Living in a van isn’t like the instagram photos you see every day. Being a part of van life is one of the best things I’ve ever done, but for many it can be daunting or feel like a major change that’s not worth the risk. Do you have what it takes for campervan living?
After spending two years on and off living in a van, I’ve learned that it takes a special person to be able to live in a van (either by themselves or with a partner or pets) and there’s much more to consider than the age-old question of, “Where do you go to the bathroom?” If you’re on the fence about living in a campervan, here’s almost everything you need to consider and know before you take the leap.
How to Know if You’re Made for Campervan Living
Before you dive into what you’d need to make campervan living the right fit for you, you need to ask yourself if you are the kind of person who can live this lifestyle. Van life is not for the weak hearted and often comes with unknowns around every corner.
Common Traits Across Campervan Lifers
I’ve found that the best people who have chosen campervan living for extended periods of time have the following traits:
- Willing to learn
- Not Motivated by creature comforts
- Able to manage unpredictability
Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these points.
Resiliency is Key For Campervan Life
Be able to take life as it comes and figure out solutions to problems that you would never expect. This is a daily experience for vanlifers. You often find out you can’t camp at a certain place you found online or that a road is closed so you can’t get to your next destination without driving several hours around your initial route.
You’ll have to figure out next steps on the fly, (and if you’re like me, with limited cell service) so be resilient and flexible enough to go where the road takes you.
For Campervan Newbies … Be Willing to Learn
You must be willing to learn and have some knowledge about your van’s make, model, and upgrades. You’re probably laughing at me for suggesting you should know a thing or two about your vehicle when there are mechanics out there, but the number of times I’ve run into an issue with my van and had to fix it in the middle of nowhere is more than I’d like to remember.
From a dead battery that left us stranded on BLM land 15 miles outside of town (and where our roadside assistance couldn’t get to us to tow us out) to having a full blown turbo/engine blowout in the middle of the highway, things come up and you have to figure out how to address it and get help quickly.
Are you willing to learn more about your van now that it’s your home? If so, you’re probably a good candidate for campervan living.
Living the Van Life is a Fit for Those with an Adventurous Spirit
You really need to have a sense of adventure and motivation to be on the road for van life to be a good fit. This is probably the easiest characteristic to have if you’re thinking about van life.
Most of us want to live on the road to be able to see the world and get outside. But it’s important that you have a motivation to be on the road or you might find yourself in the same spot for a long time wondering what you’re doing with your life.
Your motivation behind why you’re starting van life will help you get through the hardest challenges that come with it.
Unphased by the Lack of Luxury Comforts
Can you live without creature comforts? Even if you build creature comforts into your rig, you are still living in a metal box on wheels and likely traveling to remote areas. There will be times where you are uncomfortable on the open road.
A great example of this is dumping your own waste out of your toilet (if you even have one built in your rig), or having to go to the bathroom outside if you don’t have a toilet.
That’s a pretty direct statement. Well, if you’re unphased after reading that, you likely have what it takes for campervan living!
Get What You Need and Leave Out What You Don’t Need
You’re the type of person who knows exactly what you need and exactly what you don’t to live. You will have to refill on things like groceries, water, and fuel more often. You won’t be able to stockpile much.
You’ll also have to cut down on the clothing/gear you bring with you, especially if you have a partner. It’s always fun to fight over who gets just one more inch of drawer space than the other. 🙂
Deal With Uncertainty and Manage Unpredictable Situations
Can you deal with smells, noises, and unfamiliar situations? There are many times on a road trip when you end up at a rest stop because you’re too tired to go on, or because there are simply no other options in the area.
You might get a knock on your door at 2AM and have to leave a parking lot that you didn’t know prohibits overnight access. Or, when you’re dumping the waste from your composting toilet at a campground things spill out everywhere. Neither is a fun experience, but it is a reality of campervan living.
If you can manage these types of unpredictable situations, know this – it happens to all of us on the road at some point. So the good thing is, your experience isn’t a lonely one!
Can You Afford Campervan Living?
There are a lot of pros and cons to campervan living, one being that if you’re on the road and you’re smart with your campsite choices, grocery shopping, and utilities (water/fuel/etc.), it can actually be cheaper than living in a house.
That is if you find a great van that is affordable and you can save up for any mechanical issues that may occur after thousands of miles of driving.
Creature Comforts Demand a High Price Tag
For the high-end, fully built out campervans, you’ll need a lot of cash to get started. Most campervans that are fully built out with solar panels for power capacity of some kind, and have running water come with a hefty price tag.
Even used campervans that have 100,000+ miles on them are going for a little under six figures these days. It’s definitely expensive and can be worth upgrading your rig over time.
I always suggest starting off with a very primitive campervan to see if you can really go the long haul. There will be times where your campervan is out of commission or you’ll have to sit and wait for a while with your van on the side of the road. You need to know that you can live with the bare minimum in your van for a day or two before you fully commit to the lifestyle.
Budget for Ongoing Maintenance and Repairs
Another thing to keep in mind is that some campervans are too big for standard mechanic shops to work on them, so it’s important that you know what you’re getting into before you commit to a campervan build.
Never rush into campervan living before you’re ready to financially commit to making your vehicle your home because just like any home…there will be repairs and issues you can’t foresee coming your way and that more often than not will cost you a pretty penny to get you back on the road!
Campervan Living is Best Done When You Have Support
One of the hardest parts of van living is giving up your rooted community wherever you live now. Whether that be family or friends, it’s hard to keep in touch when you’re on the road and it can often get lonely if you’re traveling alone most of the time.
If you don’t have supportive friends or family, it can be even more difficult when something goes wrong. You may need a place to crash for a night or two while your van is getting repaired or you might just want a night away from figuring out all the logistics of how to get the basics you need and find a campsite every night.
Whatever it is, it’s important that you have some sort of support system behind you in case things get difficult out there on your campervan adventure.
If you don’t have a great support system from family or friends, the good news is that there are thousands of people out there living on the road who can also be a source of support!
If you’re willing to reach out to your campsite neighbors as you travel or join a Facebook group of vanlifers, you’ll find a supportive community that can offer you advice you might not get from other people in your life who have never lived in a campervan.
Are You a Good Fit For Living in a Campervan?
Most people I know who have been successful at van life have been able to minimize their things and maximize their experiences. I believe I was made for campervan living because I’m motivated to be as close to the outdoors as possible, am willing to travel all over to find the best views, and that all of the things I need are very minimal (a few pairs of shoes, pants, shirts, and my dogs). I’m also okay with having to restock on the basics pretty often, dump my own waste, and can live without shower facilities for a while.
If you’re able to get down and dirty, get over the challenges of logistically living a full-time van life, and are ready for whatever life throws your way…I’d say you’re ready to give it a shot!
Not sure if you’re ready for full time campervan living? Rent a campervan for a few days and find out!
Erin is rooted in South Dakota, but wanders every chance she gets to see the beauty that nature holds. From hiking to climbing, there’s not an adventure she’ll turn down.
After renovating her 1976 Airstream Argosy, Erin knows the ins and outs of living life on the road and trailer maintenance.
Whether she’s on the road with her dog and partner or at home curled up with a good book, Erin is always planning her next adventure because life is meant to be lived outdoors.