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Do you ever feel suffocated by the daily grind of work, bills, and responsibilities? Do you sometimes scream for adventure and the ability to travel the world on your own terms?
If so, you are certainly not alone. Living in a van – at least part-time – could be the answer for you. It not only provides complete freedom in terms of where you can go and what you can do, but it can also be a very economical way of living.
In this post, I want to cover how to find the absolute freedom by living in a van. I’ll look at why we currently see a tremendous increase in vanlife popularity, I will dig into some do’s and don’t, share some practical tips to get you started, and introduce a new camper van project that I am currently working on.
There are various reasons why the popularity of vanlife has been rising in the last couple of years. One of the main reasons is the desire for more freedom and the ability to go where you want when you want it, hence, escape the traditional 9-to-5 lifestyle. I described this idea in more detail in my previous article about Everything You Need to Know to Build Your Perfect Camper Van. Connected to this is also a trend that makes people rethink their values and aim for a simpler, more minimalist lifestyle – which I also fully subscribe to. Minimalism allows people to focus on experiences rather than material possessions.
Technology advanced and we have now more and better materials and tools available and in an affordable way. And the Internet (especially Youtube) is a rich source of very accessible information about everything you need to convert a van. Social media also helped to popularize van life, with many people sharing their experiences and adventures on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, or Tiktok.
Finally, probably the biggest driver was the pandemic. In line with what I wrote above about minimalism, the pandemic and with it the loss of freedom made people reevaluate their lifestyles and priorities. This influenced many to seek a more flexible, low-cost, and outdoor-focused lifestyle, which van life can provide. Another trend that is connected to the pandemic is the huge increase in remote work and online businesses. You can easily work from a van, which is what I frequently do. The New York Times confirmed a surge in sales of camper vans. Manufacturers are still struggling to keep up with demand. Outdoorsy reported a 4500% increase in bookings for camper van and RV rentals during the summer of 2020 compared to the previous year.
So, it’s getting more and more popular. And I fully understand. I love it, too, and cannot imagine a better way to travel. If you wanna jump on that bandwagon, too, below I am sharing some do’s and don’ts that will help you avoid some of the typical beginner traps.
I am summarising here some of the most useful vanlife do’s.
Although living in a van may appear to be a spontaneous lifestyle choice, it really requires you to plan and prepare carefully. This is true while you are converting your van but also then when you live the vanlife. You'll need to plan your journey, which stops you take roughly, where to park, where to get water or electricity if you need, where to get supplies, how to do laundry, or where to empty your toilet or grey water tank. Also, every day you’ll be facing surprises. Plans don’t always work out as planned, so make sure you plan for some redundancy and resilience. Things break. So, plan for that too by bringing basic tools in your van.
Because your van will be your home, it should be of high quality and especially reliable. If it breaks, you are fucked. Or it’s very expensive or complicated. Look for a van that is a good, solid basis for your little home on wheels. Consider the van's size and model as well as your desired level of autonomy. That includes features like a solar panel system, a kitchen, a bathroom, water systems, heating, viking ax etc.
When it comes to living in a van, less is more. Bring only what you truly need and keep your possessions to a minimum. You don’t really have any options to bring a lot anyway as space is limited. Consider functionality and practicality over looks. Spaces need to be optimized and often have a double or triple use. Make sure everything has its place and can be mounted safely so it does not fall around or become a bullet when you brake. A messy van will restrict your ability to move quickly and freely, and it will cause additional stress.
Living in a van and the minimalist mindset go hand in hand. Or in other words, if you are not able to embrace minimalism, you should ask yourself if vanlife really is for you. You must be content with less and learn to enjoy the little things in life. This is actually a beautiful thing and one of the cornerstones of my own happiness philosophy. Appreciate the freedom that comes with not being bound by too much material stuff and instead focus on experiences and memories.
There is an active community of van lifers out there. I recommend making an effort to connect with others who share your interests. Participate in meetups, Facebook groups, and online forums. Sharing your experiences, thoughts, and advice with others can be quite beneficial and make you feel less alone on the road. This is not only fun, but can also enrich your vanlife experience with priceless tips and recommendations.
Here are my top vanlife don’ts. Try to avoid these beginner traps. I stepped into almost all of them.
A very common mistake many (vanlife newby) people make is overpacking. Keep in mind that you will be living in a limited place, so each item you bring will take up valuable real estate. Think twice about what you really need. Make sure you have the essentials (including tools) with you and leave everything else at home. You will also learn from experience and certainly not get everything right the first time.
Living in a van is a fantastic experience, but it is not without concerns. Be careful and use common sense to keep yourself safe on the road. Invest in a high-quality van lock and avoid parking in potentially dangerous situations. I once parked in a highway parking in the South of France, just to find out later that this parking is known for a high crime rate and lots of kidnappings. Would I have known, I would not have slept that well there – or would not have chosen it in the first place. This is related to one of the do’s above (“plan and prepare”).
Always be mindful of your surroundings and follow your intuition. This may sound a bit sketchy, but make sure you have a good knife kinda ready to hand. You never know. A good knife BTW, is one of those essential tools you should always have with you in your van.
Because your vehicle is your home, you must keep it in good functioning order. Regular maintenance is essential for avoiding problems and keeping your vehicle ready and safe to drive. Keep track of oil changes, tire conditions, and any other necessary repairs.
While living in a van is a cost-effective way to live, it's crucial not to underestimate the costs. It is a lot cheaper than living in a flat. But still, be aware that there are costs that you may not consider initially. Apart from the obvious stuff like food, and toiletries, etc, you’ll need to pay for insurance (get a good one), tax, tolls (ever been to south of France?), parking or camping sites, or gas (which can sometimes be incredibly expensive). Finally, always have some cash on the side for any necessary repairs or maintenance to your van. Before you take the road, be sure you have a reasonable budget in place and plan for contingencies.
Make yourself comfortable. Vanlife and the freedom that comes with will mean some sacrifices. You will have to make some compromises. It will be cold at times. You will desperately have to look for the next source of clean water. But all of that should not be at the expense of your comfort. Planning and preparation help. Build a comfy bed, consider heating, good (natural lighting), have a large enough (and quiet) fridge, and good ventilation. Even though it's on wheels, you want to make it your home. And at really bad times, think positive! Consider what you get in return for some potential sacrifices.
Finally, I am summarising 5 practical vanlife tips which I learned myself over the last couple of months living in a van.
One of the best aspects of living in a van is the ability to park and camp for free anywhere you want (almost). Look for national forests, coastal roads, national parks or other public lands that allow scattered camping. Make sure you are respectful and don’t break any rules. This is not just for you but also for the other vanlifers who may want to enjoy the same spot.
There are also numerous applications and websites that can assist you in finding free camping locations. One of my favorites is park4night, which I use almost daily. It’s a user-generated and evaluated registry of parking spots all over the globe – like wikipedia for camper van parking. In it’s basic version it’s free, which is awesome. The premium version is also not expensive and has some valuable additional features.
Living in a van is an environmentally favorable lifestyle choice, but you must be aware of your environmental impact. Avoid leaving trash or waste behind, and always properly dispose of your waste. Also, be mindful of your water and energy consumption. Consider getting a composting toilet. I am a big fan of solar-powered energy. It is a great way to increase your autonomy and produce your own energy in an eco-friendly way. Just use common sense and generally be respectful with other people and nature.
Living in a small place requires some organizational abilities. Make sure you have enough storage space and utilize containers, baskets, or shelves to keep things organized. Create a routine for cleaning and maintaining your van, and keep it neat and clutter-free.
Living in a van does not need you to disconnect from the outside world. Get yourself a good mobile data plan that includes roaming at a good price and especially with very good coverage. There are several websites that show you coverage maps for various telco operators. I work from my van, so having good internet access is crucial. Apart from work, it’s actually quite important to be able to catch up with family and friends, follow any hobbies, or do online reading or research. It may get a bit lonely otherwise.
Living in a van requires a certain level of adaptability and flexibility. Unexpected problems or adjustments in your plans will arise. I can tell you that. Almost daily. One day, I parked on a beautiful beach. In the morning, the exit road was completely flooded. I had appointments, but could not leave. You have to be able to handle such unexpected situations.
One way to deal with it is to learn to go with the flow. That’s easier said than done, but actually quite gratifying and a good lesson for life anyway. Accept the spontaneity of life on the road and be open to new opportunities and adventures.
After these do’s and don’ts and the practical tips, it’s probably quite clear that I am very into this vanlife and camper van topic. As a consequence, I embarked on a new project, that I want to share.
I am hooked on camper vans and vanlife. So, no surprise that I agreed to a project idea that Toni and Marie proposed to me. They are the founders of PortCamper, the leading camper van conversion company in Barcelona and Catalonia. Together we want to bring the PortCamper quality vans and the unique Mediterranean design into the German market.
We did a lot of research and concluded that in terms of design and execution the German market is way behind the Spanish market. Camper vans here in Spain, especially in Catalonia are on a different level. In addition, costs in Germany are way higher. We did a competitive deep-dive and frequently German camper van conversion companies charging three times what PortCamper would charge. And still, the design is often simply ugly. This is the opportunity we see.
We also needed to understand the legal and procedural differences in converting a van, security standards, technical examinations, registration, insurance, tax etc. We ran through a whole dry-run experiment where we actually bought a van in Germany, shipped it to Barcelona, converted it, drove it back to Germany, went through the technical inspection, failed, then passed, and changed the registration from transporter van to camper van. This was a very important lesson. Quite complicated but now we understand it all and know that our model works.
So, we launched PortCamper Germany. Check it out here: germany.portcamper.com
In addition, we are collaborating with several media outlets and social media to raise awareness and gain momentum in Germany. We are already starting to advise potential German customers.
Apart from our extremely competitive price advantage, we developed a revolutionary concept for Germany, which we call the Mediterranean Van.
This concept is characterized by using a lot of natural wood, warm and pleasant colors, and layouts that are not only practical but beautiful. We also pride ourselves on using as far as possible eco-friendly and sustainable materials, ideally locally sourced. We also typically stay away from cheap, shitty products and usually recommend high-quality components – unless customers wish otherwise (eg, to save some money).
You can find more details also in our brochure.
Apart from the Mediterranean Van concept, PortCamper is special because of its year-long experience as a market leader in Catalonia, the broad skillset of the team members, and the passion they bring with them. Everyone here is a vanlifer, too.
This is another project that is a perfect fit for my aspired lifestyle. It’s a topic that I am passionate about (camper vans, vanlife, freedom, health), and it will be a further semi-passive, highly automated income stream supporting my financial freedom goal.
Living in a van allows you to see the world on your own schedule. It allows you to go wherever you want and whenever you want. It also allows you to create a comfortable and meaningful lifestyle on your terms that is both economical and environmentally responsible. Some of the do’s, don’ts, and practical tips that I presented in this article will help you to understand the idea behind this lifestyle better, and how to find the absolute freedom by living in a van, if that’s what you want.
Obviously, I love this stuff. The reality of vanlife, in fact, exceeded my expectation. The level of freedom and happiness that this lifestyle adds to my life still blows me away often.
If you’d like me to go into more detail about any of these aspects, feel free to reach out to me. Keep in mind to stay safe, organized, and to enjoy the freedom that comes with living in a van. The road is waiting for you; are you ready to take it?