Is there anything better than an adventure? Pair that with the open road and the sense of possibility in the air and you have yourself a magic combination.
Van life has been increasing in popularity ten fold in recent years and for good reason, so we decided it was high time we investigated what all the fuss is about plus how you can get started. All the need-to-know information about van life in one place.
Have you ever just wanted to pack up your entire life, buy a van and head for the hills? Us too! It's the life aesthetic and freedom we spend our days day dreaming about from our office in a rainy city. However, it begs the question, how easy is it, to do just that? Well, I'm glad you asked, we have put together the ultimate guide to van life so you can begin your plan for freedom, all packed up, perhaps joined by your favourite human or four legged friend. The open road is calling!
The ability to pack up your belongings, leave your city behind, and hit the road on a permanent adventure is the dream-like notion of van life. This nomadic lifestyle is the solution to many day-to-day problems, including the rising disdain for office working, the soaring rental costs for inner-city apartments, and the boredom that comes from being trapped in one destination for the foreseeable future.
Ultimately, van life is a cheap, simple, sustainable, and flexible way of living and working on the road. To enjoy van life, you've got to have the mentality to become part of the movement and be willing to throw away the ties of everyday life to be rewarded with the freedom of the road!
Over the years, van life has taken off considerably, and your Instagram feed is most likely littered with enviable photos of tanned twenty-somethings lounging around in their neutral-toned vans, admiring the sunset out the back window. In this blog, we're going to unpack the meaning of 'van life' and explain why you're not just looking through rose-tinted Instagram glasses.
The appeal of condensing your life down small enough to fit inside a four-wheel base is because of the endless freedom the van lifestyle provides. Mortgages, utility bills, and office start times are just some of the bug-bears of everyday life that are thrown to the wayside when you adopt van life.
Van life is more than a cool way to live. It's an epic flipping way to live. Every day is different, and you quickly become the master of your own destiny. You live in a tiny portable bubble that has the potential to go anywhere in the country at the drop of a hat, and all you have to do is get behind the wheel. Van life also presents endless travel opportunities day after day, and you're bound to tick off plenty of bucket-list destinations a lot sooner than if you'd stuck with your 9-5 city job.
If you've prepared well for van life, and you're in the correct mindset, there's endless room for personal growth. On the road, you'll have the time to learn about yourself, focus on what you really care about, and better yourself as a person. Most importantly, van life isn't always easy, and struggle always helps personal growth.
Van life certainly offers the flexibility and the freedom to travel across the country without having to worry about getting back in time for that Monday meeting or weighing up holiday days taken, and with that comes a real sense of adventure! So long as you can afford the petrol, you can pretty much travel anywhere and see anything! Adventure is one of the big draws to van life, and the majority of nomads quit their 9-5's to add a little spice to their lives, and adventure is the root of allspice!
As you're travelling the country, hopping from one National Park and golden coast to another, you'll quickly find yourself with plenty of time to hone in on your hobbies. While not everyone who owns a van is a pro-surfer, there's plenty of opportunities to learn while on the road! Surfing isn't the only sport that goes hand in hand with van life; hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and all manner of outdoor activities make the perfect pastime for the nomadic traveller.
While money management and cost reduction techniques are still very much essential for successful van life, it goes without saying that life on the road is considerably cheaper than inner-city living. Instead of paying off a mortgage or sky-high rental fees, you'll instead be paying for petrol, fun experiences, and campsite fees (that is, if you can't wild camp!). Van life provides the opportunity to save a lot of money, or at least spend a lot less in the long run.
Minimalism is all about living with less. Less financial burdens, less unnecessary expense, and less physical belongings. "If you don't use it, lose it" is a popular phrase amongst van owners, and when your bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living area fit in a 4 x 2-meter space, it makes sense to adopt a minimalist way of living. A consolidated wardrobe, regular purges, and dual-purpose materials are all great ways to maintain a minimalist lifestyle.
How to meet new people while travelling is always at the forefront of most new travellers minds, particularly when you're moving so frequently. While social media and meet-up apps are all great ways to find like-minded people, you can't go wrong with meeting people in a bar! Often the barman knows all the best spots for travellers to hang out, and you might land on a couple of locals with inside knowledge too.
Van life can't be all plane sailing, and there are certainly some challenges you should be aware of before jumping in feet first. Van maintenance, personal safety & hygiene, health issues, lack of space, and feeling homesick are all areas to ponder.
To start your new van life, you need to find a vehicle to suit your lifestyle and needs, decide whether you want to go full-time on the road (there are lots of weekend warriors around!) and decide whether your time on the road is sustainable.
The weather plays a large part in van life, and you need to be prepared for the elements as it can get pretty miserable pretty quickly if you're trapped inside a cold, damp house on wheels! Vehicle insulation, propane heaters, and condensation reduction techniques should all be considered when mapping out your van life plan.
If you're already a freelance worker, then making money on the road shouldn't be too hard a job, so long as you have WiFi! If you're leaving a corporate 9-5 job, you might want to break down your skill sets and consider selling these on Fiverr, an online marketplace where people pay for skills! Alternatively, getting temporary work in a given destination might not seem glamorous, but it certainly ensures a reasonable steady income.
To avoid life on the road being lonely, you're going to want to make some new friends (even if you're travelling as a couple). Joining guided group tours, hanging out at ex-pat hotspots, and exploring as much of a destination as you can are all great ways to get your face out there and start making connections!
Living in a van is easy, so long as you've purchased the right van and have kitted it out to suit your every need. Making the most of minimal space is also key to successfully living in a van; every nook and cranny of the van should be of benefit to you, and if it isn't, then you're going to need to improve your interior!
If you're lucky enough to buy a campervan fully kitted out and good to go, then you're really winning at life. However, the rest of us tend to purchase a shell of a van and take the time to convert it from a vehicle to a home on wheels. Converting a van into a mobile living space may seem daunting, but the endless videos on Youtube suggest otherwise.
The first thing you're going to want to do is set yourself a budget; this will quickly determine the size of van you can afford and the brand. Once you're set on that, you need to design the layout of the van, taking time to consider ventilation, insulation, electricity and gas installation, and fresh and wastewater storage.
Volkswagen Transporter = The most iconic van has to be the VW Transporter, a legendary transit van that looks epic no matter the age, color or size. The transporter is an incredibly comfortable van and relatively easy to convert. Most importantly, due to the transporter's popularity, spare parts are easy to come by at even the most remote garage. The downside? You're paying for the brand.
Mercedes Sprinter = A tad more affordable than the VW Transporter, the Mercedes Sprinter is a reliable van that comes in a variety of sizes. The high roof version and the long-wheelbase option are the Sprinter's selling points, as you can easily stand up in the van.
Vauxhall Movano = With a fiberglass roof that's easy to cut (trust us, this is a selling point) and enough ceiling height to perform a headstand, you can't go wrong with the Vauxhall Movano. It's cheaper than both the VW and Sprinter too, but perhaps it's not as visually appealing.
Check out our essential tips on how to build your dream campervan from scratch:
If you're travelling across Europe, you might want to download an app called ParkMe. It finds parking spots close to your location and tells you how much it'll cost to park there. Other overnight motorhome parking can be in the form of campsites, overnight approve motorhome schemes (these are popular in France), and wild camping. Check the wild camping rules of your destination before settling down for the night!
The rules around camping on public land vary from destination to destination. For example, in Sweden, wild camping is permitted on any land except for private gardens, near a home, or on land under cultivation. The Freedom to Roam rule is fairly relaxed. In contrast, wild camping is illegal in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (though there are caveats to this rule). Countries, where wild camping is particularly welcomed, include Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, and Spain.
Parking your van in a private car park (like a supermarket car park) overnight depends entirely on the company's rules. If you're not allowed to park up overnight, you'll see plenty of signs dotted around the car park telling you this. If no such signs are up, and there's no barrier on the car park, then it's more than likely that you're safe to park.
Arguably one of the biggest challenges of van life is personal hygiene. Where do you go to the toilet? How do you wash? And how do you clean your clothes? Most van lifers will do laundry at laundrettes when passing through a small town or city, though it's easy enough to hand wash smaller items on the road! As for personal hygiene, most vans will have a portable toilet and shower, though most van lifers prefer to make the most of public amenities on campsites.
The largest expense of van life is purchasing your van. This upfront cost could be anywhere between £10,000 and £40,000 plus the cost to refurbish (which, again, could be upwards of £10,000 depending on how high-tech you'd like your conversion to be). Ongoing costs include campsite fees, food, road tax, insurance, maintenance cost, and petrol. If you're prepared to stay at free campsites and live a frugal life, you could aim to spend as little as £600 per month. However, a more realistic budget (which allows for a campsite with amenities and entertainment) would be £1,500 to live comfortably.
Making money on the road is doable in a variety of ways, from taking your office job and going freelance to writing an e-book and self-publishing it on Kindle! If you're crafty, consider setting up an Etsy shop and selling your handmade creations. There's no quick way to earn money on the road, but it's certainly doable if you're willing to turn your skillset into a product! Taking on temporary work is also a good way to top up your savings while you figure out how to build a sustainable life on the road.
As you begin to travel, you'll likely start to indulge in outdoor hobbies such as rock-climbing, hiking, skiing, or surfing, and you'll most likely start to think, "I wish I could teach these sports." News flash - you can! The great outdoors and van life go hand in hand, so you're already one step ahead of your competition. Consider settling down in a destination and taking on a seasonal job as a tour guide, surf instructor, or park ranger!
General temporary work is a great way to ease into van life and is a nice stepping stone from permanent work to the nomadic lifestyle. Sales assistants, supermarket work, and cleaning jobs are always up for grabs and allow for a steady and reliable income while you settle into your new life on the road.
Those who already have the skills to turn their permanent jobs into freelance roles on the road might consider themselves digital nomads. Sites like Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer, Guru, and PeoplePerHour are all great ways to showcase your portfolio and bid for remote work.
We highly recommend creating a portfolio and profile on at least one of the top five freelance websites (mentioned above) and taking the time to bid for jobs that best suit your skillset. Spend your free time building up your profile and engaging with potential clients to ensure you're in the best position to bid for jobs. Once you've secured one job, it only gets easier!
Aside from the freelance sites mentioned above, there's plenty of other job boards to throw your name onto! Contently, OnSite, YunoJuno, and TaskRabbit. Once you've mastered the art of freelancing, it's one of the best ways to work in the world! Expect to enjoy the freedom and flexibility to do what you love while living life to the full.
Micro jobs are incredibly well suited to vanlifers. As opposed to joining a large-scale project that provides long ongoing work commitments, micro jobs are small, short-term gigs that involve finishing a set of specific tasks in order to get paid. You won't see a project through from start to finish, but you will finish a small part of it and get paid! Most micro-jobs take less than 20-minutes to finish and don't tend to require any skills or training to complete. Categorizing information, answering surveys, testing websites, transcribing audios, and cross-checking data are all popular micro-jobs.
The world of freelancing might initially seem a little overwhelming but fear not; we've got plenty of resources to help you take that first step into a whole new way of working! Start with a visit to the ProBlogger Job Board, here you'll find plenty of freelance work, but more importantly, adverts to alternative support boards and freelance communities. Freshbooks (or Quickbook) is also a must, as you need to get to grips with invoicing before you start your first freelance gig. For a light and easy read, pick up How to be a Rockstar Freelancer by Collis and Cyan Ta'eed. Similarly, the FreelanceSwitch blog is an absolute must-read for any newbie freelancer!
Having a steady and sustainable income that doesn't rely on your physical presence in any one destination, allowing you the freedom to travel the globe, is the ultimate dream. Right?! Running a business from your laptop is probably just as difficult as setting up a location-dependent company, but thanks to modern freelancer websites, it's totally doable. One of the best ways to do so is to take on as many small freelancer jobs as possible across an array of companies. Once you've got your name out there and have started to build a reputation for being a reliable worker, you'll begin to reap the rewards of repeat referrals. Better yet, you won't have all your eggs in one basket.
Alternatively, you can jump right in and create a website or eCommerce store at the click of a button. If you can create something that people will pay for, do it, and do it now! Some of the most popular ways of funding an independent lifestyle include virtual assistant, drop shipping, freelance writing, marketing, and development.
Getting mail, seeing a doctor, finding high-speed WiFi, and other such mundane tasks all need to be pre-planned when living life on the road as logistics play a large part in your overall happiness as a van lifer.
Getting mail on the road has become increasingly easier in the modern-day, all thanks to collection shops and Amazon lockers! Most items purchased from Amazon can be left inside an Amazon Locker and collected at your convenience from your nearest locker site (found at most major supermarkets). If you've purchased an item through an alternative courier, such as UPS, you might have to pay a small fee to pick up the item.
Most van lifers use their parent's address as their main address, particularly for important documents. Make use of your friends too, and plan ahead if you know you're going to move on to a different city; send most of your mail here ready for collection.
Many van lifers approach insurance in different ways, and some insurance companies flat-out refuse to insure a self-converted van on the road. We strongly recommend shopping around for van insurance and consider paying to include the entire build (including electronics and personal items) insured too.
Health insurance for fan life is super important, yet it's often overlooked by the other pressing matters. Your coverage plan should depend on how often you currently see a doctor, whether you have any existing prescriptions, and whether you're likely to need regular care on the road (i.e., existing ongoing conditions). Begin your research by checking out SafetyWing, a leading health insurance provider for vanlifers and nomads!
One of the best ways to power your electrics as a van lifer is to install solar panels on your van and thank the sun later. However, we're going to assume you've not done this, in which case a power station is going to be your best friend. A power station is perfect for everyday use for charging small electronics. Much like a power bank, it can be recharged whenever you're on a campsite with hookups, or even by using the adapter in your van lighter socket.
Building a van life community and connecting with fellow travellers is an essential part of making the most of your time on the road. Make the most of social media on your travellers, particularly by using location tags (you don't know who else might be on your campsite!). Activity-specific groups, van-focused organized events, and temporary work are also great places to find like-minded travellers and join or create a van life community!
Now that we have covered all the details, the practicalities and the logistics, let's talk about the exciting part, all the stunning destinations you can visit in your van. We have put together a list of 10 spots around the world that are particularly adept to van life.
Not only are they visually breathtaking but also help make life on the road, super easy.
Land’s End on England’s South West coast forms part of a space that has been an ‘Area of Natural Beauty’ since 1959. And it’s easy to see why - rugged coastline, shimmering seas and picturesque beaches abound. A perfect place to park up for a few days.
Whilst there are plenty of places in Cornwall to wild camp (be aware that it’s not technically legal in the UK). If you’re looking for a campsite with good facilities to make use of then our pick is Lower Treave Caravan & Camping Park. The site, found in the heart of Lands End peninsula has everything you need, including electric hookup, a laundry, shop, toilet block with free hot showers and WiFi. Dogs are accepted and it’s within easy reach of various beaches and coves.
For a day of adventuring head to St Michael's Mount, a tidal island crowned with a medieval castle and church. There’s lots to see including terraced gardens, where they’re able to grow an unusual variety of plans due to the mild microclimate.
Yellowstone was the first National Park to be established in the US and is still one of the largest - it covers over 2 million acres of land across three states. There’s a huge amount of magnificent scenery to explore. Located over a (dormant!) supervolcano, it has the most geothermal features of anywhere in the world, along with mountains, canyons, forests, lakes and rivers. There’s also a wide variety of flora and fauna roaming all over the park including bison, wolves and bears.
The best way to see as much of Yellowstone as possible is to camp on the way to your next destination - luckily the park has 12 campgrounds. The facilities on each vary, they are a mixture of free and paid and some require pre-booking. Internet coverage varies drastically over the park. Technically you’re not allowed to park up and camp wherever you want, but if you’re keen to get away from the crowds, then it is commonly done and the Rangers tend to turn a blind eye as long as you're respectful.
The University city of Wurzbürg in Germany’s Bavaria region is a bustling gem of baroque and rococo architecture, with culture and fun to be found in equal measure. Located on the vine-covered banks of the River Main, the city is at the heart of the country’s largest wine-producing region, so sampling some of the delicate Franconian white wine produced locally is a must. South German flair is evident all over Wurzbürg, not least at the Wurzbürg Residence. This baroque palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts a magnificent staircase and a spectacular fresco-covered ceiling.
Friedensbrücke campsite on the bank of the River Main is a good option to park up at - it’s within easy reach of the city centre and has grey water discharge, electricity and toilet facilities and is reasonably priced. It does get busy though and space can be tight sometimes.
Lagos, in the Southern Algarve region of Portugal, is a historic and characterful town. Flanked by dramatic coastal scenery, Lagos itself exudes a relaxed charm and welcoming atmosphere. Those in search of culture can visit the ancient Moorish city walls, 17th-century fort and many beautiful squares and churches. While for sun worshippers there’s an abundance of beautiful beaches nearby. Keen surfers head to the nearby town of Sagres - a surfing mecca that’s pounded by huge waves. Lagos is also home to lots of good local cafes and restaurants and a laid back nightlife scene once the sun goes down.
For local parking Camping Trindade is a cheap option in a great location. Reviews suggest that it could use a little updating, but it provides a well-positioned base to explore Lagos and its surroundings. The site has grey water discharge, electric hookups and showers. WiFi is available in the bar area.
San Diego, in the middle of a 70 mile stretch of the sun-drenched Californian coast, proffers ‘beachside attitude and big city excitement’ and is famed for its beaches, parks and near-perfect weather year-round.
Balboa Park forms the cultural hub of the city. Formed in 1868, it now covers 1200 acres and houses 17 museums, various gardens and the world-famous San Diego Zoo (the most visited zoo in the US). You’ll also find a burgeoning food scene with a huge range of local farms supplying fresh produce to San Diego’s restaurants. The region also produces great wine and has a thriving craft beer culture.
Campgrounds don't get much more scenic than South Carlsbad State Beach which overlooks the magnificent Atlantic ocean. Located slightly north of the city, just up the coast it’s facilities include grey water discharge, toilets and showers and a shop. Some pitches are served with electric hookups.
The North Coast 500 is a circular route of 516 miles starting and ending in Inverness in the North of Scotland. The circuit takes you through stunning and varied scenery - wild coastlines, imposing mountains, vast lochs, waterfalls, sea caves, moorland, white sandy beaches and much more - encompassing some of the most beautiful landscapes the UK has to offer.
There are campsites spread around the entire route that are suitable to park up at, but one of our favourites is Clachtoll Beach Campsite, high on the west coast. The views out to sea are unbeatable and you can often spot dolphins and sometimes whales and orcas. The campsite has useful facilities on offers such as fully serviced pitches, showers and toilets, laundry room, shop and kitchen area. It is also dog friendly.
Often listed amongst the most beautiful cities in the world, Venice, the capital of the Veneto region in the North East of Italy is made up of over 100 small islands in a lagoon on the coast of the Adriatic sea. Connected by a maze of canals, this unique place is full of art, architecture and culture. Must-sees are the Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal but once you’ve taken these in, wind your way past the crowds through back streets where you’ll come across hidden churches and piazzas.
As there is no traffic in Venice, the only option for parking is outside the city. San Giuliano Venice is just a ten-minute bus ride away and at the site, located in a park, you’ll find facilities such as greywater discharge, electric hookup and toilets. It also aims to have a low environmental impact.
Found high in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Banff is a charming and picturesque town that is a perfect base to explore the surrounding breathtaking scenery from - think emerald lakes, lush forests and glacier-fed rivers. The Rockies were Canada’s first National Park, and outdoor lovers will find no end of activities to keep them busy. From hiking, kayaking and climbing to skiing during the winter months. The town of Banff has a lively downtown area full of bars, restaurants, galleries and museums.
There are plenty of campgrounds in the area that are suitable for parking, including Two Jack Lakeside. It’s unserviced but has toilets and showers, grey water discharge and kitchen shelters. Its location on the banks of Two Jack Lake makes for a particularly scenic spot.
North of the Arctic Circle, Lofoten is an archipelago of islands with a remote, rugged beauty. Mountains rise out of the sea and historic fishing villages huddle on the white beach shores of crystal clear fjords. In the winter, the Northern Lights are often visible and in summer, the midnight sun shines 24 hours a day.
You definitely won’t be short of things to do - you can surf, hike, kayak, fish, climb, take a boat trip or ski tour in the winter. There's also vibrant arts and food scene and museums chronicling the Viking history of the region.
Wild camping is legal in Norway, but if you’re looking for facilities to use then Rystad Lofoten Camping is a well-maintained site overlooking a fjord. They have good WiFi, showers and toilets, greywater discharge, electric hookup and laundry amenities.
Innsbruck holds a commanding position high in the Austrian Alps, where the urban city meets alpine pastures. As the capital of Tyrol, the city has a rich history and you’ll find a delightful mixture of baroque and imperial architecture, particularly in the old town where you can wander around story-book streets and happen upon sights such as the famous Golden Roof and Habsburg Castle. As a University city, there’s good nightlife and a diverse food scene and of course, the surrounding mountains offer all the outdoor activities you could possibly want, including great skiing during the winter.
There are several options for parking around Innsbruck, including Camping Innsbruck Kranebitterhof which has all the usual facilities including grey water discharge, electric hookup, WiFi, laundry and toilets and showers.
It can be if you've designed your van to suit your needs! If you haven't added ample storage or decent heating, then van life isn't going to be particularly glamorous after a day hiking in the rain. It's all about planning ahead and predicting what will make you feel comfortable and happy in your space.
Sponsorships are a great way to earn extra cash on the road, and it's a popular source of income with most van lifers and nomads. If you can nab a sponsorship then, great, but most van lifers will have multiple sources of income, and it's good to remember this.
Confining yourself in a relatively small area with your significant other for an extended period of time can seem a little daunting, but you're in it together! You'll soon find a daily routine that works for both of you, and hanging out with other people also helps!
Absolutely! We'd even go as far to say that van life is better with an animal on board!
It's totally up to you! Though factors such as weather conditions, WiFi strength, and bucket-list destinations all play a part in deciding which way to head next.
Most campsites have rubbish disposal areas, as do supermarkets. Make the most of a bin when you see one! Keeping the interior of the van clean is doable if you enforce a strict no muddy feet policy and make use of a dustpan and brush/ handheld hoover plus antibacterial wipes!
Gas station junk is a real treat! Unfortunately, we have a fitted kitchen so we pretty much cook the same things as we'd eat at home. Though, to save time and energy, we tend to eat even cleaner by enjoying fresh raw ingredients.
Again, plenty of campsites have refill taps, and we make the most of these when we find them! You can also buy water purification tablets, so if you're caught short next to a nice big lake, you can always make the most of the source!
A good heating and air-conditioning system in a van is a must. You also want to manually control condensation by opening and closing windows, plus wiping them down regularly to avoid dampness.
Social media, organized events, group tours, and campsite gatherings are all great ways to meet like-minded travellers and van lifers. If you put yourself out there, you're bound to find someone else in need of company!
Van life is actually fairly sustainable as you quickly become a conscious consumer who has no space for waste! The slow living lifestyle lends itself to planet earth, and we make a conscious effort to leave no trace behind. Also, big thumbs up for solar-powered vans!
Renting a van for a short period of time is an awesome way to see if van life is for you, though it can be a little expensive.
If your van doesn't have a toilet, then that doesn't mean you'll never see a toilet again! Aside from public restrooms, campsites and grocery stores are always easy to access toilets.
Again, public showers exist! Failing that, portable showers exist if you can handle the cold water (though if the weather's hot, the water will soon heat up outside in the sun).
You'd be surprised how easy it is to wash most items by hand in the sink or in a bucket outside! For larger items like bedsheets and towels, make the most of the laundrette whenever you pass one.
Propane can be bought from most decent camping stores or garages and can be refilled here too. Campsites also tend to have bottles for sale on-site too.
Gas stations, campsites, highway stops, national parks, and laundromats all tend to have free freshwater supplies.
That's all for now folks. Hope this has been helpful. Adventure is calling!