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Van Life: What It Means and How to Live It

If you’re new to the van life community, thinking of joining it, or simply curious what all the buzz is about, we’re here to break it down with a quick guide to what van life is and how to live it.

Mar 08, 2021 | Tips

Open up your IG account, search for #VanLife, and you will find an incredible array of adventurers navigating the globe, all in their home away from home. In fact, for those who embark on van life, adventure is usually central to the lifestyle.

If you’re new to the van life community, thinking of joining it, or simply curious what all the buzz is about, we’re here to break it down with a quick guide to what van life is and how to live it.


Van Life and Rethinking Home

At its core, van life is all about rethinking the place you call home. For some, this means a permanent transition to full-time van life. For others, this is a part-time lifestyle. Either way, van life embodies an idea of living with less, living on the go, and making the world your backyard.

From urban corridors to remote desert landscapes, van lifers are focused on exploration and taking their home wherever they traverse. It’s about blending comfort with minimalism and pairing convenience with freedom.

Unlike the hippy vans of the 1960s, today, most van lifers live in vans that are fully outfitted with everything you’d find in a traditional home. In fact, van life is akin to the tiny home movement with a deeply rooted belief that less space doesn’t have to mean less functionality or even less beauty.

For some, van life involves saving up for years and taking time away from work. For others, the nomadic work movement makes permanent travel possible. With an increasing number of people joining the remote workforce and on-the-go internet options more readily available, van life is becoming an achievable full-time lifestyle for many.


Making the Transition

For those whose interest is peaked, making the transition to van life involves a little bit of planning and, perhaps, a small change in mentalities.

Preparing for Minimalism

While today’s vans offer much more luxury than the VW buses of old, van life still means less space. Before packing up and moving into a van, it is important to start preparing for a minimalist life.

In a consumer-driven culture, it is easy to collect far more belongings than you realize until you try to fit everything you own into a van. A good way to cut down on the clutter is to make a list based on a walkthrough of your day. From start to finish, write down everything you need to get through a single day. You might be surprised about how little you need to enjoy a full day of adventure.

Creating a Budget

While social media does a great job of enticing you into van life with its array of beautiful photos and stunning vistas, it doesn’t help add a price tag for those adventures.

The reality is that the cost of van life is largely what you make it. For those who plan to quit their jobs and live off savings entirely, the budget for a year on the road might be different than for those who plan to work.

Additionally, the lifestyle and the locations you choose will play a heavy role in how much it will cost. For example, some couples get by on a budget of $1,000 USD a month, living frugally, camping in mostly free places, and rarely eating out. In other cases, a solo traveler might spend over $2,000 USD a month, opting for luxury campsites and more time spent exploring urban areas. In extreme cases, van lifers might even live off less than $1,000 USD a month, particularly when crossing the border into countries where the US dollar has more buying power.

Regardless of what lifestyle you pick, take the time to create a realistic budget before hitting the road. This will help you know how sustainable the lifestyle will be for your particular needs.

Choosing Your Home

Van life is impossible without a van in which to live. A big part of making the jump into this lifestyle will be choosing your future home.

The good news is that today’s van builds offer the amenities you’d expect from a regular home, just in a more condensed space. Most pre-built vans include a kitchen, sleeping area, dining area, and even garage-style storage.

The key to picking the right van is thinking through what amenities you want, as well as what capabilities the vehicle itself offers.

Downloading Must-Have Apps

One of the best parts about living in a van is that you get to wake up in some of the world’s most beautiful places every single day. However, finding campsites and places to park is the number one day-to-day challenge van lifers face. Picking out a place that is safe, legal, and affordable is made easier through the use of a few must-have apps:

  • iOverlander - iOverlander is a simple app powered by travelers who mark locations on the map with notes about camping, RV dump stations, gas stations, and more.
  • HipCamp - HipCamp is another great app for finding campsites and even allows folks to list their piece of property as a place to camp.
  • Campendium - Run by a crew of van lifers, this app offers additional insights into campsites, overnight parking, public land, RV parks, dump stations, and more.
  • HarvestHosts - While HarvestHosts requires a yearly subscription, this app allows members to camp at wineries, breweries, and farms around the USA.

Embracing the Open Road

Van life is an incredible chance to shift gears and let the road take you where it may. At its core, van life is a lifestyle focused on living more and spending less time confined to your 9-5. It’s about seeking out remote waterfalls, exploring new cities, and spending your time living life to your heart’s desire. To get the most out of this lifestyle, be prepared to live life with an open mind, roll with the punches, and find joy in the little things.


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