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Living in a van throughout 3 continents has led us on one hell of a ride. But it’s also taught us a lot about how the rest of the world views us. We’ve been slotted into categories on many an occasion, but figure it’s just the price we pay for the freedom of the road. When you’re living in a van it’s hard not to be typecast into these 7 categories.
OK, let’s break this down into two parts. First: ‘Hippy.’ We have encountered hundreds of people on the road who live in vans just like us and we cannot recall once seeing a long-haired beardy dude wearing a tie die shirt, bell bottoms, and round glasses waving a flower saying ‘yeah man, groovy’ while flashing the peace sign. Yet, this is what we all picture as a stereotypical hippy. That isn’t to say that we don’t follow some of the guidelines such as seeking freedom, caring about the environment that we live in, and spreading the love on the road….man.
Second: ‘Dirty.’ Do we shower as often as house dwellers? Probably not. However, that isn’t to say that we all have dreadlocks in our nether regions or a smorgasbord of various lice to contend with. Remember, a van is an awfully small space and you find out pretty fast if you’ve been stewing in your own juices for a little too long.
Fair enough. We’ve seen the occasional blunt being passed around a campfire or a pungent haze billowing from the windows of a van, but that isn’t to say that we are all sparking up a fat one every chance we get. Drugs cost money which is precious when you’re on the road, not to mention the risk of getting hauled off to the local jail in the remaining states that have not yet legalized medical marijuana. You might as well wave bye-bye to your van lifestyle as you attempt to convince the judge that the pot was for your arthritic pinky finger.
You see that big metal box with wheels? Guess what, inside it has a bed, a stove, storage and if you’re lucky like us, a toilet. That’s right, just like your house, the only difference is we can move anytime we want and have an oceanfront view without paying the big bucks. How about you?
Nowadays a lot of ‘vannies’ — yes, we made that up — blog or write for various outlets along the way. This is no easy task. We’ve got to be disciplined as we struggle to find WiFi, record the elements on the road, and get it all written on a regular basis.
On top of the odd jobs along the way, everyday life in a van isn’t all peaches and cream. Our daily life involves planning routes, managing supplies, parking, sleeping, cooking and dealing with crap weather and breakdowns. These are all things that are not part of the everyday house dweller’s routine. So for those who think we’re lazy, our work is just a little different, that’s all.
This stereotype might be the one that pisses us off the most. Choosing to live in a van is a lot of frikking work and we personally had to put two years of hard labor and countless dollars into our beloved van before we clocked a single mile. Where did that money come from? It certainly wasn’t from any pots attached to rainbows.
We worked hard to save for the open road. Food, gas, campsites and of course the evening’s box of wine all rack up, meaning that our bank account had to be filled prior to traveling. It wasn’t luck. It was a combination of choice and daily commitment.
Sadly in Europe, the word gypsy has become a negative slur due to a choice few illegally squatting on private land and stealing anything that isn’t nailed down. So a stereotype has been born. However under English Law, the term gypsy means ‘persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin’ which to us sounds like a compliment and we will gladly take it.
But ‘thieving’ is an insult and these name callers should be ashamed simply for thinking that, let alone saying it to us. What if I judged you based upon your brick and mortar dwelling? It probably wouldn’t feel good.
This is a very common one and to be honest, we have nothing against vegans or people who embrace the occasional Baobab. Those who keep the environment or wellbeing of animals in mind are all right in our book. But if you serve us seitan-based vegan bacon with eggless eggs for breakfast, however, a swift throat punch will ensue. As for tree hugging, we cannot deny that we may have explored the box wine a little too intensely and found ourselves being held up cheek to tree, does that count?
Do your friends and loved ones implore you to stop living in the past?
Are there things about your past that you can’t stop thinking about? Maybe it was something you said or did or an aspect of your upbringing. Or maybe it was something painful and awkward, or something that broke your heart. Perhaps it was something someone did to you, or how an unexpected event harmed you, or how your mistakes affected you.
But living in the past like that isn’t productive. The past is set in stone. There’s no method of time travel available for you to use – and, if there was one, trust us when you say you wouldn’t want to take it. You’d be a totally different person if you stop living in the past!
But what is next? How can you move on?
Van life is an alternative lifestyle similar to living in an RV, tiny home, or sailboat. The van life movement is particularly attractive to digital nomads, minimalists, and outdoor lovers who travel frequently and camp in their vehicles.
Van lifers are nomads that travel in a camper van conversion, school bus, or converted vehicle. They typically work online, or move between seasonal jobs throughout the year.
Van life is not for everyone.
Some people end up living in a conversion van out of financial necessity, others build out expensive adventure campers for transcontinental tours. Of course, there’s a whole slew of people that fall in-between. Living in a camper van is not a normal lifestyle. So for better or worse, there isn’t a “one size fits all” path to living on the road.
On this website we’ve collated information on a range of lifestyle options. You’ll find advice on everything from free camping and using a bucket toilet, to installing expensive solar systems and mobile offices.
There are a million different ways people can live in a van. To bypass some common mistakes we recommend asking yourself a few questions first.
It’s true that living in a conversion van can be cheaper than paying rent, but that’s not always the case. If you’re only doing this to save money, you may want to consider other options first.
We won’t even get into all the ways you can make money online. There is a reason most people live in houses and apartments, and that’s because they are optimized for living in.
This isn’t to discourage you from living in a camper, and when the right sacrifices are made it can be very cheap! But you will be changing your lifestyle significantly and so money shouldn’t be the only reason you choose to live on the road.
The freedom to travel, navigating the unmarked roads, and spending more time in nature is the reason we chose to live in a camper. Van life allows you to wake up alone next to hiking trails that get crowded by tourists just a few hours later. You can work outside and then eat dinner with a view and enjoy the sunset 365 days a year.
But, let’s make one thing clear: van life is nothing like staying in an apartment.
There are alternatives to living in a camper van. RV living can give you a similar sense of freedom without limiting your electricity use as much. Many RV campers also come with full bathrooms including showers and toilets.
Renting an Airbnb for one month at a time, or establishing a home base and making shorter camping trips is another way to visit new places without the sacrifices of establishing yourself in 80 square feet.
Ultimately, choosing to live in a van can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. These are the reasons we chose to live the van life:
Once you’ve decided that van life on the open road is for you, start by choosing your van. We wrote an article to help you do this. It will cover some basic questions to ask yourself like budget constraints, mechanical abilities, and where you plan to travel.
There are advantages and disadvantages to buying a high top van. Bigger isn’t always better. Things like the ability to drive through parking structures, travel with large roof toys like a kayak, and the higher price tag are just a few examples.
Shorter vans may be less comfortable, but they make it much easier to go stealth camping in the city.
There are many ways you can make a standard height van more comfortable. Designing a layout that has proper seating or packing some foam pads to save your knees on the floor are just a few examples.
Everyone should consider the cost before starting van life! Not only should you think about the price of a build, but also the cost of living on the road.
In our article discussing the cost of van life, we give three examples of campers living on the road using a budget of $850 per month, $1,200 per month, and $2,000+ per month. You can watch the videos, find out where they spend their money, and decide if this is really a lifestyle you want to pursue.
Some people want to start with a fresh slate, but most will end up buying a used camper van. In the article we wrote about buying used, we cover topics like rust, mileage, vehicle age, re-sale value, and self-inspections. We also give tips on search terms to use when looking for a van on craigslist.
Depending on what you need, you have a few options for your conversion process. You can convert a van yourself or hire a professional. In making this site we’ve pulled together as many resources as possible and designed DIY guides to help you build your van.
We are not professional outfitters. We do not offer solar installs or consultations.
But we do try to provide the most accurate information available. We’ve lived in a camper van for 2 years and put many hours of research into every single article on this site.
As we’ve mentioned several times, there are many different ways to build a van and we recommend using this resource in conjunction with other websites to build your dream camper.
Before you jump into electrical, purchasing refrigerators, or installing a fan, you should get an idea of what you want your layout to look like. A lot of this is going to depend on your circumstances or travel style. Consider the following:
To start, our best advice is to look at other vans first. Take your time to browse through Instagram, Pinterest, or websites like ours. Keep in mind no van is perfect, and it’s very common for people to change their layouts after trying the lifestyle for a while.
To give an example: when we first built our van, our bed was close enough to the roof that we were unable to sit up straight. As it turns out, that was a major pain. About a year into our trip, we re-built the bed to lower it about 4-inches. That small change made all the difference and we were a lot more comfortable moving forward.
Seek examples of other van builds and make it your own. There are only so many ways to re-arrange a camper, and no reason to re-invent the wheel. Check out some of the posts below to see examples of our favorite van builds.
Upfitting your van should be done in conjunction with designing your electric system. That’s because you don’t want to purchase a refrigerator without taking into account how much power it’s going to draw.
No one knows every detail before starting, but doing lots of research ahead of time will make the process go much smoother.
We recommend making a mental list of equipment as you read through this post. We’ve also created a van life packing list to give you an idea of how much storage space to set aside.
Now it’s time for the fun stuff!
Adding insulation will be one of the first steps in your van build process. This is an optional decision. You can live comfortably in a van without insulation. But it will require a lot more effort like following the weather and controlling heat through the windows.
Most people do insulate their vans. The most common materials to use are foam board insulation, spray foam, thinsulate, fiberglass, and wool. Each material varies in effectiveness and some are easier to install than others.
Our article on how to insulate your camper van explains these materials in-depth and covers the best way to insulate your walls, floor, ceiling and windows.
Soundproofing your camper should be done before adding insulation. This is done with large, sticky sheets that adhere to the walls and reduce vibrations. Not everyone chooses to soundproof, but it does make the drive significantly quieter.
Noise dampeners make the biggest difference in large cargo vans like the Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit. Some people choose to install soundproofing only in the engine compartment of their smaller vehicles.
Condensation is inevitable. Breathing, cooking, and simply living are all going to add vapor to the air. We do not recommend installing a moisture barrier–you can find out why here. But there are ways you can significantly reduce moisture and prevent mold.
In our blog post about avoiding condensation and moisture we dispel some of the myths about dehumidifying your van and give tips to keep your van as moisture-free as possible.
Bugs and mosquitos will make your life miserable. We talked about this in our experience living on the road for two years. Unless you plan to spend your entire trip in the southwest desert (which has a distinct lack of bugs), please consider bug-proofing your van! This includes sealing up windows with mesh, and a few other tricks. You will thank us later.
Properly sealing the exterior of your camper including the roof, windows, and any construction holes is the best way to avoid leaks in the rain and prevent bugs. In our blog about roof sealants we discuss the different types and how to use them.
When you live in a van, nothing is more noticeable than the temperature. Luckily, with your little home on wheels, you’ll have the ability to follow the weather. We recommend chasing the birds and driving north in the summer and south in the winter.
Unlike an RV, you probably won’t be able to run an air conditioner. They simply use too much power. But there are other ways you can reduce the heat.
Installing a vent fan is imperative if you’re constantly camping in hot weather. The airflow also helps to exhaust condensation and moisture year-round. Covering the windows with Reflectix and parking in the shade are other ways of keeping the van cool in warm weather.
Focus on cooling yourself using misters, damp washclothes, going for a swim outside, and spending daylight hours in air conditioned public places.
Most popular van cooling solutions:
Keeping warm in a van is easier than staying cool. A heater isn’t necessary in most cases unless you plan to take your van on some ski vacations. There have been plenty of mornings we’ve woken up with frost on the windows and our water bottles frozen, but we weren’t uncomfortable.
Much like staying cool, the first step you should take is focusing on yourself:
Wear warm clothes: The tried and true method is wearing lots of layers to bed. Go to sleep with a hat, and thick wool socks on. Consider using a winter sleeping bag and cuddling up if you have a partner or dog.
Hot water bottle method: You can stay warm at night by boiling some water and pouring it into a water bottle or covered container. Then cover the capsule with a light towel and lay next to the bottle at night. Water bottles can stay warm for up to 6-8 hours, perfect for a good night’s sleep.
There are a few different ways you can heat your van. Some of the most common are electric heaters, wood stoves, portable propane heaters, or diesel air heaters. We recommend reading through our guide to learn about the many pros and cons of each.
Much of this is going to depend on your access to power, how long you plan on running the heater, and how cold you expect the temperatures to get.
Most popular camper van heaters:
The first question we get asked when people find out about van life is where we go to the bathroom. That’s why we wrote a whole article that goes into the details. Bathrooms are something we worried about quite a bit before starting our trip, but we’re happy to report that bathrooms are everywhere.
Gas stations, libraries, shopping malls, visitor centers, rest stops, restaurants, retails stores, grocery stores, campgrounds, and parks are just a few of the places that have bathrooms available to the public.
In addition to that, these are some of the most common options:
Backpacker style: Depending on how you choose to live in a van, this option may or may not be available to you. If you’re someone that regularly parks out in nature, on BLM lands, or in National Forests, it’s ok to go out in nature if you follow proper burial procedures and leave no trace.
The pee bottle: If you’re stealth camping in the city or stuck in the confines of a camper, the pee bottle is a popular solution. Guys have it easier on this one, but girls can still use this method with the help of fancy funnels like the SheWee or GoGirl.
Bucket toilets: The cheapest solution that still feels similar to a natural toilet is the bucket method. Products like the luggable loo imitate a toilet, but they are essentially just a bucket with a comfortable seat and lid.
Cassette toilets: Many van dwellers opt to use a cassette toilet (also known as chemical toilets) because they are relatively small, and work similarily to your household toilet. These toilets have a manual flushing mechanism that washes your waste into a black water tank where it’s broken down with a chemical. Then, you can empty it at a dump station.
Composting toilets: With a composting toilet you can go weeks without having to empty the waste container. These use a combination coconut coir or peat moss to break down the waste before disposal. Composting toilets are nice because they use no chemicals. But they do take up a large amount of space and are more expensive than the other options.
Most people who live in a van carry large camping water containers that can be refilled. We carried 10-14 gallons of water with us at any given time.
You might be surprised to find that it’s easy to get a hold of free water to fill your water container (at least in North America). Nearly every campground is going to have a water spigot on-site, but here are some other locations you may not have considered:
Visitor centers: National Parks, State Parks, Forest Service Offices and City Visitor Centers often have a water spigot outside to use. If you don’t see one, just go inside and ask! They should be able to direct you to the nearest potable water spigot.
Dump Stations: Not all dump stations have potable water but many do, and they will be marked accordingly. You can find dump stations outside many marine and RV retailers, some gas stations like Flying J and Pilot, or check out this website to find a dump station near you.
Beaches and Parks: Some beaches and parks will have free water available. This is a great place to look if you happen to be near one—just check to make sure that it’s a potable spigot.
Paid Campgrounds: Even if you’re not staying at a campground many will allow you to fill up your water tank for a small fee, just drive in and ask the camping host.
Grocery Stores: If all else fails, stop into your local grocery store or Walmart. Many have water fill stations inside where you can purchase water by the gallon. We’ve seen prices around 37 cents per gallon if you bring your own jug.
Most popular van life water containers:
If you want to install a sink in your van, there are plenty of options. A manual foot pump or hand pump is the simplest and requires no electricity. Some van lifers choose to wire a 12-volt sink pump like you would in an RV. This gives you a constant flow of pressurized water which you can use for a shower as well. Here is a quick rundown of the most common practices:
Gravity fed: Placing your container at a higher point than your sink or water bottle is all that it takes. Using the gravity-fed water system is the simplest and cheapest way to access water. All you need is a spigot and you can count on it working every single time.
Hand pump: A hand pump is another simple and inexpensive way to receive water. All it takes is a pump faucet and some flexible tubing. Pressure from the pumping mechanism will draw water up the tube and out of the faucet.
Dolphin hand pumps are designed to screw directly on top of the 5-gallon containers you can purchase and refill at Walmart stores and gas stations.
Foot pump: These sinks involve a similar setup to the hand pump. They require only a few parts and if you purchase camper-specific pieces everything should fit together nicely. The difference between a hand pump and a foot pump is you will get a little bit more control over the water flow as well as hands-free operation.
Electric sinks: Building a 12-volt electric sink into your camper van is a great way to have a consistent supply of running water. This type of sink will make you feel the most at home and can also be hooked up to a hot water heater to make larger installations like showers.
Although an electric sink is not the simplest to install, it still only involves a few parts and requires just a small amount of electricity. The advantages of an electric sink include high and consistent water pressure as well as easy operation.
Most popular van life sink gear:
Van Life is not like the camping trips you’ve been on. Despite the picture, you will most likely not be setting up a tent in the dirt outside or getting roasted marshmallows all over your face and hands. Your daily routine will be cleaner than you’d expect and you’ll be surprised how long you can comfortably go between showers.
In our article about taking showers on the road, we cover all of the most common options for finding a shower as well as how to install one in your camper.
Personally we have a planet fitness membership, but there are many options for finding showers on the road. You can use a standard camping shower, opt for a pressurized sprayer, or install one in your camper van conversion.
Most popular van life showers:
Portable, 12 volt refrigerators are popular in van life. These have a low power draw and can run off a relatively small solar system. There are many options available ranging anywhere from $200-$1000 depending on the features.
But refrigerators aren’t a necessity. Some people prefer using a large cooler, eating fridge-free meals, or dining out at restaurants. We wrote a blog post explaining the differences between coolers and portable refrigerators that is worth a read if you’re on the fence about which one of these options to get.
Best cold storage solutions:
Portable camping stoves, induction burners, and even camping ovens are common options that people choose to include in their van life kitchen. We encourage you to get creative when it comes to saving electricity.
For example, there are ways to make camping coffee without resorting to electricity. And you can save power by frying everything in one pan, or cooking over a campfire instead of on a stove.
Most popular camper van stoves:
Solar generators are a safe alternative for people who want electricity on the road but don’t have the time or willingness to learn all of the ins and outs of solar. Yes, they are more costly than building a do-it-yourself system, but they are safe, effective, and require no skills aside from figuring out which size generator to get.
With our disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into powering your van! Yes, electricity is complicated but it’s something that everyone can learn with enough time and effort.
We’ve put together an electricity guide that covers every part of a camper van electric system. This includes basic terms, finding out how much power you need, how to size your wires, how to get power from the vehicle alternator, and wiring diagrams.
With the solar calculator you can input:
This will answer the question: how many solar panels do you need? It will also give you estimates on battery bank size, charge controller size, and inverter size. We’ve included a video explaining how to use it. Finally, there are wiring diagrams for the not-so-beginner.
Solar panels collect energy from the sun. Our blog post on solar panel basics explains the different types of solar panels. We also give advice on how to get the most energy out of your panels, and how to properly wire them.
Our favorite solar panels for van life:
Charge controllers take chaotic energy from the panels and turn it into usable power that can be stored in the battery bank. In our article about charge controllers we cover:
Our favorite solar charge controllers:
Solar panel kits typically come with solar panels, a charge controller, mounting equipment, and wires. These are nice because the system is already properly sized and it takes a lot of the guesswork out of choosing parts.
Most kits do not include batteries or an inverter so you’ll still have to purchase those separately. But, kits give you a good start to designing the system.
Batteries are the most expensive part of your solar system so you want to make sure you’re getting the right type. Our blog post about batteries for solar storage covers the most common questions and explains how to make your batteries last as long as possible.
Best AGM Batteries for a camper:
Best lithium batteries for a camper:
Inverters allow you to power household electronics with your 12-volt battery bank. These are necessary if you want to charge things like a laptop, coffee pot or hair dryer.
Inverter/Chargers can power household electronics and charge your batteries using city power. These are less common in van life because many campers only use solar panels. But, they can be useful if you occasionally stay at campgrounds or have access to electric hookups.
Top inverters and inverter/chargers:
Charging a battery bank using your car’s alternator is a good way to get a bit of extra energy while you drive. The two main ways to do this are by using a battery isolator, or with a battery to battery charger.
Battery isolators safely combine your house and vehicle batteries so that your alternator is charging both at the same time when running.
B2B chargers use your vehicle electrical system to provide a proper multi-stage charge to your deep-cycle house battery.
Battery monitors can help you keep track of the battery bank state-of-charge. This will help you keep your batteries healthy and extend their lifespan.
Favorite battery monitor:
Best isolators and chargers:
Strip lights, recessed lighting, and battery powered lights are the most common in a camper. We wrote a post about the pros and cons of each type and how to wire lights in a camper van to help you decide what’s best for your rig.
Favorite lighting solutions:
Few people get to experience the joys of living in a van year round. Van life is becoming more popular and thus, more blogs and content for vanlifers are being created. You can also find insights throughout social media. We’ve covered many basics that we have personal experience with, like how to find free campsites, how to get internet on the road, and how to van life with a dog.
But you should also seek out other van lifers and find out how they live as well.
More and more corporations are requiring their employees to be less white, in an attempt to stop racism forever. But it’s hard to know how to do that, since at first blush, that SEEMS really racist and impossible. But it’s not. It’s actually really easy if you follow these seven simple steps:
1. Burn all your Live, Laugh, Love signs. This is the first step to renouncing whiteness. Find every last “Live, Laugh, Love” sign in your home, every “Too Blessed To Be Stressed” trinket, and every “All I Need Is A Little Bit Of Coffee And A Whole Lot Of Jesus” mug and burn them as you think about your inherently sinful whiteness.
2. Rip off your skin. This is an easy one!
3. Kill yourself. Even easier! For best results, rip off your skin, then kill yourself.
4. Announce that you identify as a person of color. Wait, never mind. This one might be cultural appropriation. You also might be mistaken for a conservative trying to come up with a third joke.
5. Throw out all your ranch dressing. Ranch dressing, mayo — it’s all gotta go.
6. Take dance classes. This is a hard step, but it’s worth it. As you learn to dance to a beat, your whiteness will begin to melt away.
7. Hate yourself every waking moment until you have sufficiently atoned for your whiteness. Oops! Spoiler alert: you’ll never sufficiently atone for your whiteness. Better go back to step 3.
There you go! Racism ended forever!
RELATED POLITICAL SATIRE:
EDITORS NOTE: This political satire column by The Babylon Bee is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.
Traveling can take you out of your comfort zone, and sometimes you just want to eat something that reminds you of home. Doing this while abroad, however, can contribute to the stereotype of the ugly American who only wants to eat hamburgers and hot dogs. Instead of seeking out American food wherever you go, why not find something that reminds you of home but is still an adventurous way to taste another culture? For example, consider checking out one of these foreign fast food chains that don’t yet operate in the U.S.