factors. There’s also the possibility of finding a VW Vanagon Westie or another conversion van that’s already got a portion of the build-out included. The VW featured a popup tent top with plenty of standing room, a small kitchenette, fridge, swivel seats, and fold-down bed in the back (roomy enough to sleep four). These are out of commission but finding a classic may mean you simply need to make updates and cosmetic customization.

ask the experts

How much did your van conversion cost?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“$22,000 (Van and Build)”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Our materials were under $25K. We self-converted our van so this cost does not include the labor.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“£12,000 gbp”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“5k”

How Do You Convert A Van for Living?

how to convert a van for living

The short answer is it completely depends on how particular you are and how much time you plan on living in your van. If you plan to live on the road full-time, then there are the basics to cover: sleeping, cooking, hygiene, electricity, heat, and water.

Many older vans are very roomy in the back, so it’s pretty simple to put down a mattress or a sleeping bag and sleep in your van. While it isn’t the glamorous “influencer version” of van life that you’re imagining, it’s certainly an option in a pinch.

Most van lifers want their van to feel comfortable, clean, and homey, so they start doing a little updating and customization. This is where the conversion van idea factors in—you’re converting the van for sleeping/living. Some vans come with built-in conversion accommodations, like the aforementioned VW Westies (with seats that fold down into a bed), others require a little more attention.

traveling in a van

If you’re looking to really deck out the van for living, you’ll want to consider your options, just like you would when building a tiny house. You can install solar panels on the top of the van (it’s fairly similar to the way I installed solar panels on my tiny house). You can put in a fridge, an additional battery source for power, water for washing and cooking, and even build in storage.

One of the drawbacks of most vans is they don’t have a built-in bathroom. With a space that tiny, it’s not so pleasant or practical to live (and drive) close to your toilet. The obvious answer is you need to stop at rest stops and truck stops on the road whenever you need to use the restroom. (Note: Many van lifers also keep empty bottles on hand as nighttime/emergency urinals.) For washing, consider a solar shower, gym showers, or taking advantage of campground showers wherever you go. For some people, this is a drawback, but others don’t mind.

As for other issues like heating and insulation, there are advantages to van life. Being in an inconspicuous traveling home means you can park and sleep almost anywhere, including indoor parking garages (but you may need to pay, of course). There are heating options, like small indoor-friendly propane heaters with oxygen detectors, crucial for sleeping in a small space.

If you’re wondering about the other logistics of living the van life, there are many great guides online with step-by-step van conversion information. These resources feature in-depth product reviews and other information you’ll need. Some are also specific to the make and model of your van.

If you’d like to live the van life but you’re not quite ready to take on a full van conversion/buildout yourself, simply look for a used conversion van. You can also get a custom van built for you (although they’re quite expensive).

Here are a few van customizers:

ask the experts

What was the hardest part of converting the van?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“Getting started. It always seems pretty overwhelming, like you are never gonna finish and see the fruits of your labor. But, the more you chip away at it, project by project, the more you see it start coming to life. You see places in your framing that you don’t want to go to waste and you get creative and come up with ideas that can really blow you away. It really is a fun process.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Shower / bathroom was the hardest part of the build and it took the longest but it was definitely worth it, we love having it in the van. When building a bathroom, it is important to waterproof everything and know where your grey and black water going to go.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“I think the hardest part was the design. We spent months planning our layout as we wanted something bespoke to us and our requirements. Drawings or sketches on paper or computer can be really beneficial but a simple trick that helped us the most was getting a roll of masking tape and a tape measure and lay an outline of the plan inside the empty van. This really helped us visualize the overall layout.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“The electrical and battery. I recommend hiring someone to do it for you!”

How Do You Earn Money on The Road?

how do you earn money on the road

The biggest question most van lifers (and anyone who lives a nomadic lifestyle) face is how to earn a living. Granted, van living offers more freedom and less expense than many more conventional lifestyles. Still, there’s always gas, car repairs, parking expenses, maintenance, food, and general living expenses that will arise.

Living a minimalist lifestyle is no question if you’re living the van life. In such a small space, you’re really faced with paring down to the most basic items you need. Most van lifers report it’s a little isolating and claustrophobic at times, so they put in the effort to get out often, find personal space (if they’re living with a partner), and keep their van very clean inside. When you’re living and also working in your van it becomes extra important to stay aware of your mental health needs.

As for making money on the road, earning money in creative ways seems to be a millennial talent, which is probably why millennials adapt to the van life so well. There are many ways to earn money on the road, but most involve working online (so Wi-Fi is important)!

van life roadtrip

Many van lifers document their journeys in the form of monetized blogs, YouTube channels, or social media accounts. Others create and sell products like DIY van conversion how-to-guides, using affiliate links and sales to earn money off their books.

Van life is also favored by outdoor enthusiasts, so many van lifers are sponsored by lifestyle brands and outdoor products they promote on their social media accounts. They may also be professionally involved in sports like surfing, mountain climbing, running, or snowboarding, and secure sponsorships from equipment brands.

One thing is for sure—creativity is the key to earning money on the road…along with the ability to live and survive on a shoestring budget. While a 9-5 might not work with a nomadic lifestyle, there are always temp jobs, seasonal work, and other options for those who want to live the tiny life in a van but need to take a break from the expenses of life on the road.

road by ocean

Here are great resources from van lifers who’ve learned how to earn money on the go:

Living the van life is the ultimate freedom lifestyle. Pick up and travel anywhere at any time. Everything you own is with you. It’s just you and the open road (and maybe a sidekick or two). If this sounds like the lifestyle for you, you may want to consider your van life options. Share your adventures on YouTube and you just might end up inspiring others to join the van life!

ask the experts

How do you earn money while traveling?

thevankooks
Vanning Ain’t No Joke website
Lee, Neil and Andrew

“While we dabble in design (graphic and web design) projects, photography, and videography, as side hustles, we also have been dabbling in flipping vans. There seems to be a lot of people trying to get into the lifestyle, but are overwhelmed with the entire process of learning and researching, and then doing. Plus, people don’t have the time. We do. And, we enjoy the process, as well as, sharing our tips, knowledge, and our mess-ups via our Vankookz YouTube Channel.”

gone with the van
Gone With The Van website
Brett & Yulia

“Currently, we don’t live in a van full time but go on extended trips. We custom build vans for new van lifers and travel in our self converted Mercedes Sprinter between projects. We are working on expanding our YouTube channel to potentially allow us the financial freedom to travel more.”

the road is our home
The Road Is Our Home website
Rob & Emily

“Any way in which we can. We’ve done all kinds of work from labouring to web design, pertinent to temporary, there’s always work available. Use it as an opportunity to learn new skills along the way.”

one chick travels
One Chick Travels website
Kaya Lindsay

“I’m a freelance writer.”

winding road

Your Turn!

  • What would you like about living van life?
  • Where would you want to travel if you lived in a van?