November 03, 2022 5 min read
There are a lot of obvious perks to moving into your vehicle: total mobility, simplifying the things in your life, saving money on rent/mortgage, endless cool points/street cred, & many more. Living full time out of your vehicle is mostly an awesome idea, but we’d be lying if we said there weren’t also some challenges.
We asked all our van-life friends what advice they’d give to someone considering making the move, here’s what they had to say:
Living out of your vehicle is a very specific lifestyle that presents unique challenges, that are great for some but might not work for every kind of person. If you’re interested in moving into your rig full time, we suggest giving it a test run before you take the plunge by breaking your lease or moving out.
Try it out for a week or two & spend some time really thinking about what it would be like to do it in a long term capacity. Sometimes you don’t realize what you really need or want till you are doing it, so testing out the new living situation in a low stakes way is a great way to see if the lifestyle change will work for you.
To be direct: where will you shower & sh*t? There are lots of routes to go on this: shower at work, get a gym membership, a relative or friend’s house, etc. And if you’ll be on the move: truck stops, campgrounds, pools/spas/hot springs usually have hot showers you can use.
“A pee bottle can make life a lot more comfortable = a 1 gallon juice jug that can be emptied each morning and rinsed. Also, if you’re in one place for a while, a month long membership to a [climbing] gym can be nice for showers. A lot of places will also have public aquatic centers that sometimes have hot-tubs, saunas, and showers and are pretty cheap for an evening here and there."
- Brian, Van-lifer
Finding a good place to call home for the night is key. You’ll want a spot that is flat, quiet, safe, and legal. Make sure to check overnight parking/camping regulations at the place you’re bedding down for the night. Having a friend or family member with a driveway is always a good backup option.
“In terms of ‘urban’ camping, low impact is almost always the best practice. We will often eat dinner and hang out near a park; usually these areas restrict overnight camping. We will then drive to a neighborhood that has ample parking, pull in, and immediately put up our blackout shades. Most of the time, we will never get out of the van, so as to remain as quiet and inconspicuous as possible. In the morning, we will get up and immediately pull out of the neighborhood and go to a public park to cook breakfast and chill out. Basically, we just try our best not to loiter where we are camping, so as to keep a low profile. When traveling, we use the ‘iOverlander’ app a lot to find camping spots that have been vetted by others.”
- Brian, Van-lifer
If you’re going to be living out of your rig and you don’t want to be miserable after a week of it: we suggest prioritizing comfort. Sleeping well is super important, so making upgrades to your sleep setup will keep you happy & rested in the long run. Opting for a more comfortable pillow and mattress will help to keep you rested and enjoying the experience.
“It might seem extra, but a white noise maker can be pretty sweet. We actually didn’t use one until our baby came along, but turns out, it's nice to drown out traffic noise as well.”
- Brian, Van-lifer
Whether you go the DIY route or buy from an up-fitter, there are so many cool options for maximizing storage in a live-aboard vehicle. Getting familiar with what you use and need access to regularly, and what you can ditch, will help inform your storage decisions… (another reason the “test run” is a good idea).
You can figure out your storage needs a little bit before you commit time or money to a more permanent fix. A roof box or roof storage system like this one from Roam Adventure Co. makes a huge difference in terms of storing the stuff you don’t need to get to every day.
When you’re living in a small space, having as few things as possible is kind of key. Prioritizing storage space with the things you need to live off leaves little room for sentimental stuff, gear, extra clothing, or furniture.
Getting a storage unit (or utilizing another storage space) for the important things you want to keep but don’t need daily access to will free up space in your rig.
This might be super obvious but we’re gonna say it anyways: get some curtains! Whether you DIY them or go the up-fitter route, investing in some curtains is necessary for your privacy. If you’ll be full timing in a cold climate: we suggest opting for the insulated route as glass leaks heat in cold weather.
“Window shades are crucial. And almost more importantly, window shades that fit perfectly and don’t allow any light to enter or exit the van when in use. For us, we ‘have to have’ window shades for all windows. One side is reflective, the other side is black.
Reflective is necessary for sunny days and in our case, we are often needing to keep the van cool for the doggie. At night, we are often camping in ‘urban’ places where we are trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Having the shades ‘black side out’ at night is pretty necessary, as it keeps at the van entirely blacked out when we are inside with lights on. To us, it usually feels like a dead giveaway that you are camping in your van if you have the reflective side out at night.”
- Brian, Van-lifer
If you’ll be living in a cold weather zone, we also recommend a heat source. Whether you go for an installed propane/gas heater or keep it simple with some heat pads, you’ll need something to keep you toasty when sleeping in cold temperatures.
"Full-time Van-life differs significantly from weekend warriors. One has to be comfortable with downtime, tight spaces (especially traveling with a partner), lack of amenities, and van issues. But the pros are so good. Freedom, adventure, autonomy, and much more. Just know the reality is much different than what's perceived online."
- Dillon owner of Native Campervans Denver, Colorado.