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Essential Van Life Tips for Living a Life on the Road

Take your life on the open road! America has more than 245 million acres of rangelands and desert areas. Most of this land is open to the public, and you can explore it in your van. 

But van life is about more than taking pretty photos of the countryside. It requires hard work and long preparations. Read about the essentials and get the facts about van life before you hit the road.

What equipment do you need for a van lifestyle? How can you make money while you are on the road? What should you do to stay safe and keep your items secure? 

Answer these questions and you can live a great life from the comfort of your van. Here is your comprehensive guide.

Find a Good Van

Living in a van is impossible if you do not have a good van to live in. Visit several stores that sell vans and compare your options together before you make your purchase. 

If you want a simple camping setup, you can get a minivan. Some minivans are expensive, but you can buy used ones from car dealerships as well as van stores. If you want to modify your van or perform a custom build, you can get a cargo van. 

Fixed-roof campervans are designed for camping and off-road travel. They have roofs that don’t change in height, making them hard to modify. However, these roofs are durable, so you can park your van in the rain or snow. 

A pop-top campervan has a pop-top roof, which creates more interior space and standing room while your van is parked. The roofs are durable, though people can break into your van through your roof. You can get van conversions that make your roof safer.

If you want a luxurious van lifestyle, you should consider a Class B RV. This is an extra-long vehicle with a kitchenette, bathroom, and separate sleeping area. These RVs are expensive and may require extensive maintenance, but you can make van living work in one.

Modify Your Van

You do not have to modify your van if you are content with it. But you may want to remove the back seats to give yourself space and store belongings.

You may also want to add insulation to your van. Wool and foam sheets can keep warm air in your vehicle, and they can fit inside any van. Consider wrapping them around your doors and windows.

Most people add appliances to their vans. You can add anything you think you will use on a regular basis, including a mini fridge and camp stove. If you don’t have enough space to cook inside your van, you can cook outside using mobile ovens and stoves. 

Regardless of what appliances you will use, you should carry batteries with you. You can rely on the battery in your van to charge your devices, but your van battery may run out quickly. You should have several batteries with you and replace each one as it wears down.

If you’re traveling with someone, you may want to make separate spaces in your van. You can hang up privacy screens to divide your van into two or three sections. Consider removing seats and other features so you can set up boundaries clearly.

Get Your Gear

No matter what van you have, you need to have a good place to sleep in. Most van lifers sleep inside of a sleeping bag, but a bag can be restrictive. If you roll around in your sleep, you can install a memory foam mattress and wrap yourself in a blanket. 

In addition to your appliances, you need to buy tools for cooking. You can buy a knife kit, pots, and cutting boards from a home furnishings store. 

You must get several safety and security products. A GPS tracker, alarm system, and car emergency kit are absolutely essential. You should consider getting a fire extinguisher and a carbon monoxide detector, especially if you are running appliances inside your van. 

A ventilation system will regulate the temperature and circulate fresh air. Try to find a system with multiple fans that you can modify with a remote control. 

If you participate in outdoor activities, you will need to keep equipment in your vehicle for them. Many campers like to lounge outside their vans, so you can bring a hammock and foldable chairs with you. 

You will need toiletries, medications, and other things you use in your daily life. You can buy most of these supplies at a pharmacy or health store, and you should buy enough so you don’t have to make multiple trips in a week.

Research Campsites

You can find campsites throughout the United States. Do your research before you hit the road and make a reservation for any site that asks for money.

Most campsites require money for you to park your van. The bigger your van is, the more money you may need to pay. You will also need to pay for electricity, internet access, and other services. 

However, you can find free campsites that give you enough room to park and move outside your van. Many national parks have free campsites inside or around the park. You can also find free sites outside major cities and along significant highways. 

You can park at a site for as long as you want. Many van lifers move from location to location, but you can stay at a site for months. You may be able to get a discount on your fees or free services if you hang around for long enough. 

You can try parking on the street in a city. But many cities have laws prohibiting overnight stays or sleeping in your van. Most cops overlook white vans that resemble commercial work vehicles, so consider camouflaging your van if you’re going to park in cities.

Find an Income Source

Van life has many expenses, including gas and food. You will need an income source in order to stay comfortable, though you may need less money than you would if you were living in an apartment or house. 

Many van lifers have social media accounts and earn money through partnerships with businesses and ad revenue. But very few people earn all of their money from social media. It can take years for you to build your reputation, and being on the road can make it hard to create posts. 

You should consider another remote job. Some people are copywriters or freelance writers. Other people are teachers, photographers, and accountants. 

In order to work your job, you need internet access and a functioning computer. You can use public libraries, but it is better to have your own device. 

You can find work as a seasonal employee in various locations. In the summertime, you can work in a restaurant at a beach destination. In the wintertime, you can work at a ski lodge or hotel.

Try to invest some money so you can earn a passive income. You can buy real estate, get stakes in businesses, and own stocks. You can make investments on your own, and you can talk to a financial advisor who charges low fees.

If you’re retired, you can commit to a van lifestyle without worrying about money. But you may want to earn a little extra money to cover emergencies and sudden expenses. Consider mentoring someone or volunteering at a library or historic home.

Find Free and Cheap Services

Some campgrounds have free showers and bathrooms you can use. You can find free parking in most cities and around many national parks and landmarks. Some cities offer free roadside parking after 6:00 p.m. or sundown, so go to a city then. 

Teach yourself how to do tasks that you would pay money for. You should learn how to cut your own hair, clean your van, and shop for groceries. 

A gym membership has an upfront cost, but it gives you access to hot showers and other services. Try to find a gym company that has locations throughout the United States. Buy a membership so you can use a gym whenever you want.

Talk to other van lifers and see if you can borrow anything from them. Be clear on what you need and when you will return items so they trust you. Don’t take too many items from one person at once.

Stay Grounded at First

The first few weeks or months of van living can be uncomfortable. You may not be used to sleeping in a confined space or driving for long periods of time. 

Start your van lifestyle with brief excursions. Spend a night in your van, then spend a weekend in your van. Once you’ve built up some experience, you can go out of your home for a week or longer. 

You should only move into your van full-time if you feel completely comfortable with the lifestyle. You should know how to sleep, cook, and care for yourself. 

Keep your expectations for your lifestyle low. You will spend a lot of time cleaning your van, driving, and dealing with obstacles. The places you park may not be safe or beautiful, and you may feel homesick. 

You should be willing to deal with stress and discomfort. Take resources with you so you can overcome emotional and mental problems, and feel free to talk to a therapist.

You can try van living with someone else, but be ready for disputes. Find ways you can negotiate and resolve difficulties without getting angry at each other. 

If you find van camping too uncomfortable, you should return to your previous life. You can find a low-income apartment or talk to roommates about moving in together.

Keep Yourself Safe

The van you use should have good locks on it. You can also install your own locks as an added measure. However, these locks should be inconspicuous, as someone may see your locks and assume you have valuables inside.

You should always park your van before it gets dark. Before you stop your van, you should look around your vehicle and make sure the scene is safe.

Parking in a rural location means you are vulnerable to animals. You should not leave any food or litter outside your van, and you should clean after you make a fire.

If you have valuables in your van, you need to keep them out of sight. You can put curtains or blackout screens over your windows to keep people from looking inside your van. But you should also place money, financial documents, and heirlooms inside a safe or locked box.

Never pick up hitchhikers unless you know them personally. Be careful when you are driving near a stopped vehicle or a person who has placed traffic cones in the middle of the road. They may be trying to get you to slow down so they can jump inside your van.

You may want to take self-defense classes and learn about self-defense moves before you commit to van living. You can bring a weapon with you, but you should conceal it and have the proper permits for it. Opt for non-lethal weapons like pepper spray and tasers over handguns. 

Start Your Van Life

Figure out a few things before you begin your van life. Pick a van and modify it to meet your needs. Get important supplies like cooking equipment, toiletries, and medication.

Ease your way into your van life and get comfortable with cleaning and cooking for yourself. Make sure you have a steady income so you can cover all of your expenses. Prioritize your safety and do not take risks like picking up strangers.

Keep researching the best strategies and tips for van life. Read informative van living guides by following our coverage.