how to start vanlife

How To Start Vanlife (The Essential Guide For Everything You NEED To Know)

So you’re thinking about starting vanlife? Or maybe you’ve been daydreaming about hitting the open road for a while now, and you’re finally ready to take the plunge.

Either way, we’re here to help you get started! In this beginner’s guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to start vanlife, from finding the right vehicle to outfitting it for life on the road. So let’s get started!

Table of Contents

First Things First, What Exactly Is Vanlife? 

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In short, vanlife is a lifestyle choice where people live full-time in a van or RV. This can include anything from converted school buses to stealth campervans.

For many people, vanlife is about simplifying their lives and possessions so they can focus on experiences and adventures.

The great thing about vanlife is that it’s totally adaptable to your own needs and wants. Some vanlifers travel solo, while others travel with family or friends. Some live in their vans full-time, while others use their vans as weekend getaways from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Define Your Purpose For Full-Time Vanlife

Before you sell all your belongings and hit the road, it’s important to ask yourself why you want to live in a van. What are your goals? What are you hoping to accomplish by making this lifestyle change? 

Answering these questions will help you figure out what kind of van you need and how to equip it. For example, if you’re planning on living in your van full-time and using it as your only mode of transportation, you’ll need a different setup than someone who plans on using their van primarily for weekend camping trips.

The Pros of Vanlife

boondocking in van
  1. Freedom and flexibility: One of the biggest advantages of vanlife is that it gives you the freedom to go where you want when you want. If you get tired of being in one place, you can simply pack up and drive to another location.
  2. Close connection with nature: When you spend your days driving through stunning landscapes and camping in remote locations, it’s impossible not to feel a deep connection with nature. 
  3. Save money on accommodation and travel: Traveling can be expensive, but vanlife helps you save on accommodation and transportation costs. Instead of spending money on hotels or flights, you can just gas up your campervan and hit the road.
  4. Meet new people: One of the best things about vanlife is that it allows you to meet new people from all walks of life. Whether you’re parked at a rest stop or in a campground, there’s always a chance to strike up a conversation with someone new.
  5. Simplify your life: When you live in a van, you have to simplify your life due to limited space. This can actually be really liberating, as it allows you to focus on what’s truly important to you. 

The Cons of Vanlife

  1. Limited space: It can be tough trying to store everything you need in a limited space, which is one of the most frequent challenges people face with vanlife.
  2. Lack of privacy If you have a partner: You and your partner will have limited privacy when living in such close quarters.
  3. Breakdowns are common—and expensive: Unfortunately, breakdowns are a reality we all face, and they can be quite costly. If something goes wrong with your engine or tires, you could end up stranded in a remote location without help. 
  4. The weather can be extreme: Another potential downside of vanlife is dealing with extreme weather conditions — whether it’s sweltering heat, freezing cold, or raging storms. This may be difficult to get used to if you haven’t spent much time outside before.
  5. Vanlife can be difficult. We’re always asking ourselves questions like, “When do we need to refill our fresh water supply?” and “Where can we get a shower?” Other things on our minds are how full our grey water tank is, where we’ll sleep tonight, and if there’s anything we need to order online – and if so, where should it be shipped?

How Much Does Vanlife Cost?

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The truth is, there’s no simple answer. It all depends on your budget, your needs, and your lifestyle.

One Time Costs With Vanlife

You’ll need to consider a few one-time costs associated with buying a campervan. These include the purchase price of the van itself, as well as any necessary repairs or renovations. 

If you’re going for a newer model or something that’s already been renovated, be prepared to spend significantly more money, perhaps $70,000 or even $100,000 or more.

If you’re buying a used campervan, you can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $80,000, depending on the van’s make, model, and condition.

In addition to the van’s purchase price, you’ll also need to factor in things like registration fees, and taxes. Depending on your location, these one-time costs can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. 

Recurring Costs Of Van Ownership

There are also some ongoing costs associated with owning a campervan that you’ll need to keep in mind. The most obvious is gas; since campervans get significantly fewer miles per gallon than regular cars, expect your fuel expenses to be higher than usual.

Other ongoing costs include things like insurance, campground fees (if you plan on staying in RV parks) and maintenance and repairs (especially if you have an older van). 

What Is a Van Conversion?

Van conversions have become increasingly popular in recent years as more people look for ways to downsize and simplify their lives. A van conversion is the process of converting a van into a livable space. 

If you’re handy with tools and don’t mind doing some of the work yourself, you can always buy an older van and convert it yourself.

This will obviously save you some money, but it will take time (and patience) to get everything just the way you want it. 

Things to Consider Before Starting a Van Conversion:

  1. What kind of van will you be using? Vans come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to pick one that suits your needs.
  2. What kind of layout do you want?
  3. What kind of amenities do you want? 

To Convert or Not To Convert A Campervan?

Stealth Camping In a Van

Some people choose to convert an existing vehicle into a campervan, while others prefer to purchase an already-converted campervan. Both approaches have pros and cons, so it’s important to weigh your options before making a decision. 

Finding the Right Vehicle For Vanlife

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There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a vehicle for vanlife. Not all vans are created equal—some are better suited for off-grid living than others. When narrowing down your options, consider factors like fuel efficiency, size, and whether or not the van has four-wheel drive (this can come in handy during winter weather).

You’ll also want to make sure you choose a van that’s comfortable for extended periods of time; after all, you’ll be spending a lot of time in it! 

Things to Consider When Choosing a Vehicle For Vanlife

  1. What is your budget?

What Are Your Needs?

  1. Do you need a kitchen? 
  2. Do you need a bathroom? 
  3. Do you need a toilet?
  4. Do you need a shower
  5. Do you need a lot of storage space
  6. Do you need four-wheel drive? 

What Are Your Wants? 

  1. Do you want a comfortable bed? 
  2. Do you want a lot of windows? 

What Is Your Travel Style?

  1. What kind of trips are you planning on taking? 
  2. Are you going to stay mostly in campgrounds with hookups or boondocking in remote locations? 
  3. What is your driving experience like? -Are you comfortable driving a larger vehicle? 

Outfitting Your Vehicle

Once you’ve found the perfect vehicle, it’s time to outfit it for life on the road. This step can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be; at a minimum, you’ll need some kind of bed/sleeping arrangement and storage for your belongings. 

But if you’re looking for something a little more elaborate, you can add features like a kitchenette and bathroom. Again, it all comes down to what you need and what will make vanlife work for you. 

Solar Panels

Solar panels are really nice to have if you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time on the road. They’ll allow you to run your lights, charge your electronics, and even power small appliances. 

Bed

One of the best things about vanlife is that it allows you to sleep in some of the most incredible places imaginable—but only if you have a comfortable bed! There are a lot of different ways to set up a bed in your van, so it’s really a matter of finding what works best for 

Storage Solutions 

One of the biggest challenges of vanlife is learning how to live minimally—including figuring out creative storage solutions for all your stuff! 

Overhead shelves and hanging racks are great for storing clothing, footwear, and linens. Drawers and cabinets are ideal for organizing food, cookware, and other necessities. Under-seat storage is perfect for securely stashing valuables like laptops and cameras within easy reach.

Cooking on The Road

One of the great things about vanlife is that it allows you to save money by cooking your own meals. At a minimum, make sure you have pots and pans for cooking meals, as well as plates, bowls, and silverware. And if you want to get fancy, consider investing in a portable grill or camp stove so you can cook practically anywhere!

 How to Minimize Your Belongings for Vanlife

If you’re anything like me, you love the idea of vanlife, but the thought of actually downsizing your belongings to make it work seems impossible. I get it; I’ve been there.

It’s tough letting go of things that we’ve been attached to for so long. But trust me when I say that vanlife is more than worth the effort! Not only will you save money on rent/mortgage and utilities, but you’ll also gain a sense of freedom that you never thought possible. Here are some tips on how to minimize your belongings for vanlife.

Start with the basics. Make a list of the things you absolutely need and put them in a pile. This should include items like clothing, bedding, towels, and cookware. 

Once you have your essentials sorted, start thinking about the things that would make your life easier or more enjoyable. These might include items like mountain bikes, hammocks, games, or hiking gear. 

Next, take a good hard look at your belongings and ask yourself which ones bring you joy and which ones are just taking up space. It’s okay to be sentimental, but try to be as ruthless as possible. If you haven’t used something in 6 months or more, chances are you don’t really need it. 

Finally, don’t forget about storage! Just because vanlife requires minimalism doesn’t mean that you can’t still have all of your favorite things – you just have to get creative with storage. Utilize under-the-bed storage containers, over-the-door shoe organizers, and even wall hooks to maximize your space.

How To Make Money While Living In A Van

You’ve saved up, outfitted your van, and you’re finally ready to hit the road. But there’s just one problem: you still need to make money. Whether you’re planning to travel for a couple of months or years, here are some tips to help you make money while living the vanlife.

1. Get a Remote Job

One of the best things about working remotely is that it gives you the freedom to work from anywhere in the world—including your van! If you’re unsure where to start, check out websites like We Work Remotely and Remotive, which list hundreds of remote job openings in various industries. 

2. Offer Your Services As a Freelancer. 

If you have a particular skill or trade that you’re good at—like writing, web design, or social media marketing—you can market yourself as a freelancer and offer your services to clients worldwide. Sites like Upwork and Fiverr are great places to start looking for freelance gigs.

3. Sell Products Online

Do you make jewelry or paintings, or Are you an avid photographer? Whatever your talent or hobby, there’s a good chance you can sell your creations online and make some extra money while living on the road.

Etsy is a great place to start selling handmade goods, and stock photography sites like Shutterstock and iStockPhoto are always in need of new images.

4. Participate in Paid Research Studies 

This one isn’t for everyone, but if you don’t mind being a human guinea pig every now and then, participating in paid research studies can be a great way to make some extra money while living on the road.

Universities and medical centers are always conducting research studies on everything from sleep habits to diet trends—and they’re usually willing to pay participants decent sums of cash for their time (plus free food and/or lodging, if applicable). To find paid research studies near you, simply do a Google search or check out Craigslist or ClinicalTrials.gov. 

Campervanning on a Budget

We recommend buying a used campervan if you’re on a tight budget. There are plenty of great deals to be found out there, and chances are you won’t need all of the bells and whistles that come with a brand-new van. 

1. DIY Whenever Possible

Another great way to save money is to do as much as you can yourself. If you’re handy and have some basic carpentry skills, you can do tons of great DIY projects to personalize your space and save money in the process. 

2. Find Free or Cheap Places to Park. Public Land (BLM, National Forest). Free.

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because it can be one of the biggest expenses when living in a van.

If you’re not careful, you could spend hundreds of dollars per month just on camping fees. Fortunately, there are a few ways to avoid this expense. One is to find free or cheap places to park overnight, such as rest stops, Walmart parking lots, and boondocking spots. 

Dispersed camping on public lands is our favorite alternative. There is a lot of public land all across North America, and much of it allows you to camp for free (usually for up to 14 days before you must move on). These locations are simple to locate using the proper apps and tools (and a healthy dose of adventure), and they tend to be gorgeous and tranquil.

3.Seek Out Free Activities and Attractions

When it comes time to actually hit the road, one of the best ways to stick to your budget is to seek out free activities and attractions.

Sure, it’s fun to go hiking in national parks or visit museums in big cities, but those activities can quickly add up. Instead, try taking advantage of free things like hikes in state parks or walking tours of small towns. 

4. Cook Your Own Meals

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Another great way to save money is to cook your own meals whenever possible. This can be tricky if you don’t have a lot of kitchen space, but it’s definitely worth it if you can make it work.

There are tons of great recipes specifically designed for campers, so research and see what looks good to you. Not only will cooking your own meals save you money, but it’ll also help you avoid those pesky roadside diner meals that never seem to agree with our stomachs. 

Join A Membership To Help You Find Places To Sleep

If you’re new to boondocking or finding a place to stealth camp for the night, we recommend signing up with a membership like Harvest Hosts, Boondocking, or even Thousand Trails. These memberships will help eliminate the guesswork of finding a place to crash for the night.

How to Get Health Insurance on the Road

There are a few things to remember when shopping for health insurance on the road:

  1. If you have a pre-existing condition, it’s important to find a plan that covers you.
  2. Make sure to find a plan with good coverage in case of an emergency.
  3. Try to find a nationwide coverage plan in case you need to see a doctor while traveling.

Now that you know what to look for let’s talk about where to look. The first place to start is the federal marketplace. You can go to Healthcare.gov and fill out an application to see what plans are available to you. 

Once you’ve found a plan that fits your needs, it’s time to enroll! Make sure to do so within 60 days of losing your previous coverage, or you may be subject to a penalty. Now all that’s left is enjoying your adventure—safe in the knowledge that you’re covered! 

Internet On The Road: Staying Connected

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Chances are you need to be able to stay connected to the internet while on the road. Whether you’re working from your van, keeping up with friends and family, or just want to stream your favorite shows, you can do a few things to ensure you’ve got a good connection. 

1. Get a Mobile Hotspot

A mobile hotspot is a small, portable device that gives you wifi wherever you go. Just insert your SIM card into the hotspot, turn it on, and presto! You’ve got internet. Mobile hotspots can be pretty pricey, but if you’re spending a lot of time on the road, they’re worth the investment. 

2. Use Your Phone as a Hotspot

Most smartphones these days can use your phone as a hotspot. 

3. Find Public Wifi

Public wifi is becoming more and more common, especially in larger cities. You can usually find public wifi at libraries, parks, and downtown corridors.

4. Find a Local Coffee Shop

When in doubt, head to your nearest coffee shop! Many coffee shops offer customers free wifi, so you can get your internet fix and your caffeine fix all in one go.

 Vanlife Packing List

So, where do you even start? We’ve put together a simple list to help you get started.

  • Comfort items: Bed linens, pillow, mattress (or foam pad), blanket, camping chairs 
  • Safety items: First aid kit, fire extinguisher, carbon monoxide, and smoke detectors 
  • Health and hygiene items: Toothbrush and toothpaste, toiletries, towel, soap, shampoo/conditioner, deodorant  
  • Practical items: Flashlight, multitool, maps 
  • Van essentials: Water storage (e.g., jugs or a water filter), propane for cooking and heat (if applicable), solar panels (optional), 
  • Cooking Essentials: Unless you plan on eating out every meal (no judgment if you do!), you’ll need some cooking essentials for vanlife. A small stove or hot plate is all you really need to cook basic meals; however, if you want something with more bells and whistles (like an oven), larger stoves can be powered by propane or electricity. As far as cookware goes, stick with basics like pots, pans, plates, utensils, and cups—and don’t forget a can opener! 

Pro tip: Invest in some reusable containers so you can cook big meals and store leftovers for later. Trust us, they’ll come in handy when you’re craving a home-cooked meal after a long day on the road!

  • Cleaning Supplies: Just because you’re living in a smaller space doesn’t mean cleanliness should go out the window! In fact, keeping your van clean is more important than ever when living on four wheels; not only will it make your space more habitable, but it will also help prevent the spread of germs 

Pro Tip A handheld vacuum cleaner will help keep your floors clean and dust-free;

Why You Should Consider Living in a Van

 The thought of living in a van might not sound appealing to some, but there are actually a lot of great reasons to do it. For starters, it’s a great way to save money on rent and travel costs.

1. Cheap

One of the best things about van life is that it’s relatively cheap. Living in a van means you don’t have to pay rent or a mortgage. You also don’t have to pay for utilities like water and electricity. Of course, you do have to pay for gas and insurance, but overall, van life is much cheaper than traditional living.

2. You Can Travel Whenever You Want

Another great thing about van life is that it gives you the freedom to travel whenever you want. If you get sick of being in one place, you can just pack up your things and hit the road. With traditional living, it’s not so easy to pick up and go whenever you please.

3. You Meet Interesting People

When you live in a van, you meet all sorts of interesting people. From other van dwellers to friendly strangers, there’s always someone new to meet when you’re on the road. This was one of the things that I was most looking forward to when I started living in my van, and it has definitely not disappointed!

4. It’s a Great Way to Save Money

Living in a van can be a great option if you’re looking for a cost-effective way to live. Living in a van means you don’t have to worry about paying rent or utilities. And if you’re able to find free camping spots or places where you can park your van overnight, then your only real expense will be food and gas. In other words, living in a van can be a great way to reduce your expenses.

5. It Allows You To Travel More Easily and Cheaply

Another great reason to live in a van is that it makes traveling much easier and cheaper. When you have your home on wheels, there’s no need to book hotels or flights. And if you’re able to find free camping spots, then your only travel expenses will be food and gas. That means you’ll have more money to spend on actual experiences while traveling.

6. It’s Great For Adventurers and Nature Lovers

If you’re the type of person who loves adventure and spending time outdoors, then living in a van can be the perfect lifestyle for you. When you live in a van, there’s no need to be tied down to one location. You can explore as much or as little as you want, whenever you want. 

7. It Allows For More Flexibility and Freedom

Although it might not seem like it at first glance, living in a van actually allows for more flexibility and freedom than living in a traditional home does. Living in a van means you’re not tied down by things like leases or mortgages. That means if you ever get the itch to pick up and move somewhere else, all you have to do is hit the road! 

How To Get Mail While Living On The Road

One of the great things about living on the road is that it gives you a sense of freedom you can’t find anywhere else. However, this sense of freedom can come at a cost. One of those costs is giving up a fixed address. This can make it difficult to keep in touch with friends and family and receive important mail. 

There are a few ways to get around this problem. The first option is to use a mail forwarding service. These services will receive your mail and then forward it on to you, wherever you may be in the world. This can be a great option if you’re constantly on the move and don’t want to worry about changing your address.

Another option is to ask a friend or family member to act as your mailing address. This can be a great solution if you’re unsure how long you plan to do the vanlife thing.

How to Join the Vanlife Movement

Now that you know a little bit more about vanlife, you might be wondering how you can join the movement. Check out some vanlife blogs (we recommend Outsidenomad.com!) and Instagram accounts to get some inspiration for your own setup. You can also google search for van gatherings in your area to meet like-minded people

Time To Hit the Road! 

And finally, once you’ve taken care of all the logistical details, it’s time for the fun part: hitting the road! Use this time to explore new places, meet new people, and learn new things about yourself and the world around you. You might just find that vanlife is exactly what you’ve been looking for all this time. 

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