3 Things To Expect If You’re Considering Starting Van Life

When I told my Grandma that I was planning on moving into a van, she didn’t know what to think. There was a moment of, “Sierra, are you serious?” Then she asked practical questions like, “But where will you shower? And how will you get mail?” I understood her confusion. There’s no guidebook for things to expect when starting van life. 

There’s also been a huge shift over the past ten years. Living in your van nowadays conjures up aesthetic visions of Sprinter vans on seaside cliffs, with stylish wooden interiors and hanging pothos plants. And I knew that’s definitely not the vision my grandmother saw when she thought of me living out of a van.

Our social media-minded culture has turned van life into a powerful movement. It’s now an attractive alternative to rigid 9-5 jobs and stressful mortgage payments. But it’s a big change. Previously simple tasks suddenly take quite a bit of work. And you undoubtedly become much more up close and personal with your life – in more ways than one. 

If your curiosity is piqued by the van life aesthetic, I’m so happy that you’re drawn to a lifestyle that makes you happy. If it serves you, here are a few things to expect when starting van life. 

Initial investment – Time or $$$  

My van looks nothing like anything you’ll see on the trending #vanlife page. We chopped the roof off of our ‘97 Dodge Ram and built our own extended roof out of plywood and bolts. She’s charismatic, but nothing like the tidy Sprinter vans that dominate the van life world.

That’s because our goal was to be as cost-effective with our build as possible. And finding a good quality Sprinter van that hasn’t already been run into the dirt is not cost-effective. If you’re interested in building out a van, you first need to decide which resource you’re willing to trade: time or money. 

If you have the money to spare, you could get a van that’s completely built out for you already. Boom. Done. But it’ll run you about $100k. If you’re like us and you have some time to spare but not the dough, you’ll probably want to do your own build.

The great thing about building your own van is you can make it specific to your comfort levels. You don’t have to get fancy here if you don’t want to. You just have to ask yourself what is indispensable to you, your lifestyle, and your comfort. 

We made our van pretty comfortable, with a full-sized bed, running water, electricity, a fridge, a dining table, and a skylight. All together, we probably paid $10,000 for our build (van included.)

And if you have no idea how to build out a van, there are tons of resources out there for you to use. We documented our entire build series on Youtube and connected with other builders through the platform.

Life moves much slower

When living in a van, multi-tasking becomes fairly nonexistent. Gone are the days when you could brew your coffee and have your laundry running during your Zoom meeting where you’re actually just idly scrolling on your phone. 

In this sense, van life is amazing because it forces you to become more present with your life. If you want to do your laundry, then you’re sitting in the laundromat waiting for an empty dryer. If you want homemade coffee, then you’re pouring your own hot water into your french press because your battery inverters don’t have the power to run a standard coffee machine. And good luck finding a non-public space with reliable enough WiFi for your meetings. 

If those last few paragraphs were enough to incite some anxiety in you, you might want to question if this is something you truly want. I’m not trying to scare you out of nomadic living because there is so much that’s great about it. If you’re not reliant on a reliable internet connection for your work and you don’t mind driving around for half an hour to find a clean water source, then that’s great.

But as a recovering, obsessive do-er myself, I can attest to you finding massive space for surrender and growth through van life.

Expect massive personal growth

Odds are, you’ll be spending a lot of time alone (or alone with your significant other) if you’re living out of your van. In a space removed from so many of our modern conveniences, you’ll run into a lot of triggers and conditioning.

For me, boredom was a huge catalyst. We started our van journey in the wintertime when the sun was setting at 5:00 pm, and it was too cold to hang out outside. Where others would cozily turn to Netflix and DoorDash for a catered night in, we had no cell service and only the food we had brought with us into the woods. 

I never realized how dependent I was on my devices until I didn’t have use of them anymore. The internet gives me the capabilities to work from anywhere in the world. But it’s also been a major source of anxiety, comparison, and numbing. Without my devices and extra time on the internet, I spent much more quiet and alone time with myself. 

It was hard at first, but it was from this space that I suddenly realized what I truly wanted to create with my life. Right then, I decided to create my community group, The Mystic Members Club, and connect free-spirited women from all over the world over modern spirituality. Even now, though we’re not living in the van full-time anymore, I’m so grateful for the mental and spiritual shifts it provided me.

I can’t promise that van life will be easy-going and glamorous, but I can promise that it will be truly transformational and enlightening for you.

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