Everything You Want to Know About Living in a Van

Living on the road is a lifestyle that many people strive for. If you dream of converting a van and living in a van on the open road, here’s everything you need to know.
feet hanging out of a campervan window

Lots of people dream about quitting their jobs, converting a van, and living in a van full time. They say that the only thing in their way is money—but that isn’t true. It isn’t just rich people and graduates who spend years of their lives traveling; hundreds of people have found freedom and happiness by living in converted vans. They spend their days driving around Europe and America, and they don’t spend lots of money; in fact, most of them end up saving thousands of dollars, even if it’s just for a season.

There are lots of reasons why people choose to live in vans: some people do it because they are fed up of the daily 9-5 grind, whereas others do it so that they can save money and focus on their passions. Other people still will do it for the peace and quiet!

Here is everything that you need to know about living in a van—buying a van, converting a van, and how to live in a van full time.

Choosing a van

Living in a van is very different to living in an RV. RVs are often very expensive, and they are very large, which means you are confined to staying in RV parks and easy-to-access areas. Vans are cheaper and smaller, so they can be parked virtually anywhere. It’s also relatively easy to convert a van, but it’s definitely cheaper to buy one that has facilities pre-installed.

If you want to buy a van that doesn’t need converting, the VW Westfalia should be top of your list. From the outside it just looks like a normal van, but when you open the doors you will be surprised; the back seats fold down to make a double bed, and there is a propane powered grill and a fridge, as well as a table and rotating chairs.

However, the price range for a VW Westfalia can vary greatly. The VW Westfalia is vintage campervan expert Dan B’s personal van choice, but he estimates that a new campervan could cost up to $25,000. A used van will cost around $10,000.

Van conversions aren’t that expensive, so most people choose to buy a less expensive used van, and then they modify the van to make it livable. Your modification budget is likely to be between $1,000 and $5,000, much cheaper than a top-of-the-line van. If you want to modify a van, make sure you choose one with lots of space! It is also worth buying a van that runs on diesel, as it will be more fuel efficient.

Some people even buy and convert buses to make them livable. Travel writer Jayme Moye bought a second-hand bus for just over $6,000 USD, which she then converted it into a livable space with her boyfriend.

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Converting a van

If you decide to convert a van, start with ventilation and insulation. If you will be living alone in the van, you can simply open a window to let air out, but if there are two of you it would be best to put in a ceiling vent, and add insulation for temperature retention. If you plan on living in a van on a full time basis, you will also need electricity. Solar panels are your best option, but you could also invest in a generator.

A raised bed is likely your best bet for sleeping arrangements; this way your bed will stay clean during the day as you won’t be walking on it. For water, take a couple of five gallon jugs that you can fill up as you go. The final issue is space; vans are very small, so you will need to make the most of the little space you have!

Living and working in a van

Lots of people bring too many unnecessary things with them when first they move into a van. They plan on storing the items away, but they quickly find that their small space has become messy and cluttered. Make sure that you only pack the basic essentials; bowls, cutlery, food, clothes, books. Try not to pack too many clothes, or your van might start to look like a closet.

If you need to do laundry, park at an RV park or a camping ground for the night. They normally have washing machines that you can pay to use. Lots of van owners also invest in a gym membership; if you find a gym that has gyms across the country, you can use them for their showers and toilets.

You can also save money by refueling in the right places. Gas prices vary across the U.S.; you can buy gas for less than $2 per gallon in Kansas, whereas prices go up to $4 per gallon in certain areas of New York.

Save for emergencies

On top of the outlay required to buy a van, convert it, and get ready to live in it, you’re going to need to put money aside for repairs, maintenance, and emergencies that crop up when you’re living on the road. Just like a house, your van is going to experience wear and tear; unlike a home, you’ll need to budget for things like DEQ. Living in a van that is on the road more often than your average city car will also make your vehicle a likely candidate for more regular servicing, tires, and small parts like windshield wipers. If you’re a Simple customer, try setting up an emergency fund, so you’re not reaching for your credit card if things go wrong.

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