The Ultimate Guide to Living (and Loving!) the Van Life
Many of us think about taking that ultimate once-in-a-lifetime road trip across the country. There’s that itch to quit the rat race, pack up the van and hit the road.
Exploration and adventure might fuel your spirit, and, if you have a career that lets you travel, then the van life just might take that dream into reality (or retirement!).
But before you sell/rent your house or break that lease, you need a plan for the van. You can’t just cut and run, no matter how dreamy the vision might seem.
Life on the road takes planning and a little bit of caution. You must at least take this into consideration before living the van life:
- The cost of breaking the rental lease
- The equity and saleability of your home
- The amount you have in savings
- Your workplace flexibility or retirement plans
- Buying the van that is right for you
And obviously, you need to figure out just how long you plan to live in that van. Is this a multiple year commitment? A short term adventure? Weekend adventures?
The Van Life: Leaving Home
You may rent your home/apartment or you may own a home. Regardless, you need to figure out how to leave that homestead when you hit the road. Someone may need to be a caretaker to your home/apartment, or you may decide to sell/rent or walk away from a rental.
All these options have pros and cons. It’s up to you to research the best option for your life and your budget. But you cannot just walk away from financial obligations to a renter or lender without some kind of consequence—like, perhaps, a hit to your credit score or calls from angry creditors.
Can you sell your home or rent it for an amount that covers your mortgage and other payments?
Selling your home also might yield a profit. But you need to understand any tax implications or other financial obligations from the sale of your home. So talk to your accountant before you sell to figure out what a profit means to you financially…and what you might owe from that profit.
If you plan to rent your home, you need to find trustworthy and reliable renters. No one wants to come back to a trashed home or damaged property.
Moreover, you do NOT want to be stuck with mortgage payments and other debts on top of road expenses…well, unless you can afford them.
What if you’re a renter? If you rent your apartment or home, can you afford to break the lease? Sometimes it might not be financially feasible to walk away…so do your research!
Van Life: Savings Plan
While you could hit the road with nothing but your shirt, that isn’t really a practical idea. You need money to eat and live. And for gas, of course!
So how much do you have saved up for the adventure? And is it enough? To figure that out, you need to estimate the price of gas throughout your journey, food costs, unsen maintenance issues, and other financial obligations.
Yes, you also should include a buffer for emergencies like new tires, health issues and other scenarios. If you plan to work on the road, then your savings might just be an emergency fund while your income easily covers your expenses. And don’t forget that while you’re living in the van, you also need to budget for the occasional campground, RV park, or short-term AirBnB to get a decent hot shower!
Don’t hit the road, though, until you’ve worked out the numbers and figures. You don’t want to have a disaster and have no money to pay for it.
Van Life: Work/Life Balance
Maybe living the van life is ideal because you have a flexible job that allows you to telecommute. Maybe you work in tech, as a writer, an artist, a musician or you have another remote-friendly career. Or maybe you’ve hit retirement and have all the time in the world to explore on the road.
While your employer may give you the green light to work from home, is it still OK to work from the road? Before you make a serious life change, you should be sure that your boss or clients are ok with it… even if they are flexible.
Road life might mean time without cell service, because, yes, there are places on the road where cell coverage drops off. You don’t want to be in the midst of a conference call when this happens!
For employees who don’t have a flexible work life, the question of employment becomes an issue. Do you have another gig lined up? Or do you have enough savings to sustain you?
Make a plan, and don’t veer into the fast lane until you know that you can navigate it safely! Always have a back-up plan!
Living the Van Life: Buying the Right Van
When you’ve finalized all those financial details and you’re sure that everything is in order, it’s time for the fun to begin! Now it’s time for shopping… shopping for your dream van!
So what van is right for you? Some people want to embrace the 60s hippie vibe and hunt a vintage VW bus. Maybe you want a more modern van.
Your van will be your home for months or maybe years. You need enough space and, of course, a comfortable ride. Somebody’s going to be behind the wheel, so be sure that the driver’s seat is comfortable for those long drives.
Here’s what you should consider when shopping for that van:
- Seating space (it needs to fit everyone… including furry friends)
- Amenities (custom vans can provide many options)
- Storage space (for all your items!)
- Buying or renting options
- New or Used
Your van needs to fit your entire family…and your life! So it has to offer the space you need–both for seating and storage. If you plan to bike during your adventures, make sure the van offers a bike rack.
Custom vans are an amazing option for those who really want to ensure that their new home fits their needs perfectly. Customizing allows buyers to add unique storage space options, sleep quarters and even appliances (like a stove/oven). Run Away Van and Smith Made are two ambassador partners that feature custom 2920Sleep mattresses in their custom vans (prices vary!).
In an interview with Bearfoot Theory, Skye Walker (a mural artist and full-time van-lifer) noted that his 2920 mattress was one van feature that he “couldn’t live without!”.
For families who want a van for a vacation or just for a short-term adventure, rental companies also offer vans that have been customized for a luxury travel experience. This is a great way to try-before-you commit! VanVenture is also partner with 2920Sleep and includes our mattresses in their custom rental vans.
When you ready to buy a van, travel trailer or a larger RV, check out GoRollick.com where you can browse nationwide new and used inventory and get a transparent price before heading to the dealer.
And of course, buying a used custom van is a great way to save money… but make sure to get it fully checked out and have an in-depth conversation with the owner to learn all about its quirks and upcoming maintenance.
Van Life: Living the Life…Everyday Basics and Beyond
So you now have the van of your dreams (or almost!). The next step is to make a checklist of what you might need on the road.
This list isn’t exhaustive, as your needs may differ. But when you’re living the van life, here are a few essentials for the road:
- A first aid kit
- Fire extinguisher
- A place to sleep (including a mattress)
When your van is your home, you need to treat it like your home. So fill it with all the comforts of your home!
Always keep a well-stocked first aid kit handy. You never know what can or will happen. So be prepared. Pack any and all prescription medications somewhere safe, too!
A fire extinguisher is a must and you need to keep it within easy reach. If you really want to prep, pack two extinguishers! And learn how to use them.
Obviously, you’ll need a place to sleep. A comfortable mattress with sheets, blankets and a good pillow is a must. Think about a mattress protector, and easy-to-clean sheets and bedding as being on the road isn’t the place for your best linen. And remember that the inexpensive memory foam topper from the big-box store that feels comfortable in spring will turn rock-hard in winter, and sleep hot in summer. For year-round van travellers like Chris Benchetler and Tommy Caldwell, our custom mattresses we designed for them don’t use memory foam so they stay comfortable in every season.
But that mattress needs to fit in the van! So take measurements before committing to a size! You may be able to opt for a queen, but it really depends on your available space.
Stick with the basics for toiletries: soap, toothpaste/toothbrush, shampoo/conditioner, cosmetics, creams, etc. And don’t forget laundry soap!
About that laundry. You’ll need to scope out Laundromats throughout your journey. The price to wash and care for your clothes also needs to be included in your living expenses.
Before you hit the road, create a list of all the items you’ll need for your new life. Early planning may save you some money on the road!
Van Life: Map it Out
Have you decided where your adventure will begin and end? Do you have certain places and landmarks you hope to visit?
Some embrace the van life for years and drive everywhere and anywhere. Others take a few months and explore the country as a break from the typical life. Timing will depend on many personal and outside factors.
If you have destination goals, then plot your course to include them. But you’ll also want to improvise and find spots along the way that you might find interesting.
You don’t have to plan every single site on the journey. Sometimes the fun of van life is seeing what is around the next corner. And if you camp near the ocean, you can fall asleep to nature’s soothing white noise.
Whether you want the journey to be a surprise or a well-thought trip, always keep a GPS or road map in the van. Since smartphones are so common, you might have GPS at your fingertips.
Remember, though, cell coverage is iffy in some parts. So keep paper maps in the glove compartment for reference.
Van Life: Fido Friendly?
If you have pets, you’ll likely want to take them with you. But is that a good idea? That just depends on how your pet handles the car.
If your dog or cat gets carsick, you might wish to leave them in the care of a trusted friend or family member. But if you’re going to be on the road for a long time, this could be an issue.
Pets who love the car, though, may adore the van life. Just remember to pack all their necessities, too. Be sure they also are up to date on vaccines and keep those records with you. Keep water and food stocked in the van, and stop for lots of pit stops.
Van Life: Get Social?
Your van life can be the hot topic on social media! But if you’re looking for solitude or time away from tech, you may want your journey to be quieter.
Whether or not you post anything on social media is up to you. Just be sure someone knows your whereabouts in case of emergencies.
If you do want to take your adventure social, remember:
- Post with kindness
- Don’t post pics/videos with others in them (without consent)
- Be careful about sharing your location
- Keep settings private if you don’t want everyone to read an update
So is the van life for you? If you’re looking for an adventure of a lifetime, then it just may be the break you need! Just remember to plan out all your finances and living arrangements ahead of time.
Of course, you need to have emergency funds and pack all the essentials for life on the move. If your furbaby is along for the ride, pack their essentials and be sure they’re vaccinated (keep those records handy).
When you’re ready to hit the road, map out your course and enjoy your epic trip! Get social or stay low-key online. Now that you are living your van life just sit tight and savour this free-spirited escapade. Happy travels!W
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