Is #VanLife for You? What to Know Before You Hit the Road

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The great outdoors, the open road, and no landlord: does this sound like living the dream to you?

There’s no doubt that #VanLife is big right now, and for good reason. Folks from all walks of life are embracing minimalism, and downsizing their possessions in favor of a more experience-driven way of life. More and more people are discovering that too much stuff can actually leave them feeling less fulfilled, and simplifying their lives with some amazing results.

It seems the simple life really is the key to happiness, and for anyone with a sense of adventure and a lust for the great outdoors, moving into a van is starting to sound downright sensible.

#VanLife means speeding towards the best waves at a moment’s notice, and waking up to new, gorgeous views from one morning to the next. It means having more time, and money, for the things that really matter, and spending less on stuff you don’t need (although #VanLife is far from free, but we’ll get to that later). Most of all, the van lifestyle means truly being the master of your destiny, while also getting comfortable with spontaneity and a future that’s wide open.

But living in a van isn’t all glamour. While the social media pics show idyllic, secluded parking spots and comfy, tricked-out interiors, there’s plenty they don’t show. As intrepid van dweller Gale Straub says, “van life is real life.” To live #VanLife to the fullest takes preparation, work, and the right attitude.

So what are some must-knows before you break your lease and buy that sweet van? Here are the facts that experienced van-lifers agree on:

You’ll Need to Know How to Care for Your Van

When you’re living the #VanLife, your van is your castle, and if you want to be king, you’ll have to know how it works.

This means knowing the basics to keep your van on the road, including checking the oil, fixing a flat, and knowing how hard you can push your particular ride. Unless you want to pay for weekly tune-ups, your best bet is to learn to do these things on your own. Some of the best models for retrofitting aren’t new, and a van with some miles on it already is going to need plenty of TLC to keep it running smoothly.

Many van-dwellers install solar racks and kitchen appliances in their vans, too. Any of these things is bound to need some maintenance and upkeep. Knowing how to care for these items can keep them running smoothly, and save you costly and time-consuming repairs later.

There will be times when a trip to the mechanic is a must. Since you’ll be saving money on rent, make sure you stash some of that extra cash away for when your van needs a last-minute fix. Generally, the more skilled you are at maintaining your van yourself, the less money you’ll have to spend to keep it on the road.

#VanLife Can Be Cheap, But It Isn’t Free

Think of moving into a van as an investment, like buying a house. In fact, your van is your house. So be prepared to spend some money up front to make your van a home.

Do your research and determine realistically how much you’ll have to spend. Usually, vans with cheaper sticker prices will be costlier to retrofit, so keep that in mind when shopping for your ride.

When you’re working out your budget, think about what kind of van-lifer you want to be. Are you a DIY junky who loves tinkering? Then a bargain van with room for customization might be for you. Or are you a single-minded adventurer, who’s looking to get to the next destination as fast as possible? In that case, you might want to spend more on a newer vehicle with all the trimmings.

Once you’re on the road, you’ll have to make decisions about what to spend your money on. Many van-lifers agree that cooking easy meals in your kitchenette, like beans or pasta, is the best way to stay fed on a budget.

On the road, one of your biggest expenses will be fuel for your ride. An app like GasBuddy can help you find the cheapest gas stations. Even a few cents per gallon can add up to big savings later, which gives you more money for doing what you really love.

The World Is Your Backyard, So Map Your Primo Spots

Moving into a van signifies ultimate freedom: you can park anywhere, right? Not quite.

Yes, you have plenty of options, but you’ll still have to do some planning. If you want to catch the best surf, or be wide awake for the next music festival, you’ll have to get some shut-eye along the way. Campsite fees can add up, so plan ahead if you want to sleep for free. Some van-lifers love the camaraderie of staying in rest stops or parking lots, while others prefer to go the extra mile for a spot with more privacy and charm. It’s up to you what kind of van-lifer you want to be, but don’t be afraid to ask for tips and advice from fellow “vanabonds” that you meet along the way.

Aside from a place to park, you’ll need to scout places to get your dose of creature comforts, like Wi-Fi and a hot shower. Experienced van-lifers often recommend investing in a long-term membership at a YMCA or discount gym. Coffee shops are reliable sources of Wi-Fi, and you can take advantage of your internet time to research amenities at your next destination.

Yes, #VanLife is about freedom and spontaneity, but a little planning ahead will keep you fresh and rested for the next adventure.

#VanLife Requires You to Enjoy the Simple Pleasures

Living in a van isn’t just a great way to experience the outdoors. It’s a state of mind. The space constraints naturally mean you’ll have to pare down to the essentials, and get rid of anything you don’t absolutely need. You might find yourself cherishing your board or your favorite shoes even more than you did before. Beyond that, necessities like a knife, a flashlight, or a thermos will suddenly take on a new value.

Most of all, you’ll learn to redefine luxuries and necessities. Living in a van means trading comfort for freedom, and security for the unknown. Sure, you’ll be able to spend all day at the beach, but you might not get a hot shower or a clean shirt after the sun goes down. Instead, your reward for a day well spent could be watching the sun go down, with a hot cup of tea that you made on your camp stove.

So, are you thinking about giving up the rat race for van-life? Sure, living in a van isn’t for everyone. But for diehard beach lovers, snow bunnies, or all-around thrillseekers, #VanLife can be rewarding, fun, and most of all, enriching. You won’t just have the best Instagram feed, you’ll also have time for the things and people that really matter.

Are you considering living in a van? Or have you already taken the plunge and followed the dream? Share your questions, tips, and advice in the comments below!

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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.