On Instagram we see the lifestyle of van lifers to be all glamorous and perfect. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Today we will be going behind the scenes and exposing what it’s really like to live in a campervan. All enthusiasts deserve to observe the harsh and unglamorous side of this lifestyle before diving in. So don’t let this deceiving content fool you, let’s take a deeper look into what it’s really like…
Remember: our goal is only to make you aware of all the things you probably didn’t know about this lifestyle, so don’t let this blog post discourage you.
If you don’t know what van life is, checkout ‘Van Life Basics | Everything You MUST Know‘
Table of Contents
- 1 Preparation
- 2 Sacrifices
- 3 Commitment
- 4 Uncertainty
- 5 Personal Safety
- 6 Risk
- 7 Challenges
- 8 Money
- 9 Experience
- 10 Myths
- 11 Stereotypes and Discrimination
- 12 The reality
- 13 Why do Nomads Live in a Campervan?
- 14 Conclusion
Getting prepared to live in a campervan consists of a lot more than just building your home-on-wheels, packing, and planning for your adventures. Before setting off on your journey, you need to mentally prepare & educate yourself.
photo by @bryanadamc
Preparing yourself consists of:
- Finding rich and valuable resources to guide you
- Determining whether or not living in a campervan is the right lifestyle for you (ascertaining your ultimate decision)
- Understanding that some things will not go as planned, and that’s normal
What not to do
Like we touched upon earlier DO NOT make decisions based off content you see on Instagram. Yes, Instagram will give you the inspiration to get you on your feet, and sometimes that’s convincing enough to jump right in. However, doing so may lead to you underestimating what’s required and what you’re really getting yourself into.
Despite all the temptations, you will need to do some proper research. Get to know what living in a campervan is really like. Find the answers to every single question or concern you have.
photo by @susicruzz
This must be taken very seriously as you are about to approach a completely unique lifestyle. This will obviously require some time, and is something that can not be done overnight. Ultimately, you will want to do enough research until you are completely comfortable, satisfied, and have determined that living in a campervan is indeed for you.
Finding the right resources
Since van life is still a relatively small niche, there aren’t many resources that will accurately take you step by step through every little detail and topic. That’s why, here on ProjectVanlife, we are trying to build an extremely in-depth, content rich environment that will cover all aspects of living life in a campervan, bus, RV, or any type of mobile home or nomadic lifestyle.
photo by @wildbonde
Some very helpful resources you should consider taking a look at:
While it is true that many things will not go as planned, it’s still a good idea to plan and prepare for what’s to come. That being said, many vandwellers do go about approaching van life without a plan and still succeed. But it’s better to be on the safe side, especially when there is a lot to lose.
You should plan out the following:
- Preparation – What do you need to consider before departure?
- Income – How do you plan on making a living in your campervan?
- Your build – How much will it cost? Where will you find materials? How long will the build take? This is something that almost never goes exactly as intended, however, a loose plan will help keep you on track.
- Your first road trip – Oh, the possibilities!
photo by @bluemoonthecrew
When striving to live your life in a campervan, you will come to realize how many sacrifices you have to make. These sacrifices will vary depending on your personal situation in life.
Some examples of sacrifices made by vanlifers are:
- Relationships (family and/or friends)
- Living space
- A “normal” lifestyle
- Many of their belongings
- Acceptance in society (this is slowly starting to dissolve as van life grows)
- Stable income
- Negative impressions
Overall, sacrifices are something we HAVE to make if we want to see some change in our lives. So don’t let the list above discourage you.
Living life in a campervan is not just as easy as selling your stuff, buying a campervan, and hitting the road. It requires both commitment and dedication to accelerate you though the rough and bumpy roads you’re going to experience.
photo by @funforlouis
There will be ups and downs!
Beautiful landscapes out of your backyard are not an every day thing when living in a campervan. Some days you will feel like you’re on top of the world, while on other days you’ll be in a Walmart parking lot with nothing to do.
Whatever the case may be, you have to stay committed to your true passion and live to fight another day.
Not knowing what the next day has waiting for you is often times taken as a positive or negative experience by nomads. In fact, that’s what can make van life so startling, exciting, and unpredictable. The satisfaction you get when you are able to overcome obstacles and challenges is sometimes what motivationally drives you to keep going.
You don’t know what you’ll be opening your front doors to the following morning. Therefore, you should prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Keeping yourself and your loved ones safe on the road is probably going to be one of your biggest concerns. While living on the road or camping you are an easy target and everything/everyone with you becomes vulnerable.
photo by @_nomadicmom
Most of the reported events are of stolen items from. Concerning events like these rarely take place, but they still happen and you definitely don’t want to be a victim.
Safety measures you should take into consideration:
- Always keep an eye on your belongings
- Never leave anything unattended
- Keep some pepper spray or weapon for self defense
- Park somewhere with an easy get away route
- Camp in stealth
- Avoid parking in unsafe places
- Plan a safe and convenient solution for using the toilet in the middle of the night
- Have emergency communication devices for when you don’t have service
- Keep your drivers seat empty at all times
- Trust your gut
Your vehicle has around 8,000 moving parts in it, some of which will eventually wear out. Keeping up with your campervans maintenance is probably the biggest hassle. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this. Your most valuable asset is constantly at risk while you’re on the road.
photo by @briannamadia
In addition, you will HAVE to occasionally deal with refilling on dozens of different types of fluids. Not only this, but your home on wheels is also at risk while simply driving down the road due to the chance of collisions.
We can try our best to prepare for and avoid situations like these. But unfortunately, there is no way to certainly avoid them.
Vehicle maintenance tips:
- Learn the basics of repairing and maintaining your vehicle
- Make sure you read the owner’s manual for your vehicle so you know all the ins and outs
- To avoid getting ripped off by mechanics only go in for oil changes when it’s recommended on your owner’s manual (this video by CBC News helps us understand why)
- Research common problems that occur with your vehicle’s make and model
- Drive safe
- Inspect your vehicle on a regular basis
- When you encounter a problem try searching online for a solution, this could help you save lots of money
- Learn the meaning of warning light indicators
Aside from the sacrifices you will also come across some obstacles. The daily challenges faced by nomads are often things we take for granted in our normal lives. In the contrary, the challenges you face and how you deal with them will determine your overall experience of living in a campervan.
photo by @grace_naylor90 & @guyinthewind
It’s important that you approach everything with a positive attitude, or you may start to lose hope and become regretful. One easy way to do this is to always remember why you started, your overall goal should help bring you back on track.
What you don’t see anywhere, is the hustle and hard work that goes into successfully sustaining a lifestyle in a campervan. Your everyday life will consist of new and unique obstacles that you will struggle to get through.
Some challenges you WILL face when living in a campervan:
- Dealing with the law, and police
- Trying not to bother people
- Stealth camping
- Limitation on space
- Safety concerns (car accidents, health, privacy, etc…)
- Vehicle maintenance
- Cold winters or hot summers
Yes, van life may be an affordable and cost effective way of living, although, you still need a decent amount of money to sustain such a lifestyle. Failure to sustainably afford life in a campervan will cause many financial problems moving forward.
photo by @urabusvw
It all starts with your initial costs, which include: your campervan and it’s conversion/build. This is going to be the most expensive part, but luckily for you, it’s only a one-time cost (excluding future repairs & upgrades).
Once that’s covered you’ll have to hit the road with all sorts of monthly, and annual expenses. These will vary tremendously depending mainly on the things you buy and how you live. Remember van life will only be as cost effective as you make it.
Some common monthly expenses include:
To see a full list (put together by the community) of all the different types of costs, you can read this topic on our Forum.
Trying to create a reliable and consistent income on the road is one of the hardest parts. You need to find a source of income that allows you to comfortably support your nomadic lifestyle. Doing this could be challenging for some people. Mainly because of limitations, and skill sets.
photo by @greg.mills
When looking for a source of income you should consider the following:
- Passion – Will you enjoy doing this job?
- Amount of freedom
- Income – Does it pay enough?
- Your skill set
You should avoid jobs that restrict you in any way or make you break even on bills every time. That being said, sometimes you will have to take a job that’s contrary to everything we mentioned above, which is okay. One of the reasons you may do that is so you can open up more opportunities for yourself in the future.
If you’ve read stories of nomads living the van life and are envisioning a life exactly like theirs, you are making a big mistake. You can’t follow someone step by step because everyone has different needs, requirements, and lifestyles.
As an example, you can think of your everyday life. Despite all the similarities you have with the people around you, it’s not possible to live a life exactly like theirs, because your desires, goals, and lifestyle is completely different. The same concept applies to van life.
photo by @julianna_morris
So you need to make decisions based on your own lifestyle, needs, and requirements. No two stories will be the exact same, and if your thinking you can just copy paste, well, good luck. Instead you should gather information from as many individuals and resources you can find. This is a smart way to influence and guide your overall decisions.
Misconceptions are often perceived by newbies or enthusiasts when they first start looking into this lifestyle. Most of these delusions come to life from looking at Instagram pictures that make van life look extremely glamorous. Unfortunately that’s not the case.
photo by @longroadtonowhere
It’s important to differentiate the myths from the truth so that when the time comes, you don’t end up confused or deceived.
Here are some common misbeliefs about life on the road:
- Everywhere we camp is beautiful – in reality you will sometimes end up stealth camping in parking lots or streets at times
- Clean campervans at all times
- Always waking up to beautiful scenery
- Having lots of free time
- Always wandering
- Keeping up with hygiene is easy
- Van life is the perfect lifestyle
- It’s easy
Stereotypes and Discrimination
While living your life in a campervan or any other type of home-on-wheels, you will come to realize just how many stereotypes there are against the community.
photo by @rockmeetssoil
At first glance, these people don’t understand or realize (in most cases) that you choose to live your life this way, and it shouldn’t be recognized in a negative way. In addition, they are probably unaware of the freedom and advantages the van life has to offer.
Discrimination experienced by our community:
- Negativity & hate in general
- Looked down upon in society (low class)
- People feel sorry for vandwellers, but don’t realize that they choose to live this way
- Some dislike the lifestyle
- Many people think living in a vehicle is something you do if you failed in life
Generally speaking, most people are amazed when they see this lifestyle, while others think otherwise. Although, people won’t really go out of their way to bother you, it’s mainly just stuff they would think in their heads. Overall, it’s nothing too serious and shouldn’t really bother you.
Clear the Air
When you are given the opportunity you should always try to clarify and interpret to people the real reason why you are living in a campervan. It’s important to try your best to set a positive impression. This way we can slowly, but surely, help eliminate the stereotypes and discrimination against our community.
photo by @braedin
Fortunately, as the van life community grows and this alternative lifestyle slowly makes its way to becoming a norm, the old stereotypes are beginning to dissolve.
Van life is most definitely not for everyone. There are many ups and downs, and those of you thinking it’s a glamour and adventure filled lifestyle 24/7 are completely wrong. If you do decide to approach van life, you should first do some research and make sure that this is in fact the lifestyle you plan on living.
Why do Nomads Live in a Campervan?
After looking into the ‘behind the scenes’ of van life, you may be wondering why people choose to live in a campervan in the first place.
Some of the main reasons include:
- Freedom in almost all aspects
- Escaping the boring normal lifestyle
We’ve went over all the positive’s of van life on our other blog post, so feel free to check that out.
For those of you trying to travel the world, live simply, save money, enjoy life, etc..
There’s no denying that van life is the perfect way to so.
photo by @rusticbones
If you are really serious and passionate about trying to live the van life, you shouldn’t be bothered much about this blog post. The purpose of this blog post was not to discourage you. It was to bring your attention to all of the possible things that you probably didn’t know about living in a campervan.
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