If you have watched the van life popularity rise on social media and YouTube, you might be anxious to go out and start converting a van so that you can go on your own adventure.
After all, it seems like such a great lifestyle. Imagine waking up every day in a beautiful place, opening your back doors and taking a picture of you and your significant other laying on the bed looking out.
Or perhaps you have a dog that can lay beside you as the two of you are looking out at a beautiful ocean scene as if there are no worries in the world.
Van life truly is the ultimate experience…OR is it?
Is it really this great and do people really enjoy it this much?
When you watch videos or see people sharing their van life adventures on social media, you would think the whole experience is absolutely fantastic and there are no negatives that go along with it.
It seems like one adventure after another and it’s as if anyone can just quit their job, hop in a van and go have these same experiences.
Unfortunately, a lot of what you see in van life isn’t based on reality. You are seeing the best parts of it and most of the bad parts have been withheld.
Most all of the pictures and videos that you see are staged and although you probably realize this, some of these bloggers and vloggers do a great job of hiding the fact that life is not all rosy in a van.
There are some people out there who are not sugarcoating the lifestyle. These people do share the bad parts of van life and as the lifestyle becomes more and more popular, people will know that it isn’t always as perfect as others make it seem.
While it can be a wonderful experience, too many have high expectations of what they can expect from living in a van. It kind of sucked me in in the beginning.
After watching video after video of people living their dreams in a van, I was a bit anxious to purchase my own van. The difference with me is that I have been camping most of my life and have spent time in RVs and at campsites.
I know the realities of how it can be when camping and what to expect.
What Is Van Life?
You already know that van life is mostly about living or camping in a van but there is more to it than that.
Van life is a way of life that people choose not only for living or camping in but for the adventure that comes along with it. It differs from an RV mainly because vans are usually converted to be stealthy and can allow you to travel and stay in places where an RV couldn’t.
People who are attracted to van life are those who are looking for a living arrangement that an RV might not be able to provide. Converting a van gives you the ability to create a custom space and allows you to build exactly what you want.
An example would be someone who likes to go on mountain biking adventures. This person could create a living space in a van and also a custom area for bike storage. Your options are endless when thinking of ways to create a van living space.
This might not be possible in an RV since they are set up with a predetermined layout and you have to make that layout work.
A van is great for those who are creative and like to live a little different than normal society.
Van life, at least for me, has a feeling of being rebellious to the way society has to programmed us to live. It’s like taking your life into your own hands and going off the paved road to live while you are alive rather than just simply existing.
Vans can be quite a bit cheaper than an RV as well. You can create some really cool living spaces for a minimal amount of money.
How Much Does Van Life Cost?
Although van life may be a good way to save some money, it isn’t as cheap as some would have you believe. Unless you are living in your van parked in one location at all times, you are going to have costs associated with the lifestyle.
There are lots of costs that go into making the lifestyle work and these costs can add up to a big chunk over a month.
Let’s look at an example of a few of the costs that you may have if you choose van life. These are all just estimates based on what I would budget for if I was planning to live in my van for a while.
I don’t have a van payment but I added it to the list because it is common for people to finance their van.
|Item / Service||Estimated Cost|
|Van payment (if applicable)||$300|
|Gas For Van||$200|
|Gym Membership (for showers)||$30|
|Cell phone service||$50|
|Groceries / Food||$600|
|Other Stuff, movies, fun activities, etc.||$400|
As you can see, the necessities that you may need can add up pretty quickly. If you are expecting van life to be a free ride, think again. It can get pretty expensive depending on your costs and also how many people are in the van with you.
When living in a van, you are susceptible to some of the same costs as you would be if you were living in a house or apartment. The difference might be that you could have a house payment or rent to pay.
Although, if you finance a van, it will be similar to paying rent in that it will likely be one of your highest expenses.
Van lifers tend to be minimalist so they might not have some of the services listed in the table above.
Each person is different and has different monthly obligations so this will differ for each person.
What Is RV Life Like?
RV life is similar to van life in some ways but much different in others. While van life has risen in popularity, RV life has always been a popular way that people use to get away from the real world and enjoy a life less connected.
When you own an RV and use it for living, you are more limited to where you can go and things you can do.
However, this also depends on the type of RV that you have and how well at planning you are. Many people live and travel in RVs just as they do in vans and they make the most of it.
RV life generally involves staying in RV parks or other locations where electrical hookups can be used. They are well-equipped with all the main systems that you would expect from a comfortable living area.
You can pull into an RV park and once you are parked, you can connect to various utility services such as electric, water, and cable TV.
With the electrical service, you can use the heater or air conditioner within your RV unit and also run all systems just as you would in a sticks and bricks house.
Living in an RV is more like living in a small house since you have all of these amenities at your disposal.
These amenities aren’t limited to RVs and might also be in a van. My camper van has a shower and electrical hookups as well. However, my water supply system is off-grid meaning that I have holding tanks and do not connect to a water service when I am parked in an RV park.
RVs are often equipped with a solar system but mostly rely on shore power electrical hookups for their energy needs.
Van Life Pros & Cons
1) You can design your own custom space
Having a van gives you a blank slate to work with if you are choosing to convert it yourself. In this way, you can design the space that works for you and your lifestyle.
If you only want to use your van for camping, you can set it up that way. However, if you want to design it for camping as well as hauling motorcycles or mountain bikes, you can do that as well.
Rather than going with a predetermined layout that you might find in a ready-made RV, this allows you to have complete control.
2) Affordable price
A van can cost considerably less than an RV depending on the type of RV that you plan to purchase. If you are choosing a van over a large class A or class C motorhome, you will pay less for the van.
It will also be cheaper than buying a large caravan or a fifth-wheel. These can be pretty pricey and a van, especially a used one, can allow you to keep it affordable.
Of course, a van can also be pricey if you have one customized for you.
There are plenty of companies on the market that will do this for you but you will pay a pretty price for it. It’s best to do it yourself if you have the capabilities to do it.
Learn how I built my custom camper van from an empty cargo van.
3) You can be more stealthy
Van lifers like to remain stealthy because it gives them an option to remain under the radar while out on the road. Although it’s becoming more and more difficult to do since people have caught onto it.
However, it’s still possible as long as you don’t draw attention to yourself. A van allows you to blend in better than an RV could. Parking a plain white van in a parking lot isn’t going to draw attention nearly as much as a large RV would.
1) Where do you shower and use the toilet?
A lot of vans don’t have showers or toilets installed in them. Since vans are oftentimes traveling and staying stealthy in free locations, it can be a challenge finding somewhere to do your private business.
Gym memberships are popular with van lifers as they offer a place to do this. Occasionally staying in an RV park is another way that van lifers can take care of these needs.
This is a personal preference and many people who live in vans are fine without having these facilities. On the other hand, people like me, wouldn’t want to have a van without them.
2) Higher insurance
Van lifers, usually don’t title their vans as RVs. This means that they are not able to get RV insurance. Instead, they must get standard auto insurance which doesn’t always cover the conversion part of the van.
It only insures the van itself. If something were to happen, you might lose out on all the money you had spent on the van conversion. It also might not cover the contents of the van if someone were to break in and steal some of the living contents.
This differs depending on your insurer so be sure to talk directly to them to find out exactly what would be covered if you choose to go this route.
3) Less Resale Value
If you decide to get rid of your van, you probably won’t get as much for since it’s not professionally done. Potential buyers might be leery of purchasing a van that has been self-converted if you are not an expert in doing this.
On the other hand, if you are an expert or have it done by a professional and it shows, then the resale value may not be an issue. Vans do sell for a good amount and it’s surprising to see what some people are selling their vans for once they are done with them.
Since van life is so popular, you are still going to be able to get a good amount of money should you decide to sell it.
4) You have to create it yourself
While designing a van and being creative in the process is fun, it takes a lot of work to make it happen. If you don’t like doing this type of work or don’t know if you can do it then you may want to think twice about it.
It can be very difficult to do and it will take more money than you probably think it will for the conversion. You will need to have space and tools along with a lot of patience to complete the project.
5) A van is small
If you are going to travel or camp in a van, when compared to an RV, you are going to have less living space. If you were to go with a larger RV or travel trailer of some kind you would have much more room which some people may prefer.
This also depends on the van that you go with because some are obviously smaller than others.
RV Life Pros & Cons
1) Buy an RV and hit the road
When you buy an RV, everything is already done for you so you will not need to go through the trouble of converting it yourself.
This means that you can buy the RV and then immediately begin your planning whether you are going camping or you plan to live in it for a time. This is convenient especially for those who do not want the trouble of converting a van.
No need to have any handyman skills when you choose to purchase an RV unless you buy a fixer-upper.
2) Most RVs are equipped with shower and toilet
RVs typically contain a shower area and a toilet. Although this is not important to a lot of people, many people need to have this in their RV for it to feel like home.
I’m one of those people and I would prefer to have a shower and toilet in my RV.
3) More space unless you go with a Class B (van)
If you choose to go with a larger RV like a class A, class C or a larger caravan, you will have more space inside than you would in a van. This may or may not be a benefit to you since many people want to keep their vehicle small.
However, a larger RV allows for a more spacious living area and may give you more comfort when moving around inside.
4) Cheaper insurance
If you own an RV, you will likely pay less money for insurance. It doesn’t cost as much to insure a camper or RV since these are not daily usage type vehicles.
RV insurance also includes the contents within the RV as well as the vehicle itself if anything were to happen. This can be a benefit for those who do not want to pay as much in insurance costs each month.
5) Professionally built
Although some RVs are cheaply made, at least they are put together by professional workers and come with some kind of guarantee or warranty.
If you purchase a new RV, you will likely have issues with it at first but you can rest assured knowing that these should be taken care of by the dealer or manufacturer.
You can also rest assured that the systems within the RV itself are done to proper standards and codes so you will not have worries of problems down the road or with resale value.
When compared to a converted camper van, you never know what you are getting with a van that has been converted by an amateur adventurer.
6) Warranty if purchased new
Most new RVs come with warranties that guarantee the workmanship and to be free from mechanical issues for a certain period of time. This helps to give peace of mind similar to how the warranty of a car will help to give you peace of mind.
Used RVs may be a different story as the warranties are not usually transferred to the new owner. Extended warranties may be but the standard warranties are not usually transferable.
1) More limited in where you can stay
Unlike a camper van, an RV will be more difficult to park in stealthy locations. It’s nearly impossible to park an RV somewhere to stay for the night and not stick out like a sore thumb.
Everyone will know that there is someone inside living. You are mainly limited to RV parks and other known parking locations if you choose to drive an RV around.
Harvest Hosts can be a great alternative to RV parks but they aren’t available in all areas.
2) Gas mileage is not as good
Large motor homes do not get very good gas mileage so you can expect to pay more at the pump and you can expect to fill up more often. The same is true with travel trailers and fifth wheels that have to be towed.
Towing a vehicle of this size requires a lot of fuel to power the vehicle that is doing the towing. The towing vehicle is not going to be as fuel-efficient as a van would be.
3) You can’t stealth camp as easy
Stealth camping can be fairly easy with a van but with a large RV, it’s nearly impossible. If you were to have a class B RV, which is a camper van, you might be able to do it but many class B camper vans look like RVs and are not as stealthy as a converted van would be.
It would be difficult to park a travel trailer and remain stealthy with it no matter where are you.
4) It may be more difficult to drive
RVs can be quite large and difficult to maneuver and park in certain areas. Whether it’s a drivable motorhome or a large trailer that you are pulling, it is going to be more difficult to drive than a small van would be.
This can be an intimidating undertaking for many people who do not want the responsibility of such a large, cumbersome vehicle to drive or tow.
5) Higher maintenance costs
With an RV you can expect to pay more for maintenance costs. There are more windows, vents and other items that need to be sealed and maintained. The vehicle itself also has to have regular oil changes and other maintenance done to it.
This is only true for motorhomes while travel trailers will probably cost less in maintenance costs since there isn’t much to do with a trailer.
6) More expensive
Motorhomes can be very expensive and may surpass what you would pay for a van. Of course, this will depend upon the type of van that you purchase and how much you spend on designing and customizing it.
Motorhomes are expensive and large travel trailers are also expensive, especially when you throw in the cost of the vehicle that has to tow the trailer.
The Verdict – Which Is Better?
Either way you go, the adventurous lifestyle that both can provide is a win in my opinion. Both of these options make a great solution for those looking to enjoy life more.
A van will get you to places that an RV can probably not take you. Since RVs are larger in general and more difficult to drive, you are usually limited as to where you can go.
If you like the idea of having a very small living space and a unique layout inside of a stealthy shell, then a van is the better option for you.
On the other hand, if you prefer the comfort of a larger living area and do not care to be stealthy, an RV is likely your best bet.
I’m happy with my van and I’m glad I chose it over an RV. I enjoyed the process of converting a van into a very cool living area that I enjoy being in.
Having toured other RV units, I can say that I am more happy with my van than I would have been if I had spent more money on purchasing an RV.
You will need to decide for yourself which one is better because there are many variables at play and each person will have a different opinion.
The main thing is to get going and choose something. Adventures are waiting for you and the road is calling your name so take the plunge and choose the option that best suits you.