Living in a Van and how to prepare yourself by facing the cons of this lifestyle now rather than later after you have already hit the road.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@nngvandenberg
Look, this is about to get real... so before we begin, just remember:
Van Life is Great Overall!
Let me clarify that living in a van carries many benefits.
The pros outweigh the cons in my experience.
The whole purpose of this article is to help you ease into the life by exposing you to the reality and inevitable challenges before you hit the road and throw all your eggs into one basket.
The last thing I want for anyone is to get swept away by the fantasy portrayed on social media, only to be rudely awakened by reality once they are on the road.
Let's get started...
Cons of Van Life - Safety
First things first, you need to purchase a Carbon Monoxide alarm before you live in your van!
Just do it. These alarms are very cheap and it's easy to stay on top of this issue.
Carbon monoxide is serious, and its a good idea to spend one hour researching it on your own. (2)
In short, Carbon Monoxide is a toxic and odorless gas that can leak inside of your van.
CM has killed many unsuspecting people who were camping in their cars, vans, homes, RVs, etc.
(Being in any enclosed space puts you at risk).
You can get a Carbon Monoxide alarm for between $15-$80 online or at the store.
I have 2 in my van just in case.
~Okay, onto the other safety topic…
Look, chances are you are mostly getting into this by your own choice.
Most of the people reading this are probably just looking for a way to save more of their cash and be free.
I highly doubt that many of us here fit the stereotype of a mentally ill or drug addicted “homeless” person we have all seen camping downtown or at the beach.
With all that being said…
If you’re doing Vanlife, your technically homeless.
The truth is that homeless people are more vulnerable to crime than the average person.
Living in a van is a sort of glorified version of being homeless.
For us, a van does not provide the same level of physical barriers that an established house or residence does.
It can be very safe living in a van, but we need to keep our wits about us!
For me, this means staying sober.
Locking the doors.
Creating decent air-flow & ventilation (by installing vent shades as seen below)
Get one extra key fob to keep near you just in case you need to sound the alarm.
Don’t keep valuables in the van.
Keep spare change out of sight.
Always park your Van in a way that if some drunk were to run into you, then you would have a very small chance of being injured.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@jonflobrant
Notice how the white Van on the left is protected from a rear end collision?
"Vanlife: A notch above homeless but never felt more at home" -Anonymous
At the time of writing this, I realize that a separate article is required to fully explain all the safety precautions us Vanlifers can possibly take on the road.
Until then, please think defensively and be street smart (especially if your a solo female).
For now, just remember that the most important safety precaution you can take is:
Know the area you park your van in. Is it generally safe?
Develop your intuition and use common sense to help avoid camping out in sketchy places to begin with!
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@aliarifsoydas
What are you thinkin' DUDE?
If your Spidey-Senses are going off then you need to move your van and park somewhere else!
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@formatarw
I'm sure you would appreciate a FULL answer to the question "Where can I sleep if I live in van?" right? Well, Places like Walmart, Rest Stops, and Grocery Stores are definitely good places to consider; however you might want to check out this Ultimate Guide to Overnight Campervan Parking where you can learn about several more free and paid options across the world.
Look, if you stick with it you will get more and more comfortable overnight camping after a few weeks of sleeping in your campervan.
Life is a risk for all of us, even the wealthiest and most protected people living on this planet.
For me personally, living in a van offers to many benefits to just give it up because of the potential risks.
All I ask Is that you take the time to create your own insurance against potential risk, and prepare accordingly.
"You weren't born to just pay bills and die. -Anonymous
Cons of Van Life - Self Esteem
Yes, unless your naturally confident or feel you have reached your full potential in life, then self-esteem is something some of us may need to pay extra attention to when living in a van.
For example, I had to learn the hard way that friends and society in general do not think about the van life movement in the same positive way that I do.
I used to brag to practically everyone that I was living in a van; and how I was going to save up cash for travel and also get out of the dreaded paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
When I told these well-meaning people about my campervan, a lot of them were quick to give me “the talk” by offering their advice and criticism of my plans.
Look, as you know us humans are social animals.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@robschreckhise
It's only natural to care about how our peers think of us.
With that said, I decided to ignore other people's opinion for once in my life.
I simply made the decision that I do not care what these people think about me living in a van.
It’s none of their business nor is it my duty to convince anyone.
"Not one ounce of my self worth depends on your acceptance of me" Quincy Jones
The moral of the story is even though Vanlife is quite popular, a lot of your friends and family are not going to understand.
I found that it's easier to just keep it to myself and also a very select handful of people.
Yes, you should absolutely tell a few people your living in a van just so they can check up on you and also offer help as you adjust to this lifestyle.
Just don’t advertise that your urban camping to the world. What's the point of that?
It could do more harm than good to your self-esteem and general mindset, especially in the beginning.
Cons of Van Life - Mental health
It sounds cliché but you need to go out of your way to be kind to yourself when living in a van.
There are times when this lifestyle can make us feel like an aimless drifter.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@zekedrone
Always realize that you are not the only good, moral, and intelligent person doing this.
There are a lot of us out there.
The trick to avoiding anxiety or an existential crisis is by having a measurable goal set in place while you’re living in a campervan.
Having a measurable goal gives us some purpose for doing this rather than a gnawing sense of aimlessness or “missing out”.
For example, maybe your goal is to pay off debt or save for a down payment on your own home?
Or maybe living in a van is a good option while your in the rigors of medical school?
Whatever your goal is, just make sure you have one that you can track and see progress in week by week.
This will help you stay motivated and optimistic.
"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien
Cons of Van Life - Dating
Look, obviously I don’t know your personal situation.
Maybe you’re in a relationship.
Or perhaps you’re the type who easily attracts the opposite sex (or whoever you’re into)
I’ll just stick to my own experience with dating and living in a van for now...
Dating while living in a campervan can be a bit of a challenge if you’re a single dude who isn’t exactly a spring chick anymore.
Thru-out most of my 20’s, I was not very ambitious and was living only to party.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@vanessavotta
As a result, I didn’t achieve very much in terms of completing college, investing, buying a home or any of that stuff back then.
My biggest achievement was getting sober before 30 (which I’m also very proud of).
I’m at a point in life where I’m playing “catch up” and putting in the work that I could have been putting in during my 20’s.
Now, could I go out there and date women who are ok with me living in a van?
Yes, there are many fish in the sea, but dating and relationships often take from us a lot of time and resources.
I’m not willing to make time for that right now, but maybe you’re in a different mode than I am?
My goal right now is to work on myself and focus on getting ahead in life.
Now, do I still approach woman who I think are interesting and attractive?
Yes, but only when it is convenient and does not interfere with my mission in life.
Again, that is just me. I don’t know your situation.
Cons of Van Life - Finding Privacy
No, I’m not referring to the dating type of privacy (you can always get a hotel for that).
I’m talking about the “alone time” that some of us need for our spiritual health.
This is a need I took for granted and did not anticipate before living in a campervan.
Look, dwelling in a regular house provides us with a level of privacy that is indeed wonderful.
For example, living in a house makes it quite easy to get a few minutes of uninterrupted quiet time for meditation and prayer.
These periods of reflection are a form of insurance that help prevent us from making foolish mistakes.
You would think time for this would be easy to accomplish for us in a van, but I found this is not always the case.
And good luck finding a quiet spot to pray/meditate outside when people are jogging and walking their dogs all around you!
Talk about a living hell...
My point is that if you can solve this issue of creating just a little private time for your spiritual/mental health then life will be much easier for you.
It all boils down to this: Routine.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@unarchive
Everything became much easier when I created a van living routine for myself.
For example, when I wake up in the morning, I have 3 meditation books that I read in my van (after I have moved from my parking spot).
These are not long books; they are little daily passages that are spiritually based and get my mind in the right place before starting the day.
After reading my little books, I spend maybe 5-15 minutes of time for prayer.
I also visualize my goals and everything I plan to accomplish for that day.
This little routine is all done sitting in the driver’s side of my van right outside the gym.
In the gym, I use moderate exercise as a sort of “moving meditation” to get those feel good endorphins activated.
After work later in the evening, there is a dedicated spot where I can sit down and be completely alone for my daily practice of 5 to 30 mins of meditation.
Creating your routine so that it includes quiet time for your spiritual health is paramount when it comes to living in your van.
"Meditation nourishes the mind the same way that food nourishes the body" Headspace
before we move on, let me emphasize that one of first things you need to do is find out how you’re going to black out the windows of your campervan!
I suggest you tint your windows, but you can also make your own van blackout shades if your really on a budget.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@majorfluff
I went into more detail about how to black out your windows in this article here: https://www.regalnomad.com/post/van-life-in-2022-tips-tricks-and-practical-advice
Once your windows are tinted/covered it truly makes a world of difference for privacy.
Cons of Van Life - Using the bathroom
Think about it, while living in a house you can easily just wake up and make your way out of bed to the bathroom.
Then, you have the choice of either going back to bed or taking a nice shower to wash the sleep off.
Well, when you’re living in a van, it’s not quite so simple!
Simple things like using the bathroom and basic hygiene take more time, effort, and planning on your part.
If you’re a guy, then keeping a simple Gatorade bottle handy is a must for van living!
The mouth of these bottles are wide enough to accommodate any mistakes you might make in the dark.
Also guys, I suggest you get some rubbing alcohol for easy disinfection of your Gatorade bottle. This will cost you around $4.
As far as going #2 in the van goes... well, I use public facilities whenever possible.
However, in case of a 3am emergency I do have a coffee can, gloves, baby wipes, and a roll of plastic garbage bags just in case.
I know... I'm primitive
Cons - Van Life Cost
"If traveling was free, you would never see me again" Pinterest
When I was living in a house, I thought sleeping in my van would cost next to nothing compared to paying rent each month.
After all, I was never into the idea of converting a Sprinter or Dodge van to include modifications like a kitchen, bathroom, or even a bed!
So how much could it possibly cost living in a van?
Well, the truth is that even without modifications, it’s still not 100% free living for us.
There are hidden costs.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@blankerwahnsinn
If you want to save money, then it takes some serious effort and planning.
For example, food.
Unless you invest in setting up a stove for your van, food can cost you a lot of money.
Without a stove, your put in a position to constantly be eating fast food all the time, multiple times per day.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@amgee88
Now, in theory you could just live off the dollar menu, but even that ends up costing us a lot of money.
And besides, what about your health?
We’re not just talking about your physical body but also your mental health as well.
Have you seen the documentary “30 days”?
It was an experiment where a man eats nothing but fast food for 30 days to see if it takes a toll on his health.
At the end of the 30 days, the man was in need of serious help mentally and physically!
In other words, I don’t recommend eating too much fast food while living in a van.
Remember, you need to take extra care of your mental health as well as your body.
So, what can you do?
Well, allow me to share some tips when it comes to eating healthy on the road.
1) Get a Subway card.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@matheus_bardemaker
Yes, although Subway is technically fast food, there is no denying that it is healthy and cheap if you do it right.
I like to put $100 on a Subway gift card each month.
I ask the sandwich artist to stuff a foot long sub full of every single vegetable they have.
Just a little cheese & topped with olive oil for extra fat.
This sandwich looks absolutely beautiful and is extremely healthy.
I like to eat one of these every few days just to have a consistent supply of vegetables.
~Here is a list of other food items that are great for Vanlife:
Taco bell bean burritos – Cheap, filling, and healthy for the most part.
Canned tomatoes – Research says these are actually healthy out of the can.
Bush’s Baked Beans – Great for when your starving and in need of protein and sugar. I like to eat them raw.
Ranch Style Beans – VERY delicious and filling. Look for the Jalapeno flavor at Walmart.
Canned Fish – Sardines, Tuna, Anchovies, etc.
Granola bars – There are so many options to choose from. My favorite is the “Almond Butter Biscuits” because they are the most filling.
Bread – It’s always good to have regular bread on hand just to satisfy your stomach.
Jumbo Jack– If you have Jack in the Box restaurants near you then you got to try this sandwich because they always pack it full of fresh crunchy vegetables.
Side Salad from Jack in the Box: For $2 you can get a big serving of crunchy salad!
Bagels – You can buy these ready to eat from most grocery stores for .50 cents each.
Panera Bread – If you have Panera bread in your area this is a great place to get coffee and free refills. You can also charge your phone and laptop.
I also happen to be in a situation where my work allows me free access to an oven and stove.
A few days a week, I like to cook pasta & steamed vegetables.
Paper bowls come in handy here because I always take this opportunity to cook 2 or 3 meals for the road.
That’s about it as far as my food choices go. I keep it very simple!
"Less comfort, more life"
Cost – Gym Membership
As mentioned earlier, staying clean by having regular access to a shower is an essential need when living in your van.
Maybe you’re planning on installing some kind of shower system to your van?
That’s not me. Besides, living in a city makes it hard to just take a shower in the open like you can out in the boonies.
I decided to go and sign up for a gym membership.
For about $30 per month I have access to several gym locations within my area.
Words cannot describe how awesome it is to have a consistent place to shower each day.
It truly makes living in a van much easier!
If you shop around, you can find gym memberships in the $10-$20 range.
"There's no half-singing in the shower, you're either a rock star or an opera diva" Brainy Quote
Cost – Mailbox
Where do you plan to receive mail while living in a van?
Because having an address and the ability to receive mail is very important.
I decided to just purchase my own personal mailbox.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/es/@tjevans
Truthfully, this is something I should have done many years ago, even though I've always had a house to live in...
Now I am free from worry knowing that all my mail will never get into the hands of old roommates or ex-girlfriends!
UPS stores are great because they will give you an actual address instead of a PO BOX number.
My suggestion is that you shop around different UPS locations for any specials they may have.
I pay for my mailbox every 3 months which comes out to about $27 each month.
Costs - Storage Unit
When you live in a van, you need to be comfortable being a minimalist.
I always considered myself a hardcore minimalist until the time came to live in my van.
It did not take long for me to realize that my van is only big enough to fit the basic necessities of life.
Things like important papers, furniture, and extra clothes are items that are best kept out of the van.
For safety and practicality, I don’t recommend keeping sentimental or important items in your van, you want to travel very light and keep things simple.
Therefore, I purchased a small storage unit that’s centrally located in my city.
For $70 per month, I get to keep all my extra things out of the way so I can focus on my work and keep my van free from clutter.
Photo by: https://unsplash.com/@the9ty5
Van Life Cost – Gas
Expect to use up a lot of extra gas in the beginning because you need to find several spots you feel safe parking in overnight.
It’s not a good idea to just pick 1 or 2 places to park your van when you go to sleep.
You’re going to need at least 10 spots that your comfortable parking your Van on a rotation every few weeks or so.