Never “Too Old” for Life on the Road: 13 Van Lifers Spill Their Secrets

These insightful interviews capture what van life is like for older nomads, along with their unique stories from the road and helpful advice. Read on to learn more about van life from their perspectives!

photo of a happy couple inside their campervan

It is never too late to make a drastic change in your life and follow your heart to travel and see the world. While some chase their dreams of van life at a young age, others wait until they are older.

In these interviews, you’ll meet the older nomads of van life. No two stories are quite the same. Some of them purchase a converted van, are just getting started with van life, live in their rigs part-time, and travel solo, while others do the exact opposite. Others fall somewhere in between.

Although their journeys all look different, each nomad has valuable stories to tell and wisdom to share with fellow van lifers. These older nomads discuss their process of starting van life, advice for living on the road, the pros and cons of van life, and more. 

Living on the road in your later years might not suit everyone, but it can be a life-changing experience for those willing and able to try. Hopefully, these stories will inspire you and provide a glimpse into what life looks like on the road for older nomads.


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Table of Contents

The Choice to Live in a Van

It’s a privilege to choose to live in a van, and the older nomads in this article acknowledge this privilege. Some people live in their cars, trucks, vans, buses, or RVs not by choice but due to financial hardships, lack of affordable housing, and other circumstances, making for different experiences living on the road.

With that being said, here are the older nomads of van life!


1. Anne – Part-time Solo Van Life – Ford Transit Campervan

photo of an older woman with her goat
Photo Credit: Anne

Anne is a solo part-time van lifer who travels in her diesel Ford Transit 250 mid-roof 130” wheel-base.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

My overriding concern with the build was to keep things as simple as possible. I thought that the simpler I kept things, the fewer potential for problems there would be.

After losing out on three vans, I went to a dealer and traded in my car to help pay for a van. The dealer gave me the number for Treeline Vans in Marysville, WA, and they installed the windows, ceiling, walls, insulation, and fan. They were great to work with! Then my son put in the floor and built the bed for me — for free. He is great to work with, too! 

Next, I bought a used Ikea cabinet, and a friend installed a sink. I have a grey water drain that directs into a cat litter jug, which I empty as needed. Finding a hand pump faucet to mount on the sink didn’t happen so I just use a 3-gallon spigot jug, which probably is faster and easier anyway. 

For power, I bought Jackery solar components from Costco. These work really well. I wish the solar panels lived on the roof, but oh well. I also have a 12-volt refrigerator that barely uses any power. I remove all the “big ticket items” and store them at home when I’m not on the road to minimize the risk of theft.

I also have a marine stove that runs on alcohol, a choice I made because it seemed to be the safest option. The potty situation is evolving. First I tried a “canister” port-a-potty but didn’t like dealing with emptying the tank, so I bought one that uses bags, which I haven’t tried out yet. I also used a “she wee” with mixed results… not as simple as it seems! Mostly, I try to use public restrooms.

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

I almost had a serious wreck on the interstate a few years ago after driving all night because I couldn’t find a hotel room anywhere. I swore I would never get myself in a sleep-deprived driving situation again and had seen van conversions, so I felt they were a good solution. I’ve always had a fascination with tiny living and even had a very tiny house for a while. I don’t really want to do that again, and I have the best of both worlds right now. However, if things go upside down in the States, I always have my van to fall back on.

campervan parked outdoors with a solar panel outside
Photo Credit: Anne

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

It’s not as scary as you think. Buy a rig that you can afford and can drive and handle. I wasn’t sure I would feel comfortable driving a bigger van, so I test-drove a few and became sure I could. I also bought a 130” WB to make it easier. It was a trade-off of space vs. feeling confident while driving.

Think about your skills and any physical limitations you have, and factor those in. If you’re thinking of stowing things on top, can you climb a ladder while carrying them? Can you carry a 7-gallon tank of water or do you need to buy two or three smaller ones? I knew I needed a comfortable bed because I don’t sleep well, so that was a priority. Bigger isn’t always better! 

When you come down to it, you don’t need a lot to really enjoy life, and there is so much to discover! If you don’t think realistically about what you can and can’t do, you’re going to be unhappy. What do you need to feel at home? I need a lot of natural light and knew I would feel paranoid and claustrophobic without some windows.

I spent money on windows because I knew I would hate staying in my van in the dark. So I guess it comes down to knowing yourself. If you don’t like something now, you’re not magically going to like it because it’s in your van.

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

You can make van life whatever you want for you. Is it a way to stay close to all your kids? See national parks, save money (really be real about budget), explore, learn, or meet people? You can do all those things.

But you need to be realistic and honest with yourself to make it work. Most of us were a lot more adaptable and had no physical barriers when we were younger. Make your van specific to your needs and preferences. Otherwise, it is not going to work.

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

I have met some interesting and wonderful people through Harvest Hosts. I have a NARM membership which has allowed me to see museums I normally wouldn’t, and learn a lot. I can go where I want and stay or not stay. I can look much more closely at the world around me. I have a home away from home so travel is less disorienting. I have what I need when I need it.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

Do your research, attend a Van Life Summit, watch YouTube, TikTok and read blogs. Look at vans for a while before you buy. Really think realistically about yourself and how you live and what you’re willing to put up with.

Honor your budget! I need a home base that I can come back to. I research a lot before I go on a trip. I prepare meals or parts of meals, so I eat out less.

Scope out your “neighbors “ before you park and leave if at any time you feel uncomfortable. Ask questions of people who are doing it. Usually, people are more than happy to talk about van life! You can even email bloggers you don’t know and they will probably answer you.


2. Su and Gary – Full-time Van Life Couple – Mercedes Benz Sprinter Campervan

happy couple standing outside their campervan
Photo Credit: Su and Gary

Su and Gary live full-time on the road in their 2023 Mercedes Sprinter 4×4 Storyteller Stealth with personalized upgrades. You can find them on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube under their clever handle, SuGaryVanLife.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

We purchased a Stealth van from Storyteller Overland and then made several modifications. We wanted to make certain that our van was ready for all types of weather and road conditions.

The process was very stressful. I was a full-time business attorney, and Gary was a CPA. We didn’t drive trucks or camp. We didn’t know anything about it! We’d never even traveled extensively by car, so we relied on articles like this and YouTube. 

There is a lot of information available, but it still seemed like a weird choice. All of our friends and colleagues thought that we were crazy! We were nervous about committing ourselves to it but excited about the opportunity to travel to many places, including places that were off the beaten path. 

We researched van outfitters with great reputations and followed their advice. We solved our issues by selling our home so that we would have to be all in. “Full Immersion with Forced Family Fun” was my motto! 

photo of a happy couple outside their campervan
Photo Credit: Su and Gary

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

It started as a desire to travel constantly, but that is extremely expensive and exhausting. From YouTube, we saw many people traveling in various ways and decided to try van life.

We thought it looked amazing! We’d wake up to mountains, oceans, and beautiful vistas every morning. We’d sleep under the stars, have everything that we need to survive, and turn into minimalists and nature enthusiasts!

How would you describe your travel style?

Adventure light. I’m desperately seeking new experiences! I want to go everywhere and try everything but at a lower effort (i.e., rock scrambling vs. rock climbing or hiking 6 miles rather than 12).

We’re trying to live free from plans. That allows us to follow up on recommendations from the locals or to meet up with other van friends.

a man enjoying the scenic view of the ocean on a campervan rooftop
Photo Credit: Su and Gary

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

Not really. I camped out with my family as a child, but my parents planned everything. As an adult, I spent a lot of vacations hiking in National Parks. But it’s not the same thing at all when you’re hiking out of a lodge where a bit of cash gets you a packed lunch and hiking map, and the hike ends with a hot shower and restaurant meal.

I lived out of a car traveling around with my daughters for a few months, but we slept in hotels so that was very different. We rented a van many years ago and camped out for a week. That was vacation, and this is life!

It’s easy to plan for a week or two. Now, we have to plan everything constantly. There is no fixed home. Our van is home. If you do wild camping (boondocking) or even park camping, you can’t be sure that there will be diesel, water, food, or anything else. You need to carry everything just in case!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

It’s wonderful but difficult. There is a lot of work every day. We move around every 2-3 days because we want to see the world and our batteries charge while driving.

That means that I’m constantly working on where we’ll spend the next night and what we can do for fun. Gary is constantly planning food, water, and diesel.

My advice is to do what you want to do! If you overthink it, you’ll find an excuse not to follow your dreams. More importantly, only talk to people who are living the life that you want. Do not talk to anybody who is not living that life! They don’t know anything about it. If anyone wants to reach out to me, I’m happy to chat.

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

It changes you. I had a successful career with a lot of stress. I’m back in student mode with different concerns, but I love it! Just be patient with yourself and your partner because change isn’t easy. We’ve learned to be adaptable, and we are starting to learn how to relax (it isn’t easy for me).

Be friendly with everyone! People everywhere are wonderful. Everywhere I go, I talk to people traveling in vans, and everyone is happy to talk. I’m always looking for new friends, and I’ve learned loads like how to make a fire on the beach, how to drive off-road, information about plants… it’s never-ending.

I’m rarely alone. I’m traveling with Gary, and he’s rarely more than 6 feet away! That’s why he took up fly fishing, and I didn’t. Everyone needs a bit of space. We also have internet access so that helps a lot with research, communication, and movie nights!

a man on the rooftop of a campervan parked outdoors
Photo Credit: Su and Gary

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

I’m truly grateful to see and explore the world. We’ve met loads of lovely people!

You can make fast friends on the road because you have a lot in common, but you’re always leaving. People fill your heart and mind, and then you don’t see them anymore. I’m happy that I can keep up with them on social media so that we can catch up again.

Also, showers are different: you are now conserving water and helping the environment.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

Be open-minded! Don’t stress out about everything. Usually, it will be fine (or wonderful), or it will be a story. It’s like everything else that you used to struggle with. It will be ok! Please follow us @sugaryvanlife. We will be posting more tips and tricks as we learn them. 

Also, each type of van seems to have its own community!  Embrace the community- it’s lovely to have support. 

By the way- we’re retired but in our late 50s. We also have a cute logo that I designed and drew by hand.


3. Tommy Paul – Full-time Solo Van Life – Chevy Express

photo of an old man wearing a cowboy hat
Photo Credit: Tommy Paul

Tommy Paul is a solo full-time van lifer who lives in his 1998 Chevy Express 3500.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

I bought it empty and built it out alone over about three months. It was hard because I had no other place to live (nor shop to work in) while building the interior. A mattress to sleep on was about the first thing that went in, which I had to brace up against one interior wall while working on the other side, leaving little room to maneuver. Not easy.

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

From the time I was a small kid – dreaming as I swayed back and forth high above the ground in our backyard swing – I imagined traveling all over America in a small airplane or a balloon, believing someday I would do so.

The concept was born when I was in kindergarten. Just before rest time, our teacher, Miss Perry, read us a story about a boy and girl playing in their sandbox. The two of them found a wishbone in the sand and made a wish that their sandbox could fly. When the wish came true, they were so delighted and flew their sandbox — steering it with the wishbone — to some wonderful adventures before returning home. I never forgot that story because their “sandbox” became my life’s dream!

But the flying concept changed to something far more realistic in the late 1960s, when as a teenager, I picked up a magazine that contained a story about Volkswagon’s new camper bus with several pages of beautiful full-color pictures of it, both inside and out, displaying every detail.

Wow! That had to be my answer; not an airplane, not a balloon, but a Volkswagon camper bus! I wanted one SO badly! Begged my parents for one. But they didn’t think I was old enough.

white campervan showing the back area
Photo Credit: Tommy Paul

How would you describe your travel style?

I love living in a van rather than any “sticks ‘n bricks,” but I don’t travel much. When I find a good place to stay, it’s usually for more than a year.

Right now, I’m the Personal Care Attendant for a handicapped girl and have stayed to help her for more than two years now. I’ll go out a few miles to a wooded park, Cracker Barrel, or another spot to enjoy total freedom in nature for a couple of days and nights, but then come right back to be sure she’s OK.

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

Before moving into my first vehicle (a schoolie years ago), I was totally ignorant. I didn’t even know a thing about needing insulation for cold Colorado mountain nights. Brrr!

But when I purchased my current rig empty, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it – starting with Havelock wool in walls and ceiling!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

  1. Do it yourself and keep it simple! Don’t waste your money on someone else’s expensive build, where things always break down, leak, and provide endless headaches.
  2. Go for practicality, not beauty. For example, don’t hide plumbing or wiring; otherwise, you won’t know where the water is leaking from, or where the loose wire might be.
  3. I love having a dishwasher, a simple toilet, and a shower in a collapsible dog bathtub on the floor.

These things make you truly independent of any need for external facilities such as laundromats. But keep some white vinegar in the toilet and pee jar to kill smells and prevent germs from growing.

After washing and spin-drying clothes, I hang them from 60 hooks in rows on the ceiling where the fan in the back wall blows across them until dry. Having the fan in the back wall also means I can have it blowing strong even during hard rain without water getting in.

interior of a campervan showing the bed area
Photo Credit: Tommy Paul

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

  1. You’re not alone. Vanlifers feel they are “family,” and most of them want to share and help when they can.
  2. Be prepared for any emergency! I even carry a SPOT satellite GPS messenger in case I’m in trouble in the middle of nowhere.
  3. If you don’t have enough cash to handle any emergency, stay put in a safe place until you do.

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

Best: Freedom to experience every beauty in life through my own eyes, rather than being limited to what someone else might see in it.

Worst: Separation from others I care about.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

Air conditioning is impossible. Heating is expensive. Stay where the weather is good. When the weather is in the teens, I set my furnace to 38 degrees Fahrenheit to be sure nothing freezes, and sleep with a small 12-volt electric blanket around me under my jacket, keeping me toasty and warm.


4. Aileen Lauer – Full-time Solo Van Life – Mercedes Benz Sprinter Campervan

a dog inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Aileen Lauer

Aileen is a solo full-time van lifer who travels in her 2017 Mercedes Benz Sprinter 2500 4×4. She has a blog on Facebook called Miles of Now.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

Purchasing my van and building it out was a really fun COVID project when I wasn’t working for more than a year and a half. I had just sold my house and honestly was really priced out of the real estate market, so I decided to create my tiny home on wheels.

I had the vision and found two different builders to carry out my dream. The process was creative and fun, strategic, and so satisfying to see my vision manifest. All the while, I had the sinking feeling inside like I was putting way too much money into this build. But hey, I wanted to be comfortable and have a medical condition that requires a temperate environment, so I put a lot of money and design into things you can’t even see like insulation, suspension, etc.

I’m so delighted with my finished product, and of course, now that I’ve been in my van for about three years, I have new creative ideas about things I would change to make it more user-friendly for myself. Honestly, I have nothing to complain about because all my needs are pretty much taken care of in my build.

white campervan parked on the beach near a cottage
Photo Credit: Aileen Lauer

​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

I trolled social media for about three years before I started my build and noticed that people were living in their vans. I had the internal mindset that I would not want to do that, but rather use my rig to travel and have a brick-and-mortar home.

Due to inflation and being off work for a few different reasons, I found myself unable to afford rent (although when I do work, I make a good salary). This is why I’m in the van full-time and honestly, it’s not so bad. I struggle with keeping a positive mindset that I’m not homeless; rather, my home simply changed.

How would you describe your travel style?

I do everything I can when I travel to avoid campgrounds and built my rig out with 500 amp hours of lithium batteries and about 350 watts of solar power on the roof. This is much more than I use, except for in the summer when I want to run my air conditioning, which is when I look for a place to plug in.

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

I’ve camped all my life, mostly in a tent or simply under the stars. In the USA, we have really beautiful campgrounds with all the amenities.

sink of a campervan overlooking a beautiful ocean as seen from the window
Photo Credit: Aileen Lauer

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

The first thing I would advise is to make sure you have good healthcare and some source of income (even if it’s small) because it helps with morale. Also, make sure you are traveling in areas where you can get healthcare under your plan. This can be a little bit restrictive, depending on the insurance a person has.

When you do your build, keep in mind the aging process, and how mobility changes, so plan accordingly. For instance, I built my van with my bed mounted fairly high so I had more garage space, and I am finding that as I age, this could be a potential problem. I want my bed a little lower. In regards to the bed, make sure you have a good supportive mattress because when we are in the van, we spend a lot of time there and want to make sure our back stays in good condition.

Also, decide that you are going to get out and move every day. We don’t need gym memberships, but I find that I like mine for showering and for mixing up how I move my body.

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

Being successful on the road starts with planning way before we get out on the pavement. Van life can be very isolating. We need to be careful, join different groups to go on trips with, make friends (vital for mental health), and stay safe. It’s a mindset.

As we age, our reaction time slows down, so get some good self-defense training, because those of us who are older can be easy targets for those who are filled with ill intentions. Part of self-defense is to keep your head up and notice your surroundings. It’s so easy to get focused on what we’re doing in our own little life, but we have to be aware of what’s going on around us.

I avoid security problems by following my gut and moving my van if the space I’ve chosen doesn’t feel quite right or a person is creeping around.

I mentioned finances earlier, and everything costs more than we think it does. I think we need to plan for spending less than what we bring in so that we have a sense of security financially. Stopping in areas and joining classes and senior centers can be a great resource. People are so nice, and they’ll often let you plug in or fill up with water.

white campervan parked on the road with a beautiful lake on the background
Photo Credit: Aileen Lauer

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

The best part is having a mountain house and a beach house. I still work, so my commute is really easy because I can either park at my office or drive in against the commute traffic.

Another good thing is that if I’m somewhere where there’s smoke from a fire or lots of people or noise, I can simply move and don’t have to put up with neighbors. I love how easy it is to go visit friends and family without a second thought and have all my belongings with me.

The worst parts of living in my vehicle are how small it is, how isolating it can be, and not having an oven. In the past, I’ve enjoyed cooking, and although I get creative in the van, it is limiting to not have an oven. Also, if something happens to the van, I am without my house and all my belongings, so that’s a little unnerving because people are opportunists.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

If you are someone who likes your “stuff,” then van life is not for you. Truly, the fewer belongings you have with you, the easier it is. As we age, we tend to collect a lot of things if we’re not careful.

Sometimes I have an impulse to keep too much, and it becomes a hardship to navigate around. I’ve learned that rather than storing keepsakes, I choose to take a digital picture of things that are important to me and keep them in a special file on my phone so I can visit them any time without actually having to store them.



5.
Liz and Rémy Tompkins – Full-time Van Life Couple – Ford Transit Campervan

photo of a happy family with their white campervan on the background
Photo Credit: Liz and Remy

Liz and Rémy Tompkins have been married for 33 years and live full-time on the road in their 2019 Ford Transit high-roof campervan. You can find them on Facebook at Nomad n Rad.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

We converted it ourselves. The process took one year and was one of the hardest things we have ever done. We have renovated three very old houses, and I’ve given birth twice. This was harder!

photo of a happy couple with their white campervan under a beautiful tree
Photo Credit: Liz and Remy

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

​​We bought a 1982 Dodge Okanagan in 2009 (way before van life was a thing) and went on a seven-month sabbatical from Canada to Mexico. We took our kids, ages seven & eleven, out of school and homeschooled them on the road.

We met people on the beach of Tenacatita who had been living in their RVs for years. We decided right then and there that when we retired in 2021, we would do the same.

The idea to explore the Panamerican Highway came from watching the movie The Happiness Project where a young couple were attempting the same trip in a converted schoolie. 

a woman pointing on a map painted on her campervan
Photo Credit: Liz and Remy

How would you describe your travel style?

Very slow! It’s been nearly three years since we left Calgary, and we just made it to Colombia a few days ago. We figure we have about two to three more years to complete the journey. We like to combine life in the van with occasional side trips to Mexico for a month or two or to Canada to visit friends and family. 

I’d also describe our travel style as health-conscious. We eat very healthily, drink alcohol only occasionally, and exercise daily when possible. We do most of our own cooking, and our van is perfectly suited for that with lots of food storage and eight feet of counter space.

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

Yes, we are experienced campers. We had been weekend explorers in our old van for 13 years before we moved into the Radvan in 2021. We knew we could live in a small space. 

photo of a man outside his white campervan parked outdoors
Photo Credit: Liz and Remy

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

Don’t think you have to live in the middle of nowhere in a van 24/7. You can take breaks by staying in campgrounds or Airbnbs once in a while. You can put the van in storage for a few weeks or months and fly to go skiing, visit family, attend a wedding, or connect with a friend for a “vacation.” 

There are as many ways to do van life as there are people. You do you!

Stay healthy and flexible. Getting up to pee in the middle of the night sometimes requires flexibility. Yoga helps!

Experiment with the lifestyle before committing 100%. Rent a van for a month-long trip and see if you even like it. Van life doesn’t have to be full-time, all the time. Maybe you live in a van for six months of the year and rent an apartment in Mexico for the other six. There are so many ways to do it. 

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

You will miss some family events. Put some money aside to be able to fly back home for the really important ones. 

Keep in touch with your kids, parents, and friends.  

Don’t expect everyone to be over the moon and super interested in your new lifestyle. They have their own lives, too.

Learn how to use the technology that will enhance your trip (Waze, iOverlander, FaceTime, WhatsApp, etc.). 

Learn how to hand-wash your clothes! There will come a time when this skill will come in handy. 

You will need good quality drinking water. Invest in a top-notch water filter.

photo of a man standing outside his white campervan overlooking a beautiful mountain
Photo Credit: Liz and Remy

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

Best:

  • Freedom to see beautiful places from the comfort of our own home. 
  • We sleep in our own bed every night. 
  • We eat healthier and save money by cooking ourselves and eating what we like. 
  • New adventures ahead!
  • Never having to pee on the side of the road ever again!
  • We make the best guests because we visit friends and family in our own mobile apartment.

Worst:

  • Bowel movements in the middle of the night (being sick) so having to kick your partner outside while you use the toilet.
  • Dealing with the heat and humidity.
  • Running out of power to run the fridge.
  • Loud parties that start in the middle of the night right on the quiet beach you thought you had all to yourselves. 
  • Outdoor showers in cold weather. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

Give each other space and have fun!

It’s a privilege to live this way, so be grateful and try to leave each place you stop in better condition than you found it. We know it’s not your garbage.. pick it up anyway. 


6. Keith Cuddeback – Part-time Solo Van Life – Mercedes Benz Sprinter Campervan

a man on the dessert with his camera on a tripod
Photo Credit: Keith Cuddeback

Keith Cuddeback lives part-time in his 2015 Mercedes Sprinter 3500 campervan converted by Roadtrek. Although he considers himself a part-time van lifer, he mostly travels full-time in the van with a home base in California. You can see more of his nature photography on his website.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?


I purchased my van used in 2019 just before the pandemic – lucky timing! It is a beautiful built-out Roadtrek. It has everything I need: kitchen with induction cooktop, large refrigerator, permanent bed, and of course, the best feature – a bathroom with me at all times.  

photo of an older man wearing a cowboy hat
Photo Credit: Keith Cuddeback

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

Three things:

  1. I was renting a home and the owner wanted to completely remodel it, so I had to move out.
  2. I was also going through cancer treatment and thought it would be nice to have a vehicle where I could stay overnight in San Francisco before my appointments which were quite frequent. 
  3. But the most compelling reason was that I am a landscape and nature photographer and having a van allowed me to park on location in many cases. So for the last four and a half years, I’ve been wandering around the western states doing my photography and put 110,000 miles on the van so far.
a gray campervan parked outdoors with trees on the background
Photo Credit: Keith Cuddeback

How would you describe your travel style?

I’m always on the move. I rarely stay in one spot for more than a day or two. The agility of the Sprinter van makes it so easy to just pull into a campsite and pull right out in the morning without dealing with slides, leveling, or the other time burners associated with RV living.   

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

I used to camp a lot when I was young and had a family. But I just turned 75 and haven’t camped much but still hike quite a bit. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?


I think it’s important to have a partner to do it with, as I used to. It’s great to be able to share driving.

Since I broke up with my girlfriend a year ago, I’ve done all the driving myself. It does take me a while longer to get places, but I don’t mind that.

It can get lonely at times. I’m introducing my new girlfriend to van life, but we are in a long-distance relationship so don’t get to see each other very often.  

photo of a campervan on a scenic view
Photo Credit: Keith Cuddeback

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

  1. It is safe out here.
  2. It’s beautiful out here.
  3. It keeps you moving instead of sitting in a recliner all day napping. 

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?


Well, limited space is the worst part probably.

Freedom to explore new places and have new adventures is the best part.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

Nature inspires me, so this is turning out to be a great lifestyle for me. 


7. Scott Erb and Donna Dufault – Full-time Couple Van Life – Ram ProMaster Campervan

photo of a happy couple pointing at the Joshua Tree National Park signage
Photo Credit: Scott and Donna

Scott and Donna travel full-time in their 2018 Ram Promaster. You can find them on Instagram (@thewandertogs), Facebook, and their website.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

We bought a used van from a carpenter who built it himself. It was stressful trying to learn all the things he did! We have been in it a year and a half and are still trying to figure some of the things out, such as how to replace a tail light since he built over it.

The transmission failed within the first month. That was crazier than anything – the BS we went through about never transferring the warranty. But the trade-off of being on the road has been life-changing.

Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

Growing up, my dad talked about wanting to live on a boat when he retired. He wanted to scuba dive, travel the blue waters, and see river life! He talked about it a lot, but Dad passed away before he got the chance.

My hubby is afraid of the ocean, so that led us to the van! We’ve been talking about a van for 25 years.

white campervan on the road from a distance
Photo Credit: Scott and Donna

How would you describe your travel style?

Style? I’m not sure we have style… we are winging it a lot and trying everything. I think we are just goofy! Yup, complete goofballs – just wandering everywhere, taking photos of it all, and having fun!

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

We both camped a lot growing up but always in tents. When we got married, most of our wedding registry was camping gear. So the van is a huge upgrade for us.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

Keep up on your health. Walk and hike a lot. Eat well. Rest often.

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

  1. Don’t wait too long. It’s a lot of fun, but there are things we cannot do or places that are more challenging to get to when you’re older.
  2. Getting rid of your stuff is liberating in a way that feels fantastic. 
photo of a man with his campervan overlooking a beautiful sunset
Photo Credit: Scott and Donna

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

When either one of us is sick, it sucks. It’s hard when things break down. Trying to figure out how to deal with whatever it is needs fixing is a huge challenge.

The best thing is seeing all the places we have dreamed about visiting. They have been truly amazing.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

We are happy we pulled it together and did it. We miss our friends, but we get to see and experience so much! Nothing replaces that.

And frankly, it’s restored our faith in people. The news had us a little scared to go out there and meet new people. But it’s been freaking amazing! People are kind and generous, and they will open their hearts if you give them the chance.


8. Larry Zakreski – Full-time Solo Van Life – GMC Safari

photo of an old man
Photo Credit: Larry Zakreski

Larry travels solo full-time in his 2003 AWD GMC Safari class C conversion. He has also traveled with a K9 companion and says having a dog is a great way to meet new people. 

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

I did a DIY van build. As a retired carpenter, I have the skill set to build almost anything, including campervans. I now do this as a hobby and build a new van every few years. This van is number five in a series, built specifically for overlanding.

The AWD or 4×4 feature is important if you want to get to those best locations, which may be remote and difficult to access. Conventional vehicles like commercial-built motorhomes may be too large with not enough ground clearance to access some places. 

Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

I have always thought this way since my teenage years.

a campervan parked outdoors and a blue tent
Photo Credit: Larry Zakreski

How would you describe your travel style?

Minimalist. I live in my van and boondock at BLM sites or lots that allow overnight parking. Or if the mood and situation move me, I alternate with tent camping. In Mexico, I’ve rented a Casita. Renting a house in Mexico in a small town off the tourist zone is often cheaper than a commercial campsite.

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

I wrote a book, The Budget Backpacker, published by Winchester Press in 1977. So yes, I have decades of experience in the outdoors.

a man carrying his kayak on the beach
Photo Credit: Larry Zakreski

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

Do it NOW! Don’t wait. The average life expectancy of a North American male is 78 years. Women get a bit longer. Get out and live life while you still can and while you are still young and fit enough to actually enjoy it.

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

Less is best. All who wander are not lost. The destinations and the journey are both important parts of the experience, but it is the people you meet along the way that make this lifestyle special.

Most of the vagabonds you will encounter, especially the older ones, have chosen this lifestyle. You probably have more in common with them than those who stay behind, mired in a conventional lifestyle.

a campervan parked outdoors with a beautiful mountain on the background
Photo Credit: Larry Zakreski

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

As the t-shirts say, Baja has “No bad days.” If you follow the sun, the vehicle is primarily your bedroom, with most other activities taking place while out and about. Life is good!

If you are stuck someplace in rain or snow, then van life is not so much fun. So, since your home can travel, start your engine and drive to someplace else where it is warm and dry.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

Snowbirds have the best lifestyle.  This last year, I spent the winter in Baja, Mexico. Then, I spent the summer on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. Best of both worlds.

I carry a fat tire e-bike and a folding kayak on my travels. The van is used as a base camp and the bike and kayak are used to explore around the campsite. Carrying a bike and a kayak can tremendously enhance your travels.

I just spent three months in Baja, and the fat tire e-bike was great for day trips in town and the soft sand. 

Right now, I am at Mittry Lake Arizona, near Yuma, I will be paddling around the lake and some of the slow sections of the Columbia River. A kayak allows access to places you just cannot get to without a boat.


9. Catina Borgmann – Full-time Solo Van Life – Toyota Sienna Minivan

photo of a woman holding a large map with her dog inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Catina Borgmann

Catina lives full-time in her 2006 Toyota Sienna minivan with her eight-year-old dog named Henry. You can find her on her website, Facebook, and YouTube (@GypsyWander).

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

I sold my 2017 Chevy Sonic and bought a 2006 Toyota Sienna Minivan. I outfitted it with a RoadLoft Conversion Kit made specifically for converting minivans without any permanent vehicle modifications.

a woman waving with her puppy inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Catina Borgmann

Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

​​I am a born minimalist and love small spaces. I spent a few years living in two different 399-square-foot tiny houses and another year in a 33-foot class A motorhome. Since I am a wanderer, a van made more sense.

How would you describe your travel style?

I like to have a basic plan or itinerary but nothing I have to stick to. If I want to take a detour, I like having that freedom. I just go with what feels right at the time. If I am enjoying where I am, I can stay as long as I want, but if I feel bored or like I want to keep going, I do. 

a woman with her dog inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Catina Borgmann

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

In 2016, I took an 80-day road trip where I stayed in my SUV. Then, it was just for practicality. I don’t think I even knew about van life in 2016; I certainly didn’t know it was a lifestyle. I love a challenge and new experiences, both of which were part of moving into a minivan!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

Just do it! You never know what the future holds. We’re all scared when we start, but don’t let that fear stop you.

Start small (like in a minivan). If you decide it isn’t for you, no one is going to judge you for changing your mind, and you still have a regular passenger vehicle. But also be prepared for the fact that you may absolutely love it and wish you would have started years earlier! 

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

The number of people already living this lifestyle! It seems to be one of those things that doesn’t get talked about much in the mainstream, but living life is really not as rare as you think. You will find community!

photo of a woman smiling with her dog inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Catina Borgmann

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

Freedom is the best part of van life. I am living my best life on my own terms.

The worst part is… gosh, I really don’t have a “worst” part. There are some inconveniences, and you have to find new ways of doing things (like showering), but I just see them as challenges… not anything that I see as the “worst.”

You learn and adjust – but always make the best of what you have and where you are!

a woman with her puppy inside a campervan parked on the road
Photo Credit: Catina Borgmann

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

If I had a dollar for everyone who says, “I wish I was that brave” (referring to living in a van)… I would be rich! It’s not about being brave. It’s about being authentic to who you are, living a life that makes you happy, and feeling the joy and freedom available to each and every one of us who make the choice to live intentionally. 


10. Bridget Clark – Part-time Couple Van Life – Mercedes Benz Sprinter Campervan

photo of a happy couple inside their campervan
Photo Credit: Bridget Clark

Bridget lives full-time on the road with her spouse in their 2019 Mercedes 3500 XD. You can find her on Instagram (@NomadsFromdaNort).

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

We decided to do a self-build.

Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

​​My son purchased a 1999 Dodge Ram (old police paddy wagon) for himself, his partner, and their dog to live and travel in. My husband helped them do a very basic build (their desire) and got the bug to do a nice build for us when we retired in 2021.

white campervan parked outdoors with a beautiful rock mountain on the background
Photo Credit: Bridget Clark

How would you describe your travel style?

We’re just back from two months on the road (10,000 miles)–our longest of five trips to date over the last two years. We take the blue highways, seek out the small diners, and stay in fairly remote and isolated areas. We love to hit national parks, do a lot of hiking, and visit friends and family along the way. I journal during all of our trips or it would all become a blur!

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

Not much!

white campervan parked under the bridge viewed from the inside of another campervan
Photo Credit: Bridget Clark

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

It is really a lovely way of experiencing the world, of giving yourself time to take in the landscape and get in a lovely peaceful place. At this point, we are still pretty fit and are not yet experiencing senior limitations (fingers crossed).

For us, having consistent, reliable power is key. We have solar panels and supplement them with a battery charging system from the alternator. Finding water in the northern latitudes in winter can be a challenge, and we have definitely made good use of our 4-wheel drive option!

Take full advantage of the senior national parks pass and learn about the wonderful apps that smooth the way on the road. We use several apps, relying most heavily on iOverlander.

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

Every day, you will see and experience something new. The beauty of this country is truly astounding, and you can build in as much structure or flexibility as you like. Getting out in nature is so easy, invigorating, and endlessly varied.

happy older man having a dinner inside his campervan
Photo Credit: Bridget Clark

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

We have run into large swaths of the country with no internet. We are considering getting Starlink, but I sort of like being off-grid. Urban areas are more of a challenge if you prefer to avoid RV parks.

One nice aspect of van travel is no need to endure all of the logistical hassles of air travel. Also, life in the van just distills into a lovely simplicity. You get very minimal about what you really need and that is yet another layer of freedom.

photo of a man sitting on the rock formation with the rock mountain on the background
Photo Credit: Bridget Clark

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

There is nothing quite like starting your day out pointing the van in a fresh new direction, going on amazing hikes, meeting new people along the way and learning more about how people live outside of our home bubble


11. Karen Byrd – Part-time Solo Van Life – Ford Transit Campervan

photo of an older woman with nasal tube
Photo Credit: Karen Byrd

Karen Byrd lives part-time in her 2012 Ford 250 Transit. She travels with her two cats.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

It’s not finished. I did what I could and will get someone to finish it. Now I have some mobility and medical issues. It was kind of scary getting a vehicle and then cutting it. Putting the wool batting was easy-ish on the sides and floor. The ceiling for me was difficult.

I’m using a Bluetti power station so I didn’t do any electrical lines. I need to put solar panels on the roof because taking the portable panels in and out of the van is sometimes difficult.

I have a refrigerator, a bed, and storage. I’m using a collapsable bin for my sink for now. My attempts to build cabinets were hysterically funny and wonky. Luckily, you can find old furniture and give it a new purpose and life.

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

​​I watched a show called Tiny Homes and tried to imagine living like that. One day, the carpenter talked about people living in vans. I went to YouTube and fell in love with the concept.

How would you describe your travel style?

Simple and laid back. I’d stop to see the world’s largest ball of rubberbands or stay in a place I’m driving through just because it’s interesting. We (the cats) are still getting used to being in a small environment. So for now, I only take them on two- to four-day trips. There are so many state parks to visit.

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

My parents took us camping every summer. There were 10 of us, and somewhere around the sixth or seventh, we had to take both vehicles.

In the Army, we did a fair amount of field exercises. Of course, we slept in tents.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

Rent a van, or if you have a minivan, go out for a few days and nights. If you like it, start saving up for a van. Just like everyone doesn’t live in a mansion, most people don’t have $130,000 vans. But start saving.

And watch some YouTube videos. You’ll have time to research things like solar-powered systems and 12-volt appliances. You’ll need to decide if you can stay in a vehicle you can’t stand up in and what you need to be comfortable. 

beautiful waterfalls
Photo Credit: Karen Byrd

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

Try to stay active and healthy. Things that were easy in your 50s might start becoming a little more difficult in 15 or 20 years.

It can be difficult to convalesce in a vehicle. Decide when it is time to take a break and know or have a good idea of where to go (family, friends, or hotel).

Other van lifers are generally so kind and helpful. You will probably make some great friends. 

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

The best part for me is seeing parts of the US I’ve never seen before and meeting people.

The worst is hearing footsteps walking around the van at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I’m still not sure if my cats will ever like traveling.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

I am not a full-time van lifer and may never be one. I am on oxygen, so I can only be gone for a while. I need more power and a more reliable portable oxygen concentrator.


12. Amy Wong – Part-time Solo Van Life – Ford Transit Campervan

white campervan parked on the road overlooking a scenic view
Photo Credit: Amy Wong

Amy Wong is a solo van lifer who lives part-time in her 2022 Ford Transit 350 AWD with a high roof and extended length. She travels with Scruffy the Wander Dog.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

Contravans was able to find a new cargo van for me to purchase that they could build out. I had been looking for a year, but due to the pandemic, vans at dealerships across the country had none.

I don’t have the space/place, tools, or know-how to build it out. As much fun as that would have been, it would also have taken much much longer, and I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t want to buy used as I’m not mechanically oriented. I looked at used camper vans, but couldn’t find anything close to the layout I wanted.  

I spent three years researching and learning about van buildouts, watching YouTube and attending expos, and really thinking about how I live and what I needed and wanted to do in the van. Fortunately, once I decided to do it, it took another year to find the van, and in the meantime, I was able to refine the design and prioritize what stuff was going to go into the van that I needed to have room for. I always had a tape measure in my pocket and would constantly measure my stuff and compare that to the van measurements.  

Contravans is great in discussing my list of what I wanted in the van and walking me through the pros and cons of what I wasn’t sure of, or pointing out issues of things I wasn’t aware of.  I couldn’t ask for better customer service, and the van is gorgeous and extremely well-built.  

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

​​After my parents passed, I was looking at tiny houses to downsize and realized that I wanted to travel. It didn’t make sense to get a house just to put all my stuff in and then not be there. 

At the time, I had two cats and a dog, and it didn’t make sense to board them while I traveled. So, I was looking at a way to travel with them, and van life came up.

colorful balloons with people watching on the background
Photo Credit: Amy Wong

How would you describe your travel style?

This first go-round, I’m looking to visit friends, family, and national parks. So most of my time is spent with family and friends, then traveling to visit the next ones and visit national parks along the way.

I prefer to drive every other day (at most) if I’m trying to get somewhere. I’ve been staying at Harvest Hosts and Boondockers Welcome locations, Cracker Barrels, Cabelas, and Walmart parking lots. I haven’t learned how to stay on BLM or national forest land yet. I camp in National Parks if there’s availability.   

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

I was a Girl Scout and went camping and backpacking. I also did these a little bit as an adult.  I just don’t want to sleep on the ground anymore.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

I don’t think it matters what stage of life you’re at – just think it through and consider how your daily life would or wouldn’t translate to doing it in a van. Ask yourself how flexible you are when things change/happen or an opportunity comes up.

If it’s a vacation vehicle, that’s great, but living in it longer term is different. I rented one for two weeks just to see what it’d be like to live in a small space before I spent all the money. I found it’d be easier than I thought (although I’m used to small spaces having lived in NYC and Philadelphia). You may come to a different conclusion.  

campervan interior with dogs on the bed
Photo Credit: Amy Wong

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

Downsizing may be harder and is taking longer than I’d thought. I have a lot of artwork that I like. Other than that, if you’re retired and finished with the major obligations of family, you have a lot of freedom, so take advantage of that. 

Things will evolve as you do it. You can do this as fancy or basic as you want. There are a huge variety of options out there on all aspects of it.

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

Best:

I have everything I need with me. I never need to say: “Wish I packed that.” I don’t need to constantly pack and unpack like when staying in hotels.

Another benefit is Scruffy gets to travel with me.

Worst:

I wouldn’t say worst, but the biggest adjustments have been getting used to the bathroom/black water arrangement, and figuring out the travel logistics of where to stay each night.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

I’m having a great time, so glad I did this.


13. David Johnson, Full-time Solo Van Life, Ram ProMaster Campervan

photo of an older man near a riverbank
Photo Credit: David Johnson

David Johnson is a snowbird who lives full-time in his 2010 Roadtrek Ram ProMaster van. He travels with his Florida rescue cat named Chloe.

Did you purchase your van converted or build it out yourself? What was that process like?

I built it out myself. I installed four 100-watt solar panels on the roof. Built a battery box with six lithium batteries, a controller, monitors, switches, fuses, and cables. I installed it behind the driver’s seat and connected it to my van’s engine.

​​Where did you get the idea to live in a van?

I owned an Airstream travel trailer first, then traded that in for a Thor ACE motorhome. I lived in a house with my wife, and we both retired with pensions and decided to travel part-time to warmer places for the winter. My wife passed away five years ago, and I was alone and living in a three-bedroom home.

I saw on YouTube how much cheaper it would be to travel in an RV. I like the idea of traveling full-time and soon bought my Roadtrek camper van. I did not need a large motorhome, and a van has many more money-saving benefits.

How would you describe your travel style?

I’m a “snowbird.” I head North in the spring and South in the fall/winter. If the weather is too hot, I find National Parks that have an elevation above 8,000 feet. If the weather gets too cold, I find places in the South that are below sea level.

I try to save money traveling by staying on BLM land out West. I also stay overnights at Flying J truck stops, Loves, Walmarts, casinos, Cracker Barrels, highway rest stops, etc.

white campervan parked outdoors with trees on the background
Photo Credit: David Johnson

Did you have much experience in the outdoors before moving into your rig?

I love the outdoors. I always had a garden, and I love being in nature. I also do metal detecting which gets me outdoors all the time.

When I was a small child and was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would say, “I want to be a forest ranger so I can take care of all the animals.”

What advice would you give to someone thinking about doing van life later in life?

It was the best thing I ever did! I was no longer a slave to the tradition of spending the rest of my life in a house, mowing a lawn, and doing house chores every day. I feel like I am on vacation 24 hours a day. Every day is an adventure, always seeing what’s over the next hill!

What are 2 or 3 things you wish people knew about life on the road in the golden years?

Don’t spend your retirement years in a house, in a recliner, watching other people’s memories on TV. Go out and make your own memories!

There is so much to see and do while traveling, and many new friends and experiences! It will keep you going! And don’t worry if you have a handicap. Many full-time RVers do. I walk with a cane, and that doesn’t stop me from traveling!

What are the best and worst parts of living in your vehicle?

If you don’t like your neighbors, you can move! RV campers at campgrounds are generally friendly. We have a common history and protect each other. When I stay on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, I still camp near other RVers and introduce myself to my neighbors.

Living in my camper van is a little cramped, especially if there are two people. But luckily, since most of the time I am in nice weather, I spend most of the time exploring the outdoors!

Again, since I don’t have to mow the lawn or make house repairs, I have a lot more time to do things I want to do. And living in a van stops you from buying unnecessary “stuff” that you would normally buy for a house!

white campervan parked in front of cactus plants on the dessert
Photo Credit: David Johnson

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience living on the road?

Besides a GPS, have a large spiral road Atlas. Also, you can live cheaper on the road by having your “domicile” in a state that does not have a State Income Tax, property tax on vehicles, or yearly vehicle emission testing. I am registered in South Dakota, but there is also Florida and Texas. Type in RV domicile on YouTube.

You also need a Mail Forwarding Service that will forward your mail to you or scan it so you can read it on your computer. I have South Dakota Residency Center (www.choosesd.com), but another is Escapees.com which does Mail Forwarding from South Dakota, Texas, and Florida.


Never Too Late to Embrace the Freedom of Van Life

I hope these stories provide a window into what life is like on the road for older nomads.

As you can see from their stories, there’s no one right way to do van life. You can be a part-time or full-time van lifer, drive a Sprinter or a minivan, and be solo or travel with a partner (or pets).

You can also have a variety of reasons for wanting to get into van life and travel at your own pace. If you’re older and interested in van life, I hope these stories serve as your sign and encouragement to go for it.

Thank you to the nomads who took the time to share their background, advice, and tales from the road. We had so many responses that we could only select a handful to publish in this article, but we read through each entry and appreciate everyone for sharing with us.

Did any of these stories resonate with you? Or do you have a general question or comment about van life for older nomads? Drop a comment below!

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