A simple enough question to answer but in reality, it all depends. With the rise of the #VanLife movement, it’s never been more “hip” to live in a converted van. You’ve got everyone from college kids to retirees skipping out on rent and mortgages to live a more nomadic life, often plastered all over Instagram, but they’re doing something right. They’re mobile, off the grid and often in-and-out before you even notice they’re there.
I personally spent a little under two years living first in a van, which we then expanded into a camper, before we built our first shed and then started construction on what is now our homestead. That’s two winters in a tiny and cramped living space, sub-zero temperatures and a lifestyle that what it may lack in connectivity and utilities, more than makes up for it in complete and utter freedom. And in today’s post I’d like to share a little of my perspective, to give you an understanding of what life looks like from the back of a camper.
Should I ever need to bug out, I’ve got a really good idea of how that would play out, because I’ve done it (and am still, to this day, ready to go at a moment’s notice).
Think about your space
The key to staying sane in your campervan is to ensure everything has its place, and is put back there once you’re done. It is cramped, tight, and if you’re stuck inside because the rain isn’t lightening up, it can get claustrophobic fast if you’re dealing with a mess too. Adding things like a hammock or a tent can create additional space outside in nicer weather.
Think about your food
One of the biggest shifts we made was a choice to forego a refrigerator in our camper. It was a large power drain we didn’t want to manage, and that meant a rather large shift in our eating habits. It morphed us into following a much more vegetarian diet, with food that could be stored without needing to be chilled or frozen. Not entirely unwelcome, but it was a big shift initially.
Think about your cooking
For us, more than storing the food, cooking was a major pain point in our van. In such a confined space it wasn’t enjoyable, and if we did catch something, like a fish or if I shot a rabbit, we’d eat what we cooked over the course of the day instead of cooking multiple times in the camper. Often, we’d only eat one large meal a day, in the late afternoon, because it was such a hassle getting a fire going for a proper cook out.
Think about your power
You are going to need the ability to generate power, unless of course you like sitting in the dark once the sun sets. Solar panels and a second battery are a good solution that most people will opt for in their campers, so you can flick the lights on at night, or run a small heater during those cold winter nights. Plus, being able to keep your electronics charged is always a good thing, especially if it’s a renewable source like solar (instead of burning gas).
Think about your heat
Insulation is a smart addition if you’re building your van out yourself, because the better it is, the cooler you will stay in summer, and the warmer you will stay in winter. We suffered greatly in the uninsulated van at first, and that’s one of the reasons we upgraded to a camper, to get a properly insulated home, even if it was still tiny. It made a big difference.
Think about your water
You may not give a second’s thought now to leaving the tap running, but when you’ve only got so much in the tank, you’re hyper-sensitive about everything. Especially carting bucket after bucket from the creek into your tanks. We try to do as much of our cooking and cleaning under running water as possible, saving our tank supply for when we need it most.
Think about your bathroom
For the most part we used our gym memberships to get a daily shower, and keep ourselves clean. It was very cost effective, and also added a luxury of a brief morning workout most days because we were at the gym anyway, might as well spend 15-20 minutes on the machines. But you will need a bathroom and shower plan to cater for the days you aren’t able to make it to the gym. A small chemical toilet and a camping shower goes a long way.
Think about your location
Safety being the primary rule here, you need to find a location where it’s not immediately evident you’re living in your van. We rotated through a series of different campsites at first, but ultimately chose to park out camper on our own land for the ease of it all while we built out our homestead. You need to consider how you’ll plan your parking as well.
Think about your mail
For us, my parents became our mailing address and they received our mail for us. You will need a solution for your mail too, as you will need to be able to get your mail when you’re living out of your camper. There are services for this, but a trusted friend or family member is going to work out far cheaper.
Think about your breakdowns
Much like a car, you need to have a plan in mind for your breakdowns. Because you will breakdown eventually, and it’s most likely going to be in the most awkward of locations. We were lucky in ours, in that we also had a pair of bikes we were using for commuting into and out of town, and that meant we could get help without hiking for hours. But it was still a mission, doubly so if you’re in an area without cell reception.
Living in a van is a choice many people are making, and with the right attitude and preparations you can do it successfully for years at a time. We didn’t go full nomadic in our travels, but we still have the van and get out for extended road trips whenever we can, and it’s always refreshing to meet people who have been doing this lifestyle for years.