How to Live Van Life
Van life is a phenomenon that arose when countless millennials decided to give up the conventional 9-5 in favour of a simpler and more freeing existence. The hashtag “#vanlife” began to rock the algorithm waves across social media platforms with travellers sharing their experiences to the world. However, once you step back from the glossy pictures, how do you actually live van life?
At its most basic, it involves converting and then moving into a vehicle either part-time or permanently. If you love nature, travelling, and minimalism, then you could be the perfect candidate to live van life. It’s a lifestyle best suited to outdoorsy people and those who enjoy an adventure. Any additional skills in DIY, electronics, or mechanics are valuable, but they’re not a pre-requisite as most people learn this knowledge as they go. To get you started, here are some of the best ways to live van life.
How to Choose a Vehicle
Depending on what country/region you are in, you will have access to different makes and models of vans. In North America, Chevrolet, Ford, and GMC are very popular. In Europe, you might have more luck finding a Fiat or Volkswagen. Set yourself a budget and start planning how you want to convert your van. People live van life in tiny hatchbacks, school buses, and decommissioned ambulances, so don’t be afraid to get creative!
Think about the floor space, ease of driving, cost of fuel, and competency of the engine. Passenger vans and cargo vans often make the best vehicles for converting. Search car dealerships and websites such as Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace. Before you buy your vehicle, take it for a test drive and consider getting it inspected by a mechanic.
If you want facilities such as a toilet or shower, look at RVs and traditional motorhomes rather than trying to do a self-conversion. These vehicles often have weaker engines and breakdowns do occur more frequently. However, they are convenient and get you onto the road immediately!
How to Make Modifications
Modifying your van is one of the best ways to live van life. Conversions might include installing electronics & deep-cycle batteries, solar panels, insulation & curtains, showers & plumbing, a sleeping platform, storage space, and any decorations to make your vehicle feel like home. Again, this will depend on your budget and time frame. Cheap conversions can be a few hundred pounds with the cost spiralling towards 5 figures for expensive modifications.
If you want a cheap and easy conversion, simply throw a sleeping bag in the back of your vehicle along with some clothes and you’re ready to go. You could also spend thousands of pounds and many months converting an aesthetic, high-tech van that is as comfortable as any apartment. The choice is yours and converting a van can be whatever you want it to be!
How to Plan Your Travels
Some people who live van life choose to stay in one area for extended periods of time. Others travel around from place to place stopping for a few days at a time. You could also choose to live in your vehicle seasonally or drive it to other countries for holidays. That’s one of the great allures of van dwelling, you have complete autonomy to travel as you see fit. The options are endless!
You can start each day without knowing what you’re going to do and make up the adventure as you go along. However, another good way to live van life is to organise your trip around your favourite hobbies such as hiking, surfing, rock climbing, or historical sightseeing. It could be anything!
If possible, include some practical stages in your itinerary. Look up campsites in advance or research some good boondocking areas using apps like iOverlander or park4night. Earmark time slots to visit a mechanic, fill up on gas, empty your grey water tank, or top up on groceries.
How to Work on the Road
If you want to live van life full-time, you are going to have to earn some money on the road. Fortunately, with the freedom granted by living in your vehicle, you will have a low cost of living without having to pay for a mortgage, lease, or any council tax. You can also avoid paying monthly heating, electricity, and water bills. Therefore, you don’t have to work as hard or earn as much money as you might in your regular life.
You can work remotely as a temporary employee or freelancer. You can also get seasonal employment or pick up cash-in-hand jobs alongside your travels. Building a remote network is the best way to earn money conveniently. Websites like Fiverr and UpWork are excellent places to find new clients as a freelancer – although, they do take a 20-30% commission.
Always have a rainy-day fund saved. You can suddenly be lumped with large bills when you live van life so it’s best to be prepared. An annual MOT could end in hundreds of pounds of repairs. You might need to buy a new set of winter tyres. Your heater could break, or you might need to get towed after getting stuck in some sand or mud. Prepare for these eventualities so you don’t get caught out!
Knowing how to live van life is less about having all the answers and more about finding solutions along the way. The only real barrier to beginning van life is the initial funds required to start. After that, it’s all about your own desire to get on the road. The problems that you come up against can be resolved as and when they occur.
In fact, if you spend years planning for every contingency, you can guarantee that new issues you haven’t even considered will arise anyway. To live van life in the best way possible, don’t sweat the small stuff. Be flexible and open to change. Take the rough with the smooth and try to enjoy whatever the experience throws at you.