How to Get Started Living the Van Life

Over the past two years, the number of vanlifers in the United States has steadily increased, from 1.9 million in 2020 to 3.1 million in 2022. And as more people enjoy the benefits of working from home, the van life trend is predicted to continue. However, making the leap from stationary to living on wheels takes a lot of work, and most need help knowing where to start.

If this sounds familiar, this is the guide for you. Keep reading to learn more about how you can prepare for life on the road.

What Does Van Life Mean to You?

For some, living in a van means living the ultimate adventure, but for others, this lifestyle offers the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature or hobbies. These different ideals each come with their own challenges and planning needs. For example, if you’re looking most forward to visiting some epic mountain biking trails, you’ll need to plan your trips around those locations, and your van build to accommodate your bikes and gear.

So, before you set out on your journey, take some time to delve deeper into why you want to live the van life. And then, allow those ideas to help color the rest of your plans.

Start With a Small Trip

There is no better way to see if you are suited for life on the road than to try it yourself. Luckily, you don’t have to make a big investment for your first experience. Instead, rent a modified van and take it on a short trip.

For the most authentic experience, opt for a longer stay (about two weeks), and commit to preparing your meals, sourcing spots for showers, and a safe night’s sleep.

Negotiate Your Non-Negotiables

You can make your life as comfortable as possible by including the things you absolutely cannot live without in your plans and then designing your van to meet those unique needs. And if you’re traveling with a partner, you’ll both have to list these non-negotiable things. This can be as simple as planning to power a toaster if you can’t imagine starting your mornings without a fresh piece of toast or as complex as outfitting your entire van to be a mobile office.

But since you won’t be able to fit everything in a compact 80 sq/ft home, compromise will be necessary. Remember, by definition, you can only have one priority.

Don’t Compromise with Quality

When you buy a van for this lifestyle, you are essentially investing in a home. As such, it needs to be safe and reliable. This is why you must thoroughly research any prospective recreational vehicle before making your purchase.

For the best buying experience, look for class b motorhomes from certified dealerships. And if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Expand Your Budget

This lifestyle costs more than what it takes to buy an RV, modify it, and keep it fueled. Daily driving, unexpected weather, and equipment malfunctions can happen at any time, and it’s often when it’s most inconvenient. To keep your vehicle in tip-top shape, you should purchase an owner’s manual that gives you an in-depth maintenance calendar and follow it as best as possible.

Reviewing the manual ahead of your adventure will give you a snapshot of what’s needed to maintain your RV and allow you to budget accordingly. But sometimes, things happen anyway, and you’ll need to purchase new parts on the spot. To best plan for those unexpected moments, set aside a fund equal to the most expensive part you’d have to replace and purchase the highest insurance coverage you can afford.

Lower Your Expectations

When most people picture van life, they likely imagine beautiful vistas in remote locations, flush with stunning photo ops. However, the reality is often vastly different. Finding a parking lot to call home for the night, van repairs, and lousy weather are just some of the things that the popular hashtag fails to illustrate.

These are just facts of this way of living, and to most who are committed to the freedom and simplicity of van living, these are not deal breakers. But, by exposure to a fantasy experience, newcomers can become disillusioned and turned off to the whole experience, when if they had started without these expectations, they might’ve adapted well.

Paid Campsites for Stress-Free Sleeping

Finding a safe place to sleep where you won’t be bothered by anybody and there’s access to bathrooms and showers is a daily task for those who choose to live this life. However, you can ease the stress of this burden by budgeting for official campsite stays for at least portions of your trip.

And if you’re near or willing to travel to warmer locales, you can enjoy access to high-quality campsites year-round. But you should keep in mind that most campgrounds have limits on the length of stay, often between one or two weeks. After that period, you have to move to another site, which are sometimes only booked on a first come, first served basis.

Another thing to remember is that not all campsites offer amenities like electrical hookups or a place to dump your waste, and some are unsuitable for bulky vans to maneuver in and out. Difficulty entering or leaving a site can also be exasperated by poor weather. So do your due diligence and always have a backup plan in your pocket.

Ready to Get Started Living Your Van Life Dreams?

There are many challenges that van life brings, but for many, the benefits they reap make it all worth it. However, some of these challenges can easily be handled if you prepare for them on the front end. Use this guide to get started, and remember, the best way to find out if this is right for you is to try it out.

Are you craving more adventure? Then keep exploring our Travel section for more informative reads.

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