Why the heck would someone want to live in a van?! Oh, we’ll tell you! We have built two campervans and are sharing all the best parts of van life (and some of the not-so-pretty parts too!).
#VanLife aka an Instagrammable rebranding of “living in a van down by the river”. Matt Foley, anyone? (I hope you understand that reference!)
Van Life is one of those things that can be hard to understand as you look on from the outside. And I get why…
Why would someone want to live in such a small space?
How do you even go to the bathroom in a campervan?
What’s the appeal anyway?
We’ve been asked all those questions (and oh so many more!).
But once you’re on the inside – once you’ve experienced van life for yourself – you just get it.
And while living or traveling in a van isn’t for everyone, we think you might just be surprised…
Our Campervan Story
I grew up going on long family road trips in a pop-up camper, so the idea of building a campervan intrigued me from the start (just take a look at that throwback picture of be above!). And let’s just say that Ben wasn’t hard to convince!
We built our first campervan in the spring of 2017 because we wanted to travel the West Coast of the US and figured it would be the most affordable way to do so. (Hotels in the United States can be crazy expensive!)
We had virtually no building experience, a teeny tiny budget, a short timeline, and only a couple of borrowed tools from a roommate. But we were up for the challenge.
And you know what? It was the best summer of our lives.
We road tripped around some of the most beautiful places in the US and made memories that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
We fell in love with so many aspects of living on the road as well as with our sweet budget conversion that we lovingly named “Vinny”.
Oh, and we loved #vanlife so much that we rented a campervan in New Zealand and learned firsthand that it is absolutely the best way to explore that country!
Ever since we sold our campervan, we’ve been dreaming about building another… And we’re finally doing it!
This build is quite a little different – scratch that, a LOT different – than our first build. We have a much larger budget to work with, more time and more tools.
Plus, with some campervan experience under our belts, we know what’s essential to have in a van and what’s just going to take up space. What works and what doesn’t.
In this article, we’re not going over the details of this build (that’s coming soon, we promise!).
Instead, we’re diving into why we love campervan life. We’re sharing all the best parts of living in a teeny tiny little home on wheels. Plus, some of the not-so-glamorous parts, too.
Psst: If you are interested in converting your own campervan and not sure where to start, be sure to check out our article on the best vans for camper conversion which includes van specs and what to look out for!
Ready? Let’s roll…
1. You get to wake up in amazing places
I think one of the main reasons anyone gets into #vanlife to begin with is the ability to wake up next to the ocean or in a National Park or on a forest road in the mountains.
The best part is you don’t have to choose just one – you can have ‘em all. You can have nature AND the city.
During our campervan summer, we camped at music festivals, woke up to million dollar ocean views, and went to sleep in the forest under the stars.
But don’t think for a minute that every night was spent in a picture-perfect setting though. We had our share of city camping, Walmart parking lots, and overpriced campgrounds, or worse…
Story time: One morning at 6 am, we woke up to a knocking on our window. A park ranger cheerfully greeted us, despite the early hour, and asked us to move our vehicle because they were releasing snakes in the vicinity for that day’s “Snake and Raptor Avoidance Training”. Say whaaaat?!
Situations like this one made us appreciate the good nights even more. We made it a goal to find humor in some of our less-than-ideal sleeping situations.
You learn quickly in a campervan that there is nothing better than finding that perfect spot to spend the night. And you come to appreciate them because not every night is like that.
I’m interested in vanlife, where do I get started?
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2. Save money
Whether living in a van full time is your goal or it’s just a mode of travel, campervans can be an amazing way to save money.
We’ve already proven that you can build a campervan on just about any budget.
If you don’t believe us, read all about how we converted a van with zero experience in less than a week with a budget of $1,000. #truestory
And once you have that van built, it’ll pay for itself and then some.
For those who live in vans full time, think about how much they save in rent and utilities month over month. And for those who use it for travel, there’s no need to stay in hotels or eat out at restaurants when you have a campervan (unless you want to, of course).
When you subtract the costs of accommodation and eating out, you realize that vacation you’ve been dreaming of can be really affordable.
Are you wondering just how “affordable” we mean? If you’ve done any digging around our website, you’ll notice we’re very transparent about money. So you shouldn’t be surprised to find out that we tracked all expenses on our entire 3-month campervan trip and broke down every single penny we spent!
On a budget? We rounded up our favorite money-saving tips for a cheap road trip that will help you keep costs down.
3. Campervans retain value
While we’re on the topic of money… Campervans can actually retain a lot of value if you do decide to sell it someday.
In fact, we made a pretty nice profit when we ended up selling our beloved “Vinny”. We used those extra dollar bills to wipe our tears of sadness as we waved goodbye… only kidding!
Unlike a regular vehicle which loses value the minute you drive off the lot, campervan builds retain a pretty good resale rate as long as the vehicle is in good shape and the build is well-done.
Many #vanlifers do a somewhat basic first build, then sell it and eventually make a nicer build with some of their earnings.
Related: Find out exactly how much a campervan costs, from budget to luxury builds, in our detailed breakdown of costs.
4. Simplify your life
There’s nothing quite like living in a tiny space to make you realize how little you really need. We were pretty used to living minimally after traveling out of backpacks for a year, but our tiny van space showed us just how little we need to be happy.
It showed us that we don’t need to have a walk-in closet filled with the latest trends to feel good about ourselves.
We learned that we can still cook amazing meals with a fraction of the space we’re used to.
It showed us that we don’t need much to have an incredible day that we’ll remember when we’re old and wrinkly.
That summer, Ben bought a new pair of shoes (I finally got him hooked on Chacos!), we bought a new French press and a slackline. But other than those three purchases, I don’t think we bought a single frivolous thing. And it was the happiest summer of both of our lives.
5. Minimize your impact
Sure, living in a vehicle that uses gas is not without a footprint, and #vanlife isn’t going to save the world.
But I can confidently say that living in a van for 3 months seriously shifted our perspective on how each of our choices impacts the environment and the communities around us.
It’s hard to understand just how much electricity and water you use on a daily basis until you shrink your access to it. For instance, when you only have a small tank of water, you suddenly become mindful of every single drop you use.
There’s no more 15-minute showers or water wasted while brushing your teeth or doing the dishes. And the same goes when you have limited power. You think about how you’re using it rather than mindlessly leaving electronics running.
With limited space to store food, it’s easy to ensure you’re not wasting much. We were kind of nerds about it and recorded every single thing we had to throw out because it went bad. And you know what? There was hardly anything on that list.
Interested in minimizing your footprint? We learned a lot of ways to lessen your impact while in a campervan and put together some tips for an eco-friendly road trip.
6. Get off the beaten path
One of the reasons we love road trips is that we can see a place with a whole different perspective than we would if we didn’t have our own mode of transportation.
We can stop at roadside cafes or random berry picking farms orhot springs that aren’t on the map. We can follow signs to a hidden lavender field (note to self: ALWAYS follow signs that lead to lavender fields!).
And while road tripping in a car is great and all, you can get much more off-the-beaten-path in a campervan that allows you to go off the grid.
7. Get creative and problem solve
When your house also doubles as your only vehicle, you’re bound to come across some issues every once in a while. We certainly did, and just about every vanlifer we know has too.
Our van nearly broke down in the middle of the Utah desert at sunset (see photo above for proof). A huge puddle was growing beneath the van, and we had no clue what to do…
A group of Boy Scouts and their dads came to the rescue with some handy advice that allowed us to coast down to the nearest town. Ben binged YouTube videos and learned how to replace the radiator hose, and I was one proud wife!
The struggles — as frustrating as they may be in the moment — are great teachers. Plus, they make great stories (once enough time has passed and you can see the humor in them!).
8. Everything becomes an adventure!
Living or traveling in a van means you kind of shift your priorities. You have very little space, so you really can’t buy much. The most important thing becomes creating memories, and with a house on wheels, you’ve got all sorts of adventures at your fingertips without really having to try to find them.
Suddenly even mundane things become memorable. Finding a spot to shower becomes an adventure. And cooking dinner with an epic backdrop is a memory that’ll be burned into your mind forever.
It’s pretty impossible to have a boring life (or trip) in a campervan.
Psst: Wondering about the not-so-glamourous parts of vanlife that no one really talks about? As per usual, we like to give it to you straight so you have all the facts. That’s why we created an entire article on the WORST parts of vanlife so you get both sides of the story.
9. Test and grow relationships
I’m not going to gloss over it: Living in a tiny space with another human being can be a huge test to your relationship.
It’s hard to have your own space, privacy or alone time when living in a van, so it kind of catapults your relationship into a new level that many people choose never to breach (and potentially for good reasons). You’ll have to get close, like really close, pretty quickly.
But if you can get through living in a space this small with someone else, it’s a testament to the strength of your relationship.
Psst! Before moving into a van with a partner, ask them these questions. You’ll thank us later!
10. There’s an amazing #vanlife community
Have you ever noticed that pretty much every hobby or niche has a community?
Just go on Facebook and you’ll find a group for just about everything – I’m in a PNW Mushroom Hunting FB Group for crying out loud! And before Facebook Groups, there were conventions and fan clubs and societies.
Well, the campervan community is a strong one.
I’m going to generalize a bit here, but most vanlifers are pretty cool people. Okay, yeah that was a massive generalization (and very much my personal opinion), but hear me out…
In order to live or travel in a campervan, you have to really value adventure and memories over physical stuff. That characteristic in itself is enough to make you “cool” in my book!
The van life community is growing quickly. When we did our first build back in 2017, there was definitely a community, but it was small and pocketed in specific areas around the US and the rest of the world.
But just a few years later, it has seemed to explode in popularity. With the rise in availability of remote jobs, it has made it easier than ever before for people to live and travel in a van while still being able to earn a decent living.
Once you have a van, it’s pretty easy to find this #vanlife community and become part of it. There are festivals and meetups all around the world (we were planning to go to our first one this summer, but sadly, it has been cancelled). And you don’t have to look hard on social media to be sucked into a never-ending rabbit hole of van content and the community that comes with that.
11. Building something yourself feels good…
You know that feeling when you make a meal for the first time and it turns out better than you expected? It’s so delicious, and there’s satisfaction in knowing that you made it yourself. Somehow it tastes better knowing everything that went into it.
Before our first campervan conversion, we hadn’t built many things ourselves. Well, besides the odd shop project in school.
It felt so incredibly rewarding seeing the finished product, even though it wasn’t anything fancy. It was ours. We made it with our own hands. We measured and cut and drilled and sewed.
There is a pride that comes with building something – especially something you can live and travel in – that is unrivaled.
Most of us will never have the opportunity (or desire) to build a home. So building a campervan is pretty much the closest feeling you can get to the pride one must feel when they finish constructing a house.
I love planning a trip as much as the next person, but there are times I just get the urge to hit the road and go.
With a campervan, the possibilities are endless. There’s no need to book a hotel or reserve a campsite.
You can take your campervan to a city or get deep in the backroads. You can go on remote and epic adventures, or you can get fancy and have a night on the town.
Campervans allow you to have all kinds of spontaneous adventures on a whim.
Like a town and want to stay longer? Fine! Want to move on more quickly? Also fine.
You won’t find yourself rushing to get back to town before sunset, because there’s nowhere you need to be.
Traveling in a campervan allows you to go at your own pace. And it gives you the flexibility to change your mind at any point along the way.
Not into the whole flying by the seat of your pants thing? That’s cool. Everyone has their own style, and if you like having all the details planned out ahead of time, we’ve got you covered with a road trip planner!
13. Campervans allow you to be self-reliant
In addition to being able to come and go as your heart desires, traveling in a campervan gives you a sense of autonomy that you just won’t have traveling any other way.
No need to panic if all the hotel rooms in town are booked. You have a bed on wheels.
There’s no worrying about what kind of restaurants you’ll find along the way, as you have a kitchen on wheels and can cook whatever you’re craving: A healthy salad instead of fast food, perhaps?
This is an especially big benefit for anyone who has dietary restrictions.
You won’t have to fret about what to pack in your suitcase or whether you’ll be able to find a proper cup of coffee in the middle of nowhere.
And depending on your campervan build, you could very easily go off the grid for a few days (or even weeks) at a time.
With a campervan, you’ll be self-sufficient and will have far fewer (figurative) bumps in the road to worry about. Though, you’ll want to watch out for those literal bumps…
14. More comfortable & less work than tent camping
We love camping. Being in nature is therapeutic for both of us, and we know we’re not alone.
But I’m not gonna lie, some of the stuff that comes along with camping can be off-putting.
Don’t get me wrong, we love a good backcountry camping experience where we sleep in a place only accessible by hiking in, and we’re not giving up tent camping anytime soon.
But sometimes camping can be a lot of work:
There are times I don’t feel like going through the effort of gathering all our camping equipment to pack up in the car, knowing we’ll only have to unpack it and clean it all in the end.
And I’m also not a fan of taking down a tent after a rainstorm. I mean, is anyone?
Oh, and there are some days when I just don’t feel like sleeping on the ground (no matter how nice our sleeping pads are).
None of these things are an issue in a campervan. You’ve already got all the equipment you need in one place, so you’ll be ready to start the engine and hit the road. Rain or snow won’t be an issue. And you’ve got a perfectly comfortable mattress to sleep on.
Boom! All issues you may have with traditional camping are solved. Think you don’t like camping? Think again.
15. There’s a campervan for everyone
If you’ve read through all this and you’re thinking, “This sounds intriguing, but…” I can almost guarantee you that there is a campervan out there that would ease whatever aspect makes you anxious.
But… where would I shower? Well, there are plenty of answers to that, but if you really wanted, you could find or build a campervan with a full shower.
But… I have kids. Oh, there are plenty of vanlifers out there with multiple children. It can work.
But… I need to work online. We’ve done it and lots of other people do it every day. No problemo.
But… I have a small budget. Totally fine! We did our first build on less than $1,000.
If there’s a but, there’s likely a solution.
What are our personal favorite parts of van life?
We’ve gone over all sorts of reasons to love #vanlife. But when it’s all said and done, what are our very favorite things about traveling in a campervan? And why are we embarking on this adventure for the second time?
Katie: I love that everything in a campervan is an adventure. Even the little moments – cooking a meal with an epic backdrop or waking up in a forest to the sound of birds chirping – are ones we will remember vividly.
Ben: I like the freedom that comes with a campervan. We can just take off with no plans or reservations and see what we feel like doing along the way.
Are you (or someone you know) thinking about living the campervan life?
We have TONS of resources on converting your own campervan and living the #vanlife. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Van Life for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.
Interested in engaging with others about all things #vanlife? Join our Vanlife Facebook community!
We’d love to hear from you!
Did any of these surprise you? What do you think would be your favorite part of van life? Comment below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!