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How to Live the Van Life

A woman lying on her bed in her van looking at mountains.

How to Live the Van Life

A woman lying on her bed in her van looking at mountains.

Tiny houses might be en vogue for those looking to downsize space and conserve their monthly budget. However, for those who want mobility with their financial freedom, living the van life might just be a perfect paradise.

Van life isn’t for everyone, though. Before you sell off your house and all of your possessions, you need to be prepared for what’s in store for you when you hit the road for life in the fast lane.

When downsizing leads to life on the highway, here’s how to live the van life…and embrace your best life!

Create a Game Plan

Are you going to live in the van for years? Or maybe a few months? Don’t make any crazy decisions about your future on the road until you’ve figured out your game plan.

You need to decide if van life will be long-term or just a quick phase. The decision will impact whether you should buy a fully furnished van or rent one instead.

Regardless of buying or renting, you need to set a van budget. How much can you reasonably spend each month on payments? Knowing your limit allows you to go into a dealership armed with a bottom line.

Financial communication helps a salesperson understand your maximum threshold and you won’t eye vans out of your price point. Converted vans range in prices and amenities, and that budget may help narrow down your options.

Choose the Right Van

Picking the right van is important to keep your family comfortable. Size matters when you’re living on the road, and you need to do some research before you commit to a new mobile home base.

This is also the time to figure out what you really need from your van. Long-term van life means that you should probably choose a van with more features—like a kitchenette or small bathroom space. If you’re only hitting the road for a few months, you may be able to choose a more basic van model (to rent or buy).

Be sure to look at sleeping areas. Is there enough space for everyone? What about storage? A van will feature limited storage areas, but there should be enough space for your basic necessities.

Make a List…and Check it Twice!

Pack only what you need. You cannot cram the van with too much, so embracing minimalism may be the best option. Create a packing list like you would for any vacation. Except when you live the van life you’ll need to expand that list to any cooking, cleaning and bathroom amenities needed for daily use.

Don’t forget:

  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • A fire extinguisher (or two)
  • Tools
  • A first aid kit

Download Gas Apps

One of the best tips offered by the site Wanderlust is to map out gas stops. An easy way to do this is to download gas apps that tell you the nearest station.  These apps can sometimes help you find the cheapest gas, too.

Depending on where you’re traveling, gas can be extremely expensive (as noted by Wanderlust!). Pricing out and mapping your stops can ensure that you don’t run dry or spend too much on that fill-up.

A family enjoys a picnic on a blanket outside their van.

Plan a Menu

If your van has a kitchenette that allows you to prepare meals on the road, consider planning a weekly menu to streamline the food budget. Eating out at restaurants, gas stations and truck stops can get extremely cost prohibitive.

Your van should have a small fridge for storing perishables, and you should always make sure you keep food stored properly. Have a microwave? Your dinnertime can be even simpler and Wanderlust notes that you should keep cooking simple.

What are some easy dinner options?

  • Spaghetti with marinara
  • Slow cooker anything
  • Breakfast for dinner (eggs, quick pancakes, etc.)
  • Hamburgers
  • Pizza Bagels (use a toaster oven and add any topping you want!)
A woman outside her van with a surfboard and laundry.

Stay Safe

Wanderlust recommends hunting for safe spots to stop for the night, and the site notes that Walmart parking lots are great for sweet dreams. This means you also have access to any late night essentials…who knows when you might need some extra soap or paper towels!

You also should have a safety plan and emergency contacts in case anything should happen. Always be sure that someone knows your next destination and whereabouts.

Never park the van in a secluded area that could make you vulnerable. There is safety in numbers, so find places where other travelers park for the night and enjoy a little bohemian camaraderie.

Stay Organized

Clutter is not your friend on the road. Create an organizational routine that works for you and keeps your space tidy.

Embrace storage containers and find ways to utilize every inch of your van. This could mean installing racks, shelving and hooks for hanging clothes or towels.

Just be sure that any crate, storage container or item you hang cannot become airborne on the road. Everything has to be secured in case of a tight turn, quick stop or bumpy back road.

The driver cannot be distracted by jolted items, falling pots or sliding storage containers.

Remember Tune-Ups

When your van is your home, you need to handle it with care. That means you need to stay on top of any routine maintenance work.

Be sure to have tires rotated and replaced regularly. Change the oil every 3,000 miles (or whatever the manufacturer recommends) and any other routine work that needs to be done at designated mileage points.

Heading into winter weather? Invest in tires with good traction!

You also may want to invest in AAA membership or inquire about roadside assistance programs offered through your auto insurance company.

Radio Waves Can Back-Up Tech

Staying on the grid while living off the grid can be a bit difficult. Cell phone coverage may be spotty in some areas. Consider buying a CB radio for on-the-road communication with other van friends and to find help in case of emergency (like navigating around a traffic accident).

Living the van life allows you to have a newfound freedom while downsizing your lifestyle. Before you hit the road, you should plan ahead for life on the highway. Shop around for your perfect van, create a packing list, and download apps to pinpoint gas stations during your trips.

Once you’re a road warrior you also need to adapt to your new lifestyle. That means hunting down safe parking spots for night time stops, planning out your meals and keeping that van in good travel condition. While life on the road is an adjustment, van life is an amazing opportunity for you to choose your own adventures and create your own unique journey.

Infographic: how to live the van life
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