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All You Need to Know About Vanlife – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Having coffee enjoying van life

Are you ready to take your life on the road? Living in a van and journeying around the world is an exciting way of life overflowing with new experiences, but some challenges definitely come with it.

If you’re interested in jumping into vanlife full time, we’ll discuss what to expect when living in a van so YOU can decide whether or not this lifestyle will suit You.

We’ll explore ‘the good, the bad and the ugly” of vanlife – from traveling around beautiful landscapes; meeting interesting people; experiencing awe-inspiring rock climbing spots – to finding somewhere new every night; being creative with storage solutions; as well as addressing some of those tricky issues like security, hygiene, and comfort.

Strap yourself in (buckle up!) because after reading this article, You will know exactly what life on wheels is all about.

This post includes affiliate links, but rest assured that we only recommend items we would use ourselves. And if you choose to make a purchase, we receive a small commission. No sponsorships, just the truth about our favorite finds.

Exploring the Basics of Vanlife – What to Expect When You Hit the Open Road 

A van on the side of the road living vanlife

Vanlife is a totally different way of living, and it’s definitely not for everyone. If you’re thinking about hitting the open road full-time, be prepared to make some pretty significant lifestyle changes.

First of all, say goodbye to your spacious traditional home and hello to your new cozy four-wheeled abode. It might come as a shock to some, but living in a small space can actually be pretty liberating! You’ll need to hone your minimalist living skills because every square inch of your van counts.

One of the big positives of vanlife is the freedom that comes with it – you’re not tied to any specific location and can roam wherever the wind takes you. But with that freedom comes sacrifices, like limited storage and less-than-comfortable sleeping situations. All-in-all, vanlife isn’t for the weak-hearted, but the adventurous and daring will find it an exhilarating experience that they’ll never forget!

If you’re interested, you can try out vanlife by renting a campervan through Escape Campervans!

Advantages of Vanlife – Freedom and Flexibility to Live Life on Your Own Terms 

Vanlife enthusiasts know the true benefits of living life on your own terms. The freedom and flexibility to explore the world, your backyard, and even new cultures create a vast array of experiences rarely found in a nine-to-five job.

Vanlife provides fresh air, eliminates office environments and long commutes, boosting mental health and encouraging you to appreciate life’s small things. Daily living in a van is always different, meaning there’s no monotony or dreaded grind.

Vanlife creates a new perspective on the world and allows you to find secret places most people never see. Whether exploring new animal species or discovering new friends on the road, van life pros are infinite, giving you a chance to live life to the fullest.

Some of the major benefits of vanlife include:

  • No more office commutes
  • No more dreaded Mondays
  • Flexibility to go on spontaneous trips with friends or family
  • Experiencing nature every day
  • Experiencing new cultures
  • Beautiful scenery
  • Less stimulation from the world, social media, and city life.
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved physical health
  • Save money on rent

These may seem like small things but don’t take them lightly. Studies have shown that being in nature has tremendous physical and mental health benefits. New information is even coming out about non-sensory benefits to nature, including inhalation of phytoncides, negative air ions, and microbes – all good stuff for your body!

Disadvantages of Vanlife – Lack of Privacy, Space, and Comfort 

Van living may seem like a dream come true for many adventure-seekers. However, there are some serious downsides to consider before you hit the road.

First, you’ll be living in a small space with limited comfort. Depending on your van build, you may lack essential amenities like a shower or bathroom – making public restrooms your new best friend. Yay.

Secondly, finding a safe and suitable parking spot for the night can be challenging, as many public places and parking lots prohibit overnight stays.

Lastly, the cost of van life is not to be overlooked. You’ll need to budget wisely, as unexpected expenses can arise anytime, adding extra money worries. Also, there’s a lack of security when you’re away from the van. Ultimately, van life requires sacrifice and flexibility and can come with unique challenges.

Some of the significant disadvantages of vanlife include:

  • Living in a small space
  • Lack of security when away from the van
  • Must find parking that allows for overnight stays
  • You must find a flat surface to park
  • Challenging to make money while on the road
  • Must find wifi spots to do online work
  • Must embrace minimalist lifestyle

Finding the Right Vehicle for Your Needs – What to Look Out For 

Before you commit to any vehicle, it’s essential to consider what will work best for your specific needs. There are a plethora of choices when it comes to finding the right camper: from classic VW buses to converted school buses to high-top conversion vans.

Each vehicle has its own pros and cons, so take your time and do your research! A VW bus may give you nostalgia and heart but lack practicality, while a school bus can offer ample space but a serious lack of fuel efficiency.

Whatever your priorities, make sure you map out what you need before investing- after all, you’ll be living in that van full-time!

Let’s check out some of the most popular vehicles to convert into a campervan and discuss the pros and cons of each!

VehicleProsConsAverage Price (2024)
Mercedes-Benz SprinterPlenty of headroom, good fuel economy for a cargo van, available in 4×4, reliable diesel engine.High cost, maintenance can be expensive, difficult to find used, complex electrical systems.$51,613
Toyota 4RunnerGreat off-road capabilities, solid reliability, good resale value, plenty of interior space for a small camper build.Limited living space, not as fuel efficient as other options, can be expensive in some markets.$43,315
Ford TransitLarge cargo capacity, available in a variety of lengths and heights, decent fuel economy for a vehicle of its size.Higher cost than some other cargo vans, electrical system can be complex, some reliability concerns.$46,415
Subaru OutbackAll-wheel drive for off-road capabilities, good fuel economy, plenty of storage for a small camper build, lower overall cost.Limited interior space, not ideal for extended periods of use, may need a lift kit for clearance on rough terrain.$28,895
GMC VanduraClassic look, plenty of interior space, relatively simple mechanical systems, low cost compared to newer options.Poor fuel economy, lack of modern amenities, harder to find in good condition, rust can be an issue.$18,752
Ram PromasterGood cargo capacity, front-wheel drive for better traction, comfortable ride for a cargo van, low load floor height for easier loading and unloading.Some reliability issues reported, high cost compared to similar cargo vans, not as many customization options.$44,270
Honda OdysseyPlenty of interior space for a small camper build, comfortable ride, fuel efficient for a minivan, lower overall cost.Limited off-road capabilities, not as much cargo capacity as larger vans, not as rugged as other options.$39,635
Box TruckHuge cargo capacity, can be converted to a full-size apartment on wheels, can be found relatively cheaply.Poor fuel economy, difficult to maneuver in tight spaces, requires a special license to drive, maintenance and repairs can be costly.$20,000 (used)
School BusPlenty of interior space, durable construction, retro look.Poor fuel economy, may require a special license to drive, difficult to find parking for in cities, complicated conversion process.$10,000 (Used)
Ford E-SeriesPlenty of headroom, good reliability, low cost, lots of interior space for a small camper build.Poor fuel economy, lack of modern amenities, harder to find in good condition, rust can be an issue.$15,000 (Used)

If you think you’ve found the perfect vehicle, we have an excellent article on how to start a camper van conversion to help get your project started. Also, avoid these few mistakes we made during our van build.

Packing for Vanlife – Necessary Items & Tips for Staying Organized  

If you’ve ever heard van life horror stories or problems with living in a van, chances are organization and space are some of the top culprits. But fear not. With a few tips and tricks, you can keep your life on the road running smoothly.

Remember that every inch counts in a van, so get creative with your storage solutions. Consider utilizing hanging organizers, under-bed storage bins, and stackable containers. Label everything, keep things tidy, and have a designated spot for everything.

If you’re struggling to keep things in order, remember that it’s all part of the adventure. With patience and resourcefulness, you’ll be on your way to a more organized and efficient van life.

Tip #1: Make The Bed

Making the bed may seem counterintuitive or even a waste of time. Who will see it, and aren’t you just going to get into it later that day?

Research from Penn State has shown that the simple act of making your bed can improve your mood and help keep you productive, organized, and ready to start your day.

Tip #2: Utilize Storage Above And Below

No matter what kind of vehicle you decide to convert, there will be room for storage. Take advantage of every square inch you can for cabinets, drawers, and storage space.

Some common storage areas in camper vans include:

  • Beneath the bed
  • Below the kitchen area
  • Below the seating area
  • Above the seating area (near the ceiling)

Tip #3: Make Every Inch Count

Even if that inch is a blank wall space, make it count! Add in a dimmer switch for your lights or a battery monitor. Use that space for a picture you couldn’t leave without.

Instead of using a standard water tank beneath the sink, consider using a wheel-well freshwater tank. This will use the space around your wheel well that is otherwise wasted.

Even if the area is awkward or hard to get to, you can place things you rarely use in those spaces.

Tip #4: Use Collapsible Bowls And Cups

Collapsible bowls, kettles, and cups are AWESOME for vanlife. They pop up to full size, but when you go to store them, they fold down very nicely and use up less space.

Here are a few valuable collapsible items for van life:

We also recommend getting a cooking set that fits compactly together. Mountain Summit Gear’s cookset has two pots and a pan that stack together.

Tip #5: Do The Dishes

Nobody likes doing the dishes – we get it. But when living in a small space, letting dishes pile up takes up unnecessary space.

Instead of putting it off until tomorrow, do your dishes as soon as you finish a meal. Wash, dry, and store them back in place to open up your kitchen area and create more countertop space.

Tip #6: Do A Little Cleaning Each Day

When you live on the road, dust, dirt, and grime can build up quickly. Keep your camper van clean by doing a little cleaning each day.

Here are a few ways to keep your campervan clean and organized:

  • Wipe down counters daily
  • Clean the sink daily
  • Clean windows weekly
  • Wipe down the cabinets weekly
  • Clean the floor weekly
  • Clean the fridge monthly
  • Avoid tracking in dirt by removing your shoes before you enter your vehicle.

Living in a Van – Tips for Making the Most Out of The Experience

Living in a van can be an incredible journey full of adventure, freedom, and challenges. It’s an experience that can offer a unique perspective on life while allowing you to explore new horizons. But is van life worth it? The answer is a resounding YES!

If you like to live on your own terms, van life is for you. However, it’s essential to understand the pros and cons before embarking on this road less traveled. Once you have decided to take the plunge, fully embracing the experience is key. Be open to setbacks, and view them as opportunities for growth and learning. Remember, the journey is more important than the destination.

Here are a few tips and tricks to make the most of your van life adventure: stay organized, learn to live minimally, avoid getting frustrated, plan for setbacks, embrace change, and connect with other van lifers to create a community. With these tips and a positive attitude, you’ll quickly discover that living in a van can be a life-changing experience full of excitement and wonder.

Before you jump in with both feet, take a more detailed look at the things to know before you start vanlife.

Other Important Things To Consider For Vanlife

We’ve talked about the pros and cons of vanlife and gone over a few essential items. Let’s discuss some specific situations you might encounter while living in a van.

Weather

When you live in a stationary home, you get used to the weather patterns and what to expect. If you live in Tornado Ally, you might not jump whenever you get a tornado watch on your phone or TV. If you live in California, maybe an earthquake isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibilities.

But when you live in a van, you’re constantly exploring new areas, and keeping an eye on the weather is essential. Watch out for severe weather, floods, blizzards, and hail. It may be easier to get away from extreme weather when you can drive away, but you don’t want to get stuck somewhere simply because you didn’t check the weather.

Another thing to consider about the weather is extreme cold and hot weather. You live in an enclosed vehicle, so insulating your campervan is essential to keep it cool (or warm!) no matter where you are.

Pets

Some vanlifers bring their pets along for the ride. Whether you have a dog or a cat (or both!), having pets adds a layer of responsibility to vanlife.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are a van lifer and also a pet parent:

  • Always be aware of the temperature inside your van to ensure your pet(s) are comfortable.
  • Use ID tags on your pet’s collar or harness in case they get lost.
  • Consider using a GPS collar to keep track of your dog or cat.
  • Give your pet enough exercise – they are transitioning from a whole house or apartment to a tiny van.
  • Allow your pet to enjoy the experience as much as you do – let them sniff, let them explore, be patient, and enjoy their company!

State Of Residency

While living on the road, you don’t necessarily have a home address. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam has to collect his dues, which means you have to live somewhere to be taxed.

A few places like South Dakota and Texas are popular for Van Lifers because there is no state tax. Just be aware that you will have to put down an address somewhere while you’re traveling.

Taxes

Depending on your situation, you may be living vanlife on a budget. If this is the case, don’t forget to put some money away for taxes each year. If you make a living by doing contract work, you probably do not get taxed when you get paid. You’ll have to pay those taxes each year.

Our typical standby is to save $1,000 each year for taxes. This includes paying for tax services. If we owe money, we have it available. If we get money back, we save that $1,000 for next year and add the money we get back to our vanlife expenses account for groceries, pet food, etc.

Registration & Inspection

I know, I know. This is the dull side of vanlife. But it’s worth mentioning! Your vehicle will need to be registered and inspected each year, depending on what state you put your residency in. Save a little money for these expenses each year.

Gym Memberships

If your campervan does not have a shower, gym memberships can be a great way to get a nice hot shower between your grandma baths.

Planet Fitness has locations all over the united states, and the membership is very reasonable. If you vanlife with a partner, you can get a membership that has a +1 once per day so you only need to buy one membership.

By the way, when you’re only option is to use wipes or a washcloth to ‘grandma bath’ yourself, we highly recommend Sea To Summit’s Wilderness Wipes!

Credit Cards

For some, credit cards are dangerous, and we totally understand. Some folks only want to use debit cards or cash while traveling.

However, if you plan to use a credit card and pay it off each month, consider investing in a credit card with some perks for vanlife.

Here are a few credit cards that are useful to vanlifers:

Credit Card NameBenefits
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit CardOffers a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months, redeemable for $600 in travel rewards. Earns 2X miles per dollar on all purchases, with no limit on how much you can earn. Miles can be redeemed for travel purchases, transferred to airline partners, or redeemed for cash back. No foreign transaction fees, and flexible redemption options.
Chase Sapphire Preferred CardOffers a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. Earns 2X points per dollar on travel and dining purchases, and 1X point per dollar on all other purchases. Points are worth more when redeemed through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, and can be transferred to airline and hotel partners. No foreign transaction fees, and primary rental car insurance included.
American Express® Gold CardOffers a welcome bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first six months. Earns 4X points per dollar at restaurants worldwide, 4X points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 in spend per year), 3X points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or through Amex Travel, and 1X point per dollar on all other purchases. Points are worth more when redeemed for travel through Amex Travel, or transferred to airline and hotel partners. No foreign transaction fees, and $120 annual dining credit at participating restaurants and food delivery services.
Discover it MilesEarns 1.5X miles per dollar on all purchases, with no limit on how much you can earn. Miles can be redeemed for travel purchases, or redeemed for cash back at the same value. Offers a unique sign-up bonus in that Discover will match all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year, with no cap on the amount matched. No foreign transaction fees, and flexible redemption options.
Bank of America Cash Rewards Credit CardEarns 3% cash back on a category of your choice (gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement/furnishings), 2% cash back on grocery store and wholesale club purchases, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Offers a sign-up bonus of $200 cash rewards after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 90 days. No annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees.

One last thing not to forget about is keeping up with your vehicle’s maintenance. This is SUPER important for vanlifers because your vehicle is your home!

Get your oil changed on time, rotate the tires, and change the air filter. Every vehicle comes with a maintenance schedule, so be sure to stick to it!

That’s All, Folks!

That’s everything we have on what you need to know about vanlife – the good, bad, and ugly. From finding the right vehicle to packing all the necessary items, we’ve got you covered with tips for staying organized and making the most out of the experience.

We hope you’re a little more ready to hit the open road by considering all these points. Life on the go comes with numerous benefits, like freedom and flexibility. However, it’s important to note that it has its downsides, such as lack of comfort, privacy, and space.

If none of this has scared you away from getting into a vanlife lifestyle, then why not give it a try? Live life on your own terms and explore what freedom really means!

If you still have questions after reading this article or want more in-depth advice regarding vanlife, check out our blog for other interesting articles related to living in a van! Happy travels!

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