Many people want to live the vanlife. But is vanlife for you?
Here you will find some advice from someone who has been living this way for a very long time and has been around the block a few times. That would be me, and you can take all of this with a grain of salt if you wish.
Because the number one rule of vanlife is, there is not one right way to live vanlife.
Is living in a van for you?
I fell in love with VW buses early on and knew that I was destined to live and travel in one. I knew that I wanted to affordably own my own home and be somewhat free of the constraints that society puts on us. It was, in hindsight, also a survival coping mechanism.
Many people might think that vanlife is not a way to live at all – Are you out of your mind? For those of us who have been living this way for awhile, well, we know a little better, or maybe we just think differently. But still, let’s face it, vanlife is not for everyone.
It’s really easy to want to take on vanlife because so many people are living this way these days. They make it look easy. It’s becoming romanticized. The Vanlifers write about it, they YouTube it, they Instagram it. Some of them live this way just to make their income off of those very same platforms.
Then, there are some people who are just called to it, like I was.
To live this lifestyle you have to really know yourself. You have to be a little driven. And you have to have street smarts and survival skills, or at least the ability to pick them up, and at the same time be kind, compassionate, and conscientious.
Living in a van is not about travel, it’s about living. Travel is secondary:
A number of people have called me out on this, saying that the only reason they are living vanlife is because they want to travel. But primary to that is the fact that they also have to be successful vanlifers and survivors to travel this way. So yes, living in a van is not about travel, it’s about living. It’s a lifestyle choice even if it only lasts six months or a year or two.
Some people choose to travel, and some choose to stay in one place, and others may choose any range in between those two choices.
Overthinking things can hold you back
So many people who want to live vanlife think about it too much. And they plan too much. Thinking and planning will take you out of flow.
For instance: One of the things that people wanting to get into vanlife overthink is the build out of their van. The best way to build out a van is organically, over time. Doing it that way gives you a sense of space, how your body relates to that space, and it gives you an idea for what you really need. Some people need space to store their bikes – others, like myself, need space to store their shoes. And these needs change over time. It’s not a one build fits all sort of project.
You may be moving from an apartment or a house into a van, but a van is not a house, although it can be a home.
Can you be flexible and adapt to your situation?
You may create a beautiful new build, planning it down to the very last plank and screw, and within a week of living in it realize that your counter top is about an inch too wide. You may drive all day to get to a town where you planned to park, only to have a plague hit and they tell you to go away. You may plan a trip out to BLM land, go out as far as you can to be isolated, and then break down with no mechanic in sight.
And then at other times, everything goes according to plan.
On the other side of that, you could randomly stop in a town and by the end of the day have a job because you casually mentioned something about what you do to a total stranger at a cafe. So that changes your plan for the next four months, or so.
So you see, while you may be a planner, life is not a plan, it’s a journey. Turn the key and go.
A year from now will never arrive
This is a concept from the Law of Attraction. If you keep putting your projects, wants, and desires into the future, that’s where they live and that’s where they will stay. You will never get there. A goal of living in a van a year from now may pan out, but you need to be taking the first steps in the present. What are you doing right now to make your vanlife dream a reality?
Just do it!
There is no right or wrong way to do anything
The kind of van or truck or camper or RV has to suit you, your lifestyle, and your personality. Your build has to suit you. If you want to hang a hammock inside instead of a bed platform, go for it. If you want storage boxes instead of built in cupboards, go for it. If you want a sink instead of wash bins, go for it. When whatever you thought you wanted no longer works for you, switch it up.
Over 40-years in a VW Bus and I’ve had a single bed, a double bed, a hammock to store clothes, camping gear, no camping gear, got rid of the hammock and got storage boxes, had pillows, then no pillows, and the list goes on and on.
What do you need to get started?
Go camping or urban drifting and see if this lifestyle even suits you.
Rent a van or an RV and give it a whirl. Toss a bed in the back. Sleep in your driveway. If you have an SUV that you drive to work everyday, throw some gear and a futon in the back and take off for a few days. Go on weekend trips, then week-longs, then a few weeks, start out in known safe places like a campground or even your own neighborhood … Are you still loving it? Doing this first will also tell you what you need: Campstove? Water source? Yeti cooler? A full on tiny house on wheels? Etc?
Look for a van or vehicle that suits you, not someone else
Asking people what kind of live aboard vehicles they like can give you a direction in which to point your nose. But once you get to the destination it’s you that has to make the decision if a certain vehicle is right for you. If you are going to ask people what kind of vehicle to purchase, make sure you understand, especially if you are asking in facebook groups or in web site communities, that these people probably don’t know you. They will tell you what works for them.
Once you’ve made that decision, then buy it outright. Slightly used is better than new – a lot of the kinks will have been worked out and you won’t be in debt. There is nothing more infringing on living your best life than living in debt and having your home on wheels at the beck and call of a bank. Or worse yet, having to sell it because for some reason you can’t make the payments. No one knows what the future holds, but it’s better to move forward debt free.
Which really should be written into the Vanlife Manifesto (the moving forward debt free part).
Learn how to build things
One never knows where or when a wall, a drawer, a floor, needs to be installed or mended. Even having only hammer and screwdriver skills are important.
You don’t have to build out your van or renovate your RV by yourself, but being able to repair and build things while you are out on the road is invaluable.
Learn how to work on your own vehicle, especially if it’s old
I own a 1971 VW Tin-Top. Prior to owning this one I had a 1968. VWs, even when they weren’t that old, were notorious for breaking down in the middle of nowhere. In some instances I could get things running on my own. Even when she’s parked I sometimes have to do some of the small things, like swap out the generator brushes, swap out the battery, or put in new gas lines.All of this I have done just in the past few months.
Working on your own vehicle can save you money. It can also save your life if you are stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Always carry tools and the easy to replace replacement parts. Even in a new vehicle you want to know the basics.
Doublecheck your ambition
If you are hopping on a bandwagon, this lifestyle may not be for you. Some people want to hop on a bandwagon because they see people having so much fun and freedom on Instagram and YouTube. Vanlife is not all fun and games. I spend more time cleaning my van than I do having a fun lifestyle. Sometimes, a lot of the time, vanlife is very solitary. Sometimes you have to entertain yourself. Sometimes vanlife is about reading a novel while waiting for the rain to go away. Sometimes it’s too hot or too cold. Sometimes you have to make big decisions. Sometimes your budget will run out.
If you can be happy and have a positive attitude through those times, then you will be ok.But really, do a deep dive on that one.
Creative problem solvers get it done!
If you can solve problems on your own, twist crazy experiences into a good story, love being alone, love adventure, are ok with boredom, are ok with not being comfortable, ok with being far away from your comfort zone, don’t feel the need to drive everyday, make friends easily, are not attached to stuff, then this lifestyle might be for you.
* * * * *
Remember. As a vanlifer, you are an outlaw. You’ve gone rogue. You are a Systems Buster. You are a disrupter. OWN it!