Freedom and adventure on the open road have a constant allure for many. Vanlife offers one of the easiest ways to hit the road and explore the country while also a good option for an affordable, sustainable place to live long-term.
As someone who converted and lived in a van for quite a while, there are some essential questions you should ask yourself to find out if living in a van is a long-term option.
Maintenance and Inevitable Mishaps
No matter how tricked out, every van is a vehicle at its core. Your van will require regular maintenance, as will the fixtures, electronics, plumbing, and everything else inside.
If you live in your van long enough and put enough miles on it, something will break down, and eventually, it will be expensive and time-consuming to fix. Having a set plan in place for what to do if your home needs a week at the mechanic’s is an essential step to make living long-term vanlife more sustainable.
It’s also critical to internalize that sometimes things just go wrong. There will be flat tires, terrible weather, and even times when you want to be anywhere but in your van. Think about what you’ll do in those situations and try to build in some kind of release valve or reset your emotions surrounding life in a van.
Family and Vanlife
Living in a van can be perfect for single folks, but adding in a partner, and especially kids, complicates things quickly. Realistically a van is only large enough for one to two people long-term.
If you’re planning to have a family at some point you’re almost certainly going to need to either settle down or trade up to a larger alternative living situation. Thankfully tiny homes, RVs, and skoolies are great options for families that still want to live out their adventures.
Vanlife Legal, Medical, and Administrative
Mail, and specifically a mailing address, is something you always have to keep on top of in a van. If you’re traveling across the country having a legal address becomes problematic at best.
It’s not just about mail though, as being without an address makes lots of essential tasks way more complicated. Renewing your license, voting, paying state taxes, and even things like keeping a doctor or dentist appointment is a lot more difficult if you don’t have a home base to return to.
Some solve this problem using a relative or friend’s address as their own but keep in mind that doing so opens up its own potential can of legal worms. Another strong option is an RV mail forwarding service that allows use as a legal address.
Before you leave on your indefinite adventure make sure you’ve nailed down your residency status and figured out a good plan for keeping up to date with doctor visits and other essential tasks.
Finding Van Parking
The most common question I get asked about van life is where you park every night. Thankfully, there are tons of good options out there, but whether or not they’re long-term sustainable depends on your situation.
If you’re traveling, parking becomes easier to deal with but potentially harder to locate. It’s easier to deal with because you can park many places for a night or two without issue, but you have to find them when you need them. Campgrounds, some public parks, big box stores, etc, are all excellent places to start.
If you want to live in a van in a specific city or town, it can get tricky. Unless you’re planning to pay for a long-term campsite most temporary options become less usable over time.
Eventually, most businesses with overnight parking will start to remember your van and may ask you to move along sooner rather than later. Street parking can be an option, but many cities are passing anti-camping ordinances or similarly making it more difficult.
Don’t let this discourage you, as it’s possible to find parking long-term, just make sure you know what you’re getting into.
Building Sustainable Habits
From the outside living in a van can seem like one long adventure. In many ways it is, but the constant excitement of newness and novelty can wear off pretty quickly.
If you want to make vanlife long-term sustainable, you have to build enduring, workable habits around life’s daily tasks. I’m not talking about a rigid schedule of activities, just a general understanding and timetable for when you work, when you play, when you shower, clean, cook, etc.
When I first got started I noticed quickly that any time between doing something and cleaning up led to a messy, disorganized home. I had to put conscious effort into developing the habit of immediately and properly putting away every little thing I used.
Living on the road can wear you down if you don’t watch out. By building sustainable habits that reduce the number of daily decisions you have to make you can save more of yourself for the spectacular and exciting activities that make Vanlife worth living.
Making Money on the Road
One of the trickiest obstacles to overcome in long-term vanlife is how to make a living. Vanlife can be significantly more affordable than living in traditional housing, but you’ve still got the everyday expenses like food, clothing, and vehicle maintenance to cover.
Remote work is much more readily available now but that still requires a strong cell/wifi connection and the ability to work from your van. My solution was writing, but it’s not for everyone, and the mechanics of regularly working in a van take some getting used to.
When both my partner and myself needed to work or take calls the downsides of living in a van become apparent.
Consider what you do for a living now, how easily you could transition that work to full remote, and how well you’re able to focus even without an office setting.
There’s no one size fits all answer to whether vanlife is a permanent option. For some people, it definitely can be, but you need to be flexible, resilient, and able to build sustainable long-term habits and plans to make it work.
Practically, any van will eventually wear out over a long enough timeline and as your family grows it becomes less and less workable. For those who love the idea of sustainable life on the road, a van can be a great place to start before moving into an RV, skoolie, tiny house, or other larger solution.