Starting our vanlife journey was exhilarating and a truly liberating moment. We had waited years to finally hit the road and we were ecstatic to begin. I don’t believe you are truly ever fully prepared for life on the road. There are so many unknowns and things you simply have to learn on your own. Despite this, if I could go back here are a few things that I would sit down and think about to properly prepare and make the beginning transition much smoother. It’s time to start preparing for vanlife with my list of questions to ask yourself!
Wrote in 01/2020 and updated 03/2022
1. What’s on Your Packing List?
Think back to a time when you newly moved into an apartment or house. Do you remember moving in and realizing all the things you did not have? Do you also remember the inevitable $200 target shopping spree you ended up going on? Vanlife can be like that too if you aren’t careful.
My recommendation is to thoroughly think through what you will be doing on the road. Where you will travel, how you will travel, what you will cook, and the things you will be doing (hiking, skiing, climbing, playing tourist).
All these questions will help you create a packing list so that you do not end up throwing away things that you need in your van conversion and it gives you time to begin to stockpile the new items you need for the van. If you prepare for vanlife in advance you won’t have a huge bill when you first move into the van on new things that you need.
2. Where Will You Shower?
When you begin preparing for vanlife one of the top things to consider is how you will do the things that you don’t have in your van. One of those things is probably going to be a shower. Unless you plan on building a full bathroom into your van build, a top consideration is how you will shower. The easy answer to that is at the gym. Most vanlifers opt to pay for a monthly gym membership so they have national access to a gym with a shower.
In both our sprinter van and ford transit DIY van, we didn’t have a shower and never had an issue!
Vanlife Gym Options
- Planet Fitness is a top choice that has options all across the nation. It’s only $23 a month for nationwide access. It is in most big cities and in quite a few small cities. It’s usually there when we need it.
- 24 Hour Fitness is another option that has a large number of gyms on the West Coast. It’s a great option if you don’t plan on leaving California, Oregon, or Washington.
- Gold’s Gym is another popular option for vanlife gym memberships. It has a low cost and is nationwide. Again like 24 Hour Fitness it has fewer gyms across the US making it less appealing if you travel all over.
3. Why Do You Want to Do Vanlife?
I think a great question to ask yourself is “Why do you want to do vanlife?”. This question will help you to get an idea of what you want vanlife to look like on a daily basis. Maybe you want to visit more cities, see National Parks, get outdoors more, or maybe you want to save money. This question will set the tone for your journey so it’s an important step in preparing for vanlife.
4. What is Your Road Trip Plan?
When we first prepared for vanlife we banked on the no vanlife plan, plan. This is a totally acceptable answer and you do not have to make a road trip plan. It will however likely make your vanlife journey more enjoyable if you think through at least the first six months. Even though your plans will likely change this will help you get an idea of what kind you are expecting. Use these questions as a guide to planning out your vanlife road trip.
- How long are you going to be in the van? The first thing to consider is how long you want to be in the van. Is this an open-ended adventure or do you want to vanlife for a certain period of time and then do something else? So many vanlifers have a schedule which means that they know they are on a time crunch to get everything they want to be done in a certain time frame.
- What kind of experience do you want to have? Next, consider what things you want to see and do. Write out your bucket list and see what you can accomplish in van life
- Do you want to see family? Vanlife gives you the opportunity to see family when you might not have been able to. If you are like Shawn and I then our family is scattered all over the US and seeing them all every year can be costly. With vanlife, it’s so much easier to see them more often.
5. What will you do during the winter?
Wintertime in vanlife can be complicated. You can’t be just anywhere unless your build is outfitted for winter and even then it can still be really cold and you can easily get stuck. Will you head south to the warmer states and wait out the winter or do you want to have a home part-time? We often dream about renting a place for 3-4 months during the winter so we can relax and pass the cold months in a nice apartment somewhere.
Realistically if you watch for other van lifers on social media, there are rarely pictures of a van in the snow. There is a reason for that so plan accordingly!
6. How Will You Pay For Vanlife?
Now that you’ve decided how long you want to stay in your tiny home you need to decide what you will do for money. One option is to save for an extended period of time. If you are only going to be on the road for a year, you can tally up your monthly bills and figure out how much money you need to save.
The next option is working on the road. From making money online to side-gigs there are vanlife jobs to help sustain life on the road without huge savings. Your bills are going to be substantially less so it is easier to make up the extra money you need by finding side gigs.
If you need more inspiration there are many Facebook groups that cover this topic!
7. How will you get the internet?
If you opt to work online then you need to think about how you will get wifi in your van. Will you go to coffee shops every day? Or would you like the option to work remotely from your van? From MiFi cards to wifi booster you need to consider how to be able to work inside your van.
8. Do you want to be a full-time or part-time vanlifer?
Since you have thought through some basic points to help preparing for vanlife, it’s time to decide if you want to be full-time or part-time in the van. Do you have the savings or a job to be full-time? Do you even want to be full-time? There are many many times when I wish Shawn and I had a home base to go to when we were feeling lost. However, that would add substantially to our bills and defeat the purpose of vanlife for us.
9. Where will you get your mail?
If you have decided to be a full-time vanlifer, even if it’s only for a certain period of time then that means you likely have given up your place of residence. So now you need to decide where your “permanent address” will be.
Some mail options for vanlifers:
- Use a family member’s address
- Purchase a virtual address
- Set up a residence in nomad-friendly states.
10. Have you Created a Budget?
The last piece of the puzzle is to create a budget. This also might help you to reevaluate whether you can be full-time in this nomadic lifestyle. Maybe you will realize how low your bills are and decide to go full-time or extend your trip!
When preparing for vanlife and creating your vanlife budget there are quite a few things you will need to break down. Use these as a guide to get started on your budget!
How far do you plan on traveling each month?
If you made your road trip plan, even a basic one then you can get an idea of how much you will be traveling. This will help you figure out how much gas money you will be spending. To give a ballpark figure, Shawn and I have a budget of $300 per month for gas. We typically stay in that range.
Do you want to be a tourist?
If you realized that you want to do vanlife so you can visit and experience new cities then eating out may be a priority for you. This means you need to think about how much money you will spend every month on tourist activities.
Will you stay at paid campgrounds?
As a vanlifer, you can opt to never pay for parking. This is totally an option and something Shawn and I have done for almost two years now. There are a ton of free campgrounds and dispersed sites across the US that you can totally get away with it. However, there are times that you will be staying in Wal-Mart parking lots and it can come with stressful evenings when you aren’t sure where to go. To us, it’s worth the effort to avoid paying $30 plus a night.
Are you prepared for emergencies?
Even the nicest vans break down. You need to make sure you have emergency cash when something goes wrong with your van (which it will). You don’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere and realize you don’t have the cash to fix something inside your build or a mechanical van issue.
Use these questions to help create a budget so you can begin preparing for vanlife and hit the road!
Hopefully, these questions will lay a foundation so you can properly prepare for your vanlife adventure. Are you considering vanlife or preparing for vanlife? What questions do you have?