Challenges of Adapting to Life on the Road: 15 Tips for the First-Time Living in a Van Full Time

Living in a van is an excellent alternative to overpaying for a home in the United States, and over three million Americans have transitioned to living in a van full-time as of 2022. The freedom of living in a van is unparalleled since you can set up camp and call several beautiful places home for days or weeks. It’s also a much more affordable way of life than joining in with society.

On the surface, the perks sound amazing, and social media influencers paint a picture of the perfect way of life. Still, there are facts to come to terms with and tips you should use to maximize your time when living the van life.

Luckily, you’ve uncovered this handy guide to the tips you should use to acclimate to living in a van and getting the most from your van life experience. Continue reading to learn the tips you should implement to find the perfect van and hit the road today!

1. Find the Perfect Van

One of the worst mistakes you can make when deciding to try living the van life is to buy a van without planning or thinking ahead. The process should involve careful thinking to determine the perfect model and size of the van. Knowing your criteria will help you eliminate options that won’t fit your needs.

Consider the space you’ll need for pets, travel companions, gear, and personal belongings. Think about the best ways to utilize that space and bring everything you’ll need for each adventure. The engine and drivetrain are two overlooked facets of vans, especially if you plan to camp off-grid.

2. Start Slow

The urge to jump into living in a sprinter van full-time is tempting, but the best approach is taking things slowly. Plan a weekend getaway with your new camper van to get a better feel for the space and the living experience. You’ll learn much about the things you like, dislike, and need for a pleasant camping and living experience.

Apply what you’ve learned from your weekend getaway to a week-long trip. Using your incremental van life experiences is an excellent way to learn as you go without rushing into things and making costly mistakes. Every person who converts to van life makes mistakes, but they’re easier to manage and learn from when taking things slowly.

3. Ensure You Have Windows

The best vans for living van life have windows, and part of the beauty of your new lifestyle is the opportunity to park and camp in stunning locations. Vans without windows carry a creepy vibe, while vans with windows create a welcoming energy. You won’t feel like sleeping in a claustrophobic cave when shopping for a van with windows and a view.

The windows will allow natural light into your living space and provide additional ventilation options to prevent mildew and mold growth in your roving home. Look for window options equipped with screens for the best camping experience. You’ll keep the bugs out while letting the breeze in for a perfect night of sleep.

4. Eliminate Clutter

One of the biggest perks of converting to living in a van full-time is the opportunity to eliminate unnecessary clutter from your life. Your van will limit the amount of belongings and gear you can bring, and it’s the perfect way to dive into a minimalist lifestyle. A mistake that many first-time van lifers make is bringing too much stuff with them on the road.

Space is at a premium no matter how decked out your new van is. Leave anything you don’t need behind.

You’ll have an open living space and fewer belongings to hold you back when adventuring. The lack of clutter is one way to lower the cost of living in a van per month.

5. Assess Your Toilet Needs

Many campervans lack a bathroom, so addressing and assessing your toilet needs is vital when shopping for van life builds. The best campsites aren’t at campgrounds, so you’ll need to accept that you won’t have a toilet or running water nearby. Determine how comfortable you are peeing and going number two in the middle of nature.

If you’re comfortable with it, bring a shovel to practice Leave No Trace principles for nature conservation. Most nomads opt for a composting toilet option in the van, though using nature for your calls of nature is the most affordable option. If you’re comfortable going without a toilet, you’ll save money and valuable space in your van setup.

6. Talk With Other Van Lifers

The more time you spend on the road traveling, the more van lifers you’ll encounter. The community is vibrant and will share many of the same ideas and values as you. Take time to get to know these other people living in a sprinter van full-time.

You’ll learn much from talking to fellow travelers. They’ll share their favorite camping spots and destinations with you and spread the word about events they’re traveling to that might appeal to your interests.

It’s also an excellent way to avoid loneliness while traveling alone. You could even find people who become your new best friends you travel with in a convoy from one festival and stunning campsite to the next.

7. Learn to Disconnect

One of the most significant benefits for the soul when living in a van full-time and finding campsites in the wilderness is your ability to disconnect from the internet and society. If you’re a digital nomad living in a van, there are several internet options you should consider. Your phone will provide a viable hotspot if you’re in a pinch for the data to complete your work.

Consider using a dedicated hotspot device or investing in Starlink to get internet in remote locations. It’s best to prepare to drive into town to use a cafe or restaurant’s WiFi to do what you need to do.

For non-digital nomads, it’s a beautiful way to disconnect from the digital world and immerse yourself in nature. You can enjoy gazing at the stars at night and watching the family of deer forage during the day without being distracted by your smartphone.

8. Buy a Doormat

Most people would be shocked to learn that a doormat is essential to van life, but you will only understand once you’ve lived in a full-time van without one. Your doormat acts as a makeshift mudroom. You’ll be astounded at the amount of dirt, gravel, and other debris you track into your van if you don’t have a doormat to wipe your shoes and feet off.

It’s a massive win and time-saver for van lifers who prefer to avoid cleaning their vans daily. After that long, muddy hike, you’ll have a sturdy place to keep your shoes or boots. It’s also an effective way to minimize the wear and tear to your van’s entrance.

9. Invest in a Fridge

Space is at a premium, but a refrigerator is a must-have item if you plan on living in a van full-time. The ability to store perishable food for days and weeks is one of the most valuable things you can have when living the sprinter van life. A fridge shouldn’t be considered a luxury since it’s a vital resource for preserving food and eliminating waste when traveling.

When living off the grid, you can use several brands and styles to fit your van’s build and keep your food fresh. The goal is to find a refrigerator that offers significant storage without taking up too much space inside your van. You can keep vegetables, fruit, and meat fresh while camping miles from the nearest town or gas station.

10. Keep Cash Handy

Many van life essentials require cash, so it’s wise to keep some cash stashed somewhere in your van to purchase those essentials when traveling. Firewood, farmer’s markets, and festivals are all places that might not accept cards or electronic payments. Having emergency cash around will save you significant hassles as you travel around the continent.

Quarters are vital if you plan on doing laundry at laundromats when on the road. They’re also helpful when parking in towns or cities when you need money for a parking meter.

11. Invest in Power

Assessing your power needs is another crucial step when considering different van conversions and builds. It’s a recurring challenge for many people living in vans full-time, but there are several solutions to consider for your electrical needs.

Investing in rooftop solar panels is one of the most effective options, specifically if you plan to camp off-grid for extended periods. You’ll have the power to run your refrigerator and charge your devices as long as there’s sunlight for your panels to collect.

You can also use a portable solar panel for your van to get the power it needs. It’s a versatile option that requires more work but offers affordable energy for van lifers.

An inverter is another power need to convert energy into usable electricity for charging phones, drones, laptops, and more. Splurge for a bigger inverter if traveling with a partner or companion.

12. Create a Cooking Setup

One of the joys of living in a van full-time is cooking in nature, which starts with building a functional cooking setup. The challenge is fitting each feature into a small space, but creativity and investment will help you create the perfect van kitchen. Ensure you have at least one burner for cooking and heating water for tea.

Find a stove option that makes sense for your cooking needs and gas options. Your van kitchen is complete with a way to heat food safely and efficiently. You’ll also spend less money on fast food when having a viable way to cook in your van.

13. Learn a New Hobby

You’ll find plenty of spare time living in a van, allowing you to explore new hobbies, activities, and ideas. Podcasts and audiobooks are an excellent way to continue learning and growing when living on the road, especially during long stretches of driving.

You can also try yoga, meditation, and body workouts to stay active and healthy. Learning a new instrument is a wonderful way to exercise your brain and learn a new skill. Van Life is also the perfect opportunity to read those books you’ve always wanted to finish.

14. Buy a Comfortable Bed

You can’t put a price on comfortable sleep, and that starts with investing in a comfortable bed for your camper van. Van life becomes miserable if you’re struggling to sleep at night. It’s worth the time and effort to create space and buy a comfortable mattress to make your van as pleasant as possible.

Do your best to limit your use of sleeping bags for a comfortable sleeping experience. Use real blankets and sheets. They’re better for retaining warmth and cuddling your partner or furry companion.

15. Follow the Seasons

Living in a van full-time offers several benefits, and one of the best ones is the ability to travel with the seasons. You can travel and live where you want, which helps you move to less crowded areas with better weather conditions.

Traveling to your favorite destinations during the off-seasons helps you avoid crowds and pay less for your vacations. You’ll have your favorite parks and campsites when you learn to follow the seasons with your van.

Avoid living in your van in Florida during winter to dodge the snowbirds camping there for warmer temperatures. You should also avoid stunning mountainous areas during the heart of summer. Focus on traveling to those National Parks during spring and autumn to enjoy the scenery with fewer people.

Consider Living in a Van Full-Time Today

Living in a van full-time provides a different way of life and more freedom with lower living costs, but you must prepare before buying a van and hitting the road. Find a van that fits your needs and provides the space for you and your travel companion.

Find a power source that works for your van life builds, and invest in a refrigerator to keep your food and beverages fresh. Follow the seasons and create friendships with other people living the Van Life.

Travel is one of the best ways to create lasting memories and friendships. Read more of our Travel blog articles for tips and inspiration today!

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