The van living lifestyle has been around for decades. Its many benefits of freedom, solitude and time spent out in nature have made it an appealing lifestyle for thousands of adventurers. Today, it’s becoming even more popular due to its presence on social media.
Some see it as an escape from our fast-paced, technological world, while others see it as a simple way to explore the great outdoors. However you view it, it’s clear that it’s become a legitimate lifestyle that many people have made work for them.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what van life actually entails, how it started and a brief guide to living in a van.
What Is Van Life?
Put simply, van life means living out on the road in a van. Usually, it’s a converted van that has a large amount of storage space and room for a bed and possibly a cooking area. Sometimes, people will live the van lifestyle in vehicles that aren’t actually vans — decommissioned military vehicles, old school buses, RVs — and may have more space for a living room and bathroom.
Instead of having a house or apartment in one location, van “lifers” have their homes on wheels and usually travel across large distances to explore the outdoors. Spending life in a van means committing yourself to an interesting, adventurous lifestyle that can be challenging, frustrating, inspiring and beautiful.
The van lifestyle sometimes coincides with a philosophy of freedom and unshackling from a typical nine-to-five, in-person job.
The History of Van Life
The roots of van life in the United States can be traced back to the Conestoga wagons of the 1800s, in which families traveled and slept for weeks and months on end. In the beginning, living in these moving wagons was out of necessity. The terms “van dwelling” and “vandwellers” seem to have derived from a publication talking about show performers who traveled in wagons from town to town in the 1890s.
Soon, motorized vehicles hit the streets, ushering in a new era of van life. During the Great Depression, house trailers went into mass production, as families needed a cheap way to travel and live. After that, campers and vans became popular among hobbyists and travelers.
Manufacturers started building vehicles with adequate storage space. The 1960s saw the birth of the vastly popular Ford Transit, which is still popular today. In the 1970s, van life became a culture in itself, representing freedom and an alternative lifestyle. The VW Bus remains a symbol of that counterculture period.
From there, the tightly-knit bond of vandwellers drifted off a bit, but the lifestyle has continued to remain popular. Today, van life has become reignited with pictures and videos of the lifestyle flooding social media platforms. The lifestyle is more accessible than ever due to the prevalence of remote jobs, allowing van lifers to work from wherever their vans take them.
Why Do People Live the Van Life?
Is van life worth it? While some might find the off-the-grid, rootless lifestyle appealing, others question why anyone would want to live out of a van.
The truth is that van life is attractive to a certain type of person. The van life experience attracts individuals who aren’t looking to settle down in a typical house with mortgage payments and utility bills — at least not yet. Instead, van lifers wish to travel far and wide, stocking up on experiences in a truly unique way.
That freedom is central to the lifestyle — van life is about being able to go wherever you want when you want. In the United States, traveling across a few states can mean experiencing drastic changes in weather, attractions and culture, and van life is one of the best ways to see all the country has to offer because your home is right there with you.
The Pros and Cons of Van Life
While it’s easy for van life to become glamorized on social media, there are two sides to every lifestyle. Anyone thinking about becoming a van dweller should understand the pros and cons.
Here are some of the benefits of living in a van:
- Freedom: One of the main reasons van life has become so popular is because it offers an alternative lifestyle to working a desk job and purchasing a home. When you live in a van, you’re always on the go, seeing different places and gaining new experiences every day. It’s a liberating concept for many.
- Savings: Since you won’t be paying rent or a mortgage, you’ll be able to cut down your expenses when van dwelling. Some van lifers only need money for vehicle expenses and food. In many ways, van dwelling can actually be very profitable, as you can save money and even market your lifestyle on the internet.
- Life experience: Ask a van dweller what one of their biggest takeaways is from their unique lifestyle and they’ll probably mention the countless life experiences they’ve gained. When you’re out on the road, you’re opening yourself up to countless opportunities — opportunities to meet new people, see new places and gain new skills. After a couple of months out on the road, you’ll probably find that you’re growing as a person, learning to face fear and stay present in each moment.
Here are some of the negative aspects of van life:
- Logistics: One of the most notable issues with living in a van is that it can be inconvenient and stressful. Each day, you must make decisions on where to sleep, what to eat, how to shower, where to fuel up, how to get your mail and more. This endless series of choices can easily lead to fatigue and burnout.
- Lack of stability: Unlike a house where you can easily set a routine, van life is constantly changing. No one day is likely going to stay the same, as you’ll be in a different place all the time, with new scenery, new people and new challenges to face. This is an exciting, inspiring prospect, but some people can struggle without having that comfortable routine to rely on each day.
- Loneliness: This lifestyle brings its own social challenges, too. If you’re traveling on your own, you could go days or weeks without interacting with anyone. Additionally, you may miss the community of friends and family you could regularly interact with before heading out on the road. Though solitude can be beneficial for a time, constant loneliness is unhealthy for many individuals.
Looking at van life’s pros and cons will help you get a sense of what the lifestyle is actually like. The rise of van life on social media has popularized the lifestyle, but it’s done so in a way that can appear overly romanticized and glamorized. Understanding the reality of living in a van full-time is crucial before you decide to commit to it.
How to Start Living Van Life
If you’re considering trying a new approach to life, you might be wondering how to get into van life. Here are a few steps to help you make the transition:
1. Do Your Research
Even before you start making plans to become a van dweller, make sure you do your research on how to live the van life — read more articles, watch videos, get books and listen to podcasts about life in a van. If you know anyone who lives in a van, reach out to them to learn more.
Like any serious decision in life, living life in a van shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially because you’ll need to make a few significant financial investments to get started. Be sure to educate yourself thoroughly on the ups and downs of living in a van so you can make an informed decision.
2. Make a Plan
Though van life may seem like a spontaneous act, you’ll want to spend some time crafting a plan and preparing for the day you set out on the road. This will ensure that when you do become a van dweller, you’ll be set up for success.
Build out a timeline for your transition to van life with a rough estimate of when you’ll be out on the road. If you have a house or an apartment, figure out how you’re going to deal with that before you leave. Are you going to keep a central place of residence or completely uproot yourself and make your van a true home?
Of course, you must also dedicate time and resources to purchasing and outfitting a van so that it’s fit to live in. From that point, you may want to have a few destinations to which you want to travel. If you don’t yet have a remote job or another way to make money while on the road, you should sort that out, too.
It helps to make a checklist of everything you need to do before you set out.
3. Cover All Your Bases
There’s a lot to keep track of when you’re transitioning to living in a van. Be sure to stay organized during the preparation process, thinking about different aspects of van life, including:
- Employment: As stated, you’ll need a job that works with your new lifestyle. While some people can keep their current positions and just work remotely, others may need to find new jobs. If you’re on the hunt for a new position, consider becoming a freelancer or working seasonally — maybe you’ll work at a ski lodge in the winter and become a surf instructor in the summer.
- Health care: When you’re on the road, you’ll need to get a health care plan that works for your new lifestyle, especially when you’re working as a freelancer and won’t have care through an employer.
- Hygiene: A significant hurdle when living in a van is having access to showers. If your van isn’t large enough for a bathroom, you can look into getting a gym membership or making a list of public showers, such as at campsites.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed as you go through the planning process. When you first start living in a van, you’ll learn by trial and error. If something goes wrong, that’s all a part of the lifestyle — just correct it and keep it in mind. Eventually, you’ll craft a lifestyle that suits your needs.
4. Find the Right Van
When on the road, your van is your home, so you should treat it like such. Before you jump into buying the first van you see, make a note of what kind of qualities you want.
Are you looking for a lot of space? Do you prefer something modern with amenities? Would you like a simple frame you can customize? Also, consider whether you’ll want to buy a van that’s already converted or take on a DIY project yourself.
Whatever you’re looking for, make sure it suits your needs. Keep in mind that the van conversion process can take several months, especially when you’re working on a budget. Giving yourself time to turn your van into exactly what you want can ensure your experience with van living is as comfortable as possible.
Make your van into your dream home. Find a sleeping space and install a dining room and kitchen. If you want, you can add a bathroom or shower. One of the best things about van life is that your van is your space, and it can be whatever you want it to be, so feel free to get creative.
6. Start Van Life
After you’ve prepared thoroughly, bought your van and customized it, it’s time to hit the road. The true way to know whether van life is really for you is to live it. Some people find that the lack of routine and constant challenges make it a poor lifestyle choice for them. Others have taken up van life and never looked back, enjoying a liberated life out on the road.
If you’ve always had the itch to become a van dweller, the lifestyle is always just a few steps away.
Shop at Raybuck Auto Parts Today
So much of van life is finding that perfect van and making the necessary changes to make it livable. During that process, you’ll need to find an assortment of parts and tools to aid you in the process. It can be a hassle tracking down all of those different parts — finding a trusted provider can help ease you through your conversion project.
At Raybuck Auto Parts, we carry a huge selection of auto parts and tools in one convenient online location. You can easily browse through our selection, talk to our highly-experienced team and find what you’re looking for. We offer quality, long-lasting parts that you can rely on. Contact us today!