James Dawson

FILTERS
On the road and online

Tempted by the van life? Weigh these logistical trade-offs

What to consider if the van life is calling to your inner nomad.

Often associated with hippies who “tuned out and turned on” in a VW bus back in the day, the last two years has seen a resurgence in van life with a distinctly different point of view as work shifted to remote. There are blogs dedicated to the topic, nomadic “influencers” who broadcast from the road, and even design firms who will trick out your van for maximum aesthetic and functional appeal for individuals and families.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for RVs to purchase or to rent surged as people clamored to get out of their houses and on the road, without having to board a plane. Overall, what #vanlife may have been decades ago has significantly shifted – and many are looking to this lifestyle as a permanent or semi-permanent way to travel, lower monthly housing costs or just give in to their natural wanderlust. Here’s a few things to think about before you hit the open road.

What’s your why?

Van life can satisfy your wanderlust, or it can become a way of life. Figuring out your “why” will help you evaluate if you can actually do it. Is your aim to see parts of the world you’ve never seen, will this be a temporary move for you? Or are you ready to move your life entirely on the road? Do you want to take a sabbatical? Work remotely and travel? Maybe ditch the corporate world and make an artistic hobby into a mobile, online business. Your why will map the way.

Get your van on

The anchor to this grand experiment is your van itself. Just like buying or renting a home, there are endless varieties and permutations to choose from. Do you want a fully equipped motorhome, or are you a minimalist and want to freestyle during your travels, stopping to camp? Solar panels, stowable beds, induction cooktops, swiveling upfront seats, log burner fireplaces, skylights, outdoor showers, roof decks – there are as many options as you can possibly think of. Your why will help you narrow down what you want in your van.

Budget it out

You’ll need both a budget for your startup costs and van purchase or rental, gas and food, just like for any other trip. And, gas becomes a larger expense, because you’ll only get 10 to 25 mpg.

The interplay between budget and amenities is one you need to navigate based on your personal situation. Can you do without a mini-dishwasher? Is a shower a must-have? What about sleeping arrangements? See our list of questions to help you sort through and put a plan together.

Your budget will determine if you want to buy, rent or even renovate a van, which can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on finishes, functionality and any structural issues you need to fix. A new RV can run you up to $300,000 – which surpasses the cost of a home in many areas. But you can also get a used trailer camper for $15,000. Make a list of your priorities and start your searches online, then hit local dealers to get a good sense and feel for what you might like. Don’t forget to inquire about necessary insurance.

Van questions

  • Do I want to tow a trailer or steer a van, RV or motorhome? Keep in mind a trailer requires special equipment to attach to your car, and a specific payload weight – the limit to how much your car can tow. The kind of van you choose will also determine how far you can travel each day.
  • What about hygiene needs? Do you prefer them onboard or off road?
  • Where to rest your head? In a space that mimics a traditional bedroom or under the stars for the most part?
  • What kind of kitchen setup is best for me? An induction cooktop, sink and dishwasher or a campfire and a few utensils?
  • Do I want running water in my van and a sink? If not, how will I cook, clean and shower?

Try it out: Short-term van life

Airbnb rents stationary campers across the world. If you want to get behind the wheel, try sites like rvshare.com, outdoorsy.com or rvezy.com, where you can rent a camper, van or motorhome by the night, often with unlimited miles.

Making it work for you

Logistics will vary based on your goals. If you want to sell your home and everything you own to go on the road – you can use those proceeds to finance your trip. If you’re a remote worker, where you live might not be an issue for your employer – in which case you could keep your current job and take it with you. Use your cellphone data plan for continuous connectivity, consider adding a mobile hotspot, and plug into secure, local Wi-Fi whenever you stop.

If that’s not an option, you’ll need a way to make money on the road. Skills like nursing, coding or yoga certification can come in handy wherever you choose to travel. If you’re truly ready to say goodbye to your old way of life, consider bringing a hobby or side hustle to the forefront by selling your art, jewelry or custom coffee brew roadside – just be mindful of local licensing and other regulations. You could also potentially monetize your journey by becoming a content creator – writing a blog, starting an Instagram or TikTok channel and selling ads or procuring sponsors while you are on the road. Keep in mind, you’ll need editing skills, a reliable laptop and access to Wi-fi for this option.

Other logistics

Health insurance plans generally cover you in another state for an emergency. But if you require other care or don’t have health insurance, budget for short-term health insurance, a fixed indemnity plan, or medical cost sharing nonprofit plan.

Transition any mail you can to online, cancel magazine subscriptions and the like, or rent a post box near your current home and have everything mailed there. With a full-service post box like a UPS Store, you can periodically call and have batches of mail shipped to wherever you are. Another option is General Delivery at the Post Office in whatever town you’re at. Use Amazon lockers to receive your Amazon packages.

Wherever you go, #vanlife can be full of surprise, adventure and serendipity. Planning ahead and budgeting will allow you to enjoy this road trip and enjoy the special gifts and perspectives it can bring.

Next steps:

  1. If you’re curious, consider renting a van for a weekend getaway.
  2. Talk to your advisor – what would your financial picture look like if you were to espouse van life for a month, six months, a year?
  3. Google van life on Instagram or YouTube – what do real vanlifers have to say about their experiences? And does it truly appeal to you and your family?

Sources: Gonomadhome.com; kombilife.com; bankrate.com; vanlifeincome.net; moneyunder30.com; camperreport.com; air-streaming.com; tinyshinyhome.com; youtube.com; motorbiscuit.com; gnomadhome.com; thrivemyway.com