Are you wondering, is van life worth it? Curious if this lifestyle could ever be an investment or if it is just a crazy idea? There are many questions when it comes to living in a van. Luckily, we have some answers for you.
Van life is such a broad topic with many different views and expectations of what it means to live in a van. We’ve been living in a van for over 2 years, and it may have been the best investment we could have made. After these years of living in a camper, we’ve managed to keep our fortune.
What Is Van Life to Us?
Van life is a lifestyle of living out of a vehicle, at least part-time. It is a push towards minimalism, as you are limited to space. Social media often portrays this as a never-ending holiday, with a luxurious lifestyle through the mountains and coastlines around the world. This is true to a degree though that is not all.
For some, van life is a goal. For others, it can be an experience. However, it is not a choice for everyone. Some may find this an alternative to the mortgage money pit, or a savior from homelessness. For us, it began as a temporary solution when Covid-19 left us jobless, and a house was becoming unaffordable.
We’ve found that van life has definitely been a good investment. But why?
Money-Saving Options as a Van Lifer
Living in a van can open up so many doors for saving money. If you are okay with the basics and begin with a solid foundation, then you may reap the rewards of life on the road. There are many options presented by van life that can help you spend less money. Through our experience, we’ve found these to stand out.
Living in a van means that you don’t need to continue paying rent or a mortgage. You may need to pay a small fee for parking spaces, though this will generally be much less than a standard rental home.
No fixed rent
If you already own a home, you could begin hiring it out, so that someone else can pay your mortgage. If you don’t own a house, then rental fees may be one of your biggest money pits. Buying a campervan means you will have no fixed fees.
Parking while living in a van
We’ve found it easy to find free parking spots throughout Europe. There are many apps available to plan stops along the way. On occasions, campsites are necessary when options become limited. However, you can find plenty of campsites where you can stay for only a few dollars. Overall, our housing expenses are reduced to a few dollars per week.
Utility bills can add up outrageously. A typical household can create high utility bills as these systems are generally bigger and more convenient to use on demand. The water, gas and electricity bills of a standard household can often be hundreds of dollars per year not to mention the other bills that can add up such as provider fees, WIFI and subscriptions!
A well-set-up camper can reduce these bills to a few dollars per week. In general, a camper should be mostly self-sufficient, including its electrical system and water tanks. The main utility expenses for a camper are LPG gas and general camper services such as water filling and grey/black water dumping.
Lower cost for general services
We’ve found free service points throughout Europe. Most of which allows the filling of drinking water and the dumping of grey water and toilets. On odd occasions we may find that there are no free options, pushing us towards a campsite. In this case, we can expect to pay a few dollars to use all of these services and take a shower in the meantime.
Fortunately, our electrical system is sufficient and we don’t have many LPG gas-heavy appliances. We pay around $30 to fill our gas bottle every 3-4 months which is our highest utility expense.
Travel Expenses in Van Life: What to Expect
This one will heavily depend on your van life plans. Decide if you will stick to one area for a short period before moving on or travel short distances at a time. It can help to spread the fuel cost as much as possible!
Save more by driving Less
If you continue to work on-site, then make sure to find parking close to the location. Fuel is expensive and this can be a great way to reduce your consumption, saving you a good amount each week. If you will be working online or chose not to work at all then be smart about the distances you travel.
We’ve experienced all of the above. When working at a fixed location we would park in the immediate area, meaning we could comfortably walk to work. If we work remotely, we have found it to be easier to drive an average of one hour every second day. This gives us a chance to spend half of each day completing our working hours.
The other half would be spent traveling or exploring the area. When we have no work commitments then traveling slowly works best for us. We can drive a very short distance each day and spend more time soaking in the surroundings.
Groceries and Local Products
When living in a traditional home, it is easy to fall into the trap of shopping at your local supermarket. Often, these will be smaller supermarkets which may be more expensive than necessary. Generally, space is not much of a concern in determining how much you can buy. This can lead to overshopping and in turn, wastage.
Living in a van will make you a bit more aware. With such a small space you will need to limit what you buy, especially for the refrigerator. This way you won’t be able to overshop, meaning less will be wasted. While driving your home around, keep your eyes open for fresh food markets and cheap alternative supermarkets to stock up on along the way.
Save big on groceries
For us, groceries are the highest weekly expense. We like to cook and enjoy each and every meal. Our small food storage space means that we need to visit the supermarket more often. We are always looking for a cheap alternative supermarket or local markets for better quality products at a much better price.
Van Life’s Cost of Maintenance: Is Van Life Worth It?
Living in a traditional home will keep you busy. It can be time-consuming to maintain a house, and the maintenance comes at a cost. All your furniture will need constant TLC, the garden to manage and a big house to keep clean.
On top of that you may have a car that comes with its own maintenance fees. These things take a lot of time in one’s daily life, along with a high price.
Saving time on Maitenence
Living in a van means that your home and transport become one, and it’s not very big at all. Van life will not only reduce your maintenance expenses, but it will also save you time. You now have only a few square metres to clean and maintain.
The minimalist life
This is a big saver for us. No longer do we need to replace our furniture regularly or buy fertilizer for the garden. To clean our van, we use a tiny percentage of the products compared to a home. The van takes a visit to the mechanic once a year to keep things in order, and that keeps us on the road.
Van Life is Worth it Just for Job Freedom
This lifestyle can provide more job freedom. When living in a van there is no need to feel stuck at a low-paying job, or one that is not enjoyable. With the freedom to move to any location with ease, your working opportunities will surely open up.
Van Life creates work opportunities
There are many opportunities for remote work nowadays and getting out of the normal routine has helped us to realize our potential. Often, we find seasonal jobs that pay better or include incentives for working away from home or in rural areas. Being mobile gives you the freedom to pursue more career options as you become less dependent on a location.
Since moving into a van, we have experienced much more job freedom. We’ve been able to apply to jobs that would otherwise be too far away. This has given us more options, leaving us with more confidence to choose a preferable job. Without an introduction to van life, we may have stayed comfortable in our routine lives, without realising our potential.
Van Life is Worth the Freedom on the Road
Van life doesn’t only provide financial benefits. There are many freedoms that come as an addition. When living in a camper van full time you are able to live and travel with comfort, adventure and freedom in your own space!
Van dwelling is a great way to see more of the world without giving up all of those creature comforts. Your belongings, kitchen and your own bed will be right where you park. Traveling with a camper van means that your home can come with you.
Creating your own home on wheels
The big advantage of building your own home is that you can make it to your own preference. Maybe you’re happy with a standard mobile home setup, but if you have specific preferences like a large kitchen or a spacious garage, the DIY route may be for you. There is limited space in campervans, but so much is possible.
A sustainable way of living
A significant advantage of this nomadic lifestyle is the possibility to live sustainably. It is easy to become more self-sufficient by utilizing driving power and the sun’s energy. Solar panels are ideal for charging your battery, especially in summer. This lifestyle will push you to be more aware of your water consumption, and the amount of waste you create. We speak from experience!
There are many ways to live more sustainably in a tiny home on wheels. As a matter of fact, by driving slowly and enjoying the incredible places around you, it is possible to reduce your emissions. It is a win-win! You use less fuel and live a little greener! There are plenty more ways to further reduce your footprint, like separating waste, using a composting toilet, or reusing wastewater.
How we reduce our footprint
Sustainable living in a tiny house is extremely important to us. In our converted van, we have thought a lot about minimizing our impact on the environment. We have solar panels, and the ability to charge our battery while driving. We strictly separate our waste for recycling and use a composting toilet while on the road.
Experience the culture
Van Life is wonderful in many ways, and discovering and experiencing new cultures is one of them. Along the way, you get to hear local stories, learn a new language, and try different cultural foods.
Memories for a lifetime
A road trip through a country, or even different regions, can teach you a lot in different ways. You learn to discover how people live, what they are like, and what specific dishes they prefer. Above all, it gives you memories that will never be forgotten. This can be wonderful, and sometimes very confronting.
Our experience as van lifers
As full-time van dwellers, we have experienced all kinds of things during our travels through Europe. We have met wonderful people who have a minimalistic life just like us. This often leads to a quick connection as we may be on the same path. We have also met local residents who gave us tips about the area or even gave us a tour of their hometown. This was special.
A Greater outlook on life
Unfortunately, the good parts are not always easy. We’ve also discovered less pleasant things, such as the poverty that prevails, and many stray animals that have a difficult life. This was very difficult at times but it has taught us to appreciate life even more.
The Cons of Van Dwelling
Van living is not always smooth sailing. There are many ways to save money from living out of a van, however, it’s important to be aware of the cost. There are some things you should keep some savings for if you decide to start living in a van. Most of these are on an in-case basis, though you can expect to run into one eventually.
Although your daily maintenance has been reduced, you may find yourself reaching into your pockets at some stage. With a bigger vehicle, the mechanical uses can be higher than with a small car.
Unexpected costs on the road
If you are lucky to find a reliable camper and maintain it regularly, this may not be too concerning. Though, it is important to have some savings available in case of a breakdown or mechanical failure. This is no longer just your transport, it’s also your home!
We have been lucky in this sense as both of our vans have needed minimal work. The main instance for us was at the beginning of our van adventures when we were hit with a high technical bill. We knew to expect this though, as the van was much older and required some rust repairs.
Driving a campervan is not the same as a car. While driving around in your home on wheels, you will need to be aware of these things: Often the heavier vehicle may struggle to slow down quickly. Loose objects can become a hazard in the case of a hard stop or accident. Gas and electricity can be dangerous, be sure to have safety features in place.
Insurance for a camper van
Insurance can be tricky when it comes to van life. Some insurance companies will only cover you for a certain amount of usage, whether that be mileage or months. Check that you have good insurance that will cover you for extended usage to avoid unexpected complications in the case of an accident.
After some time, we’ve made ourselves familiar with the safety feature in our van. We know to ensure the LPG gas is disabled, and moving objects are locked in place before driving. All of our electrical connections are sealed and protected by fuses. And we regularly check on our insurer’s requirements to ensure that we are covered.
While living in a camper reduces most utility costs, you will still need to find a solution for your general services. For us, these include LPG gas filling, water filling, and grey and black water disposal. Some motorhomes may also require shore power connections for electricity.
These are often free, though they may come at a small cost. Be sure that you are aware of the state of your services. There is nothing worse than running out of gas or water, or having an overflow from your black or grey water tanks!
There are many solutions to this for any situation. If you will be staying in a certain location, check for campsites that have services included, especially water filling, grey water disposal and electricity if needed. You can also ask local farms or larger properties for a small area to park with services available for a small weekly fee.
If you will continue travelling, use a campsite finding app (Camper Contact or Park4Night) to find parking options or services along the way.
Is Van Life Worth It for You?
Now you have an idea of what van life is and what it can provide for you. This includes the potential savings and the costs to be prepared for. In addition to the wonderful benefits of van life, there are a number of things that are important to take note of.
The Positives vs negatives
It is crucial to weigh up the benefits against the negatives to arrive at your answer. On one hand, your life is bound to open up. With more freedom and fewer expenses, more time and less space. This lifestyle could help you to find more peace each day, though, you may spend hours searching for a parking space each night.
Some people around us think van life is a treasure while others think it is too simple, with too few facilities.
Van Life for Us
For us, van life makes sense. It has given us the ability to live our preferred lifestyle and save money along the way. This has opened up new work opportunities and made us more aware of our finances. We no longer have the space for overshopping, meaning we waste less food and don’t collect unnecessary stuff.
Our Starters Advice
Van life is enough for us. Life on the road gives enough challenge and adventure. But everyone is different, and to find out if this is a lifestyle for you I would say give it a try! Try to borrow or rent a camper, and go away for a few days. See if it inspires you, and who knows, maybe we’ll see each other down the road!
This lifestyle comes with its challenges and risks. It may not be for everyone; however, it is perfect for us. If you are okay with the basics and begin with a solid foundation, then you may reap the rewards of life on the road.