What is Van Life and Why is it So Popular?

Published on November 7th, 2021

Imagine it: you’re flying down the road toward your favorite destination (or one you haven’t been to yet), maybe with the window down and the best road trip jam you know screaming through your stereo speakers.

Better yet, you have your entire life along with you: all your furniture, books, and other prized possessions (though granted, there may not be much). You can cook, sleep, eat, and even work on the road. You live like this: wild and free, going wherever the road might take you.

It may sound like a fantasy, but increasingly, it’s a reality for some brave and lucky folks who often call themselves “van lifers” (or sometimes #vanlifers, on the internet).

But what, exactly, is van life? And how on earth can you start van life if you’re currently stuck in a stay-in-one-place reality?

What is Van Life?

Van Life often means great views!

Van life is, put simply, life in a van — although it doesn’t have to be. Any kind of recreational vehicle will do.

It gets its name, however, from the purists who travel in Sprinter vans, remodeled Volkswagen vehicles, and other van-type recreational vehicles, sometimes known as Class B motorhomes or sleepervans. (We’ll get more into why this particular type of vehicle is so popular a little later in this blog post — but for now, know there is a method to the madness!)

Van lifers live their lives on the road, full time. They may work remotely to keep themselves afloat while they do so, or they may have saved up a stash of cash before leaving, with plans to stop somewhere (or return home) to replenish the coffers at some point along the way. In the meantime, though, they live, eat, and adventure with their van, or other vehicle, as their home base, often camping on BLM land and in other “dry” campsites where there may not be electricity or internet, but great views, solitude, and low costs are easy to come by.

Van lifers come from all walks of life: there are older van lifers, young couples, singles, and families too. Although recreational vehicles have been around for about a century and many people have lived nomadic lives both in and out of vans, the lifestyle is increasing in popularity now largely because the internet makes it possible for people to work, go to school, and otherwise perform daily life tasks from anywhere — which means they aren’t compelled to stay in one place.

Additionally, van life offers a kind of fantasy alternative for people who are sick of their work-a-day lives and wanting to get out and see the world. It’s important to understand that van life is not without its challenges — you’re shrinking your life down to a very limited number of square feet, after all — but with all the scenic photos and idyllic videos being thrown around on Instagram and YouTube, it’s easy to see why so many people are making the jump!

Camper Van or Motorhome?

So: why do so many of these full-time remote nomads live in a van, specifically? Why not a motorhome — or even a travel trailer?

While there are certainly many full-timers who do opt for larger recreational vehicles, including towables, there’s one big advantage that a camper van has vs. a motorhome: size — or more specifically, lack thereof. Because if you’re planning to stay primarily in developed (and expensive) resort campgrounds, a large drivable rig or travel trailer may make sense… but if your home is also going to be your everyday vehicle, and you want to be able to get deep into the off-grid woods to save costs and enjoy some peace and quiet, it may not.

Additionally, certain vans can be very affordable options for those looking to get started in this lifestyle without too much cash lying around (though a brand-new Sprinter van or a bespoke custom van built to your standards could easily set you back $100,000 or more — smaller doesn’t always mean cheaper when it comes to RVs!).

Vans can also make it easier to “stealth camp,” or to park and sleep overnight in cities, which may have ordinances specifically against larger types of RVs.

Types of Vans

Van under starry night sky

If you’re considering vanlife for yourself, renting a van on RVshare is a great place to start — because there are many different types of vans out there, and it’s a good idea to get some experience with different vans before you decide which one you want to live in full-time! For example, a newish, fancy-pants Airstream van built into a Mercedes chassis is going to be a very different experience than, say, a vintage converted Volkswagen bus.

Some van lifers also live in converted school busses, sometimes known as “skoolies,” which offer them more living space and, of course, excellent customizability… although that’s because these vehicles have to be custom retrofitted in order to be livable (unless you buy one from someone who customized it before you). In many cases, it’s very helpful to be handy — or to become handy — if you’re interested in trying out van life!

Ready to rent your own van and give van life at least a temporary try? You can search for vans (and all other types of RVs) in your area, or your destination area, at RVshare. Simply click “drivables” and enter your target destination, and you’ll likely see plenty of rigs populate the screen. (For even better odds of finding a van, use a filter to limit the length of the vehicle to 20 feet or so.)

Keep in mind that some vans come with on-board bathroom and plumbing facilities, which is to say they’re “self contained,” while some do not, so you may have to come up with an alternative plan for the bathroom (even if it just means crouching in the woods!).

Ditto for kitchens, storage, and pretty much everything else you can imagine. When it comes to van life, there are about as many different ways to go about it — and therefore different vans — as there are adventurers ready to take the lifestyle on. So go ahead: find your perfect fit today!


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