I hear people whining that they want to quit their jobs and travel; they say they’d do it today if only they had the money. That’s an excuse. And it pisses me off because it reinforces this lie that travel is just for rich people and trust fund babies.
Guess what? There are a bunch of people finding absolute freedom by living in vans and cars.
If you want proof, check out “#vanlife” on Instagram. It’s a thing. There you’ll see photos from hundreds of people who traded comfort in order to travel. They’re breaking the stereotype that living in your car is something you’d only do if you failed at life.
Not sure if you believe me? I’ll let the images speak for themselves.
Here’s a taste of #Vanlife
Merry Christmas Everybody! We were wondering who our first groupie was going to be. This Alpaca shows up every time our sweet Christmas melodies echo throughout the high Andean mountain valleys. The only problem is he keeps trying to eat our Christmas tree, but you know, groupies are crazy like that.
I think I’ve established that there are lots of people happily living in vans and cars across the globe. ‘But who are they?’ you wonder. ‘What’s their story?’ Let me give you some background.
2003 Dodge Ram Van 1500
Owners: Eva and Victor
Careers: Painter and illustrator and competitive ultra runner
Paid: $3,700, car was previously owned by a carpet cleaning company
Home Base: Europe
“We are originally from Barcelona, Spain, but we were living in San Francisco, California. We both worked at Internet startups: I am a graphic designer and Victor is a programmer. Our jobs were pretty flexible, allowing us to work from home when we felt like it or surf in the mornings. But we still felt pretty tied to our offices.
One of the reasons we wanted to leave was because we were tired of the San Francisco culture. The startup world is only about working, earning money and growing within a company.
We felt like it was not for us, so we decided to try another kind of life—one where we could be the boss of our lives.”
1988 Toyota Van Wagon
Owners: Jordan and Devon
Home Base: America
“Remember the “Saturday Night Live” skit where Chris Farley portrayed living in a van down by the river as the epitome of failure? Although that skit is hilarious, we would have to respectfully disagree.”
1981 Mercedes 508
Home base: Europe
“We love to take our blue friend out on European road trips in Summer, down to Spain and France to go surfing, and just enjoying that mode of travel. The bus’s cruising speed is some 85Km/h, so you better not be in a hurry.”
Delivery van of unknown make
Owners: Raphaelle and Mark
Home base: Canada
“Mark (my partner) and I are nomadic Canadians working seasonally in the remote northern wilderness planting trees (me) and being a bush mechanic (him). After planting trees for 9 summers, I have planted over 2.3 million trees! We’ve lived out of the van off and on for the past 4 years, taking it on many adventures from Montreal to the North West Territories to Vancouver Island.
This past summer we gutted it, insulated it and turned it into a proper tiny home on wheels. A quarter of the van is dedicated to Mark’s mechanic workshop, making it convenient to create visions, fix things and build our ideas. He has an extensive tool chest including a thousand tools (no exaggeration), mechanic diagnostic equipment, mig welder, oxygen & acetylene torches, 27 gallon compressor… the list goes on!
We moved into our van to facilitate our business called Boreal Folk. Living in the van facilitates life in wild places, where we do our best work. We sustainably wild harvested botanicals from the Canadian Boreal forest and infuse them into natural skincare products made in my workshop (which is also in the van). We spend our days walking in the wilderness, selecting plants for their cosmetic or medicinal properties and infuse them into our growing line of skincare products.”
1992 Dodge B350 Conversion Van
Owners: Shelby and Simon
Career: Professional wedding photographers
Home base: Canada
“We were living in downtown Ottawa (Canada) in a lovely little bachelor apartment, and we actually really loved our life there. However, Simon was itching to leave Ottawa since we met three years ago… Simon and I both love traveling and had been to New York City, Texas, Florida, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland together before moving into our van. We kept seeing people who were traveling around affordably in vans and kept admiring photographers who worked from places we’d never been.We realized that we needed to leave Ottawa in order to grow as artists and people.
It was a really good exercise in seriously looking at the amount of stuff we had accumulated and thinking about what we really needed to function and be happy day to day. At first, it was really hard getting rid of stuff, but then it became addictive to think about how much lighter our life would be without possessions. The majority of what we kept in storage was cameras, artwork, winter clothes (in case we decided to live in Ontario again) and books.
We work together, which actually makes things more difficult. We shoot weddings and decided to make a commitment to work from May until September, and then travel from October until May. It’s a real challenge for us not to overwork and to dedicate time to ourselves and on dates together.
Even when we’re in the “off season,” we are constantly on social media promoting our business and emailing with clients. We mostly work in coffee shops because it gives us a chance to get out of the van and to have reliable Internet. It actually works out pretty well to not have Internet in the van because then we can dedicate time to our work and relax when we’re in the van or out adventuring. We do have a Wi-Fi antenna, which Simon sometimes uses to upload our YouTube videos, but only one person can use it at a time.”
1996 VW Transporter
Owners: Lauren and Calum
Occupation: professional writers, farmers
Home Base: Europe
“Calum and I live in our van part time. We try to go away as much as we possibly can. And because we work together, luckily we get to do this quite often. Our plan is to travel and explore more of Europe permanently this January.
We are based in the southeast of England, about one hour north of London in the countryside. We are currently living on our friend’s farm, which is where we worked on our book about our van!
I used to live with my parents working a 9-to-5 office job, and Calum was studying graphic design at university. Once Calum had finished his degree in 2013, we decided to hit the road and explore Europe.”
Are you ready to stop making excuses now?
Let me help eliminate any objections your brain’s cooking up. Here’s what you need to know to make this a reality.
You’ll need a few thousand dollars to buy a van. It’s an investment. And how much you spend on it really depends on:
- Your DIY car maintenance skills
- Your personal priorities
Do you want a cargo van for extra security or a VW Volkswagen Westfalia, for way more sunlight?
These were choices that Julie Ellison, who’s in her 20s, had to make when she bought her van. She’d been making minimum wage freelancing for climbing.com, and wasn’t happy with her quality of life. So she started saving up for a van.
“… Every time I went to spend money on something that wasn’t a necessity, I thought to myself, ‘Would I rather have this or a freaking sweet van?!’ More times than not, the van won.”
She bought a 1999 Chevy Express 2500 Cargo Van with 111,000 miles on it for $5,000 cash. The van has 57-square-feet of space inside.
But it needed work to make it livable.
Here’s what she spent:
$110 Tore out flooring, put in new laminate hardwood
$60 New storage containers
$130 Hardware and parts for installations
$375 Solar panel rack
$900 Goal Zero Boulder 90 Solar Panels: $450 x 2
$1,400 Goal Zero Yeti generator
New Tires, Struts, Shocks, and Brakes:
Swivel Seats for Passengers and Driver:
$230 each, $460 total.
$500 for spice rack, dish tub, bins, drawers for clothes, electric stove and small organizational items.
Total cost of tricked-out van:
If you bought a van that was already well-equipped or were able to do some of the work yourself, you could definitely spend less. But if you think of the van as a home, this is still a damn cheap place to live. You would likely spend far more than that for a rented room in a major American city.
Now — go do it
There are a million ways to make your travel dreams happen on a budget. But something about a #vanlife road trip is especially seductive. The open road. The wind in your hair. A beach-front view every day.
People who live the vanlife made it clear that things weren’t always easy or glamorous.
Or as professional writer and editor Alexander Haro wrote, “Everyone I tell about our trip says the same thing: “I’d love to do that!” But would you? Would you love to piss into a bucket in the middle of the night? Would you love to lie in the sweltering heat while apparently unmuffled motorcycles scream by three feet from your head?”
Despite the negatives, people living the #vanlife said they wouldn’t change it.
They repeated these statements again and again.
- It helped them pare down their possessions and realize how little they needed.
- They got A LOT closer to their partner, if they traveled with one.
- They felt stimulated and free.
So go on, you crazy kids. Stop making excuses and go have the time of your life. #vanlife that is.