Project van life

Project van life DEFAULT

50 disappointing photos show what converted van living is really like

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Living out of a van can be a lonely, cramped existence — yet some people are choosing it over life in a standard home. As real estate becomes more expensive in cities such as New York and San Francisco, young tech workers, retirees, and even families are turning to converted vans as a way to save on rent.

The phenomenon has taken off across numerous social channels. It's now easy to find glamorous shots of van living on Instagram or idealistic blog posts touting a mobile lifestyle.

Though van dwelling may be a viable option for some, the reality is far less seductive than it's made out to be. Many photos of converted vans show little room for anything other than a bed and a few storage bins. Vehicles that have been lived in for a while are often a cluttered mess, packed with stray belongings and portable fans.

Check out what van living is really like for the urbanites who dare to tackle life on the road — and the many who rely on vans as an affordable housing option.

One couple has been traveling all over the US since 2012. Their van, "Sunshine," has taken them to Florida, Michigan, Utah, and New Mexico, among many more states.

This week, we’re traveling the old dirt backroads of Florida with NAPA AUTO PARTS, seeking little corners of palm tree paradise #ad. We're creating a short video about taking car maintenance into your own hands—a celebration of all things DIY. - As we constantly travel in an old vehicle, we’ve learned that fixing mechanical odds and ends ourselves is crucial. When we run into minor mishaps way down a rough dirt road, we’re not stranded. Instead, we can usually pull out a part, make a simple switch right there on a pullout, and get on our way. - Thanks, NAPA, for carrying parts for all cars, including the temporary member of our family—this zippy little 47 year old bug. You help keep DIYers like us cruising happily down the road! #NAPAKnowHow

A post shared by Kit + J.R. + Sunshine (@idletheorybus) on Sep 19, 2018 at 7:03am PDT


Vehicles are often customized to suit the owner's taste, like this Dodge van with a chrome interior ...


For Vanlifers, Life on the Road Can Be Lucrative and Rewarding

Vanlife has become increasingly popular in recent years. There’s something liberating about eschewing life’s complications and choosing a life of freedom and detachment. In many ways, vanlifers are modern day nomads, moving from place to place on their own steam and on their own dime. But how do vanlifers make money living such a life, and how can such a transient lifestyle be lucrative enough to even survive in today’s economy?

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What is vanlife?

Van living, or van dwelling as it's sometimes called, is basically tiny-house living for those who don’t want to be tied down to a single space or community. Vanlifers live out of their automobiles, which are usually kitted-out vans that hold only what the van dweller needs to survive. It’s a fascinating lifestyle that harkens back to a bygone era. According to Project Van Life, vanlifers choose this existence for many reasons.

Perhaps they want to simplify their life or minimize their environmental impact. They might just love to travel and wish to do so unfettered by the constraints of real estate or municipal regulation. Despite the limited space and amenities, van living allows one to take control of one’s own life. There’s also something very poetic about living on the open road, which may account for the recent popularity of van living.

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Vanlifer staring out of van

Source: Nicole Geri/Unsplash

How do vanlifers make money?

Contrary to popular belief, there are a number of ways that vanlifers can make money whilst traveling. Many vanlifers are seasonal workers, living outside or on the premises of summer camps in the warmer months and traveling to work in ski resorts at the first sign of the snow. Some also do farm work during harvest time or work as park rangers, according to Gnomad Home.

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Then there are folks who work remotely for a living, such as writers, reporters, photographers, designers, and web developers. They can do their jobs from anywhere, provided they have an internet connection, making vanlife a viable option. If you’re artistic or crafty, you might earn your living making jewelry, art, or clothing. If you are possessed of musical talent, you could perform gigs or play with bands in different locations as you travel.

Group of vanlifers camping out

Source: Balkan Campers/UnSplash

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You might be a good cook or barista, which means you could sell food, coffee, kombucha, or other beverages from the back of a well-equipped van or attached food truck trailer.

Ever hear the old adage, “one man's trash is another man's treasure”? You could become your own brand of American Picker, buying, bartering, and reselling antiques and unwanted items you cull from sidewalks or through dumpster diving. On the reverse side of this, are vanlifers who are quite well-off, career-wise, folks like circus performers, or MLB pitcher Daniel Norris, who lives in his van during the offseason.

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There’s also the service industry. Maybe you're a masseuse, a reiki practitioner, or naturopathic healer. Perhaps you have a background in physical therapy, yoga instruction, or personal training. Turn those skills toward teaching others in the communities you visit.

Working on a laptop in a coffee shop

Source: Kaleidico/UnSplash

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Are vanlifers considered homeless?

In some circles, the idea of choosing a vanlife is seen as willfully choosing homelessness. However, it’s important to realize that there is a big difference between people who make the conscious choice to live in their van and travel the world, and those who are forced to do so due to economic circumstances outside their control. There is some gray area here, of course, but most of the time, the difference is in the choice itself.

According toHomeless Voice, those who choose the vanlife purposefully and painstakingly turn their vans into mobile homes. These homes aren’t just your dad’s old Honda, they are unique, sometimes expensive tiny homes with specialized heating or cooling systems, sleep compartments, storage space, and often, waste removal systems, and food preparation equipment.

Nevertheless, vanlifers do face similar challenges to people without reliable shelter, in terms of where they can park their vans, how those homes are viewed in the communities they visit, and the economic struggle that can arise when living a transient lifestyle. Though, as you can see, vocational options abound, even for a vanlifer.

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You’ve seen the hype around #vanlife. You’ve seen the stunning photos on social media. Now you want to throw everything to the wind, quit your job, and live a carefree life of traveling in a van.

If you’re prepared and have the right mindset, van life can be a great way to cut your expenses, see the world, learn about yourself, and refocus on what really matters in your life. But there are a few things to think about before you make the leap.

This page is designed as a jumping-off point for your personal vanlife journey. We go over the pros and cons of this lifestyle, exactly how to live in a van, some of the reasons why van life is awesome, and some of the drawbacks. We answer the most frequently asked questions about living in a van – everything from bathrooms and showering, to making money on the road, to finding sweet camping spots.

We also include links to more in-depth resources if you want to delve more deeply into a question. So go ahead – explore this page and decide if living in a van is right for you. Then get out there and begin your journey!

What is Van life?

Van life is a social movement of nomadic individuals who reject the way we are all “told” to live in favor of minimalism, simplicity, adventure, and reassessing what is truly meaningful in life. Van life is commonly associated with willy-nilly travel and glamorous images on social media, but the reality of this lifestyle is often far different than it is portrayed.

woman doing yoga man in hammock van camped behind

To some, #vanlife is just an escapist hashtag. To others, it represents freedom, travel, adventure, or minimalism. But to the people living it, van life is a movement, a way of life, a means of living more in harmony with ourselves, an act of resistance against the status quo.

At its most basic, van life is just that: living in a van. But to us, it has little to do with the van itself. It doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, or where you spend most of your time. It doesn’t matter what specific kind of vehicle you drive, or how much you spent building it out. It doesn’t matter whether you travel all over or stay around one area, or whether you’re in your rig full time, part time, or just on weekends. Vanlife is about much more than this.

Vanlife is the process of taking control of your life. It’s about leaning into your fear of the unknown in order to pursue what makes you feel alive. It’s about meeting strangers from all over the world and accepting them for their differences, while openly seeing the commonalities we all share with each other.

Vanlife does involve living in a van, yes. And since vanlifers may not be tied down to a lease or a mortgage there is often travel involved. But deeper than that, vanlife is about the commitment to create the most fulfilling life you can for yourself. It’s about not settling for all the “shoulds” that others try to push upon you. It’s about focusing on what’s meaningful in your life and shedding what isn’t.

It’s about creating your own path.

Why Would You Want to Live in a Van?

There are many reasons why people choose a nomadic lifestyle. Some do this part time, some for a temporary road trip. Still others sell off their belongings and commit to van life full time. But however you go about it, living in a van is rewarding. It’s exciting. And it’s a ton of fun – if you allow it to be.

Ultimately, your mindset will dictate your experience. But if you remain open to sudden changes and new adventures, if you allow yourself to go with the moment, if you learn to make do with less and appreciate simplicity, then embarking on a vanlife journey will be one of the most important transitions you can gift yourself.

Here are just some of the reasons why you might consider living in a van:

Reason #1: Vanlife Embraces the Excitement of the Unknown

Man celebrating an empty van

Living a nomadic lifestyle means you’re constantly diving into uncertainty – which can be terrifying, but also very exciting. Every day on the road is an adventure. Every day has the possibility of something different and unexpected happening.

In any given day we may not know exactly what will happen, what we’ll do, who we’ll meet, or where we’ll sleep that night. This feeling of uncertainty that comes with van life adventures has a way of making you feel alive, more in tune with the present moment, and accepting of change.

Reason #2: It’s a Challenge that Leads to Personal Growth

Man sitting in van writing in journal

Despite how it may look on Instagram, living in a van is not easy – in fact, it can be a tremendous challenge at times. You will deal with a lot of uncertainty and discomfort. You will spend a lot of one-on-one time with yourself. Making van life work financially takes a lot of hustle. You will need to learn to make do with less and embrace simple pleasures with gratitude.

Real van life will challenge you in ways that you never thought possible, but it carries rewards that will change you for the better. You’ll be thrown into many uncomfortable scenarios that will force you to confront yourself at the deepest level. You may discover that your patience isn’t as strong as you had believed. You may find that you need stability – or that you need to go with the flow more. You’ll experience the importance of flexibility and open-mindedness. And if you’re honest with yourself, this will lead you down a path of incredible personal growth.

Reason #3: Freedom, Flexibility, and Adventure

Man driving van into sunset

Many vanlifers choose this nomdic lifestyle for the freedom and adventure that awaits on the open road. It’s quite wonderful not being tied down to a house or an apartment, to have everything you need with you at all times, and to be able to go wherever the road takes you. Your days are often much more flexible, and you have the general sense that your time is your own.

Maybe you want to visit every National Park in the US. Vanlife is a great way to do that, all while saving on transportation and housing costs. Maybe you have friends and family scattered throughout the country. Van life can enable you to spend more quality time with them.

Maybe you’ve never been to the West Coast (or the East Coast, or Alaska, or South America, or Europe, or Asia, or *insert place here*). Traveling in a van is a great way to see new places – all while bringing your house with you and continuing to work and live your life.

And, van living allows you to change your plans at the drop of a hat. Maybe you want to stay longer in a place you really like. Maybe someone tells you about an awesome waterfall the opposite direction of where you were headed. Maybe you want to check out a new city, or escape out into the wilderness. Maybe the weather isn’t to your liking and you want to head south (or north, or to the coast, or up to the mountains). When you live in a van, endless possibilities are open to you.

Reason #4: Focus on Hobbies (rock climbing, surfing, hiking, skiing, music, whatever)

Man mounting surfboard to side of van

Depending on how you live, vanlife may allow you to focus more time around your favorite hobbies. Maybe you want to wake up at the beach and surf all day long. Or maybe you want to spend more time hiking, rock climbing, or skiing. Or maybe you want to focus on your music, or your writing, or your artwork. Whatever hobby you have that ignites your soul, living in a van can free you up to make it a larger part of your life.

While the freedom and flexibility of van living can allow you to direct more of your time to what’s meaningful to you, it’s important to note that you won’t have endless amounts of free time. Some things just take longer when you live in a van. You’ll need to spend time traveling, finding places to sleep, restocking fresh water, setting up and breaking down camp, etc. You may be surprised by how much time gets eaten up by these activities.

But van life also allows you to save tons of time in other areas. You may not need to make that long commute to work anymore. Your needs will be simpler, so you may not need to work all those hours just to afford unnecessary things. Or you can work seasonally, save money, and take off for part of the year.

The point is, the overall freedom and simplicity of vanlife really opens up your horizon of possibilities and gives you greater freedom in how you direct your time.

Reason #5: Save Money (or reach other financial goals)

a couple throws around monopoly money in their van

Some people choose to live in a van to save money – especially on housing. There’s no doubt about it, housing costs are out of control in many parts of the country. Vanlife allows you to eliminate rent/mortgage/utility payments, which probably represent a huge portion of your monthly expenses. The money that you save on housing could allow you to go back to school, or pursue that business idea, or save for retirement, or get out of credit card debt, or finally pay off those student loans.

That said, it’s important to note that van life is not a magic way to spend zero money. Although you can save on housing costs, the rest of your spending depends on your lifestyle and your priorities. Just like you can spend very little money while living in an apartment if you’re frugal, you can spend a ton of money while living in a van if you’re not careful. It all comes down to how you choose to live, and your choice of housing is only part of the equation.

Reason #6: Learn to Live a More Minimalist Life and Appreciate the Simple Things

Two women with dog and campervan  in the woods

When you live in a van, you just don’t have space for needless things. This forces you to evaluate the things that you have, and reduce your belongings down to only what you really need and use. This can be a tremendous boost to your psychological well-being.

Having fewer things takes a weight off of your shoulders that you might not know you were carrying. There’s far less to worry about and there’s much less stress swirling in the back of your mind when you have only what you need, when everything is within arm’s reach.

And because you have limited space in the van, it’s tough to impulsively buy things that you don’t need. This forces you to learn to be content with what you have, and to look for ways to make do instead of solving your problems through buying stuff (this also helps with saving money). Learning to make do and embracing uncertainty also encourage you to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life, instead of constantly craving for the next thing.

Reason #7: Meet New People and Join an Awesome Community

Three women looking out the back of a campervan

It might seem strange to say that living in a van is a great way to meet people and experience community, but it’s true. There are tons of interesting people who choose this lifestyle, and when you meet another vanlifer you’ve probably met a like-minded person who instantly understands your life in ways that others do not. This means that you can often skip the bullshit and quickly form deep connections with people.

The internet and social media have opened up a ton of possibilities for connecting with other vanlifers no matter where you are. We’ve connected with several people via the internet who later became camping buddies and instant friends. Even though we’re not physically near each other most of the time, we’re still able to stay in contact, keep up with each other’s travels, and chat with people who “get it”.

And there’s nothing like a bunch of nomads coming together at a big van life gathering (like the one we host in the Midwest each May). These are awesome events where we can meet each other in person, tour each other’s rigs, and swap stories around a bonfire.

Reason #8: Reject Societal Norms and Direct Your Own Time

VW Van parked near slab city welcome sign

We’ve reached a tipping point in our society where we’ve seen behind the curtain and revealed that the American Dream is not all it’s cracked up to be. For many that are attracted to vanlife, the idea of mortgaging our lives away for the questionable promise of an uncertain retirement just isn’t all that appealing.

Our time is our most valuable resource. None of us knows how much time we have on this earth. Choosing to live in a van is an acknowledgement of that fact. It’s a celebration of the limited time that we have, and it’s honoring that time by striving to enjoy it.

That said, vanlife is not a vacation, it is an alternative lifestyle. Vanlifers still need to work and make a living (in fact, we often work more than we did in our former 9-5 lives). The difference, though, is that you have a greater degree of freedom in determining your life. You dictate your own time instead of someone else dictating it for you. And that freedom is what it’s all about.

What Are the Challenges of Vanlife?

Although there are many reasons why you may choose van life, it’s definitely not for everyone. Here are some of the bigger challenges of this lifestyle.

Challenge #1: Vanlife Can Be a Lot of Work

Woman in van looking stressed out

Despite what you may see on Instagram, vanlife is not all about lounging around your van in beautiful locales. Real van life takes a lot of work, and you need to be almost constantly strategizing.

(Questions we’re always asking ourselves: When do we need to refill our fresh water? Where can we get a shower next? How full is our grey water tank? Where’s the nearest bathroom – or place to dig a hole? Where are we going to sleep tonight? We really need to order something online – where’s the best place to ship it to and where will we even be in a few days?

Also, many things seem to take longer when living in a van. Cooking is much more of a process when you have to take everything out of your cabinet just to get that one thing in the back. And if you don’t put everything away immediately then your van quickly becomes unlivable. You can’t just throw stuff in the corner or leave dishes in the sink like you can in a house. Day-to-day life can be a constant dance of taking things out and putting them away.

Unlike living in a fixed dwelling, where you likely have water and utilities piped directly to you, when you live in a van you have to go out and get this stuff. We have to pay attention to how much fresh water we have left, and when we’re running low we need to seek out a place to fill up (and find somewhere to dump our grey water). Same with stove fuel (we use a marine alcohol stove that runs off of denatured alcohol, but most vanners use basic propane camp stoves or cooktops).

Then there’s setting up and breaking down camp. Our van has two modes: travel mode and camping mode. When we’re posted up somewhere, our awning is often extended, we’ll get the instruments out of the back, we’ll leave the stove and cast iron pan out, we’ll have the curtains down. This all takes work to set up, and it takes work to secure everything back for when we’re traveling again. We also need to convert the interior to “bed mode” at night, and back into “couch mode” in the morning.

This is one thing that surprises many people new to van living – the amount of time and effort it takes to just maintain the lifestyle. But we think it’s more than worth it, and it all takes way less time than we used to spend mowing the lawn and maintaining our house in our former lives.

man stands on rock with dogs sniffing below him and van in the background

If you don’t enjoy being outside, then you’ll have some serious adjusting to do. We always tell people that we don’t live in a van, we live out of a van. Vanlife is being outside. No matter how comfortable or spacious your van is, no matter how many amenities you included in your build, you will still spend a significant amount of time outside your van.

This is something that actually attracts a lot of people to vanlife, and it’s one of our favorite parts of this lifestyle. But it’s important to realize that being outside all the time comes with some unavoidable discomforts. There will be dirt, mud, sand, and leaves. There will be all kinds of insects – mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and spiders. You will be cold, or hot, or damp, or sweaty. Things won’t be clean all the time, and you won’t be perfectly comfortable all the time. And the sooner you embrace this reality, the more you’ll enjoy living in a van.

Challenge #3: You’ll Be Exposed to Weather and Temperature Swings

Van driving down snowy road

When you live in a van, there’s a limit to how much you can control your environment. You’ll always be somewhat at the mercy of the outside weather. No matter what you do, you’ll never have as much control over your van’s temperature as you do in a house.

There are a few things you can do to maintain a reasonable temperature in your van, whatever the weather: insulate your van, include reflective window coverings, and install a ventilation fan. In the winter, a small propane heater (or other heat source) can work wonders. But unless you plan on spending all your time plugged into the grid at RV parks, there’s no way you can run AC in the summer (they take WAY too much power). You’ll just need to get used to dealing with temperature extremes and finding ways to cope.

We’ve actually grown to enjoy this quite a bit. We love experiencing the ups and downs of the environment. It makes us feel connected to the world around us, and it’s all part of the van life adventure. It often dictates our travels – during the summer months, we seek out northern climes and higher elevations. In the winter, we gravitate toward sunnier, warmer areas (although we really enjoy winter van life in the mountains). But we’ve also frequently had to change plans because of extreme heat or an approaching storm. The weather is something we have no control over, yet we still have to adapt and rearrange our plans around it all the time.

So if you’re someone who doesn’t like to change plans, if you can’t deal with swings in temperature, if your living space has to always be exactly 72 degrees, then living in a van may prove to be a significant challenge for you (or an opportunity for significant growth).

Challenge #4: You’ll Be Exposed to Many New and Uncomfortable Situations

Woman fixing her van's engine

When you live on the road, unexpected things happen. You may find yourself in a LOT of uncomfortable situations, and you’ll need to get used to being outside your comfort zone. There will be layers of discomfort that you’ll have to work through internally, especially when you first start living in a van.

A lot of this discomfort comes from the inherent uncertainty of nomadic living. You may find yourself in a completely new area, with a different climate and different challenges than what you’re used to. You may have to deal with a breakdown or another issue when you don’t know anyone nearby who can help. You may have to work through a lot of frustration and fear.

But if you stay flexible and keep an open mind, you’ll grow used to not knowing what’s around the corner. This feeling of uncertainty becomes a big part of the van life adventure, and you’ll feel like you’re truly exploring life every single day. You’ll wave goodbye to your comfort zone in the rearview mirror, and this will set you up for deep personal growth.

Challenge #5: Making it on the Road Takes Hustle

guy working on laptop on steering wheel

Unless you saved up a bunch of money to take off work for a temporary van life road trip (which is awesome, congrats!), living in a van isnot a vacation. What you don’t see on Instagram is that all those people doing vanlife full time are working their assesoff to sustain this lifestyle.

Vanlifers are doing everything from manual labor, seasonal farming, running their own businesses, workamping positions, online freelance work, and many other creative and independent ways to make money. But what we all have in common is that we’re hustling and putting ourselves out there, not sitting back and waiting for opportunities to appear.

If you prefer the stability of showing up at a specific place for a predefined amount of hours and collecting a regular paycheck in return – then you will have some adjustments to make if you want to live on the road. But many vanlifers have successfully made this transition, so there’s no reason why you can’t too if you hustle.

Van Life Pros and Cons

How to Live in a Van (Van Life Guide)

If you’re reading this page, chances are you have questions about the practical aspects of vanlife – how you actually go about living in a van. This section covers everything from building a van, to finding overnight camping, to bathrooms and showers, to making a living on the road.

Converting a Van into a Mobile Living Space

We cover building a DIY campervan in our epic Build Your Van: The Ultimate Guide, and all over our blog. Below we’ve included links to our most helpful content about building your new tiny house on wheels.

Where to Park Your Van at Night

Now that you’ve left the comfort of your old life for the adventure of van life – where exactly do you sleep?

There are tons of options all over North America for parking your van at night, many of them completely free. But the options that you gravitate toward will depend on the type of nomad that you are and the kinds of amenities that you need around you.

Do you want to spend time in an urban area, or are you looking for a spot out in the middle of nowhere? Do you need a bathroom, a shower, or cell service? Do you want to camp for free, or are you okay with paying for a spot? Are you okay with breaking local laws, or would you rather stick to where you’re allowed to be?

Here are some options for sleeping overnight in your camper van:

Camping on Public Land (National Forest, BLM, etc). Free.

vanlife boondocking on public land

This is our go-to option for van life overnight parking. There is abundant public land all over North America, and much of it allows you to camp out for free (usually for up to 14 days or so before you have to move on). These spots are fairly easy to find with the right apps and resources (and a well-tuned sense of adventure), and they tend to be beautiful and peaceful.

The downside, however, is that amenities can be very hit or miss. Sometimes you’ll find a spot with a pit toilet and blazing-fast LTE service. More often than not, though, your spot will be in the middle of nowhere, your bathroom will be a hole in the ground, and you’ll be in a complete dead zone (though it is possible to find sweet wilderness spots with decent cell service).

Getting to these van life camping spots can also be a bit of an adventure. While there are many great campsites that are easily accessible, these spots are more likely to have other campers close by. The best and most secluded spots tend to be down the bumpy back roads.

But if you’re the type of vanlifer who loves spending time outside, enjoys being far away from cities, and prefers to camp for free, public land is your number one resource.

Where to find these spots: (Website); iOverlander (iOS | Android | Website); Campendium (iOS | Website); FreeRoam (iOS | Android | Website)

Important Note: When camping in the wild, always adhere to Leave No Trace principles. Our public land is a vital resource, and it is our duty as responsible users of this land to do everything we can to leave our camp spots better than we found them.

Parking Lot Camping (big box stores, truck stops, casinos, etc.) Free.

Vans camped out in Walmart parking lot

It ain’t the most glamorous, but occasionally camping in a parking lot is a reality of vanlife. We often find ourselves in a big box store parking lot for the night if we’re spending time in a town or city to scope out the area or run errands. And since big box stores and truck stops tend to be right off the highway, they also make convenient stopovers between long travel days.

What big box stores allow you to sleep in their parking lots? Most Walmarts allow overnight parking, and you might even find yourself surrounded by a throng of other camper vans and RVs while you’re sleeping. Other stores that may allow overnight parking: Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Cracker Barrel, some hardware stores and some local grocery stores.

As far as truck stops, we’ve found Flying J to be particularly van/RV friendly. Highway rest areas are also an option for a brief travel stopover. And many casinos readily allow you to park overnight, and may even allow you to stay for multiple days.

But, we always recommend calling ahead and asking before you park overnight at any business. Not every location will allow you to camp out in the parking lot, even Walmart. Also, some towns have ordinances against overnight parking, meaning that you’re at risk of getting kicked out in the middle of the night. It’s always better to ask first than to get dragged out of bed by the police and forced to move at 3 AM.

Where to find these spots: Park Advisor (iOS | Android); RV Parky (iOS | Android); iOverlander (iOS | Android | Website);  AllStays Camp & RV (iOS | Website)

Urban Stealth Camping. Free.

Van parked on city street at night

If urban areas are your thing, or if you have a job in a specific city and are living in your van to save on rent, it’s not realistic to camp out long term at big box stores. Even more so if you’re in a city that doesn’t allow overnight parking at private businesses.

That’s where stealth camping comes in. Stealth camping generally entails pulling up to a city street, neighborhood, industrial area, or parking lot at night, doing your best to conceal the fact that you’re sleeping in your vehicle, and leaving early in the morning before anyone notices.

If you think that you might be stealth camping frequently, then make sure you buy a van that’s suited for it (i.e. not obvious that it’s a campervan – so maybe don’t buy that VW Vanagon and mount your surfboard on top). The best vans for stealth camping are plain-colored windowless work vans, since they’re literally everywhere and it’s easy to keep them unnoticeable. If your van has windows, make sure you add some good light-blocking curtains.

When stealth camping, it’s very important to be aware of the community that you’re in and to be respectful at all times. Stay quiet and in your van, and don’t go to the bathroom outside for any reason (this is what pee bottles are for).

Some communities are welcoming to alternative lifestyles and may not have a problem with well-behaved vandwellers hanging around for a bit. Don’t be the bad apple that sours the area for the rest of us. Many other communities really don’t want vanners around, and you may find yourself subject to harassment from locals or attention from law enforcement (no matter how well-behaved you are). If any of this happens, be polite and cooperative, and remove yourself from the area.

Whether you like it or not, you are a representative of the entire nomadic community. Any interactions you have with the conventional public can color how they view the rest of us.

Here are some helpful resources for urban stealth camping:

Note: It’s illegal to sleep in your vehicle in most cities, and many who live in residential areas may not want you camping in their neighborhood. This means you need to do everything possible to be respectful and stay under the radar. Also be aware that if you choose to stealth camp, you could find yourself being woken in the middle of the night by the police. If this happens, be polite and respectful, don’t argue, and move your van.

Campgrounds (federal campgrounds, state parks, private campgrounds, RV parks, etc). $$$.

Vanlife Guide to Camping and Overnight Parking

Another option for sleeping is to book a spot at a campground. Since most campgrounds cost money and most vanlifers prefer to limit expenses, this is usually more of a once-in-awhile thing. Since campgrounds often have amenities like flush toilets and showers, and may even have laundry and wifi available, they can be a nice break from the road on occasion.

Here are some types of campgrounds you might come across in your travels:

  • Federal Campgrounds.  This category includes Forest Service/BLM campgrounds, as well as National Park campgrounds. Some Forest Service/BLM campgrounds are free or very cheap, and may even offer a discount if you have the annual Interagency Pass. National Park campgrounds tend to be more crowded and pricey, and it may be difficult to snag a spot. Federal campgrounds also vary widely in amenities – some may just have pit toilets, some may have full-blown shower houses with flush toilets.
  • State Park Campgrounds. State parks are a great van life camping option if you want to be in a natural setting but still need certain amenities (like toilets or showers). State parks tend to be cheaper than private campgrounds, but this varies widely by state. Some states charge additional vehicle entrance fees or require you to purchase a yearly pass, while some states are just unreasonably expensive (we’re looking at you, California!). But we’ve also stayed at some awesome state parks for less than $10 a night.
  • Private Campgrounds/RV Parks. Private campgrounds usually cost more than public options, but they’re also more likely to have amenities like laundry and wifi. Some private campgrounds are very nice, but more often you’ll be dealing with rows of campsites right on top of each other. Even so, private campgrounds can be good for the occasional stay, and are often more convenient to get to than other options (you can even find them in or near cities).

When we stay at a campground, we tend to gravitate towards state parks and federal campgrounds. Some of them are very affordable, and we know that our camping fees are going towards supporting public land in some capacity. That said, we’ve also stayed at some great private campgrounds that offered exactly what we needed at the time.

Where to find these spots: Park Advisor (iOS | Android); RV Parky (iOS | Android); Ultimate Public Campgrounds (iOS | Android); AllStays Camp & RV (iOS | Website)

Camping on Private Land. $$$.

girl drinking wine at a Harvest Host winery

If you are looking to expand your options, there are some services out there that offer vanlifers and RVers the opportunity to find camping on private land.

  • Hipcamp. Basically the Airbnb of camping, Hipcamp allows private landowners to list their property for nightly camping. Options on here range from boondocking on a farm, to sites with full hookups, to elaborate glamping experiences. There are some very affordable and interesting properties on Hipcamp, though, and this can be a great way to expand your camping horizons.
  • Boondockers Welcome. For $30 per year, you gain the ability to find private property owners who will let you camp out on their land for free (we’re talking brief stays, not permanently posting up). This can be anything from secluded farmland out in the country to parking in someone’s driveway in the heart of a city. This can really expand your options if you’re needing a place to sleep, and it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal.
  • Harvest Hosts. For a yearly fee, Harvest Hosts opens up the option to camp at wineries, breweries, farms, and other awesome locations throughout the US and Canada. Camping is free, but it’s generally a good idea to buy something from your host while you’re there. Harvest Host locations are particularly concentrated along the East Coast of the US – which is great, since this region doesn’t have a whole lot of camping options in general.
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Bathrooms, Showers, and Laundry

Where Do You Go to the Bathroom?

man using an outhouse

This is easily the most frequently asked question about vanlife. We always chuckle a bit whenever someone asks us because the reality is, it’s incredibly easy to find a place to go to the bathroom in North America.

Gas stations, Walmarts, McDonalds’, coffee shops – you name it, there’s a bathroom. Many free/cheap public camping spots even have pit toilets (basically nicer/cleaner permanent porta-potties) nearby.  We also carry a poop shovel and travel bidet for when we’re wild camping away from a bathroom (always make sure to follow best practices for relieving yourself in nature).

Some vanlifers include toilets (cassette, composting, or otherwise) in their rigs. We didn’t think it was worth giving up the space, but others prefer the convenience and privacy of having their own bathroom situation.

In short, the “bathroom thing” has been the biggest non-issue for us in this whole crazy adventure. Don’t let it stop you from taking the plunge

Read More: Bathrooms and Showers

What about showering?

man showering outside the van

Every vanlifer does showering a bit differently. Some try to get a shower in at least every couple days. Others may go a week or longer without showering. Whatever your preferences, there are plenty of options for taking showers on the road.

Exactly where and how do you shower when you live in a van? Here are some options:

  • Gym memberships. About $22 a month will get you a Planet Fitness Black Card, which gives you access to every location in North America. Other national gym chains include Anytime Fitness, and 24-Hour Fitness. There is also LocalFit, a membership program that gets you access to select local gyms all over. Gym showering is best for vanlifers who spend more time around populated areas.
  • State parks or developed campgrounds. Even if you don’t camp there, many parks have reasonable day use fees. This option costs money, so it’s best for infrequent showerers or vanlifers who don’t mind paying for camping more often.
  • Truck stops. Many truck stops include shower facilities, but they tend to be a bit expensive ($10 or more). Truck stops are best for those times you really need a shower and don’t have another option.
  • Include a shower in your rig. This can be as intense as a PVC-pipe road shower or as simple as a bag-style solar shower. Some vanlifers use on-demand hot water heaters or even build showers inside their vans. This option is best for vanlifers who prefer off-grid locations but like to shower more frequently.
  • Dry showering. If you need to get clean but don’t have access to a shower, dry shampoo and baby wipes can do the trick!

Since we shower infrequently (every 8-9 days or so), we often grab a spot at a state park whenever we need a shower. We look at these times as little “breaks,” where we can enjoy a hot shower, use a flush toilet, get some work done, and sometimes even do laundry.

Read More: Bathrooms and Showers

Where do you do laundry?

people doing laundry across multiple vans

Whenever we need to do a load of laundry, we typically find a laundromat near where we are. To save time (and keep our “town visits” to a minimum), we try to bundle all of our errands together – so a laundry day might include a trip to the grocery store, the hardware store, Goodwill, or wherever else we need to go.

Another option for laundry is staying the night at a developed campground that has laundry (KOA, RV park, some state parks, etc.). There, you’ll have the luxury of getting a hot shower, using a flush toilet, and washing your clothes. Triple win!

How Much Does Vanlife Cost?

It depends. Just like you can spend a little or a lot living in a stationary dwelling, how much you spend while living on the road is entirely up to you and your priorities.

One huge advantage to living in a van is that you eliminate the costs of rent/mortgage and utilities, which often accounts for the biggest chunk of monthly spending when you’re in one place. And with the rising cost of housing in many areas, this can be enough to save you thousands per month.

You’ll still have to pay for gas and maintenance on your van, but you probably already need a car to get around anyway, so this isn’t that much of an increase. And you’re totally in control of how much you spend in this area – if you drive coast to coast several times a year, you’ll spend a lot more on gas and maintenance than you would if you stayed around one region.

There are still those fixed expenses that you’ll have no matter your living situation: insurance, groceries, cell service, toiletries. There are plenty of ways you can spend less in these areas, but this isn’t specific to living in a van.

Can Van life Save You Money? It’s All About Your Priorities

girl in overalls hanging out in van

How much you spend and how much money you save by living in a van all comes down to your spending habits.

To use us as an example: if we didn’t drive much, spent the bare minimum on groceries, and bought nothing else but dog food, we could theoretically swing it for around $900 per month. Tack on the amount of traveling we generally do and our priority to eat healthy, organic foods, and that brings it up to about $1400 per month.

But we also occasionally like to do fun things that cost money, go out to eat every once in a awhile (although we still cook 99% of the time), buy things beyond bare bones necessities, put the dogs up at a sitter through and check out a town, and stay at developed campgrounds every so often – so we generally end up spending about $1800 per month. That’s if nothing goes wrong and we don’t need to take an emergency trip to the mechanic/vet/urgent care (which does happen).

The point is, vanlife can save you a ton of money on housing costs. But it’s not a silver bullet to spending zero money. That’s ultimately up to you and how you choose to live.

Making Money on the Road

How do you sustain yourself financially on the road? There are as many ways to answer this question as there are van nomads. There are plenty of ways to earn a buck with your own two hands, and the internet has opened up a wealth of opportunities for digital nomads.

Many nomads do seasonal work of some kind, earning as much as possible then taking time off for travel and enjoyment. Seasonal farm work, “workamping” jobs, working at parks or ski mountains or other outdoors positions – these are just some of the many options out there.

Still others go the “digital nomad” route and work online. This is how we do things, and the location-independence that this affords is pretty awesome. These days you can find freelance online work doing just about anything. The vanlife community has freelance graphic designers, web developers, music teachers, writers, financial planners, accountants, and construction estimators. Some have even started web-based businesses to fund their travels.

The common denominator, though, is a willingness to hustle, to put yourself out there, and to take opportunities as they come.

Seasonal, Temporary, and Short Term Work

couple working on a farm

The beauty of this lifestyle is that you can do it very cheaply (depending on your priorities), so you won’t necessarily need a year-round full time job to sustain yourself.

A common approach that many vanlifers take to funding their travels is to post up and work somewhere for a few weeks or months to earn some money, then take off and travel for a few months, then stop and work, then travel, and repeat.

Job options available include restaurant serving, labor, or temp jobs (in more urban areas), seasonal farming jobs, various “workamping” jobs, and seasonal positions at outdoors places like resorts, campgrounds, and parks

Where do you find jobs like this? Here are some resources:

Adventure and Outdoors Jobs
  • CoolWorks. Very comprehensive job board that allows you to find jobs in awesome places and really zero in on the type of job that you’re looking for.
  • Adventure Job Board. Job board for outdoors and adventure jobs.
  • Back Door Jobs. Job board for short term adventure jobs.
Workamping Jobs
  • Workamper News. The top resource for finding workamping positions. “Workamping” jobs offer you a job and a place to camp in your rig.
  • Workamping Jobs. A job board for workamping positions.
  • Amazon Camperforce. Seasonal holiday workamping jobs at Amazon facilities.
General Temporary Work
  • Craigslist. The “gigs” section is a great resource for short-term employment.
  • Labor Finders. Job board for all kinds of temporary hands-on positions.

Remote Work Positions for Digital Nomads

girl working on computer

Many vanlifers choose to find a remote work position that they can do from anywhere. This can include finding a job that allows remote employees, or working with your employer to make your current position remote.

You may be able to make more money with this approach than by hopping between temp jobs, but the trade off is that you’ll be working a whole lot more. And your travels will frequently be at the mercy of where you can find the best wifi or cell signal, which is one of the biggest pain points for vanlife digital nomads.

That said, the internet has been a game changer in opening up opportunities for those of us that prefer a location-independent lifestyle.

Here are some of the top places for finding remote work positions:

  • Flex Jobs. Massive job board full of remote and flexible work positions.
  • Skip the Drive. Job board for remote work positions.
  • We Work Remotely. Community board featuring remote work job postings.
  • Resource for remote companies and workers, also featuring a job board.
  • Hubstaff Talent. A hub for connecting businesses, agencies, and remote workers.
  • Remote Tech Jobs. Unique job board with thousands of tech jobs categorized by technology.

Taking Your Skills to the Freelance Market

massage table outside of a van

If you have marketable skills, you may want to consider freelancing. This can be a great option because you can make a very decent income, but also have more freedom to choose when, where, and how you work.

What kind of things can you do? Really anything. The vanlife world includes freelance writers, photographers, videographers, accountants, business consultants, programmers, graphic designers, illustrators, therapists, music teachers, and virtual assistants. As long as you have a skill and are able to pitch yourself well to potential clients, you should be able to find work as a freelancer.

Freelancing can also be anything you make it to be. You can take in-person freelance jobs if you’re a photographer, for example, or remote gigs where you only deal with your clients over the internet. But unlike an actual job, you’re ultimately working for yourself.

Here are some resources for finding work and succeeding as a freelancer:

Freelance Job Boards
  • Upwork. This is a huge job board where clients post all kinds of freelance gigs. Back when we were freelancing, this is primarily where we found work.
  • Guru. Another top job board connecting freelancers with clients.
  • Hubspot Talent. Connecting businesses, agencies, and freelancers.
  • Flex Jobs. Yes, Flex Jobs also includes freelance opportunities!
  • More job boards…
Freelance Micro Gigs
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk. Get paid to complete small tasks for companies.
  • Fiverr. Post “gigs” that clients can hire you for. Despite the name, you can charge a lot more than $5, depending on what you do and the value you provide.
Freelancing Resources
  • Freelancer’s Union Blog. The Freelancer’s Union has a ton of great information and resources for anyone involved in the freelancing game.
  • Freelance Effect. Full of useful resources for finding work and learning how to be successful.
  • Freelance to Win. Lots of great tips for landing high-paying jobs on Upwork (much of the info is applicable to pitching general clients as well).

Starting Your Own Location-Independent Business

girl talking on phone and working in laptop in van

The internet has made it possible for anyone to start a business with just a computer and a wifi connection. And a big advantage of web-based businesses is that they are location-independent, and many require very little upfront investment aside from your time. For these reasons, starting an online business can be a great way to fund vanlife (or any other travel lifestyle).

Make no mistake: starting a business of any sort is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Any business, including web-based ones, take a lot of time and work to get off the ground. But if you put the work in and do the right things, then it’s entirely possible to create a sustainable business for yourself that you can manage from anywhere.

There are many different types of online businesses that you can start, but here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Build a profitable blog or website
  • Develop apps and software
  • Start an ecommerce store
  • Sell digital products
  • Start a podcast or Youtube channel
  • Create online courses
  • Provide a service
  • …and more!

Again, we must reiterate that starting any sort of business takes a lot of hard work, and is not necessarily a quick or easy path to location-independent income. One strategy that many use to smooth the ride is to freelance or work remotely for basic income, and start their business on the side. Then once it takes off, they devote themselves to their business full time.

  • Smart Passive Income. One of the original internet marketing blogs. Features solid information for beginners to the world of online business.
  • Ryan Robinson. Great blog with actionable tips and inspiration.
  • Growth Lab. Blog about starting and growing an online business.
  • Location Rebel. General site on creating a location-independent lifestyle business.

Earning Extra Money Before Vanlife

Are you worried about taking the leap without a financial cushion? Consider doing everything you can to build up some savings before you move into your van. This can give you some time to get used to life on the road and figure out a way to make regular income, without the pressure of needing money to buy groceries and put gas in your van.

Before we hit the road back in 2017, we had spent the previous year-and-a-half working our asses off to afford our van build and give us a cushion to start off with. And because of our hard work, we were able to build out our vanand hit the road with about $10,000 in the bank.

Here are some things you can do to earn extra money before vanlife:

  • Sell your belongings. If you’re moving into a van, chances are you need to downsize. Might as well turn your stuff into cash by selling it! We were able to make over $10,000 selling everything we owned. And we wrote an epic post about how you can sell your belongings to travel in a van.
  • Become an Airbnb host. If you have the space for it, hosting on Airbnb can be a great way to earn some extra money and meet interesting travellers from all over the world. We ran an Airbnb out of our spare bedroom for over a year, and it was so much fun (and so lucrative) that we plan on doing it again if we ever find ourselves with a stationary dwelling in the future.
    Interested in hosting on Airbnb? Sign up using this link and earn $10 when you complete your first reservation.
  • Freelance. Yes, freelancing is great for earning side income as well! We were able to make several hundred dollars extra per month doing freelance writing and graphic design through Upwork. See the “freelancing” section above for more options and resources.
  • Work a side job. It can be a good idea to take advantage of being in one location by picking up a side job to earn some extra money.

Vanlife is a Lifestyle, not a Vacation

Vanlifers may live and work unconventionally and march to the tune of their own schedules, but it’s important to realize that the vanlifers who make it work full time are working to make this lifestyle work for them. This often means hustling and making compromises, and vanlifers still experience the ups and downs, the uncertainties and frustrations, of life and work.

Vanlife is not a vacation for us, nor is it for most vanlifers. Vanlife is an alternative lifestyle. We still work (in fact, we often find ourselves working more than we did in our former 9-5 lives), but the difference is we have a lot more freedom to choose where, when, and how we work.

The options we discuss above are by no means the only ways to make money on the road. There are many different methods to sustain yourself financially, you just need to get out there and find them. Many vanlifers combine some or all of these income sources, and even come up with some of their own. This lifestyle rewards hustle and creativity, and the more you think outside the box and go after opportunities, the more successful you’ll be.

Getting Mail on the Road

vanlife mail and packages on the road

How do you get your mail when you don’t have a fixed address? Luckily, there are plenty of ways to receive your mail and packages when you’re traveling full time. Like most things vanlife, it just takes a little extra planning. Below, we go over some common ways to get your mail and packages on the road:

  • USPS General Delivery. Most Post Offices in North America (and worldwide) will accept general delivery mail and hold it for you for free (general delivery is also called “poste restante” in some countries). All you need to do is show up at the Post Office, show them your ID, and walk out with your mail. Both letters and packages are fair game (even Amazon deliveries). Since there are Post Offices everywhere this method is super convenient, and this is the primary way we receive our mail. Check out our Mail on the Road post for more details on using this service.
  • Campgrounds. Many campgrounds will receive mail and packages for you. Just be sure to ask ahead of time (some campgrounds may charge a fee). We’ve never done this ourselves since general delivery is so convenient, but many full timers go this route.
  • Amazon Lockers (Amazon packages only). If you really need to order something from Amazon, they’ve set up a convenient network of “lockers” where you can ship your packages. Amazon Lockers are mostly concentrated in major metropolitan and coastal areas at this point, but the network is constantly growing. This option is super easy, especially if you’re a Prime member.
  • Shipping Companies (FedEx/UPS). Another option is setting up a box at a UPS/FedEx store. Then, when you need you mail/packages, they can be conveniently forwarded to a location closer to where you are.
  • Friends and Family. If you know you’ll be visiting a friend or family member, ask them if you can have some stuff sent to them. We’re lucky enough to have friends and family scattered all over the country, and we’ve used visits as opportunities to have mail and packages sent to us at a safe address.

Read More: Vanlifer’s Guide to Mail and Packages on the Road

What Do You Use as Your Permanent Address?

The above options are great for receiving your mail while you’re out traveling. But when you live in a van, what do you use for your permanent mailing address? Here are the most common options:

  • Use a friend or family member’s address. If you have a friend or family member willing to accept your mail and let you use their address for vehicle registration, etc., then this is by far the easiest option. This is also what most people do when they start out, and it’s what we did our first year on the road.
  • Use a mail-forwarding service to domicile in a nomad-friendly state. There are several reasons why it might make sense to switch your “domicile,” or legal permanent residence, to a more nomad-friendly state (the most common are South Dakota, Texas, and Florida). Doing this requires that you sign up for a mail forwarding service within your new state, and fulfill additional requirements that the individual state has. As of 2018, we are proud residents of South Dakota!

Read More: Domicile For Nomads: Establishing a Legal Residence on the Road | Our Adventure Becoming South Dakota Residents

Insurance (health, auto, property, etc)

Now for the fun stuff! No one, and I mean no one, enjoys dealing with insurance. And living a nomadic lifestyle can make figuring all of this out quite a bit more challenging.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers here, but below we’ve compiled our best knowledge to help you navigate insurance issues as a vanlifer.

Health Insurance

couple and dog hanging out of class c

There’s no sugarcoating it, the health insurance situation in the US is abysmal, especially if you travel full time. There are very few real options out there for nomadic vanlifers that offer coverage in all 50 states.

If you have a job that includes insurance coverage (and accommodates your lifestyle) – great! You may have nationwide coverage. However, many vanlifers are self-employed or work seasonal/temporary/contract positions. That means we’re on our own for insurance, and the coverage options available to us are not great, to say the least.

Note: This is a complicated topic that deserves a post in itself. Also, we arenot health insurance experts. If you have insurance needs we encourage you to speak with a knowledgeable professional for advice. RVer Insurance Exchange is an insurance broker that is familiar with the needs of nomadic travelers, and can be a good resource.

Here are some of the main health care options for vanlifers:

Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) Major Medical Plans

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides access for anyone to purchase an insurance plan on government exchanges, and provides subsidies to make it affordable if you have a lower income. But unless you’re stationary and/or qualify for subsidies, these plans don’t make much sense for most vanlifers.

See, the majority ofACA plansonly cover you in the state where you purchase them (i.e. the state where you’re a legal resident). So if you’re a legal resident of New Jersey and you need to go to the doctor in California – guess what? You don’t have coverage.

An ACA plan may work for you if you vanlife in/around one place. If you qualify for subsidies, an ACA plan can also be a good hedge against catastrophic medical emergencies (which are typically covered out of state). But if you travel full time and do not qualify for subsidies, ACA plans won’t do a whole lot for you.

group of vans parked in the woods
Short Term Medical Plans

Another option for health insurance is a short term medical plan. The great thing about short term plans is that they are much cheaper than ACA plans, and they work in all 50 states. And despite the name, you can purchase these plans with coverage terms up to three years.

The big downside to these plans is that they are not ACA-compliant. This means that they don’t cover certain things that ACA-compliant plans are required to by law, and they can also deny you coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

But, if you’re generally healthy, want the ability to go to the urgent care or see a doctor without paying full price, and want some hospital/emergency coverage, a short term plan might be worth looking into. Find out more about what to look for here.

Healthshare Ministries

Healthshare Ministries are an alternative approach to health coverage that have been growing increasingly popular in recent years. These are cooperatives of religiously-affiliated people who agree to help pay for each other’s medical expenses.

Healthshare plans usually require you to accept a moral covenant when you join, and may require you to be a practicing Christian (some are a little more vague on this point, offering some wiggle room for non-Christians and even atheists to get on board). It’s important to note that these plans are not insurance, and there is no guarantee or legal requirement that they will pay out when you need them to.

Still, Healthshare plans can be a bit cheaper than ACA plans, and may help pay for things that just aren’t covered by non-ACA insurance (like childbirth). Depending on your needs and what you’re comfortable with, this could be an attractive option.

family with baby and dogs pose with van
Fixed Benefit Indemnity Plans

These types of plans pay out fixed benefits for medical expenses (usually in cash directly to you). They can be good to have to cover yourself in case of catastrophic emergencies, or to supplement the coverage of a short term plan or Healthshare plan. Indemnity plans range from full-blown hospital plans that pay out significant benefits for all kinds of things, to more limited plans that pay out smaller amounts.

Self-Paying for Medical Expenses

Many vanlifers choose to go without insurance altogether and self-pay for basic medical expenses. This actually isn’t as bad as it sounds (for minor care or urgent care visits, at least). If you are able to pay upfront, most medical providers offer a self pay discount that shaves a lot off the cost. Still, medical care can get expensive fast, so if you plan on self-paying it’s still a good idea to cover yourself in case of a major emergency (through an indemnity plan, for example).

girl on ipad in van next to dog
Telemedicine Plans

Sometimes you just need some quick medical advice or a prescription, and don’t necessarily need to physically visit a doctor. Telemed plans give you access to a doctor via phone or Skype whenever you need one, all for an affordable monthly rate. They can even write you prescriptions.

What do we do for health insurance? When we first hit the road we had an ACA-plan, before we discovered (after getting a surprise $800 medical bill) that our insurance did not cover us out of our “home” state. Now, we have a short term medical plan, and supplement it with an inexpensive fixed-benefit accident plan. But what works for us may not work for you. Make sure you research all of your options and choose what’s best for your situation.

Insuring Your Van

painting of a van being held in front of the van

Auto insurance can be difficult to get without a permanent address. Even if you have a mail forwarding address, most insurance companies require that you have a “garageable” address for your vehicle, and don’t take too kindly to the idea that you’re living in it full time.

While many vanlifers end up concealing their living situation from their insurance companies to make sure they don’t get dropped, being honest about your lifestyle can sometimes get you coverage that’s better suited for vanlife, and may even cover your build and belongings.

Here are some options to think about when insuring your campervan:

  • Talk to an insurance agent/broker face-to-face, and be honest. When you’re dealing with an individual agent and are upfront about what you’re doing, they may be willing to help navigate you to options that will work for you. Insurance brokers are also a good option, since they can direct you to plans at multiple insurers.
  • Consider going through an insurance provider that is used to dealing with RVers and other nomads. Like vanlifers, RVers also live in their vehicles full time and may not have a permanent residence, so options for them tend to work for us as well. If you use a mail forwarder for your legal address, they may be able to refer you to a broker who’s used to dealing with people in your situation. There are also some insurance brokers out there who market themselves towards RVers and vehicle nomads, such as Good Sam Insurance and RVer Insurance.
  • Consider insuring your van as an RV. If you convert your van into a mobile dwelling you may be able to insure it as a recreational vehicle (rates for RV insurance tend to be lower than auto policies). To do this, you may need to re-title your vehicle as an RV, and the requirements for that are different in each state. Again, talk this through with your insurance agent.
Can I insure the cost of my build?

Maybe – ask your insurance agent before you start building to get an idea of the requirements they have.

(Check out this article from about how they insured their build)

items typically inside the van being displayed outside of the van

If you’re a part-time or seasonal vanlifer with a stationary dwelling somewhere, your stuff may already be covered under your homeowner’s or renter’s policy. If you don’t have either of these, then you can look into getting a personal articles policy to insure your belongings. State Farm offers a personal articles policy, and these types of policies may also be available from RV insurers like Good Sam or RVer Insurance.

To outsiders, the idea of living in a van may seem like a lonely pursuit that’s devoid of community. But in reality, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The nomadic community is incredibly vibrant and welcoming, and there are many great ways to meet new people and stay connected – even when you’re nowhere near each other.

Connecting with the Nomad Community

Three vans camped out together in the woods
Van Life Story and Build Walkthrough


Van life project


Cozy Airstream Tour (Looks like an Apartment)


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