Home Digital Nomad What is Vanlife?

What is Vanlife?

van parked near the mountains living the vanlife

Vanlife has certainly taken on a life of its own over the past decade. The term “vanlife” may be new but the concept, which can be referred to as a nomadic lifestyle, has been around since the beginning of man. So what is vanlife? Where did it come from and how has it changed over the years?

Vanlife or “vandwelling” isn’t strictly limited to vans. The meaning of the term revolves more around the lifestyle rather than the vehicle itself. A vanlifer could be someone living in a converted school bus (Skoolie), a military vehicle, an RV, a travel trailor, or even a car or truck.


Vanlife isn’t something new. It actually originated back in the 1960’s when the hippie movement hit. It all began with the Volkswagen (VW) bus where liberated youngsters made the move to make it their living quarters which led to the formation of van culture. Vanlife was a means to escape the mores of mainstream American life and gather together to live beyond the broken conventions of society.

an old vw bus with pop up camper living the vanlife

Vanlife is a lifestyle characterized by living in a van or other vehicle allowing one to escape the structured lifestyle of modern society. With the freedom to travel, one is able to pursue their passions and live a life of adventure and meaning. Most people pursuing vanlife convert their vehicles into a living space by adding amenities such as beds, refrigerators, running water, cooking facilities, showers, and toilets. Some people use their vehicles battery to power devices in their vehicle while others install solar panels along with an inverter, solar charge controller, and battery bank.


There isn’t just one type of vanlifer. There are full-time vanlifers and part-time vanlifers. Some people live the lifestyle by choice while others are forced into the lifestyle otherwise they’d be living on the streets. There are stationary vanlifers meaning that they work a standard 9-5 job but use their van as residency. This enables them to save more money since they don’t have house payments, rent payments, or utilities to pay. Other vandwellers have remote jobs which gives them the freedom to travel wherever they want as long as they have an internet connection. You’ll even come across travelling vandwellers that make their money finding seasonal work throughout various locations on the road. Then you have your weekend vanlifers who use there days off work to travel. Since vans are much cheaper than RV’s it enables folks with less money to travel recreationally.


Living the vanlife lifestyle is all about living minimal. Most people living this lifestyle have very small living spaces so there generally isn’t any room for doing laundry, bathing, exercising, or throwing raging parties. Gym memberships are a pretty common way to get access to showers and exercise facilities. Truck stop showers are another hotspot amongst people living the vanlife. Some have been known to use public showers or even use baby wipes to stay clean. Laundromats are widely used and some even use friends’ or family members’ washers and dryers. When laundry facilities aren’t readily available some will even use a bucket of soapy water to get the job done.

Vanlife and the bathroom dilemma

You’re probably wondering how a person living vanlife goes to the bathroom. This is a pretty common topic and should probably be categorized under “the things vanlifers don’t tell you about”. To sum it up vandwellers use public facilities when available. Some have composting toilets or RV toilets while others use dedicated jugs or water bottles for liquid waste. It’s not uncommon for many to use a bucket lined with a bag. The next time you cross paths with vanlifers ask them if they’ve ever pooped in a bag. Their responses might surprise you.

The freedom of vanlife

Vanlife freedom is a feeling you can’t get anywhere else. It’s liberating and allows you to take control of your life without the restrictions of societal norms. It’s a way to break away from society and live a life of meaning and purpose. It gives you the opportunity to create a better version of yourself by focusing on your own needs, passions, dreams, and desires.

Vanlife has been described as a way to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. A major reason people transition to vanlife is so they can escape the rat race. With the high prices of living the increasing costs of food, middle and lower class Americans find themselves working paycheck to paycheck and not getting anywhere in life. People are starting to realize that life isn’t all about going to school, getting a job that you hate, getting married, having kids, buying a house, and living a life of debt until you retire. At that point you’ll have to live frugally since you won’t have much savings and you’ll be too old, with little energy, to do the things you wanted to do when you were younger. Are you really living if you work your whole life at a job you hate and then rot away in a retirement home?

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to save money these days. A lot of people work fulltime jobs or multiple jobs while even experimenting with side jobs just to get the bills paid and most aren’t able to put away any of that money into savings. On top of that there is no leisure time. Constantly working takes time away from family and friends, hobbies, interests, recreational activities, and can lead to a road full of stress, depression, and anxiety. Vanlife offers people the chance to live.

A life of simplicity

The modern day lifestyle isn’t simple. It’s stressful, fast-paced, noisy, hectic, messy, and it seems to be doing more harm to us than anything else. Vanlife is all about escaping those things. Vanlife is about becoming more in tune with nature and yourself. Vanlife is about having less concerns. Vanlife is about improving health and wellbeing. Vanlife is about tapping into that side of your brain that you didn’t know existed. It’s about change. Vanlife is about living life the way you want to live it.

a girl brushing her teeth living the vanlife



If you’ve read this far then you already know what some of the benefits are of living in a van down by the river. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone but for some it can be a life changing experience. Taking on the vanlife lifestyle can be challenging at times but can overall be a very satisfying and fulfilling way to live. Lets go over some of the benefits:

matt foley living in a van down by the river

  • ability to travel
  • setting your own schedule
  • having a flexible lifestyle
  • health improvement
  • you can save more money
  • less stress, anxiety, and depression
  • self improvement
  • thrilling and unexpected situations
  • getting closer to nature
  • spontaneous adventures
  • meeting new people
  • more time for recreational activities
  • no longer working a dead end job you hate
  • less commitments
  • more freedom
  • more time for hobbies
  • living a life the way you want to live it


Vanlife has become increasingly popular with the growing technology of social media. Ever since the #vanlife hashtag was introduced back in 2011, it has led to a lifestyle movement responsible for over 8 million Instagram posts alone. There are vanlife communities sprouting up all over the place. Facebook groups, forums, websites, meetups, podcasts, apps, and even dating sites have been created for vanlife folk.

Vanlife has gone mainstream and it’s still picking up steam. Many vanlifers make a living on the road sharing their journey on social media. Some take on sponsorships trading social media shout-outs for products, discounts, and sometimes even cash. YouTube channels have become a hit with vanlifers like The Matneys, Eamon & Bec, Leave Everything & Wander, Foresty Forest, Max & Lee, and myself The Digital Nomad Guy. Even celebrities like Tom Green are taking on vanlife.

As more and more people earn money living the vanlife it has become glamourized in a way with staged production photos, drone footage, rigorous editing, product placement, and people that are photogenic. Old stereotypes of the nomadic lifestyle are drifting away as social media makes this lifestyle look glamorous.


Vanlife obviously isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Living in a van certainly has it’s drawbacks but most vandwellers can say that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. It is all dependent upon the person whether or not living this type of nomadic lifestyle is for him or her. Vanlife can be challenging at times and some find themselves in stressful situations. Here are a few disadvantages of living life on the road:

  • lonliness
  • keeping up with hygiene
  • getting started (costs, planning, building out your van, etc.)
  • small living space
  • legal issues
  • overnight parking
  • finding a bathroom
  • burglars
  • vehicle break-downs
  • vehicle maintenance
  • dating
  • internet
  • no mailing address
  • temperature changes
  • restocking food and water

As you can see there are a few big disadvantages here but if you talk to most vanlifers they’ll tell you that it’s totally worth it. Vanlife is lifestyle change generating positive vibes that are changing lives.


The advancement of technology over the years has it made it easier to live out a nomadic lifestyle. The internet is largely one of the biggest influences because it has opened up the opportunity for people to earn a living with just a laptop and internet giving rise to the digital nomad.

The expansion of cell phone technology has been rather influential since it’s been able to incorporate gps making it easier for nomads to travel to specific destinations. There are even certain vanlife or nomad cell phone apps you can download and use to find nearby public restrooms, showers, stores, gas stations, dump stations, water sources, campgrounds, and even overnight parking spots.

Although millennials have been the ones largely portrayed as vanlifers, there is place for everyone in van culture. Perhaps you’re a retired couple looking to downsize from an RV to a converted Sprinter. Maybe weekend vanlife is a way to get you and your family out of the house. You could be a person longing for meaning and purpose in the world choosing vanlife to reach that goal.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire, an old hippie, a bum, a youthful nomad, or a retired veteran. There is a place for everyone in the vanlife culture. If vanlife is something of the slightest interest to you then I say give it a try. What do you got to lose?

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