In the last few years, van life has become popular. As housing becomes increasingly unaffordable more and more people are considering van-dwelling.
Van dwelling can simplify your life. It requires paring down your possessions and releasing attachments to material things. There is certainly less to clean. There is also no pantry to fill or garage to tidy. Owning fewer things means worrying about fewer things. Living in a can van encourages you to concentrate on making memories rather than acquiring more stuff (that you would probably garage sale later anyway).
The lifestyle can also simplify your finances. With no rent or mortgage to pay, it gives you the opportunity to save more. Yes, there are still some expenses, but over all the expenses are generally less.
Living in a van can provide you with an incredible amount of flexibility. If you get tired of a place, you can simply move on. If your friends are headed up into the mountains for the weekend, packing up is as easy as filling your van with fuel and restocking your food and water supply. Everything else you already have with you. Living in a van definitely pushes you to make the most of your outdoor space. Let the beach or river bank be your new front yard for a while. Most van enthusiasts are active nomads, taking advantage of bike trails, hiking paths, surfing, and ski slopes.
Small space dwelling may also help you work on your communication skills. Afterall, living in a van with a partner can be challenging. Beyond that, making friends with other van dwellers can foster a sense of community. Generally, van dwellers are happy to help each other out. If you are living alone make sure to plug into some kind of group like the gym, meetup, or church to stave off loneliness.
Van dwellers also have the opportunity to hone a few other skills like problem solving and organization. When your life is on wheels, you need to be able to think on your feet and work efficiently when faced with challenges (like repairs on the fly or getting lost).
Living in a van can present a number of other challenges as well. Hygiene is one of them. Most vans don’t have showers. So you’ll need to join a gym with shower access and wet wipe in between.
You won’t have the luxury of a washing machine. Most van dwellers simplify their wardrobe and pare down their clothes, often only changing their outfit every couple of days. A trip to the laundromat will be a weekly chore.
Not all vans are equipped with decent cooking facilities. Some vans may be decked out with built-in water and sinks, but most do not. Cooking on a couple of burners and having to wash up after every meal can be tedious, depending on the weather. Face it; you are not going to be baking a lasagna and some days you may be reduced to eating granola bars and whole fruit.
While life can be simpler in a van, remember you will also have less space. There will be times you miss stretching out on a real sofa or queen-sized bed. You might miss a full-size workspace countertop, a full bathroom or the space to walk around indoors.
One of the last things to consider when mulling over the van life is the weather. Weather is relevant to every aspect of van life. Vans do not come equipped with insulation from the factory. Cold and hot days outside are cold and hot days inside. Unless you had your van insulated (which you should do) there will be days that are uncomfortable in the van. The weather will affect your sleep, but it’s neither safe or practical to leave your van’s engine running the AC or heat all night. Sometimes you just have to seek shelter within your local library or coffee shop.
So what does it cost to live in a van? Just like living in a house, you do have given expenses. Here are some expenses to consider.
Food: Food can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. Just live within your budget. Some budget $50/day, while others budget $400/month.
Fuel: Gas is more expensive on the west coast. Plan your routes carefully to maximize your savings.
Lodging: Budget to stay at a campground from time to time. It gives you an opportunity to shower but also charge up all of your essentials. Most campgrounds are $40-50/night.
Personal Care: Budgeted for gym fees ($20/month at a Planet Fitness) and laundry mats ($3-4/load).
Fun: Most likely you are living in a van to save money, but also to give you the freedom to do the things you most want to do. Splurge on those concert tickets! ($50+/month).
Phone: $40-50/month for unlimited everything.
Insurance: The cost of insurance will depend on how fancy or new your van is.
Repairs: Budget for emergencies and repairs. Not only will you have routine oil changes and maintenance, but you also want to be prepared if you blow your engine or need a new set of tires. Set aside $200/month if you can afford it. There is nothing worse than having a giant, unexpected expense and not being prepared for it.
If you want to check out van life before making a commitment, rent one. Most van-rental companies only rent to round trippers.
California~ Starting at $1500/week (VW Surfari)
Colorado~ $185/night (Rocky Mountain Camper Vans)
Nevada~ $141/night (Escape Camper Vans)
Hawaii~ $175/night (Hawaii Campers)
Wyoming $2550/week (Adventure Rigs)
For the ins and outs of van life, check out these van dwellers.
Are you already living in a van? What advice would you give someone interested in van dwelling? Share with us in the comments below.