Many people dream of off-the-grid living and exploring unconventional housing alternatives. One popular example is van dwelling, which basically entails moving to a residential van. Life on the road is a truly unique and enticing experience. However, it is also a huge 360-degree spin from what is perceived as ‘normal’ by most.
If you ask anyone who lived (or is currently living) the van life, they will likely give mixed feedback. It’s fun but challenging, adventurous yet taxing—extremes that you should navigate to appreciate this type of lifestyle. It is a big decision, one that you should carefully think many times over. This guide is your first step to determining whether van dwelling is feasible for you.
Van life: a form of off-grid living
Any living setup that has no connection or service by public or private utilities falls under the term ‘off-grid living’. This kind of life also refers to that which does not live near people or inhabitation. It may lack connectivity to the internet or mobile networks.
Van dwelling, in many aspects, is an off-the-grid living mainly due to its nomadic nature. People who follow this lifestyle travel most of the time and are not serviced by gas, electricity, or water companies. However, it does not take away the comforts of life. For instance, a van can still park nearby connected facilities such as campsites or carnivals.
Why people prefer van dwelling and unconventional housing
There’s a certain thrill to alternative housing that appeals to adventurous people. You can enjoy freedom and self-reliance, which can help towards your growth as a person. Vans, houseboats, and other unconventional homes let owners explore a new way of life that is different from the usual.
However, the biggest driving factor for alternative housing is that traditional houses soared in costs for the past few years. Harvard University reports that 30% of all US households pay over 30% of their income for rent or mortgage. The 2022 State of the Nation’s Housing saw 1 in 7 homeowners paying more than half their earnings for housing.
Harvard’s report also included data for home pricing increase of about 20.6% from 2021 to 2022. Renting costs grew 12% in the same period. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 49% of Americans believe that housing affordability is a major concern.
These numbers give a clear view of why more people, particularly the younger generation, pursue the van life. It comes with a lot of benefits for those who dare to try this lifestyle. Still, it comes with drawbacks that you may want to learn before deciding if it’s really for you.
Pros and cons of van living and non-traditional housing
Van living has both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s explore the pros and cons of van living and other forms of non-traditional housing, shedding light on the opportunities and challenges associated with these unconventional lifestyles.
Life of freedom
The liberating feeling when driving is what makes van-dwelling an appealing option for people wanting to experience off-grid living. Road trips are a way to leave the daily stresses behind and have more time for yourself. There is no need to follow a strict schedule and you can switch up your routine at any time.
Another perk of this mobile lifestyle is the freedom to make pitstops and soak in the scenery. You have all the time in the world to explore a city or tourist destination. Moving on to the next destination is as easy as driving off to another adventure.
Spend less on expenses
The most stressful part of renting or owning a conventional home is the monthly expenses you need to manage. Not only do you need to take care of the mortgage or rent, but also the utilities as well. You must settle the electricity, gas, and water bills, or else you end up losing these services. Overall, a house is one of the most expensive investments you can make in a lifetime.
Van life, on the other hand, has considerably lower costs than traditional housing. Initially, you will pay for the van if you still do not have one. You can get a decent high-top van for around $5000, give or take a few hundred depending on your state. Your next biggest expense is fuel, but you can cut back on this cost if you opt for a stationary van.
Other unconventional housing like houseboats can help you save up, too. If you don’t have permanent mooring, you are exempt from council tax and stamp duty. That said, this type of dwelling is pricier at around $150,000 to $200,000.
Travel and recreation
Most people work long shifts and overtime to afford a vacation and get away from home for a few days. However, wouldn’t holidays be more convenient if you could bring your stuff with you? Rather than paying for baggage, you can simply drive your van to your destination of choice. You don’t even have to book a hotel because your room for the night is also your ride!
Along with the great opportunity to travel, van dwelling is the chance for outdoor enthusiasts to bask in nature. You can set out on a journey that takes you to the country’s vast public lands and national parks. The primary inspiration for van conversion is driving to these scenic destinations and enjoying recreational activities like camping, hiking, fishing, and more.
Quiet and eco-friendly lifestyle
Your traveling home allows you to escape bustling cities and the pressure of a 9-5 work life. You can drive away from the urban scene and live a quieter life somewhere with nature. You can get away from electronic stimulation and keep up with hobbies you may have forgotten because of the internet. Van life can also help you discover some self-reflection and emotional realizations along the way.
Stationary vans and other unconventional housing can potentially minimize your environmental impact. You can skip the daily consumption that add to your carbon footprint for heating and cooling. Most van dwellers install solar panels for their electricity needs. If you worry about fuel consumption, you can always opt for eco-friendlier models like electric or fuel-efficient RVs.
Once you decide to live in a van, you can only take your essentials and other necessary belongings. Although this might seem like a downside, you will soon realize that most of your stuff never mattered. People often hold on to a lot of clutter that has no use or purpose in their life. In a way, a minimalist lifestyle can reduce your anxiety and stress levels.
Learning new skills
It’s not unusual for van dwellers to encounter issues as time goes by. Busted tires, broken furniture, and other damage will prompt you to learn how to repair and troubleshoot. These adversities can teach you important life skills you that you can use in the future. From plumbing to carpentry to renovations, there are many practical experiences to reap from living the van life.
Showering and hygiene difficulties
The most challenging part of this alternative lifestyle is keeping yourself clean. While many choose to shower at gyms or campsites, there’s no guarantee that you will always have access to these facilities. If you do not have an in-built bath and toilet in the van, finding clean restrooms is likely a struggle.
Van dwellers usually do not like discussing the toilet and shower situation of this lifestyle. However, you can consider several alternatives to meet this challenge. For instance, you can bring pee bottles or portable devices to relieve yourself. You may also make use of the open space in nature if it’s not much of an issue to you.
No permanent address
If you are new to off-grid living, a common concern is writing down your address once you are asked for it. How will you get your mail? What will you put in application or order forms? Having no permanent address can become an even bigger issue if you need it for banking or legal matters.
One way to tackle this problem is to ask family members or friends if they can lend their address to you. You never have to worry about moving frequently because you have a valid address to write down when needed. It helps you get all your mail deliveries in one place, too.
You may think that housework in unconventional housing is easier to accomplish than in a traditional home. Take cooking, for example. A regular kitchen has enough room to allow you a range of movement from the preparation to cooking and aftercare. In the van setting, you have limited space to complete such tasks. Dishwashing is a pain, especially if you need to clean pots and pans.
How do you work around this issue? The secret is to learn how to deal with the van kitchen. You can minimize the struggle by preparing simple meals. That way, you don’t have to wash a lot of utensils and cooking equipment after.
Lack of space
If you decide to live the van life, you will never have as much room as in conventional homes. It’s a fact that you must accept and adapt to as you go on with your new lifestyle. Sure, there are vans with lining and racking and non-traditional housing that are more spacious than other models. Still, maneuvering comfortably inside the van is easier said than done.
The bottom line
Adapting to the highs and lows of van life is something you must face once you go ahead with it. However, it helps to picture out the advantages and disadvantages to gauge whether you can handle this lifestyle. Living in a van or other unconventional homes can be a life-changing experience for you!