In the United States, having a car means one thing: absolute freedom. When I think back to my sixteen-year-old self, just getting my driver’s license, I knew from that moment on that I would have more freedom than ever before. I remember thinking to myself, “When I get my own car, I’ll be unstoppable”—a feeling I’m sure many of us can relate to. This freedom to me now means one thing. Road trips.
My family and I were always big road trippers. Why fly from Ohio to Florida when you could drive for a third of the price? I think my road-tripping roots are one of the main reasons I’ve always wanted to do van life. Another reason? I just wanted to be in one of those cool VW vans (like in That ’70s Show). I used to dream of the day I could drive from the Midwest to the West Coast as Donna and Kelso did.
No matter how much you dream, however, the fact of the matter remains: you have to have money to travel, which is something they don’t talk about on TV shows. My partner, Ian, and I have found a way around this though: We saved up as much money as we could and took off to southeast Asia, where travel is more affordable. But with the COVID-19 pandemic shocking the world, we were forced to return home.
We came up with a few ideas on how to continue to travel safely during these uncertain times, and living the van life was the one that excited us the most.
How do we live van life?
Van life is a lifestyle characterized by living full-time or part-time out of your vehicle—often adjusted to sustain a normal lifestyle (think: bed, toilet, solar panels). It’s a lifestyle that any age range can enjoy and one that promotes the freedom to pick up and go at any time.
We imagined we’d have to save a ton of money to live van life, but nowadays, with unlimited information at our fingertips, there are countless ways to find a cheaper alternative. We budget $60 a day for two people while traveling in our van. Our Ford Transit Connect gets twenty-four miles per gallon, which is a huge bonus considering that gas is one of our biggest expenses. We shop for cheap groceries in stores like Winco or Walmart, and we try to avoid getting takeout too often (even though that doesn’t always work out as planned). On top of it all, we save a ton of money using our National Park Annual Pass, which costs us $80 and allows unlimited entry to the majority of the national parks in the United States.
So, you see, it isn’t an out of reach lifestyle. Do we live the most lavish lives? No. We often go days without showers, and when we do get a chance to rinse off, it typically happens in cold lakes or shallow streams. But these are the sacrifices we’ve made to fulfill this beautiful dream of ours. You may think we’re crazy, but we’re not the only ones doing it. We’ve met kids right out of college who have decided to explore the US in their Toyota Corollas. And sure, they aren’t technically living in a van, but the concept and goal remain the same.
Of course, many people travel the states in absolute comfort with sprinter vans and RVs. That’s part of what makes this trend so popular—you can do it at any age with any income. If you travel on the cheap end, you may not have the same experience as retirees in a fancy RV, but whatever experience you have is unique and it is your own.
The van life trend is booming
#VanLife has been around for a while, but why is it trending so much these days? What’s changed? Well, to boil it down: COVID-19.
Traveling in a van is by far the safest way to travel right now. After months of quarantine, people are craving a vacation. So, given that travel and entertainment restrictions are still pretty strict, what do people do? Exactly what we did.
We’ve talked to so many people on the road who’ve said, “We’ve always wanted to do this and with all that’s going on, it’s a perfect time.” With van life, grocery stores, gas stations, and outdoor sites are the only spots you need to go—all of which are places you’d probably be going to while at home.
If you’ve dreamed of this, now is your chance. One piece of advice, though, before you get started: If you want to live the van life, start planning now because vans are definitely in high demand!