If You're Thinking of Trying Out Van Life, You Need to Read This

Mariah Schlossmann
·5 mins read
Photo credit: @jennelle.eliana
Photo credit: @jennelle.eliana

From Cosmopolitan

Show of hands: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in a van full-time? It sounds intriguing: You’re not tied to any place, you get to be with everything you’ll ever need 24/7, and, best of all, there’s no monthly rent. You are your own landlord, bb.

That is exactly the reason van life pro and YouTuber Jennelle Eliana decided to take up the lifestyle in the first place. “When I was working 60+ hours a week and also going to school part-time, I was hardly ever in my apartment unless it was to sleep,” Eliana says.

Jennelle was inspired after seeing van lifers all around her area and hasn't looked back since. For the last two years, she’s been living out of a 1995 GMC Vandura Conversion van and (spoiler alert!) doesn’t see herself stopping anytime soon.

And why would she? She wakes up to the Pacific Ocean on California’s central coast and goes on road trips whenever she wants. Sign me up, plz!

Now seems like the perfect time to try new socially-distant things you’ve been talking about for years, like paring down your belongings, seeing more of the country, and learning about parking ordinances in cities!! (What? That's not on your bucket list?)

But van life is ALSO super intimidating. Like, where do you even get a van? And where do you go to the bathroom or shower?!

But not to worry, thanks to Jennelle, we've got tons of advice. And if you weren't already thinking of making the lifestyle change, you'll definitely be interested now.

Before Committing to Van Life...

Test it Out

Eliana suggests using your car to camp in for a week to see if it’s a feasible lifestyle for you. If you can't handle that, then van life is probably not in your future. "It's definitely not for everyone, and it's important to just experience the lifestyle. If it doesn't end up being your thing, that's okay."

Research, Research, RESEARCH!

Take your time and investigate everything there is to know about van life. Jennelle combed YouTube and every little forum for a year to get insight into those who were already living out of their cars and looking for a van, so she had plenty of time to mentally prepare and figure out as much as she could before changing her lifestyle.

Finding the Van

Craig’s List will be your best friend for this. You may think you know exactly what you want after doing your research, just like Jennelle thought, but be open to other vans. "I was originally going to get this $18,000 Sprinter that I would have to take out a personal loan for. Then the next day I saw this janky 1995 GMC Vandura conversion van that was not even on my radar and decided to go look at it," said Eliana. "It literally did not meet any of the criteria. I wanted something I could stand up in and something that was four-wheel drive. I had a list of things that I wouldn’t budge on, and the second that I saw this van, I felt an energy and knew I had to have it.”

Now That You're a Van-Lifer...

Parking

The ordinances vary in every city. A lot of people park at places like Walmart or 24-hour store lots, but if your van is small enough, you can parallel park almost anywhere. Street parking near any apartment complex or hotels are great options too.

Fund$

Technically speaking, in order to really do van life you just need a van, but there are things that definitely make it easier. "I built a sink about one year in, added electricity, and built a giant closet under my van. These things may not be necessary for everyone, but after living in the van for that long, I realized what I needed to be comfortable. It's a good idea to not spend a ton of money upfront and wait and see what you'll need after living in the van for a bit," says Eliana.

Bathrooms

If you purchase a van with a bathroom set-up already in it, then you don't have to worry about this one. But if your ride comes without a toilet or shower, gyms like 24-Hour Fitness or Planet Fitness are great options for you. You can use the bathroom and showers by starting a membership at most gyms, but it may depend on your location. "If I'm staying in one place for a long period of time, I would just get a yoga membership at a local studio," says Eliana.

Maintenance

You don't need to be a handy person, but it helps if you're willing to learn via Google or YouTube when you want to fix or change something. "I really think if you set your mind to something, you can do it," says Eliana. "If you build things yourself (besides the $$$ you'll save), you know exactly how to fix it if it breaks."

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