Who doesn’t dream of going wherever they want, whenever they want?
For a lot of us, the ideal lifestyle is one where we can see and explore the world while still maintaining a daily routine that’s familiar to us. While you might think it’s impossible to get the best of both worlds, the truth is that a lot of people have already achieved their ideal mix of comfort and adventure. It’s called the digital nomad movement and it started sometime in the 2010s after professionals, typically those in the tech space, realized that the nature of their work and a steadily more robust global internet infrastructure meant that they didn’t have to be physically present at their workplace.
When digital nomad communities first started popping up online, it was seen as an exotic lifestyle trend that meant abandoning the comforts of daily life in exchange for the promise of adventure on the shores of Bali or the mountains of Nepal. After the dust settled, though, it became clear that being a digital nomad didn’t have to take you so far away from home. The modern traveler lifestyle could easily be achieved by retrofitting a van into a home and going on an extended, countrywide road trip.
Enter van life.
What is van life and is it the right lifestyle for you?
Just like the name implies, van life is a type of digital nomad lifestyle where people modify their vans into a living space. There are vans on the market right now that come ready for van life use, but it’s common for digital nomads starting their van life to customize their van on their own. You’ll see a ton of videos on this on YouTube along with vlogs of people sharing their experiences with van life.
The sudden popularity of van life has led to a van wagon FOMO where people jump into van life without considering whether it’s right for them. As expected, a lot of these people eventually leave van life disappointed with the experience. If you’re considering van life, it’s important that you figure out first whether you’re the type of person who’s well-suited to a nomadic lifestyle.
We get it. Van life sounds fun because you get to go travelling while you work, but it’s a laborious lifestyle that can get lonely. Remember that when you’re traveling in a van, you’re often traveling alone or with just another person for company. The lack of neighbors mean that you’ll have to make a greater effort to socialize. Plus, if you’re a woman travelling solo, you’ll have to make more safety precautions because many ill-intentioned people will see you as an easy target.
But even if you’re not a female solo traveler, you still have to prepare for your vandwelling adventure. Nomadic life means that you’ll find yourself in areas and situations where it’s hard or even impossible to call for help. You’ll have to rely on yourself, making resourcefulness and diligent planning the two key skills for any van lifer.
Things to consider if you’re thinking of living the van life
1. Identify your real essentials
Van life is different from regular house or apartment living in one key way: you’re living accommodations become more sparse. Not only do you have less space for your stuff but you’ll also have less creature comforts. Because a van isn’t connected to a sewage system or has the same plumbing as your regular home, many vandwellers rely on compost toilets. Compost toilets can be as sophisticated as real toilets, minus the water, or as basic as a bucket hidden under a toilet seat.
Many vandwellers equip their vans with a pump connected to a gallon so they can still have a tap inside the van. If you’re going to choose the van life, you have to be okay with all this.
2. Make sure your job is cool with it
Living on the go doesn’t mean you no longer have to work for a living. Vandwellers typically have jobs that don’t require them to be on site. If you start living in a van, you’ll have to find a job that can be done remotely too. Not only that, your remote job should also have minimal to zero need for on site meetings. If possible, make sure the job is one where you won’t be called to site to take care of an emergency as that can be extremely impractical if you and your van are out of state.
3. Learn basic survival skills
Learning basic survival skills is a no-brainer for any traveler, but it’s even more vital if you’re traveling alone. At some point in your digital nomad journey, you will be in a situation where you can’t get help quickly. When this happens, you need to be ready to take matters into your own hands.
One of, if not the most important, survival skill to learn is conducting first aid. Next, you’ll want to learn old fashioned navigation. If you find yourself without trusty GPS, knowing how to find your way with a map, compass, or the stars can mean the literal difference between life and death.
4. Keep your mind and body healthy
The routine-free aspect of van life sounds appealing at first until you find yourself losing your sense of time. To keep your mind and body in tip top shape, you should maintain at least a basic workout routine. Van life can get cramped so remember to do your stretches or practice yoga.
As for mentally stimulating hobbies, even a quick ten minute morning meditation can go a long way when it comes to keeping you out of a depressive slump. Maintaining a mental wellness habit is even more important if you have a pre-existing condition like depression, anxiety, ADHD, or any mood disorder.
If you have a mental health condition, or any health condition, it’s prudent to keep a family member or friend updated on your health and whereabouts so you can get help in case of emergencies.