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Van Dwelling for Singles: The Ladies of Van Life

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Think van dwelling is only for scrubbed-looking couples carrying surfboards and twisting into impossible yoga poses? No way! There are plenty of women jumping on the van life bandwagon alone.

Living in a van as a solo female van dweller isn’t for the faint of heart, but also comes with incredible rewards.

Many women are discouraged and warned time and time again that the van life is too dangerous for a solo femalke traveler.

So, I wanted to find several van dwelling women living out of a van alone to see how they do it, why they do it, and whether they’d recommend van life to other women.

Overall, I found all their stories very inspirational. These are brave, no-nonsense, intrepid adventurers! Love it.

Jessica Ward, a van dweller in a cargo van camper

Woman waves out of the door of her cargo van camper while van dwelling
C: Jess Ward

Q: What was the biggest challenge about van dwelling alone?

My most pervasive challenge was loneliness while living in a van. To unplug from society’s mold of what a normal day should look like, or a normal dwelling, begins to stir up some deep philosophical questions. It’s totally uncharted territory.

How do you feel when everyone else around you is living in a different way? What significance about myself do I draw from this?

You’re also secluded in the physical sense because you aren’t occupying the same spatial orientation as the majority.

[You might also like: 13 camper essentials for living the van life ]

You move on a daily basis; they don’t. Your house is on wheels; theirs has a wooden frame and an address. Even when these two structures are mere feet from each other, there’s still a sensation of being the odd duck out.

I label it loneliness but in hindsight, it might be something akin to psychological discomfort, sprung from our natural yearning to be understood and accepted within our society. You completely lose that anchor as a solo female van dweller.

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Q: How do you maintain a level of safety with van dwelling?

In the planning stages of my journey, I had several panic attacks when thinking about van dwelling full time.

It occurred to me early on that my idea of safety was directly tied to structure and form. I felt safe within the walls of my brick-and-mortar condo. Like, this fabricated box was the lone condition of my foundation of personal security.

That blew my mind! I knew I had to shift that perspective, and I did.

[You might also like: 79-year-old woman living in Ford Transit camper]

Safety while living in a van, for me, became a daily practice of trusting the world and my intuition. I adopted a state of mind that I was inherently safe. If anything felt fishy about a place, I simply moved on. It didn’t matter whether I got that fishy feeling at 3am or not.

I owed it to myself to be 100% comfortable wioth where I was at all times.

I owed it to myself to be 100% comfortable with where I was at all times. That tactic served me so well because I had no issues during my time living in a cargo van camper.

You can learn simple skills easily before you embark on your van life trip. Knowing how to change a tire, basic first aid, or even practicing your fight/flight plan in your mind (in case someone tries to break into your van) goes a long way to ease any qualms.

Do whatever you need to do to get into the mental arena of inherent safety.

Most every night I parked under a street lamp at the local Walmart. I found that hiding in plain sight brought me a lot of comfort, especially since there were other people in the parking lot at all hours of the night.

The one time I did park out in the forest all by myself, I didn’t sleep well because I was too creeped out!

Q: What do you think when people say van dwelling is unsafe for a solo female?

I think that those who say that are simply projecting their own fears. By that logic, the mere act of living is unsafe. You could die tomorrow from a mosquito bite or a walk across the street. Risk is inherent to life.

Two camper vans parked side-by-side in a parking lot. These camper van conversions have beds and ample storage space for van dwelling

The thought that women should be cloistered away from the world in order to keep them safe is rather archaic. As women, we are so deliciously sensitive to how we feel–it’s one of our gifts.

That’s why I think, as a solo female van dweller, relying on your intuition is exactly what will keep you far away from any potential danger.

Q: What have you learned from living the van life as a solo female?

I learned that true freedom is slightly uncomfortable, because the minute you have it, you might feel lonely. The fringe is an incredible, expansive place. It feels like growth and looks like solitude.

I learned how Western society keeps a tight hold on social norms in order to dissuade anyone who might want to venture to the fringe. But there are workarounds for the rules. We are slowly opening our minds to alternative ways of living.

I learned that when you have a dream, you just have to go for it. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, even yourself in a fearful state. No matter how wacky or silly or ridiculous your dream might appear to others, your dream came forth to move you forward as a person. It’s your opportunity for evolution. Head for the fringe if it calls you. I’ll see you there.

*Jessica Ward has written a book on van life for women, check it out here: The Intrepid Women’s Guide to Van Dwelling.

SEE ON AMAZON

Sarah Taggart, van dwelling in Ford Transit Connect camper

Sarah, who does van dwelling full time, poses at a beautiful alpine lake
C: Sarah Taggart

Q: Why did you decide to live in a Ford Transit Connect camper van?

I am a traveling Occupational Therapist. This means that typically every 13 weeks I move to a new location for work.

The first 2 years of traveling I stayed in short-term temporary housing which can cost anywhere from $1500-2800 a month, thus I really wasn’t making much money. Besides the expense of short-term housing, I loathed moving every 3 months.

[You might also like: How to do a budget Sprinter van conversion]

I started to brainstorm ideas to save money and make moving around a little easier. At the time I was a driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee and was planning on saving money to purchase a travel trailer. As I seriously started to research travel trailers,  I discovered they were a bit out of my price range. After researching a few different options I ended at converting a Ford Transit Connect van.

So one day I sold my Jeep, bought a 2010 Ford Transit Connect and converted it into a camper to start van dwelling right away.

I had a “WTF did I just do moment,” for sure, but it’s been a year now and I haven’t looked back!

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Q: What are your biggest obstacles to van dwelling?

Ford Transit Connect camper van in front of a stunning mountain peak
C: Sarah Taggart

The two largest obstacles for me van dwelling have been the winter and illness. I have been sick twice since going full-time, but every time it tends to be overwhelming.

The truth is, it’s very difficult to deal with not being well and not having the convenience of indoor plumbing. The two times that I was very ill I just opted to get a hotel room for the night, and it was worth every penny.

Another big obstacle was winter in Alaska. I had plans of staying in mild climate throughout the year, but due to some life circumstances, I found myself in Alaska for the winter.

I tried to make living in a van as a solo female van dweller work but once temperatures started to drop below 20 degrees every night my little heater and sleeping bag was not cutting it.

It always was extremely difficult to get up and get ready for work when it was that cold. I ended up renting a room from a friend for the coldest months. My plan going forward is to stay in more mild climates, hopefully.

One of the biggest lessons I learned is to not push my limits while living in a van.

Q?: What do you tell people when they make comments about how van dwelling isn’t safe for women?

Sarah relaxes in the back of her Ford Transit Connect camper van
C: Sarah Taggart

There are definitely some people who are not thrilled about the idea of a solo female van dweller.

If someone approaches me about this, I typically tell them the ways I stay safe. I don’t sleep in spots that feel unsafe, I trust my instincts, I have some protection (bear spray and a taser), and I also am not afraid.

I have strong feelings about me being more unsafe than a single traveling male.

I am also not naive, I understand anything can happen to anyone no matter how prepared you think you are.

However, I do have to say that I have found most people to be incredibly supportive of my lifestyle. I do get the occasionally “be safe” but most of the comments are similar to, “ wow that’s awesome!”

Q: What would you say to other women wanting to start van dwelling?

I’d say if you’re serious about van dwelling, do it! However, there are some things you should know. If you have a very minimal van like mine, you must be okay with not having certain conveniences. For example, I have no water tank, I complete most basic grooming activities outside or in a public restroom. I have to plan things like showers and laundry.

It’s definitely not a convenient lifestyle but I think the freedom is well worth it!

[You may also like: 11 campervan rental companies to test drive the van life]

If you decide not to embark on living the van life do not let the reason be that you are a female. You can live any lifestyle you want, and don’t let anyone else’s opinion deter you.

Q: What are your favorite places you’ve been while living in a van?

Ford Transit Connect camper van with the northern lights in the sky
C: Sarah Taggart

I really fell in love with Alaska, it’s a whole different world. In what other place can you see the northern lights, abundant wildlife, the largest mountain range in North America, and much more?

I am very happy I stayed in Alaska for almost a year and experienced all four seasons. The drive to Alaska is also one of the best road trips I have ever been on.

If you ever get the chance to drive to Alaska, please do!

Q: What are your long-term plans when it comes to van dwelling?

Sarah is very happy living in her Ford Transit camper van. The view out the back doors is beautiful
C: Sarah Taggert

I am currently working in Colorado and hoping to make some changes to the buildout of the camper van. Essentially right now it is a platform bed with storage. My goal is to make the van more modular. I’m hoping to make a pull-out kitchen as well as a bed that can also be folded into a couch.

I plan to continue traveling for at least the next 2 years and then reevaluate then.

You can follow along with Sarah’s adventures on her blog: Tiny Van Big Living.

Jennifer Vegvari, living in Jeep Cherokee

Jennifer sitting in the back of Jeep which she lived in for a couple years
C: Jennifer Vegvari

Q: What made you decide to live the van life in a Jeep Cherokee?

My mom bought this Jeep brand new in 1989 and it was hands down her favorite vehicle. She was the only owner and took really good care of it. She passed away suddenly late October 2014 and I asked my dad if I could take the Jeep as it was a second car for him and he said yes. I decided to live in it on a bit of a whim.

[You might also like: 30+ ways to make money while living on the road]

I’d been doing research on van dwelling and realized people lived in all sorts of vehicles. I decided that I’d never done something this outrageous before. The official sign came from my landlord at the time. She sensed I wasn’t happy in the rental I was occupying and she let me know that she’d let me out of my lease with no hard feelings.

That’s when I decided that I’d start van dwelling in the Jeep starting June 1st, 2016.

Get your FREE Van Life Starter Kit!

So you want to live the van life but have no idea which van to choose? Here are specs for 10 popular vans, van buying tips, remote work ideas and van build resources. Get your FREE kit now!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Q: What is your routine like when living in your vehicle?

Bright red jeep where Jennifer started van dwelling full time
C: Jennifer Vegvari

I have a corporate office job outside of Los Angeles, so during the week, I sleep in my car in the parking lot at work.

I’ve made friends with the security and my colleagues know about my lifestyle. Some say it’s a mistake to tell people, and they may be right, but that’s just not how I operate. So I told everyone and their mom my plans.

I have a favorite spot in the lot that gets shade all day and when I’m ready for bed, I’ll park there, head inside to shower and change into PJs and watch some Netflix on my Kindle until it’s bedtime. I set my alarm for 530am, I like to be up and out of the jeep when other employees start showing up. We share the lot and building with other businesses.

[You might also like: Is it illegal to sleep in your car?]

On weekends and trips where I work remote (my job is incredibly flexible) I hotspot with my work cell phone and have internet.

I don’t make a lot of money but the perks of my job (shower, 24/7 building access, company phone, laptop, gym, etc) mean more to me than money when I’m living in the jeep.

I realize I’m incredibly fortunate to have the routine I do.

Q: Where else have you parked overnight in Los Angeles while van dwelling?

Jessica parked in the mountains with an amazing view while living the van life
C: Jennifer Vegvari

In the beginning, there was a spot along Mullholland highway overlooking a state park about 7 minutes from my work.

The sunsets and sunrises were glorious. I still park there on occasion while van dwelling but I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself and realized parking at work when I can is the safest bet for me.

I’ve parked in Santa Monica in residential neighborhoods (getting there after 10PM, leaving by 530AM), along PCH, on land that belongs to friends in Topanga.

I’m a bit of a creature of habit though, so I’ve been parking at work during the week for the last month or so consistently.

Q: What are your long-term plans when it comes to van dwelling?

Trunk of the Jeep open to show a platform bed with storage underneath for van dwelling
C: Jennifer Vegvari

My long-term plans are a converted camper van. I have a cat, Barney. He’s currently being fostered by a coworker and once I get a bigger vehicle (with better climate control), he will join me and be my adventure buddy.

I honestly don’t see myself ever living in a “sticks and brick” again, but if I do I have a hunch it will be temporary, or a really awesome dwelling like a tiny house or a shipping container.

I refuse to work hard my whole life to risk dying before I can truly enjoy my life via retirement.

After my mom died, it sort of just all came together as a grieved: I don’t want the things I was told to want my whole life. I decided I don’t want to have children, I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder and buy a house and live my life slaving away hoping to live long enough to retire and enjoy my efforts.

My mom was 58 when she died. I refuse to work hard my whole life to risk dying before I can truly enjoy my life via retirement. I tell people I’m living the retired life now, as much as I can anyway.

My mom’s favorite saying was “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal” and that’s sort of my mantra now.

What is your advice to others about van dwelling full time?

I am absolutely loving it. The first month was hard. The month leading up to it was hard. Every single morning before I left my apartment for the month of May my first thought would be “Oh my God, I can’t live in my car, I’m just going to find a new place to live that’s cheaper” and I just pushed through those thoughts.

I moved out of my apartment alone (making 3 trips to my cheap storage unit), panic attack level anxiety brimming just below the surface ready to spill over.

I spent more nights than I care to admit in a Motel 6 that first month, but now I can’t even remember why I was feeling so anxious. I am absolutely happier. The advice is I have is that this is a drastic change from what people know and go their entire lives trying to achieve.

It will be HARD, you will get scared and want to back out. You will not feel happy all the time while you’re doing this, but I promise it’s worth it. The anxiety will settle, you will find a routine, and all the reasons that drew you into this lifestyle will become real.

You can follow along with Jennifer’s adventures on her Instagram: Topanga Jeep Life.

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22 thoughts on “Van Dwelling for Singles: The Ladies of Van Life”

  1. I am not surprised by the way women are treated when they make an alternative lifestyle choice. It is a major threat to the status quo. Of course bad things will happen because you aren’t staying between the lines. I have led an alternative life by design, tents, boats, vans ,trailers. Years ago, no women. Now, gutsy, independent, bold women are demanding that taste of freedom. Welcome, it’s about damn time!

    Reply
  2. Thank you so much for this article! After years of dreaming, planning and saving, I’m going to start truck dwelling full time in June–with the goal of visiting Alaska. My soul has been pulling me away from what I believe to be the inherently meaningless conventions of modern society for a long time now, but the fear, anxiety and doubt has started creeping up. The women featured in this article said a lot of things I really needed to hear. <3

    Reply
    • I am so happy this article inspired and spoke to you! I think its so cool seeing women doing adventurous stuff solo. Good luck on your journey! Do you have a website or Instagram where you’ll be writing about your journey? I’d love to follow along!

      Reply
      • Hey Kristin, thanks for your interest! I don’t have a dedicated blog or Instagram at this time. I’ve been seriously considering it though. If I do, I’ll come back and share the link! Thanks again for your awesome blog!

        Reply
        • Yes! Or email me [email protected] once you start traveling and if you’re up for it, we could tell your story on here! The more people who read about others doing this sort of thing, the more inspiring it is. Have fun!

          Reply
  3. Thanks for saying a little something about the solo female traveler. Nothing is gained when you let fear dominate your existence. Leeza D. Solo Female who converted a van to camper. I’m at Itsmyrvlife.com

    Reply
  4. I and my wife are up in age and we upgraded to a more convient unit. I placed our old VW van ot the end of our driveway with a for sale sign on it. I am amazed at how many young women are interested in it. They all say that it is just the right size for them.. Easy to drive and park, as well as easy to set up. Good to see that they are enjoying life. Chuck L.

    Reply
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  7. I fell critically ill 20 years ago, and didn’t recover quickly enough for my landlord, so he evicted me when I started getting help from the government.
    So, I got a hatchback from a friend, a tent from a yard sale, and hit the road to find a safe place to accommodate my multiple chemical sensitivity. I was homeless for nearly a year.
    Ladies, it freed me. It was the first time in my life that I had no responsibilities except for my health and safety. It was, in effect, my first vacation in my life. I was 50.
    Recently, I’ve bought a tiny teardrop trailer to become a snowbird, leaving my tiny house on wheels behind for the rainy PNW winter. I had three bins, a cooler, and a picnic basket, along with a small daypack for my getting around clothers. Bin 1 was for cooking equipment, bin 2, bedding, and the third held everything else but the cold food and the snacks in the picnic basket.
    Now, I have a bunch of usb-rechargeable gadgets, including a shower, fairy lights, a fan, headlamps, a multi=band radio/mp3 player/recorder, fantastic bluetooth speakers, and of course, the requisite phone, tablet, etc. Homelessness is a lot comfier than it was 20 years ago, let me tell you!
    In the past, I’ve been mugged, raped, and assaulted, all in the city. No one has ever bothered me in the wild, though I have left a couple of places when sketchy drinkers showed up. I’m just not afraid any longer. God help the man who tries anything on me again. I move for the safety of all concerned. lol
    So, at nearly 70, I’m hitting the road again, with several more comforts than I had in the past,
    Happy trails to all of you!

    Reply
    • You are an AMAZING soul my friend
      What a beautiful story of triumph even through trauma
      Bless your soul
      I am 37 in the midst of my heart pulling me to get on the road
      Currently a flight attendant and want this gypsy life more than anything

      Reply

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