We feel it’s possible to live a vanlife lifestyle full-time and live a happy, fulfilling life. We will share a few tips and tricks for setting yourself up for success. This includes having the right mindset, proper planning, and money management. We strongly suggest doing your own research for planning your build and how you’ll be living this lifestyle. If you’re reading this article—you’re already on the right path.
Having the right mindset will help you thrive in vanlife. A can-do attitude will get you far. Often, you’ll need to fix or build things yourself or have the will to research and learn how. We always crack the joke of going to YouTube University to figure out the things you’re unfamiliar with. If this just isn’t your style, consider having others in your Rolodex to call on and hire for help. Having these contacts ahead of time will ease the stress of searching when in the moment. You’re also helping support other nomads in the community who rely on this type of work as their income. Cough cough, like us.
We like to say vanlife is somewhere between camping and living in a regular house. The goal is to make your set up feel as much like your current home as possible. And, with proper planning, you can make it feel pretty darn close without too much sacrifice. In comparison to camping, where you spend most of your time outside, living in a van allows you to do things both inside and outside. A lot of photos on the internet will glamorize pull-out kitchens and benches and while this might be nice sometimes, we don’t feel it’s practical for full-time living. You won’t always be in a beautiful forest and even if you are there will be times of rain and bugs to bother you. If you love this layout, we suggest planning to have the option of both indoor and outdoor cooking. One great thing with the van is you always have all your belongings and there won’t ever be the chance you forgot something! Plus, you brought your home with you so you can have running water, a refrigerator instead of a cooler, a shower, and a toilet all inside your van no matter where you’re camped out.
Some might not think you can have all these luxuries within a van but with proper planning—it is possible. You might not be able to take a long hot shower like you’re used to but you can still take a hot shower. Just remember that you have a limited amount of water to split between your shower, cooking, drinking and washing dishes. You have options of how much water you can store based on your layout, but no matter how much you have—you’ll need to keep an eye on it to refill it on the regular. You can decide to use your shower when there’s no other options around (and more often when you have access to water fills) or you can choose to hit up a Planet Fitness for an affordable monthly membership including a guest or free first-time visit.
Toilet or no toilet?
When planning, you also need to decide to include a toilet or not. The convenience of your own toilet and privacy, whenever you need it, is a necessity for some people. If having a toilet makes sense for you, remember that you’ll need to store it inside your home and dispose of the waste on a regular basis. There are many options to choose from when deciding on a toilet. You can have an actual flush toilet like in your house-style home but will need a black tank to store it and find dump sites to dispose of it, which typically will require a small fee.
There are also cheap cassette toilets, which use blue water. You’ll need to dispose of the waste from these toilets in specific places as well, such as a public toilet or outhouse. You can choose a composting toilet, which are usually more expensive but have good reviews on separating liquids from solids and odor control. This requires setting up a vent with 12v power, emptying the liquids often but the solids less often. You can choose a less expensive option of a bucket-style DIY composting toilet and dispose of it more often and get creative with ways of odor control. Personally, this is what we have done for three years and use a mixture of kitty litter and pine shavings.
Will you need a heater?
Depending on what outdoor activities you enjoy—you may be able to guess what kinds of seasons you’ll spend most of your time in or what type of environment. Will you be skiing snowy mountains or surfing on the beach? Most will say they plan on following warmer temperatures but, if you are heading to the desert, be prepared for temperatures to drop dramatically overnight. We think it’s smart to plan on including a heat source for those occasions. You’ll be grateful you did; for yourself and any furry friends you have with you.
The three most common options of heaters we see on the road are propane, gas, or diesel—each of which come with their own pros and cons. To choose which is best for you might depend on the vehicle you drive, your build set up, and your budget.If you plan on following warm weather you should also consider having air conditioning in your van. It’s tricky when it’s very hot out because you want to park in the shade to stay cool, but have to think about charging your solar in the sunshine. This can ensure comfort for yourself and your pets, but will need to plan for this to have enough power to support it. Another option can be two roof vent fans and walling off the cab area where heat is lost or gained through all the windows.
We decided to ease into this new lifestyle and keep working our regular 9-5 jobs when we first moved into the van. We needed some time to figure out that DIY bucket toilet and just how quick these showers needed to be. We had our steady paychecks coming in without paying rent. We were able to put aside a decent amount of money into our savings to then quit our jobs and hit the road full-time. We weren’t exactly sure how much money we needed to keep us on the road for a year, but we figured that out along the way. We decided it was smart to set aside a first and last months rent into a savings account we didn’t touch as a fallback plan.
We later figured out we need about $1,200 per person each month to cover all expenses. We now know how much money we need to make while living on the road and can decide how that income will be coming in in various ways. We think it’s important to be frugal with your money while living this lifestyle so you can make it stretch much further. We choose to spend money on necessities and experiences rather than material items or luxuries. It can be different for everyone, but the reality is you’re limited on space, but your overhead costs are much lower in a van than in a house.
Here’s a bonus tip—If you’re moving into a van as a couple, set yourselves up for success by taking care of each other. Decide on which responsibilities you’ll each take on and pay attention to if the other person needs a break or needs to switch those roles at any given time. Express your appreciation when they take on any extra chores you usually do. Have patience with each other while living in a small space. Overall, make it a daily thing to care for each other and help out as much as you can.
Making YOUR Space
Overall, we made sure to include things we felt were of importance to our personal happiness. Shawn wanted to be prepared for the unexpected and have tools handy as well as fun things such as roller skates, snorkel gear, frisbee, and board games. He loves watching movies, so we made sure to hold onto his DVD collection and a DVD player for when we’re out of cell signal. We have a smart projector with a pull-down screen that we can take outdoors to include our friends in the enjoyment. I was hesitant to move into such a small space with the need to downsize my clothing and accessories collection.
My number one necessity was a large closet, so we made sure to include it with makeup and jewelry hanging inside the doors. We also found a perfect large storage compartment over the cab for shoes. We’ve created enough storage for other things I was worried about too such as camera gear, toiletries, jewelry-making totes, and other craft supplies.
We believe if you plan, plan, plan and plan some more you’ll set yourself up for success on the road. We don’t feel like there should be stress or unhappiness while living in your rig. Build it around your life, your interests, and the way you want it to be. If there’s something you were wrong about in your planning and you didn’t know until you experienced it, make the necessary changes to find your comfort. We held on to all the tools needed to build our rig and now tow them behind our van in a trailer. We help others through their build process and with making those needed changes to find true happiness.
If you’re ever in need of our help, find us on Instagram: @CRUXandbeta
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