#Vanlife has swept the globe over the last few years, taking over social media and prompting outdoor retailer titans to jump on board with their advertising and marketing campaigns. The hashtag has grown to include vehicles like buses and RVs as well as a range of vans, from classic VWs to ultra-posh Sprinter vans.
So, what is #vanlife? #Vanlife is the lifestyle characterized by living in a van or other vehicle, either part-time or full-time. Many vanlifers convert their vehicles into tiny residences by adding amenities like beds, running water, refrigerators, toilets, showers, and cooking facilities. Living out of a vehicle allows the owners to travel at will, pursue their passions, and live an unstructured life of freedom. #Vanlife isn’t a new idea, it’s simply the modern-day iteration of a concept that’s as old as humankind: a nomadic lifestyle.
Thoughts From The VanLife Community…
I asked a few friends who are part of the #vanlife movement to comment on what the descriptor means to them.
Dustin and Tonya
Dustin and Tonya (@roadtrip_n_venture) are currently on their second school bus conversion, after building out a super-mini skoolie for weekend adventures and then upgrading to a bigger (but still mini) skoolie that they are outfitting for full-time living. Dustin builds bridges for a railroad company, and together he and Tonya run their own health coaching company, Sunrise Fitness and Nutrition.
They also produce an awesome weekly vlog about all their adventures on their YouTube channel. Dustin plans to retire from the railroad in the near future so they can hit the road full-time in their new bus.
Also read: What Is A Skoolie?
Although so far Dustin and Tonya have been balancing work requirements with their #vanlife goals, they have still managed to travel extensively and cram more adventure into their limited free time than anyone else I’ve ever met! Just listening to their travel itineraries makes my head spin. When I asked what #vanlife and #buslife means to them, here’s what they had to say:
“Buslife to us is a tool that allows us to travel full-time and see all the sights. It’s a way for us to break away from the social norm and experience living minimally while maximizing our life.”
Mandy (@mandymarr) travels North America in her converted Transit van, which is adorably named Truffle. The interior of her van is beautiful and bohemian, with something like 30 plants scattered around the space and incredible details like handmade turquoise drawer pulls.
The ferns and succulents bring the outdoors in and add lovely pops of color to a calm, neutral interior. While Mandy is currently stationary in Truffle on the California coast, she has traveled all over the western United States and into Canada in her beloved van, hiking, exploring, and saying yes to adventure.
I asked her what #vanlife means to her and she replied:
“To me, living in a van is my own personal classroom. It has taught me so much about my limits, my strengths, and what I am capable of. From learning lessons like realizing I can go for weeks with minimal human interaction and be okay, to learning that if you sleep with the windows barely cracked in northern Minnesota, the mosquitoes will always find their way in.
I’ve learned, both metaphorically and literally, that I get to control which road I follow. Whichever road that is, it’s the right one.”
My Own Experience with #Vanlife
I (@stu.the.bus) have lived in a converted short bus with my boyfriend full-time since April of 2018, and it has been the most incredible time of our lives. While some might argue that we are technically part of the subset now dubbed #buslife, our bus (as well as Dustin and Tonya’s) have a Ford E-450 van front, so we are a hybrid of both a van and a bus!
Also, in my experience, #vanlife as a movement has expanded to include a broader range of vehicular homes than just traditional vans.
So, what does #vanlife mean to me? Well, it gives me the opportunity to travel the country at a relaxed pace, spend time with my boyfriend, pursue all my outdoor passions while I am still young (hiking, rock climbing, paddleboarding, etc.), and work much less.
We earn well under the federal poverty line, but we have eliminated most of our bills and have no debt, so for us, it actually results in a level of financial freedom that we’ve never experienced before. Having a wealth of time and experiences handily outweighs the creature comforts that we have given up by choosing the #vanlife.
How To Plug Into The Vanlife Community
It can be daunting being on the outside looking in when you are still in the dreaming phase and have not yet taken the plunge into vanlife. Let’s explore some ways that you can get connected.
Go to Vanlife Meetups, Tiny Home Shows, Overland Expos, etc.
Events like these can be excellent places to meet people who are already living #vanlife and people who are still in the dreaming phase like you. You can tour a bunch of vans in one place and get ideas and inspiration for your own future build.
Plus it’s always good to know people – you can use these experts as resources when you have questions, and learn about their experiences on the road so you can set realistic expectations for yourself and not be surprised by aspects of vanlife that you may not have considered.
A Google search will turn up results for events like this in your area, or you can subscribe to various vanlife-related email lists – Vanlife Magazine’s email newsletter is a good place to start.
Get on Social Media
There’s a reason that this lifestyle is now described by a hashtag. Nearly everyone who lives in a vehicle has social media accounts that they use to document their travels, stay in touch with nomadic friends all over the country, and find out about upcoming vanlife gatherings and events.
There are thousands of van build videos, tour videos of completed vans, and day-in-the-life style videos on YouTube. Check out different YouTubers and Instagram accounts, follow your favorites, and ask questions if you have them. Most people in the vanlife community are more than happy to answer questions and help you out.
How Do I Prepare for Vanlife?
There are a few ways you can prepare for vanlife if you are nervous about taking the plunge or want to be sure it’s for you before you commit. Here’s 3 recommendations…
Try Before You Buy
A great way to find out if vanlife is for you is to rent a van for a long weekend or, if you can manage, for a whole week. The longer you can try it out, the more you will know what to expect.
The honeymoon period wears off after about three days, and then you can really get a feel for what the lifestyle is like. Can you handle living in a tiny space? Can you handle it with your significant other or family? Are you okay with not showering every day? With not living in a climate-controlled environment?
Escape Campervans and JUCY Rentals are companies with several different models of van conversions that you can choose from for your test excursion. You can also rent through Outdoorsy, which is similar to Airbnb but for van conversions and more traditional RVs. Each van on Outdoorsy is unique, so it’s an excellent way to test out a variety of van sizes, layouts, and amenities.
My boyfriend and I lived in a relatively tiny one-bedroom apartment before we moved into the bus, but we still had an insane amount of stuff. We started with donating or throwing out things that we didn’t use and knew we wouldn’t be using in the future. We sold bigger things like extra snowboards, bikes, and furniture items. Everything else either went into the bus or is stored at our parents’ houses.
If you have a lot of stuff, this can be one of the hardest parts of transitioning to vanlife. My advice to start early and do it in small stages to avoid getting overwhelmed. Keep only your absolute favorites and the most useful items.
Take a Class
That’s right, REI even offers an Intro to Vanlife class where you can learn about the movement and how to get started.
Is Vanlife Expensive?
Vanlife can be as expensive or as cheap as you make it. Some people buy a van and convert it for less than $5,000 while others spend more than $150,000 on their van conversion. As far as monthly expenses, your main costs will most likely be fuel, which you can control based on how much you drive, and insurance.
Other than those costs, your lifestyle dictates how much you will spend each month. If you plan to eat out regularly, stay in developed campgrounds, or go on guided excursions, your costs will be significantly higher than for someone who cooks every meal, boondocks for free, and explores on their own.
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!