It’s April 2017, Jacob and I are lounging by the pool of our apartment complex. We are supposed to be studying for our upcoming finals but are in deep conversation about vanlife. Images of where we will go, what we will do, and what it will be like flash through our minds.
Our desire to live vanlife came out of nowhere. One day it popped into conversation and that was it. All we could think about was living in a van. I returned home and we spent countless nights on facetime looking at vans and planning as much as we could. Every step in the right direction felt like a victory.
In August 2018, it all came together when we found our perfect van on Craigslist. Jacob, with me tagging along on facetime, headed to check out the van. The next day it was ours.
This excitement was followed by an agonising month. I sat for hours in my room, over 5,000 miles away from California and the van, watching vanlife videos on youtube. After what seemed like a lifetime, I found myself walking towards the van for the first time in an LAX multi-story carpark.
You might be thinking why anyone would want to live in a van? Why did I decide that this was how I wanted to live?
This is the most obvious reason. I am a huge believer that travelling opens our mind, makes us more tolerant and compassionate and can change our outlook on the world and ourselves. Not enough people travel these days and I believe this is one of the major causes for the current increase in racism and xenophobia (but enough on Brexit haha).
All my life I’ve ached for lands unknown. I was lucky enough to grow up with easy access to Europe and have parents who took me to visit many countries. From an early age, I knew I wanted to travel and see the world. I thrive in warm climates (which doesn’t bode well living in England) and I am fascinated by other cultures.
Vanlife, therefore, ticks all of the boxes. It allows me to travel freely and relatively cheaply. I can explore towns and leave the next day if I don’t like it, or I can stick around for months. Travelling and living in a van is like no other type of travel. There is no escaping the locals and no escaping the harsh realities of some places. However, the pros of travelling in a van far outweigh any of the negatives for me.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I hate spending money on bills. When you live in your van, this expenditure is reduced. My only utilities are petrol, gas for cooking, drinking water and laundry (all of which are relatively cheap when compared to paying for utilities, rent and petrol.)
As I don’t have to spend as much on bills, I can use my money for experiences and, most importantly, food. It feels refreshing to be able to spend the majority of my money on things that are really enhancing my life.
With bills so low, living in a van opens up the opportunity to save money. This is a big plus for me because having a comfortable savings means that if anything does go wrong, I am able to pay for it.
Don’t get me wrong, living in a van is not free. There are still expenses that add up, and it might not be as cheap as you imagine. However, it is pretty damn cheap, especially if you compare it to more mainstream ways of living.
Vanlife teaches me valuable life lessons
I’ve lived in the van for 4 months total now and I have learned a lot. I’m an impatient person but this trait has to leave fast if I want to continue to live in my van. Everything takes longer and is more effort – even brushing your teeth. The strange thing is, when I’m in the van it doesn’t bother me as much. I’m usually so excited to be doing it that having to take extra time to do things is worth it. Being impatient is a trait that isn’t useful for me so living in the van gives me the perfect opportunity to change it.
I’m learning to accept that not everything is going to go to plan, that sometimes things go wrong and you just have to deal with them. There are days when we can’t find parking anywhere or the time we woke up and our battery went from 30% to 0% in about 5 minutes meaning we had to race somewhere to charge it. Life is like that, you can’t control for the uncontrollable and I know living in my van is going to set me up well for the realities of life.
I’ve been realising that I don’t need much. I’m usually a big over packer but I noticed in the van that even the with the small amount of clothing I do have, I tend to wear the same few things over and over again. On the odd occasion, I notice that not having a toilet in my house is annoying, but for the most part, it hasn’t been an issue. I’ve learned to adapt and again, that is a very good life skill to have. I am more interested in having experiences and going to interesting places than I am about having a lot of stuff, and vanlife has really shown me that.
Meeting other people.
Although I haven’t travelled to many places in the van yet, I know that this lifestyle is going to bring me into contact with so many amazing people. As mentioned before, when you live in a van it’s harder to escape the locals, but not only that, when you’re camping up for the night you usually see other people camping there too. The prospect of meeting people from a range of different places is an aspect of vanlife that really excites me. You can learn something new from every person you meet, and there is so much I have to learn.
There are some situations where living in a van attracts unwanted attention. We have dealt with this a few times but it’s no big deal and it has been pretty easy to remove ourselves from these situations.
Freedom through vanlife
This links in with travel, but vanlife gives me so much freedom. I can have my home wherever I want and I can change that location whenever I want. I don’t have to commute to an office or have that “I hate Monday feeling.” Every day is a new and exciting adventure. Even if I’m spending the day working in a coffee shop, the knowledge that my little home on wheels is outside and that I’m living the life I love is enough to motivate me.
I can learn about myself
Along with learning life lessons, vanlife opens up the opportunity to learn about myself. Traveling to new places, meeting new people and testing my limits all show me how capable and strong I am. I’m learning what I like and where my place on this Earth is. Through living in the van I have gained so much confidence, I have figured out some of my passions and I’ve opened myself up to experiences and people a lot more. I know with the adventures I have ahead of me, this is only going to increase.
Obviously, vanlife isn’t for everyone these are just a few reasons why I have chosen this unconventional life. Let me know if you’re planning on living vanlife in the comments below!