One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.
— Dale Carnegie
It's odd but true: The people who do the most adventurous living are rebellious kids and dying old people.
What happens to life in between these two extremes? It becomes "normal." Going about life by earning a degree and buying a 4,000 square foot house isn't necessarily bad per se—if that's what you want, go for it—but when it's driven by fear or expectation, that's when you need to start running in the other direction, because it will never lead to any kind of happiness.
Here's where an alternative lifestyle comes in: van-dwelling.
The Pros of Living in a Van
- Freedom. Can you imagine having the freedom to pick up all of your belongings and drive off into the sunset? Chances are, you can't. Chances are the freest you've felt were back in the glory days of college or high-school feeling high but not realizing that you were about to jump off a cliff into something called adulthood.
- Low Overhead Expenses. The initial investment doesn't cost much and keeping up the lifestyle costs even less. A good high-top van can cost around five thousand; depending on your area it may be less or more expensive. Taking into consideration that buying a nice van that you can live in for years is equal to the cost of 6-12 months rent, five thousand is next to nothing. Living expenses vary from person to person, depending on how extravagant you are, but it can be done comfortably for five hundred dollars a month. A quick Google search will pull up more information on the subject.
- Companionship. When van-dwelling you will indeed meet a completely new crowd of people who will probably understand whatever perceived weirdness you can throw at them.
- Travel. It's almost comical how people work their lives away only to vacation away from the house they work so hard for. If you choose to van-dwell, you live in a vacation spot twenty-four seven. The most expensive part of traveling in a van will obviously be gas. You'll already have your room for the night because you're driving it!
- Recreation. America has approximately 253 million acres of public land. Most of this land is located in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, Southwest and Alaska. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees this land, and recreational opportunities abound. Most BLM land is open to boondocking, and there are campsites usually free of charge. Fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, hunting, gold panning and more are all available on BLM land. Visit their website and choose state-by-state.
- Inner work. Being alone in nature, in the quiet, without any electronic stimulation to desensitize you to subtle happenings can lead to magnificent changes of heart. Most people don't allow themselves to experience their full range of emotions, possibly trying to keep up the pretense of "having it all together." Newsflash: even the wisest sage isn't emotionally stable every day all the time. Breaking on the inside is a wonderful thing, being with your feelings and thoughts in the raw might be something you've never actually done in years. We simply cannot have numb robots walking the earth; so be emotional when you feel the need. This could be the most beneficial aspect of living in a van.
- Work. If you want to quit your job and van-dwell or RV-dwell full time and travel extensively, working on the road or online is something to think about. Flea markets and farmers' markets are located all across the country, simply rent a table and you're set to sell whatever goods or crafts you have. Among the van-dwelling community there is something known as workamping. Workamping is basically an RVer or van-dweller applying for a seasonal job at parks, campgrounds, RV resorts, Christmas tree or pumpkin sale lots, lights houses and the like. The work is usually part-time and seasonal, but it is possible to find forty hour work weeks year round.
- Stigma. If being called a lazy, dirty, homeless hippy is going to be too much for you to brush off as just another stupid stereotype then either keep your choice of van-dwelling silent and to yourself or don't go through with it at all.
- Fear. Fear of not having a house, fear of leaving your steady income, fear of sleeping in a van in a dark forest. There's plenty of fear involved in any life-changing decision, van-dwelling is no different.
- Loneliness. This is a legitimate concern for all van-dwellers, the one thing to remember is that you can live in New York City surrounded by people and be a lonely person, van-dwelling doesn't sever your relationships, in fact, you'll be welcomed into a whole new group of people. There are van-dwelling forums online and there are also meet-ups across the country. Another option is to live in your van with another person or maybe a pet.
- Work options. This usually isn't a problem at all, but there are special cases. If you would like to continue working your current job while living in a van, you're usually good to go if you keep your living situation to yourself; it might be a better idea than blatantly telling your co-workers you live in a van. Keep in mind that not everyone will be welcoming to the idea of living in a vehicle. If you own your own business, it's not a problem! You're your own boss so what you say goes! The only trouble I see that could come your way is applying for a new job because you most likely will be required to have a permanent address on your application, which leads into the next point:
- No permanent address. Having a family member or friend who will let you use their address as your own on applications for jobs, library cards, at the DMV or for mail deliveries will easily solve the problem.
Take note that the cons will sometimes only exist in your head, such is the case with fear. Van-dwelling is an extremely bright idea if you're sick of being one of the many and you're ready to start your life over as an adventurous soul. Be brave, plow straight ahead until you get exactly what you want and live one of those lives that people will secretly admire and be jealous of. You can be a source of inspiration for so many people stuck with the idea that they have to do this or that in order to be taken seriously. The truth is, you don't really have to do anything other than what you want because isn't your happiness more important than how others perceive you?
Kelly Ann Christensen from Overland Park, Johnson County, Kansas on December 28, 2019:
I'm not sure about a van, but I'd certainly like to have an RV with my child and grandchildren to travel around in. Thanks for the inspiration article.
Hank B on November 12, 2018:
To eliminate being alone and lonely, find van dwellers of same interest and freedom (2 at the most). Make them family for companion and support on emergencies, etc. Three separate vans - convoy. In sleeping location, e.g. Walmart parking, spread out to avoid whistleblowers, busybodies, etc. Group only when killing time.
Jennifer Mugrage from Columbus, Ohio on August 21, 2015:
This is a great money-saving/see the world/have your adventures/ build your skills type of idea for young singles and maybe young couples as well. In fact, I remember seeing a newspaper article about a gal who went through college living in a tent in a farmer's field (with permission). It saved her a lot of money.
It is a lot less practical once you start having children.
With an infant around, you produce a LOT more trash. You basically need to be able to throw things away 24/7. Whose trash service will you mooch off of?
You can use cloth diapers, but that brings up the other problem: You produce a LOT more laundry. What are you going to do for water? When are you going to find time to hand-wash all that stuff? Where are you going to hang it, to dry? Or, are you and your baby just basically going to live in the local laundromat for the first several months?
Then there is sleep. If you or your partner have a hard time getting back to sleep once you have been waked, then sleeping together with your kids in a van is not for you. Imagine, every time your newborn wakes to nurse, your husband grumps at you because it woke HIM up too. Finally, he goes outside and sleeps under the van, and the next day he goes to work with a bump on his head and a hide full of chiggers.
So yeah, I think there is a reason people choose high-paying jobs and permanent housing once they enter their childbearing years. Those are the years when you really need stability, and a good system for food, sleep, and cleaning. I do think that many of the skills you might gain during van living could help you with making a stable, house-bound lifestyle more healthy and sustainable, though.
Ali on July 19, 2014:
Nice job, man. I can't wait till i jump into this lifestyle.
Sarah R. Reusing (author) from Eastern Shore, Maryland on October 01, 2012:
Thank you!! I'm glad you liked it, it's my first hub. Hahahah, I don't know if I would go so far as to call myself a philosopher, but it's a nice compliment!
Anil from Kerala on September 30, 2012:
You are a good writer. are you a philosopher.