Van Life For Dummies
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What does it mean to be a tiny home dweller, and can everyone make the change from living in a house to living in a converted panel van?

Speaking from experience, getting into the mindset of a tiny home dweller isn’t something that happens overnight; it takes a lot of thought, compromise, and self-evaluation about what you want to get out of your new lifestyle before you can fully commit to this way of life.

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Luckily, I’ve already done all that thought-provoking soul-searching and got the T-shirt to prove it. And while you can’t physically borrow said T-shirt as it isn’t real, I can help you kickstart the process with some useful advice about what it takes to become a vanlifer.

You'll learn how to think like a tiny homeowner, decide how long you want to travel, and most important, whether you think van life could be the lifestyle for you.

Is it hard to live in a van?

Don’t worry; I’m not going to ask you to sit down and meditate or chant some mantras (though by all means, feel free if you’ve had a busy week so far). Getting into the mindset of a tiny home dweller does, however, take a little bit of inner reflection and a willingness to change your outlook on the world.

Living in any kind of tiny home takes a little bit of adjusting time. To go from a house with two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, living room, and dining room, to a house with one room and a toilet cupboard (in the case of a van), is a massive change.

You’re about to give up a lot of the things you rely on daily, things that have become commonplace, like a dishwasher, a flushing toilet, your guitar amplifiers, a flushing toilet, your shower … oh, and a flushing toilet.

Why did I mention the toilet three times? It’s the one thing people most often tell me that stops them from living the van life. Giving up the luxury of a flushing toilet is too much of a change from their normal routine.

When I first started building my tiny home, I had a lot of these same reservations. Would I be able to manage? How would I feel in such a small space? Could I really give up the TV?

Honestly, and I genuinely mean every word here, I did not miss any part of living in a house. Sure, emptying the toilet down another toilet while I lived in a van in Yorkshire and the new routine of showering at the gym took some getting used to, but after a few weeks, it just became the new normal.

Is the van life right for you?

Now, I’m going to get a little deep here, so you might want to make yourself comfortable for this next bit.

What is the most important thing to you in life? Is it working hard and saving up for a house or a big trip? Is it getting out into the open and spending time with your family?

Is it living within your means in order to have more time to spend working on a passion project that you might want to turn into a career? In some respects, tiny home living can help with all three of those choices.

I worked full time while living in a van for over a year, saving my wages every month for my European travels. Equally, I know people who have done the same thing and put their money toward buying land in a different country.

Living small certainly gives you more time to spend doing the things you love, too, whether that’s heading out on a trip with your loved ones, or working less and putting your energy into writing a book or honing your photography skills.

I can best summarize the feeling that made me want to live in a tiny house as “wanting more.” You’ve got to want that change more than anything else, to be prepared for things to get a little bit tough at times, to live a life that can be uncertain but with infinite rewards and exciting discoveries every day.

The pros of van life

I think one of the best parts of living the van life — and this is a theme I often come back to in my book — is the lack of rushing around or the need to do anything to a timescale. There’s no should in the van life vocabulary; you do what you want, when you want, making your own hours if you work on the road or just enjoying life on your own terms.

Say goodbye to the stressful morning commute or eating your breakfast while watching mind-numbing morning television shows if you’re taking your job with you. Say goodbye to waking up listening to the next door neighbor’s toilet cistern rumbling through the wall or the sound of the garbage truck reversing down your street.

Every day feels more relaxed when you wake up in a new place, listening to the ever-changing sounds of nature or sometimes no sounds whatsoever.

For a lot of people, this lack of structure and routine can feel a little like freefalling. Again, it’s no real surprise; since around the age of 4, most of us have gone to school at a certain time, eaten meals at set times, gone to university and, eventually, to work in a preplanned structure laid out for us. To go from this to a life where you make the rules can be freeing for some, but make others feel lost.

A motto to live by

Here’s something I want you to think about, and this is something I tell people who are thinking about living the van life on a daily basis: There is no dress rehearsal for life, so don’t waste time dreaming about your perfect life when you could be out there living the dream.

Admittedly, I’m not a philosopher and I haven’t had many public speaking gigs thus far in my career, but I think you get the general idea.

If you’re reading this from the office instead of sending emails, then don’t wait until you’re retired to give travel a go. If you’re retired but thinking about waiting for the right time, throw caution to the wind and get out there and give van life a go.

I know too many people, young and old, who have sadly passed away before getting to live their traveling dreams. Don’t wait for tomorrow; make that decision to live a different life today.

I’ll now wait 30 seconds for your applause before carrying on with the next section.

Deciding how long to be on the road

I think we can all agree that you’re now fully committed to giving van life a try, what with buying this book and my rousing speech earlier. The next question you need to ask yourself is: How long would you like to be on the road away from home? Or, and here’s the million-dollar question: Do you want to take your home on the road with you?

Before I go any further, I know that while it’s physically possible to “up sticks” and live the van life full time, not everyone can or wants to give up the life they have built to live on the road.

For some, it’s just not viable due to work locations, while others might love their jobs and not fancy the thought of giving up the empire they have built.

Generally, there are three categories of van life travel that can help you figure out what kind of lifestyle you might want:

Weekend warriors: As the name suggests, weekend warriors simply travel over a weekend. Whether frequenting campsites or wild camping in the hills, scheduled short trips away give you something to look forward to, a chance to live as free as a bird on the weekend while still maintaining a steady work/life balance through the week.

Short-term — one to six months: Planning a short-term adventure of one to six months could be a more manageable way of fitting van life into your current life. So many people buy a van and convert it as a cheap way to see the world, always knowing that it won’t be with them forever.

Of course, there’s nothing to say that building a van for short-term travels can’t lead to weekend excursions later down the line or a potential move to full-time travel if you decide to take your job on the road with you.

Full-time travel: Obviously, if you’re thinking about traveling full time, then you need to either be in a position where you are financially stable or plan on working on the road. I managed to travel full time, working two days a week writing articles and budgeting costs accordingly along the way.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Seb Santabarbara is a writer and alternative living enthusiast. Seb established himself as a van life expert by living in a self-converted camper while helping others reach their alternative living goals as head of written content for an online van life media brand that reached five million readers. Keep up with Seb at

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