So you wanna get into vanlife huh? Quitting the job to endlessly roam in a little rolling home is a dream that a lot of people share. It can be a daunting step to chuck ‘reality’ in and take a chance living an alternative lifestyle. Thankfully for you lovely readers, we’ve sucked it up, tackled the challenge, and have successfully lived the tiny nomadic life for three years now.
There are so many ways to accomplish the same end goal of living freely in a van, so here’s some things we’ve learned along our journey that will hopefully help and inspire you to give it a crack yourself! Before we give you the details on how to get into living the vanlife, we thought we’d give you some of our main reasons why we personally live this lifestyle.
Each day is yours to spend however you choose. Lay around in the sun doing absolutely nothing, or get out there and hustle to add a little to the bank account. The choice is yours.
You learn to adapt and flow with nature’s changes, connecting you more to your real self.
You have the ability to pack up your entire life within minutes and roll into a different scene. We are lucky in New Zealand that you only have to drive an hour and you’ve gone from the ocean into the middle of the mountains.
Without having to spend the 40+ hours a week working for somebody else, you have all this extra time to put into what is important to you – time to build new skills and have more experiences, time to spend with your important people and/or animals, and time to understand yourself better. In turn, this creates a more fulfilling way of living.
You’ll save so much not paying rent that you can finally save for your dream, whatever that dream looks like to you. We’ve always said that if we were to save for a house, renting a house wouldn’t be the way to do that.
Your relationship with money changes. You start to think about how much time you would need to spend working to buy this thing you absolutely “need”.
Vanlife perks (it’s the little things)
- Having your bed with you wherever you go. Afternoon naps at the beach followed by a swim are a real game changer.
- Not waking up to an alarm. NOT. WAKING. UP. TO. AN. ALARM!!!
- Witnessing every sunrise and sunset, from your bed if you desire.
- Having million dollar views for the price of a van
- Creating lifelong connections with the other like-minded souls you meet on the road.
Okay, so this sounds all well and good right, but where and how do you actually start? Let’s get into it! For us it started with a change of mindset. We always thought we wanted the big house and expensive cars etc, but have since come to realise that these goals only bring more stress, and living small and simply is much more fulfilling.
Once we realised this, every decision became a choice of whether this ‘thing’ was going to push us closer to living freely on the road, or pull us back into the system. For example; luxuries like Uber Eats, going out to bars and restaurants to socialise, and that new dress for a party all went out the window. Makeup and a skin care routine in a van? Forget it. It’s a waste of space and money.
This all took time to learn before we even considered buying our first vehicle. It’s a good thing to get into these habits before you jump into a van and get a big shock that your whole life has to change overnight. Another little thing to add on this is changing how you spend your free time. We swapped Netflix and chill for van build research and YouTube tutorials to fully prepare us for this new life.
Once your mind is on the right track, then it’s time to whip that bank account into shape. Money is the main concern for people wanting to get into this lifestyle and changing your relationship with it will help ease some of the stresses that come with living nomadically. We started by selling anything in the house that hadn’t been used in a year and everything that was completely impractical to go inside a van. At the time it was quite hard letting go of the PlayStation, project cars and the dress and shoe collections, but we can honestly say we haven’t given them a second thought since.
As for making money on the road, there are so many ways to do this that it really comes down to personal preference. Not everybody has the skills nor the desire to build a business online (but if you can set yourself up properly this is the ultimate way to sustain a free nomadic life). Luckily there are a few simple alternatives. We lived the vanlife whilst still working normal jobs for a year and half and saved all that money (usually spent on rent) to fund a year and a half of carefree travel and adventures.
Seasonal work as you’re travelling is not only a great way to top up the bank account, but provides you with great connections, a break from the constant movement, and a bit of routine. With the outgoing spendings associated with vanlife being so minimal, you don’t need to make as much to live comfortably. We’ve figured if you work a seasonal job for 3 to 4 months it can fund the rest of your year living on the road. Not a bad way to live eh?
Now your mind and wallet are happy, you get to decide what type of vanlifer you are going to be. The person using this lifestyle as a way to save for something whilst still working a normal job would typically need a larger more comfortable van (Sprinter van, Transit van, Coaster bus etc) with all the luxuries of a house. To the adventure seeker and full time traveller, while having a larger van would be great, the conveniences and ease of travelling in something a bit smaller (Toyota Hiace/Townace, Ford Econovan, Anything with 4wd etc) make the experience much more enjoyable.
As important as the type of van is, it’s the interior setup that can really make or break people wanting to live vanlife. Being forced to cook out in the cold and rain due to a poorly designed layout gets old very quickly. If you’re lucky enough to have construction skills or are willing to learn, building your own van is a great way to save some money and get the exact layout you want.
Alternatively, there are people all over the place with a passion for building vans that can help make your vision come to life. Our advice when looking into a van for yourself is to have a list of non-negotiables, and if these criteria aren’t met then it’s not the right rig for you. We wanted to be able to access remote camp spots and be able to cook standing in all weather, so a 4WD van with a pop top roof ticked all of our boxes. Sticking to your list is key to not regretting your new way of living.
Once you’re all set up in your new van with your new mindset it’s time to get on the road!! Woohoo! Now is when the fun begins. We’re going to list a few things to think about now you’re on the road.
Where to stay
In the last 3 years we’ve only stayed in a handful of paid campsites and spent most of our time in freedom camps. The CamperMate app is a great resource for finding beautiful campsites as well as providing information on the activities in the area and locations to dump and refill your water tanks.
Fuel is the main cost to living this lifestyle. Thankfully there are few apps (Gaspy & Fuel Maps Australia) that show the cheapest fuel in your area. We try to keep the mindset of the less you move, the less you spend, so park up and enjoy a spot for a few days.
This probably causes a lot of anxiety for most people but we’ve honestly never had an issue. There are enough public restrooms and long drops around that you are never too far away when you’ve gotta go! Carrying a cassette toilet or a shovel and bag can also help in those emergency situations.
In terms of showering, fresh lakes and rivers are our go to. A cheap solar bag shower works perfectly fine for a budget solution. Local swimming pools and laundromats often have shower facilities for a small fee, and you can filter public showers in your CamperMate app to find these. With your change of mindset these options won’t seem as daunting as they might sound now.
If you still need a bit of a push and some extra information, why not try renting a van for a week and see how you like it? This will either confirm it’s the right decision or stop you from wasting your time and pursuing it any further.
All we can say is vanlife has changed our life in so many positive ways that we are making it our mission to show everyone we meet that it’s possible for them to live it too! Looking forward to catching you on the road.