How to Live in a Van Down by the River (or Wherever Else You Might Feel Like)

The Van Life

If there ever was a phrase that inspired ambivalence, it’s “digital nomad.” Yes, it does evoke an image of a massive and greasy top-knot that a wizard cursed into being alive, compelling it to wear selvedge jeans and tell its peers at high school reunions that it’s a working as something that’s between a content creator and a content curator, but with an inflection that suggests it’s a question?

On the other hand, it’s a damn enviable lifestyle.

I have been living and working on the road for the past 9 months as of this writing, and my quality of life has never been better. There are a lot of different ways for a person to live and work remotely; the way I’ve been doing it has been rather slow-paced. I spend a few months at a time in different places in Asia, taking advantage of the relative value of the dollar there, earning a bit as an editor, and working around 20 hours a week.

However, there are as many ways to be a digital nomad as there are reactions to the term. Feeling homesick for the States, I’ve been looking into a new way to travel semi-permanently, and so I thought you might like to learn along with me about van life. Because this idea touches on a lot of different subjects and there’s a lot of material out there, this post will come in a few different parts. For this one, let’s talk about the first step.

Converting a Van

Arguably the most important part of this project is acquiring and converting a van suitable to fit you and your needs. It can also be the most expensive part if you let it. The vehicle itself is a huge variable; some of us may already own a conversion-ready van, and some of us may need to go and purchase a used vehicle. I suppose if you’re wealthy enough, you can buy a new vehicle. There’s plenty of sources out there indicating why that’s not the best idea, and for a vehicle you plan on living in and traveling in and beating the shit out of in a general way, just use your common sense.

What you’re standard of living is can complicate this decision too. I’m sure that some people’s first reaction is that they’re not a delicate flower and they don’t need much to live and be happy. That may be true, but consider why you’re going to ditch your office job and live in a van—your standard of living. Make sure you take an honest assessment of what it takes for the space you’ll be living in to make you happy (which is the point, right?)

On the one extreme, you can probably be perfectly fine with a minimal effort set up like the one featured on Nomads with a Van:

At the other extreme, you may want a fully kitted out and customized portable tiny apartment, such as the one featured on The Vanual.

Even if you’re sure that you don’t need a well-designed and comfortable living space, I would still recommend reviewing The Vanual. The pun is pretty on point; Zach Both covers the process of converting a van from start to finish, and there’s plenty of places for those with less time, energy, or funds to hop off in the process.

Matt