Van life, that sounds romantic. To be free to go wherever you want, when you want, and take your house with you. But what is the reality of living in a van? Is it as good as we think? Can it get lonely to live in a van?
In this article, we will dig deeper into this way of living, see what the pros and cons are, and if living in a van can be lonely. We interview Sasha, who has lived on a bus with her husband Jeff for two years. Read on to find out more.
What is van life?
Van life relates to people living in a converted van, truck, bus, or recreational vehicle (RV). The van functions as their house. There is a distinction between those who have found a fixed spot for their van, and those who use their van on weekends and holidays for travel. Then there is the group of people that travel around in their van. This last group of people is living the life of a nomad.
In this article, we focus on nomadic van life, since that greatly differs from living in a fixed spot, be it in a van or a traditional house.
Furthermore, we have made the distinction between living solo and living as a couple. Being alone or living with others can affect levels of loneliness if there are any at all.
Solo van life
So you are alone in your van, going where life takes you and staying as long as you like. You will sometimes drive for hours, and see and experience nature, cities, and highways. If something happens, you will have to solve it alone or ask people for help. In that sense, leading a solo van life may be more social than one would think. Somehow one does strike up a conversation with a stranger more easily than when you are with a partner or family – when being with others there is simply less need to do so.
Of course, you will not embark on a solo van life adventure if you are an extrovert person who hates to be alone. You are probably the kind of person who likes to reflect and enjoy having time on your hands without interruptions. There will be no one to tell you what to do, you can make all the decisions. Sometimes that may be just what you need.
Maybe you are leading a solo van life because you felt the need to do so; maybe you broke up and needed time to heal, or maybe you just wanted a change and left everything behind. To be a nomad in life can be a phase in life, it does not have to last a life long.
If you like being alone and can enjoy yourself whilst being alone, then solo van life can be suitable for you. If you enjoy driving, meeting new people, working remotely, or looking for jobs in different places, then this lifestyle seems fitting for you. Maybe you like to draw, read, or take photographs, or have a business that you can manage online.
The relationships that you will build, will be short though. That does not mean that they are superficial. Meetings with strangers for example can leave a great impact on someone. But let us not downplay the fact that relationships in general take time to build and deepen. If you are leading a nomadic lifestyle, there will be no time to develop these relationships into something deeper. This is perfectly ok; it just depends on what you feel comfortable with.
Let us conclude by saying that if you are looking for deep relationships, a solo van life may be too lonely for you. Of course, one can have short relationships when living in a traditional house. But in these cases, one usually has the option to visit friends, family, and local shops, sports clubs, and restaurants for example, where people know you. In a more sedentary life, you will have a network, and a support system around you, and when you are traveling, this is not the case.
Of course, there can be online contact, but this is not as fulfilling as real physical contact.
If there are places that you like and where you can even have a job, you might stay there for a while and build up a social life. Loneliness will most probably not be an issue for you in this case.
Maybe you prefer to keep quiet and just be alone. Solo van life will not make you lonely at all if this is how you best function in life.
Van life for a couple
In this section of the article, we interview Sasha, wife of Jeff. In 2017 they decided to buy a bus and start the van life.
Hello Sasha, can you tell us a little bit about how it came to be that you and Jeff made the change and started living on a bus?
‘Sure. When my grandmother died, in 2018, in New Mexico, she had been living in a very small RV for years. My husband Jeff and I thought, maybe this is a good step for us. If grandma at 72 years old could pull it off, why not us?
We went back to Pittsburgh, where we ran an engineering company. Our office was based in Calgary as well. We wanted to live in a bus to travel with it as well, for work. This would save us a lot of overhead costs, such as paying for hotels and flights. This way we would be able to stay as long as we wanted: we would be able to have twenty meetings within a couple of weeks, instead of doing all of this within one week, for example. If needed we would rent office space for a month for example. This is of course much cheaper than having to rent a space all year long. So businesswise living in a bus had a lot of advantages.
Up till buying the bus, we had been working 24/7, for six years. It was too much, a change was needed. We started searching the internet for more information about van life. We started watching videos on Youtube. We had already had a camper before, so we knew what it was like to travel and stay in a vehicle. We decided to go for it.’
Was it a lot of work to renovate the bus?
‘Yes, you could put it that way. We spent about six months renovating it. We planned to live in it for about five years. It was a second-hand bus that we bought in Baltimore. My husband Jeff moved all the wires in the bus because we needed a secure and stable internet connection. He managed to do that very well.’
How long have you traveled on your bus?
‘For about two years. We were working and traveling a lot. We moved to the States, to Pittsburgh. And we went to Texas, because that is where all the oil is and that was the right place for us to be businesswise.’
What are the disadvantages of living on a bus?
‘I guess the costs: the technical parts are not as strong as you would have in a house, and they are more expensive to repair or to buy. And technical parts are just more quickly in a bus than in a house, so that adds up in costs.
And, you need a car to complement your bus, since your bus will be too large to go into town, for example. So we had a jeep, and it was pulled by the bus, to save gas. You could also opt for a bicycle or take Ubers all the time, but for us, a jeep worked best.
To fill up the tank of our bus would cost us $400, and this was in 2018. These days, that would cost even more. So gasoline is also a big one when it comes to costs.
Then there is the RV parc; which can cost you anywhere between $400 and $1000. On top of that, you will have electricity bills. There are free RV parks, but then a bus of our size would not be able to park there. Furthermore, these places tend to be near the ocean, which is nice, but not for our bus. The salty water and air are bad for the bus, it causes corrosion.’
Is it lonely, van life?
‘Lonely? No. Sometimes you go through a phase, you have your moments during such a phase. But such a grieving phase is part of life, of probably every big change in your life.
At some parks, we met wonderful people. I am still in touch with some of the people we met along the way. Sure, it was no fun leaving behind all these nice people: if we would have stayed, then these interesting connections would have been able to deepen. But leaving is part of van life. We all had wheels and were on the move, so it is something that brings mutual understanding.
I wish that more friends and family had visited us. We stayed at some great places, and although we did not have a spare bed, of course, there are always options for having guests in the park or nearby. Maybe people could not relate to our way of living, I don’t know.
I never felt lonely; I was never bored, I always found things to do, and I would venture out doing stuff, be in the city or out in the countryside. Sometimes Jeff would be away for a couple of weeks, but that did not bother me in the least. If Jeff was by himself, he would just work and work, he would not be lonely either.’
How do you decide where to stay, and where to go?
‘If you get to a park, you will straight away know: do I want to stay here or not. Some parks were not that great, to say the least.
Because we were working, we needed to be close to an airport, in case Jeff would have to travel. We would map everything out, via a website where we would plan an itinerary. The website then calculates how many miles that is, takes the size of your bus into account, and then it finds you an itinerary of getting from A to B along van parks.
While Jeff would be working, I would be behind the steering wheel. We traveled quite a bit with our bus; to Vancouver, Calgary, and to different places within the States.’
Why did you sell the bus after three years?
‘I regret quitting van life, I loved it. After two years, we planned on doing three more. Then there was the Covid shutdown. We were in Texas at the time, but there were more and more restrictions put into place. Our clients stopped working, people did not go to work or travel, and there was hardly any usage of oil and gas. This had an impact on our business, and we decided to call it quits: our business, our bus – we sold everything.
You see, van parks were shut down, and the ones that were open posed all kinds of restrictions on visitors. For example, to make use of a park, we had to provide for our own water, shower, and toilet. It was becoming increasingly difficult to live the van life, in our case.
We had to cover all the costs of our bus and had fewer customers. This was not a good situation. So we sold the bus. We had been contemplating emigrating to Central America for quite a few years, and although we had not planned to make the leap so soon, we decided to go for it now.
We moved to Nicaragua and bought our property here in the South, at the beach. We have our house here, an orchard, and a vegetable garden. Currently, we are in the process of building a hotel. Ofcourse we are working hard again, to make it work out.
As for van life, I would love to do it again, even if it was just for a couple of months, and I recommend it to others. It can open up your mind, to experience all of that freedom, and to let go of so many things.’
Thank you Sasha for sharing your story with us.
Van life does not seem lonely, as long as you enjoy being by yourself, and are open to meeting new people and also saying goodbye to them after a while. Van life can open up your mind, and cut a lot of costs, as we have read in the interview with Sasha. Our conclusion: the pros certainly seem to outweigh the cons.
Thank you for reading our article, we hope that you feel inspired by this article, and we wish you all the best on your tiny living life journey!