We’re so used to living in a box with a kitchen, refrigerator, toilet, bed, internet, and TV that we’ve forgotten how to survive. For hundreds of thousands of years, we found/made shelter wherever we could, pooped wherever we wanted, slept on the ground, hunted with bows and arrows, and cooked over an open fire. And we didn’t just survive this way, we THRIVED this way. If you’ve ever been camping, you know that it’s possible – even fun – to live at one with nature and the elements.
Here are the most common questions I get about the practicalities of vanlife…
Q: Where do you sleep?
A: Walmart, camping, nature, neighborhoods stealth style, friend’s houses. The last resort is hotel or air b’n’b because that gets expensive doing it everyday.
Q: Where/when/how do you relax?
At the end of the day, usually Whole Foods to eat, a movie theater to wind down, nature to take naps, parks to hang out. The van is usually not a place to just chill and relax – it’s much too small. But Movie Theaters always feel like home.
Q: Where do you shower?
A: YMCA, lake, river, ocean, friend’s house, gym (gyms are sometimes free with a test pass), hose, sprinklers. This is the most common question I get in response to the vanlife thing. Seriously, there’s water everywhere. Showers are such low priority when you are living the life of your dreams – I now consider a shower to be one of the creature comforts that domestication has made us accustomed to. Go smelly for a few days, nobody will care. But a shower after a few days does feel amazing.
Q: What do you eat?
A: Lots of raw, lots of protein shakes (spinach, banana, water, vegan powder protein) that I make with a small bullet blender that I can run on my battery system, lots of peanut butter and apples, then dinner at Whole Foods hot food bar, or a juice place, or vegan/GF place. Seldom do I camp and cook on my own because without a fridge, it’s hard to keep food cold, so it doesn’t end up being worth the time or money. But when I do camp, cooking outside is a wonderful way to enjoy nature. A clean restaurant is always the last resort because road food can get pretty dirty even in nice restaurants. Bacon & eggs is consistently pretty good no matter where I go. Chipotle is great when I’m in a pinch. But NEVER EVER fast food, that’s the quickest way to get sick.
Q: Where do you poop?
A: There are public toilets everywhere. Any grocery store, any coffee shop, any Starbucks, any gas station. Worst case scenario – pull over and dig a hole (nature is the most satisfying way to relieve yourself, trust me).
Q: How much does it cost?
A: Living in a van is very cheap with little to no overhead. If you don’t pay for parking, all you have to worry about is gas and food, maybe a monthly bill or two (phone & car insurance). However, travel is always expensive, no matter how you do it. So if you’re living in a van in one spot and cooking your own food, it can be as low as just $25/day or $175/wk for food. But I find that my food budget with both groceries and eating out usually comes to $50/day or $350/wk. But I like good coffee, healthy snacks, delicious blended juices/smoothies, and Whole Foods, so I live a more expensive lifestyle. While traveling, my costs hover around $3K-$4K per month, but that’s being in a different city everyday, buying gas everyday, going out, having fun, monthly bills, and a $50/day food budget, with some nice restaurants. I find that if I’m staying with friends/family while still traveling, they usually feed me, so I can do an entire month like that at $2K. All this is still pretty cheap comparatively.
Q: What do you do when you get sick?
A: Honestly, I’ve never gotten sick on the road. It’s only when I stop that I get sick. I think your immune system functions differently when you’re traveling. The only times I got sick was because I slowed down and stayed in one spot, which is the best time to just take it easy and relax. I definitely recommend resting at a friend’s place or air b’n’b for a few days.
Q: Van travel vs. staying in one spot?
A: It’s easy to travel in a van. It’s hard to actually live in a van parked in one spot every night because you basically have no privacy or R&R. I find I need more amenities and creature comforts when I am staying in one spot for a few weeks. It’s much easier for me to travel.
Q: How do you make money on the road?
I’ve seen van dwellers with many income situations…
Option #1: Secure a job or business that allows you to work on the road.
Option #2: Save up a bunch of money so you can do travel sprints.
Option #3: Sell your house and use the chunk of cash to live off of.
Option #4: Retire and collect social security, 401K, pension, etc.
Option #5: Passive income assets like real estate or businesses that you own.
Personally, I own a business and work as a freelance filmmaker doing a lot of documentary and corporate video, which requires me to travel all over the country. Traveling is generally unproductive because it eats up a lot of time, so it is important to schedule time for work, either daily or in chunks so work time is separated from travel time.
Some extra tips…
• Take extra care of your rig – it’s your home and gets more wear/tear than usual.
• Rest more – travel is exhausting. Schedule more time to rest & relax, which will ease the transitions between travel and staying put. I find that after a travel sprint, I need a day or two just to veg out and do nothing.
• Sleep More – living life at 70mph is mentally exhausting. You may find that you sleep more than you used to.
• Stay healthy – health is even more important when you’re on the road because traveling is hard on the body. Eat well and exercise.
• Eat good food – food is so much more important on the road because road food is NOT healthy.
• Exercise daily – lots of sitting in the car, so work your core, your lower back, and exercise for overall health/wellness.
• Don’t drive more than a few hours at a time – take your time, driving is time-consuming, it’s unproductive, boring, and hard on your body.