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thinking About Van Life?
Is van life worth it? If you are asking this question you must have given van life some thought already.
It starts with a dream, maybe scrolling through social media or talking with people who have ‘van lifed’ before you. Taking a few months (or years) off and hitting the open road without a plan is an undeniably attractive ambition. As the idea grows, you begin to consider if you really could see yourself living on the road full time.
But the more this idea percolates, the more other question begin to surface. Will I be comfortable? Will it give me what I’m looking for? What will it cost me? Ultimately, will van life be worth it?
While I can’t possibly answer that question for you. I can share some of our insights into what parts of van life are worthwhile for us, and which parts we could do without.
Like anything else, the answer to this question can change with each new day as our goals and needs change. But if you are considering van life as a possibility in your future let’s take a step back and consider the good, the bad, the ugly, and the sublime parts of van life.
Van Life Pros and Cons
+ Van Life Encourages Minimalist Living
There is a lot to say (and a lot which has been said) about the virtues of embracing a more minimal approach to life.
When you can only take with you what you can fit in a van, you are forced to consider what things really add to lives and which are just taking up space.
Living out of a van for any significant period of time (much like backpacking, camping, or hiking) is a powerful lesson in living with less and one that is likely to continue to impact the way you live long after you hang up the car keys.
Careful wardrobe selection, meal planning, packing, and creative solutions to problems of space and storage are among the skills you will build living on the road. The limited space available in a van also teaches you to think outside the box to be better at using the tool and resources you do have to do more.
+ It is Much Cheaper to Live in a Van
Life in the van is undoubtedly cheaper than living in an apartment.
For one thing, the expense of housing, be it rent or mortgage repayments can be eliminated. Other costs associated with running a home like electricity, phone and internet bills, water, plus maintenance and upkeep costs will be reduced if not deleted.
Money spent on lifestyle and entertainment was also reduced for us as we spent our evenings and weekends around a campfire or hiking in a national park, rather than out at a bar, concert, or restaurant.
We are able to live fuller lives, spend more time doing the things we enjoy, and travel more than we ever have before while spending less and saving more than we ever have before.
+ You’ll Spend More Time Living
Life at home has become so efficient. Machines wash and clean for us. Food can be ordered over the internet and delivered to your door. Today, many of us don’t even have to leave the house to work.
Apps take care of our chores and life admin. We don’t need to stand in line at the bank. Anything we need can be delivered direct to our door at the click of a mouse, so we don’t need to drive to the store. An unlimited stream of entertainment is available to us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
With all the time we save how do we reinvest it? If you are like us, probably not well. Flicking through work emails, scrolling social media, streaming tv series, we seem to manage to fill our days with more work or by inventing mindless ways to ‘kill’ the time.
Life on the road is different.
You have no choice but to spend your time doing. Researching routes and campsites. Finding water. Setting up a camp. Cooking dinner and washing up in a plastic tub. For many, that might not sound appealing. After all, we have spent so much time and effort making our lives easier it might be hard to imagine chucking in all that newfound convenience and time.
For us, it has represented a return to living. Spending time together shopping at a local market to buy ingredients for the evening meal. Finding a campsite and building a fire, preparing dinner together, and arguing over whose turn it is to do the washing up. I rarely feel like I’m missing out on the luxuries of modern life and take genuine pleasure in these ordinary moments that we have so diligently avoided in the past.
+ You Will Experience a New Sense of Freedom
Waking up and realizing there is no way around going to work. Not just today, but for the imaginable future. Weekends becoming a repetitive blur. There were times when our lives at home would become stifling. This feeling was part of the reason we gave up the grind to try a nomadic lifestyle.
By comparison, waking up and realizing, not only do you not need to clock in to work today, but you can go literally wherever you want and do whatever you want, not just today but for the imaginable future, is a truly liberating and exhilarating feeling.
+ You Will See New Places and Things in a Way You Haven’t Before
Not only can van life give you a greater possibility to see more new places it will allow you to see them in a brand new way.
Wake up at the beach. Fall asleep under the stars. Van life means staying in some truly special places. We have camped on the Salt Flats of Bolivia and the beaches of Mexico. We have spent evenings in the Andes and mornings in the desert. The list of remarkable spots we have had the opportunity to see and experience grows longer every week.
Better still, when the weekend warriors head home on Sunday evening for work on Monday morning, we get the national parks, beaches, and wild places to ourselves.
We can travel to remote places most won’t get the opportunity to travel to by car because it takes weeks or months to get there. If we love it we can stay as long as we like, if we don’t we can just keep moving.
Of course, not everyone who takes up the van life will roam so far from home. But the opportunity to travel by van is one of the greatest benefits of van life.
+ Van Life Will Broaden Your Perspective
When we lived in a neighborhood and worked in an office, we were surrounded by the same scenery and the same people every day. We had limited exposure to different cultures, mindsets, and ways of life.
Van life will introduce you to a million new places, people, and circumstances allowing you to develop a far deeper understanding of the ways different people live around the world.
Whether it’s just getting out of your suburb or traveling through a different country entirely, traveling and van life broadens our perspective in a way few other things can.
+ Van Life Challenges You to Grow as a Person
Van life isn’t always easy, but it does always challenge you. You will likely live almost permanently outside your comfort zone.
Every day is a crash course in something new. Be it mechanical repairs, “house” repairs, negotiation, conflict resolution, or just generally learning how to cope with brand new situations and scenarios every day.
If you travel abroad you may be forced to learn a different language or at least the art of non-verbal communication.
Van life challenges us in a way that our comfortable lives at home could not, helping us to continue to grow and develop each day.
– Van Life Can Be Uncomfortbale
The way of life we have become accustomed to at home is not achievable for most van builds. With only a tiny interior space, there isn’t any room for comfy couches, airconditioning units, full-sized fridges, broadband internet, dishwashing machines, or other everyday appliances.
For those on a tight budget or those that choose a smaller van, even a full-sized mattress or indoor chair might not be on the cards.
You won’t have access to the conveniences of home like a fixed address where you can order pizza or Amazon.
In a world designed to constantly sell these modern conveniences to us, it can be hard letting go and adjusting to a more spartan existence in the van.
– Van Life Can Be Dirty
Many van builds don’t come with a proper shower. And even when they do, relying on tank water means that you need to be conservative with your baths.
This means van life often means less showering than more traditional lifestyles.
For some, this can be a difficult adjustment, especially when traveling through warm areas, or for people who spend their time in the outdoors getting dirty.
– The Cost to Begin Can be High
Depending on your personal needs the cost to buy a van can be prohibitive, especially if you aren’t 100% sure you are ready to embrace van life.
Even basic builds can cost several thousand dollars when you consider needs like electrical systems, insulation, water storage, and basic kitchen and sleeping gear. For more elaborate set-ups costs can easily blow out into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
– It’s Harder to Find Work Living in a Van
If your career trajectory, or at least being able to earn a decent wage is important to you then van life can create some challenges.
While not insurmountable, you will likely need to work twice hard to work effectively from the road, and 10 times as hard to convince people to hire you.
With the rise of remote work and the rapid improvement of the internet infrastructure, this obstacle is becoming less and less important, however, the added challenge of working from the road is something you will need to weigh up when considering if van life is worth it.
– You Can Feel Like a Failure
Van life is a totally radical lifestyle change. It’s one that is hard to embrace and take up, and even once you have you will constantly be questioning if you made the right decision.
When we compare ourselves to others, either other people in van life, or people living traditional lifestyles, it can be easy to think that they look happier, more successful, and wealthier than us.
Remember that comparison is the thief of joy and we are all here to run our own race. Likely the same people that you compare yourself to will be looking at your life thinking you have it made.
– The Stigma of Van Life
Some people will always have a hard time understanding why anyone would choose to live in a car voluntarily. There are a certain number of people who will just assume you are homeless or insane or both.
If having people pre-judge you for your lifestyle choice bothers you then van life could be a non-starter when asking yourself is van life worth it.
– Too Much Freedom Can Be a Bad Thing
Without a regular job or a regular schedule, our lives can start to feel untethered.
You will need self-discipline if you want to make van life a long-term or permanent lifestyle choice.
Without the self-discipline and self-motivation to maintain a regular and productive schedule alongside the everyday demands of van life, life could become unsatisfying and frustrating.
– Van Life Can Be Isolating
Without access to our social network or the external motivation that we might normally get to socialize, van life can be isolating.
Van life often means traveling far from friends and family. Without this network, one source of social interaction dries up. It also means you will need to work to maintain those existing relationships.
While there are plenty of opportunities to interact with people, you won’t have the forced interactions that you would have in traditional life, going to the office or attending celebrations and events. Instead, the onus to initiate and create social interaction is on you.
– You Will Miss Out on Sharing Important Moments
Living on the road means you won’t be able to make it home for every milestone.
You will miss key moments like birthdays, weddings, holidays, and graduations, as well as everyday moments that we often take for granted when we are in the same location as our loved ones.
You will also miss out on the opportunity to share your own moments with friends and family. Despite the fact that we are more connected than ever before, van life can still create a barrier between us and the people we leave behind.
– Things Can (and Will) Go Wrong On The Road
There are plenty of things that can go wrong on the road. When something happens on the road the consequences can be severe.
Without a support network, you will need to handle problems yourself.
When something happens to your vehicle it also happens to your home.
Where you travel can also exacerbate problems. Solving serious issues in remote regions is one challenge. Navigating problems in a foreign language can create another if you find yourself abroad.
We have contended with break-ins, fires, riots, breakdowns, illness, and much more on the road, all of which have been made much trickier due to our lifestyle.
– There Will Be Plenty of Mundane Moments Along the Way
It isn’t all epic campsites and nightly bonfires. There are more nights spent camping at gas stations than on the beach. More time spent collecting water than sinking beers around a campfire.
A lot of adjusting to van life is becoming comfortable with the fact that this lifestyle isn’t a constant Instagram story.
It has highs and lows, exciting moments and dull moments, happy and sad times just like any other.
If you’re looking for a life of constant excitement and good times then van life may not be for you.
So, Is Van Life WOrth IT? Is Van LIfe Worth IT to You?
Obviously, deciding on whether van life is worth it will be a very personal question and one that is hard to answer without knowing you. But the fact that you are here asking the questions says that you might owe it to yourself to find out.
Kelli and I were only a month into our first van life trip when we decided we wanted to do van life for the foreseeable future. Funnily enough, we were in the Atacama Desert, living in trying conditions. Stinking hot days. Freezing cold nights. Gusting winds and sand everywhere. We had been stranded here near the border of Chile for weeks and our tempers and nerves were frayed. Yet, it was clear to us that this was an adventure that was just beginning, and one that we would have to see through to the end.
You too will quickly discover whether the van life really is for you or not. Whether you relish the challenge and struggle or if you prefer to keep things simple.
Try Before You Buy
Before you sell off all your worldly possessions and set out into the unknown and try living out of a car on a temporary basis. Give yourself time to really understand this lifestyle at least a few weeks but better still a few months. You will discover if it is the love affair you thought it might be or the complete disaster you were afraid of.
Just Do It
Above all just do it. You are here because you thought at some stage you might like to try van life. So give it a go. The worst thing that could happen is that you decide, ‘Nah, not for me.’
See you down the road!
Hopefully, we have given you a little bit of insight into the pros and cons of van life. But if you need a little bit more help deciding if van life is worth it for you, please feel free to drop us a question in the comments below!
Looking for more van life insights?
- How to Start Van Life in 12 Simple Steps
- 16 of the Best Van Life Blogs in 2021
- 8 Simple Van Life Tips for Living on the Road in a Van
- Van Life Cooking: The Complete Guide
- 51 Simple Van Life Hacks and Tips You Need to Know Before You Hit the Road
- Van Life Food Ideas: 7 Disgustingly Simple Van Life Meals
- Van Life Horror Stories: 9 Terrifying Moments From the Road
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