The Tiny house Blog

Van Life 101: What You Need to Know

Updated on:
March 20, 2024
man standing on top of a van build out

Have you ever thought about giving it all up and living on the road? If so, you could join the 140,000 Americans who are doing just that, according to the Census Bureau.

Well, there are certain benefits and sacrifices that need to be made before making such a commitment. Luckily, we can simplify that for you. Let's talk about van life and find out if it's right for you!

Why Do People Choose To Live In A Van?

Different people will give you different answers to this question, but there are many reasons why somebody would choose to live in a van, whether it's wanderlust, minimalist living, freedom, or some completely different reason.

Van life is an affordable way to achieve the off-grid living that so many of us long for, and it comes with the added benefit of a traveling home. With a tiny house, you need to have a trailer or a vehicle capable of supporting it in order to move from one place to another.

However, with a van, you can bring your entire home with you, which is very appealing to many people. This lifestyle also comes with many benefits.

Benefits of Van Life

People wouldn't choose to sell their homes and downsize so extremely if they weren't getting something out of it. Here are some of the biggest benefits of the van life, but remember that many more are unique to the individual!


Imagine if you could carry your home with you everywhere you go and never have to worry about leaving things behind. This is a major concern for people when they travel.

Well, with the van life, you can go anywhere you want (that doesn't cross an ocean) with all of your belongings. You'll never have to worry about forgetting things again.


There is the freedom to roam around a large house and then there is the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want.

The ability to travel anywhere on a continent at will and bring all of your belongings with you is unique to the tiny house/van life, and it's something that many van dwellers would never give up.

Seriously, if you live in North America, you could travel from Panama all the way up to the Arctic Circle in Nunavut or Alaska with everything you own conveniently with you.

Also, with van life, you likely have far more financial freedom than you would with an apartment or mortgage. Assuming that you have an income and places to park your van for free, then you are bound to save far more money than you would elsewhere.

You will eliminate rent or a mortgage, dramatically lower cooling and heating expenses, and save on other expenses like insurance. Living in a van could accelerate your retirement savings, help you put a down payment on a future house, pay off your debts, or reach your financial goals much faster.

Any money you earn will also stretch much further in the van life, assuming you have a way to cook for yourself and you aren't eating out every day.

And the best part? You can customize your van however you want. Want to install windows? Go ahead. Want to add a kitchen sink? Why not?

Minimalist Lifestyle

There is also a certain freedom that comes with getting rid of your belongings and living a simple life. You either own your belongings or they own you.

This idea has been discussed by philosophers, authors, and poets for millennia. It originally dates all the way back to Greek philosopher Diogenes who argued that freedom from abstract stresses such as wealth and materialism was the greatest form of freedom.

Well, van life is the ultimate way to force yourself into living a minimalist lifestyle and instead focus on the best parts of life like nature and personal relationships rather than material goods.

They say that no matter how big the backpack is, you will always fill it up. If you want to minimize your personal belongings and simplify your life, use a smaller backpack!

Owning a Pet

If you're worried about your dog adjusting to the van life, they will more likely be thrilled to spend so much time with you instead! Dogs crave companionship, and spending time with their owners is mutually beneficial.

In the van life, your dog will get to spend more time outside with more freedom to roam, and the two of you will be encouraged to live a more active lifestyle. Also, when you're done for the day, your pup will get to spend quality time with you in the van.

As a bonus, think about how much easier it will be to let your dog out to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night!

Connecting With Nature

When living in a van, your options throughout the day are to be isolated in a small space all day or get outside. If you're feeling stir-crazy, you can't just go to another room.

This creates a close relationship between you and the outside world as intended. Although it may not seem like it, it's very recent in history that humans began spending much time indoors. Humans are meant to spend time surrounded by nature.

Sure, houseplants make your space a little greener and happier, but nothing compares to the health benefits of being outside.

Downsides of Van Life

No matter how glamorous it may sound, there are serious complications with living in a van that require consideration. Here are just a few examples.

Too Minimalistic

Minimalism is a great practice, but van life comes with a severe reduction of space, which is too extreme for many of us. If you don't have a storage unit or a house where you can leave your belongings, you will have to get rid of a lot of items like clothing.

However, you don't have to give up all of your stuff to live the van life if you have a safe place to store them. That is entirely up to you.


A minimalist design and decorating a small space will go a long way to creating a homey atmosphere in your van. However, it is still quite small.

In most vans, you won't be able to stand up all the way or walk around, which is a major sacrifice for those used to living in houses or apartments.

However, if you actively choose to spend more time outside, then claustrophobia won't be a common concern. Most people will also adapt fairly quickly to the smaller living space, but it depends on the individual.

Obstacles to Daily Routines

During van life, there tends to be a lot more planning involved. No matter how good your storage system is, what your water solution is, or if you have a camping stove, daily processes will be more challenging in the van life.

At home, you don't need to plan ahead on how you will get more water, as it is always available to you. However, in a van, you will need to fill up your 5 to 10-gallon water tank, hook it up, and conserve it throughout the following days.

Also, if you are brushing your teeth, you will have to open your van door, spit it out, and rinse it off while conserving water.

Cooking? If you don't have room to stand up, you may need to go outside, even if it's raining. Carbon monoxide buildup in a small area is unsafe. These are just a few examples, but there are many more that you will discover on the road.

The Bathroom Situation

Okay, this is one of the biggest obstacles throughout your time in the van, especially if you are traveling with a partner.

For one, it's a small area that odors will fill quickly. Also, dumping this waste is a problem for most van dwellers, and depending on your system, this may need to be done every day or two.

You won't always be able to find public restrooms or go in the woods, so there will have to be a bathroom solution for going when in the van. Consider this something to keep in mind.

What Do You Need to Live the Van Life?

If you're okay with the complications of van life and the benefits still sound appealing enough to you, then you may be wondering how to get started. Well, here is what you need.


Although van life is cheaper, income is very important. Even if you have money saved up, it will only last for so long, and it's also important to have money on-hand in case the van breaks down.

Luckily for aspiring van dwellers, more and more people are working from home permanently, meaning that a remote income is more achievable than ever.

Also, people are quitting their jobs and working for themselves in record numbers, making an impressive freelance economy for those who want even more independence than the van life offers.

If you don't have means of working remotely now, then it's important to either find a remote job or a source of passive income.

A Van

Whether you're buying a conversion van or converting one yourself, you will need wheels to begin your endeavor. If you've already planned out your first year's itinerary of where you want to go, then buckle up because this decision is even more important.

Keep in mind, it may cost more than you were initially anticipating to purchase and convert the van. Prepare for this by saving up enough money upfront to cover unexpected expenses and get the right van for your needs.

Remember, this van is going to be your home, so choosing one that meets your requirements and that will last long enough is crucial. If your van needs a serious repair, you're likely going to have to pay for it instead of totaling it, as you've already sunk so much into the conversion, so choose wisely. The fewer miles, the better.

Energy Source

Your van will be able to charge your cell phone and other equipment while running, but you will need a supply of energy at some point. Assuming your van is powered by gas or diesel, you can charge a portable battery during the day while you drive and have backup power at night.

Opting for a larger battery is highly recommended, especially if you need to power appliances throughout the day like a refrigerator, television, video game system, or similar equipment.

For obtaining extra energy throughout the day, solar panels are popular options for van dwellers, as they are free from harmful emissions and easy to install.

Internet (Optional)

For remote workers, internet access is not optional, and you will need to figure that out immediately. If you're in the freelance economy and don't have a strict schedule, then you can stop at a cafe with free WiFi and work from there as you please.

However, this isn't feasible if you intend to travel to remote areas such as national parks or forests. In that case, you will need a strong internet router and a reliable power source.

Is Van Life Worth It?

The answer to this question is different from person to person. For many, the van life is everything they hoped and dreamed that it would be, and they will find it difficult to go back to their ordinary lives.

For others, the risks outweigh the benefits. It's up to you to make an informed decision on whether or not it's right for you. Stay up to date with our latest news and feel free to talk with others in the Tiny House Community.

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