Last Update: 11/25/2016

Is Van Life for You?

Hippie Ken and his live-in van, Champoeg State Park, Oregon (USA) 1973
Van life is not for everyone. Maybe you really are a prospective vandweller. If not, don't worry. I'll point you to other adventure options.

First of all, how much you are willing to sacrifice is totally up to you. It’s often dependent on the type or style of van you will be dwelling in, but the real decision is yours.

Some people live in vans because they are forced to, through their living situation, but that’s a different story altogether. Although they will have to deal with many of the same things, a choice is not one of them.


4 Biggest Hurdles to Van Life


Below, I’ve outlined four of the biggest hurdles for any vandweller. I’ve been through them myself and can speak from experience. If you can handle all four, perhaps the van life is for you. If not, you may want to consider another means of travel/adventure/accommodation.

1. Minimalism


There is a saying in the French culinary world: Mise en place. It means “everything in its place,” and I can’t think of a better expression for van life.

In my experience, it takes a certain level of organization to properly manage the van life. This can be something you learn or something that comes naturally. Either way, living in such limited quarters will absolutely require some organization if you want to live comfortably.

Embrace minimalism or stay home.

Those who live with a controlled level of materialism should have no trouble adapting to van life. Materialism can be one of the biggest hurdles when moving into a van. I know, it’s hard to get rid of your stuff. But eventually you’ll learn: that’s what it really is – stuff. In the end, this can be one of the most freeing experiences. 

If you’re having a hard time dropping your shit, go ahead and take it with you. You’ll quickly learn the value (or lack thereof) of your belongings, and you can always drop them as you move along.

2. Cleanliness


If you’re an avid camper, you probably already have a “relaxed idea of cleanliness.” It’s important to remember that you will not have a washing machine in your van, and you may have to wear your t-shirt more than one day in a row. It’s just part of the gig.

Technically, you could do laundry once a week, and if you have 7 t-shirts, 7 pairs of underwear, 7 pairs of socks, and 7 pairs of pants (or shorts of whatever), you would be already. But if you’re thinking about this, then you’re not going to be able to pass the first hurdle – minimalism.

Although you won’t necessarily have a full bathroom at your disposal when you need it, there are several solutions: gym pass, parking near a gas station, parking at Wal-Mart, etc.

3. Safety


Depending on your van life situation, you’ll either be camping rurally or stealthily. Sleeping in strange places can be both exciting and nerve-wracking.

If you’re stealth-parked in the city, you’ll have to deal with the sounds of the street and all kinds of passersby. While this can be entertaining, shooing away drunken frat-boys at 2 am, after they’ve tried your doors hoping for a place to pass out, is not. Essentially you’ll have to be ready and willing to deal with uncomfortable noises and situations.

On the other hand, if you have contacts in town, you can park in driveways or backyards, with access to toilets and a yard and all that. It really can be awesome.

Camping rurally has its benefits as well, but being so far away from people and resources can be sketchy all on its own. But it can also mean an epic private camping experience under the stars, away from the noise of the city at night. It does make for a good sleep.

4. Adventure


For many people who live the van life, every day is something new, and you’ll learn to deal with what you’ve got. It didn’t take me (or my partner) long to realize we really didn’t need all that extra shit we had been afraid to get rid of. A simple life is an easy life, there’s no doubt about that.

One of the most amazing things about living like this is the flexibility. It feels so free to just hit the road whenever you want. Sick of this town? Onto the next! Found a hidden gem? Stay for the week!

Although the freedom can be great for your soul, it has its definite downside. Getting mail on the road can be a real pain in the ass. It takes a lot of planning ahead. Also, dealing with any sort of government bureaucracy can be a day-ruiner if you don’t have a fixed address.

So Is It for You?


I’ve done my best to outline the important facets when considering the van life. If you think you can deal with the four tribulations above, then I think you’re good to go.

There are both good and bad sides to everything we do. In the end, life is what you make it. If you don’t like your situation, change it. Move into that van, or pack your backpack and hit the trail, buy a plane/bus/train ticket and get the hell out if you have to. Things change and you can learn to adapt.

Do you think you can handle the life of a vandweller? If “no” is your answer, don’t despair. There are other options (see below).

Maybe It's Not for You ...


If you don't think you can deal with the tribulations of vandwelling, or if you’ve found yourself uttering “nope” at any point throughout the points above, then maybe you should look elsewhere for your adventure fix.

Are you an adventurer? Yes? Then try hitchhiking, or camping, or backpacking. Into learning about other cultures? Grab yourself an error-fare and head somewhere warm for the winter.

There are so many options for great alternative adventures these days, no matter your budget. I believe there are adventures for everyone.



Simon Gooder is an ex-vandweller, lifelong adventure traveler, and editor of GoHobo.co, an amazing source of alternative adventure resources.


Hey, Beer Vanholio! He works hard on this blog.

Also See ...

Jobs for Nomads – 3 Videos
5 Hard-Won Lessons of Urban Van Life
Alternative Adventure Directory (Gohobo.co)

2 comments:

  1. Yes, needing to carry all your shit around with you all the time changes your ideas about which shit is necessary.

    And yes to the "relaxed idea of cleanliness."

    As far as safety goes, there have been only two times I've been in actual danger, and neither were (as many people fear) in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. One was while I was driving and the other was while I was at a store -- things normal people do all the time.

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    1. Never really been in danger myself, neither. It's more the feeling of safety that eludes at times. But were i more urban, it might be a bigger issue. Don't know.

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