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Van-Dwelling Secrets: What It’s Really Like

  • By Kate Moore
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Van dwelling is an increasingly popular trend, especially amongst young people eager to explore the great outdoors while still having creature comforts. But what’s it really like? Well, we have firsthand experience with this question—and in this article we’ll share a few van-dwelling secrets we’ve learned along the way.

Van life vs van-dwelling: What’s the difference?

These terms are often interchangeable, but van-dwellers intend to make a permanent change to their lifestyle. That means it’s not temporary, and it’s not just for a weekend. (No storage units here!)

People who are van-dwelling plan have no permanent residence and expect to live in their vehicles full-time for the foreseeable future. With that, comes some larger responsibilities and questions to work out.

girl van-dwelling in the wilderness


People who live in a van for a year or two are often chasing goals like hitting all 50 states, hiking in every National Park, or checking off bucket-list items. Van-dwellers on the other hand are working on a much larger timescale so the goals change. It’s not just about checking things off the list, it’s about staying comfortable throughout a lifetime of travel.


Slower movements means that van-dwellers are more likely to travel with the seasons and stay in one place for much longer periods of time. It becomes especially important to learn the ins and outs of urban camping in the city and how to find free campsites in the surrounding areas.

Following the weather becomes especially important. Because anyone can suffer through a few days of bad weather, but van-dwellers are in it for the long haul so finding the right place to park for the season is especially important.

van-dweller sitting on top of his camper in the mountains


The cost of van life becomes a hot topic when there’s no end-date. It becomes even more important to find the best van to live in and keep up with the maintenance. People who are van-dwelling have no easy outs if something breaks down.

Health insurance and establishing a permanent residence can be bigger road blocks to van dwellers because you can’t rely on temporary coverage or friends and family forever.

Many van-dwellers utilize healthshares or rely on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to find coverage.

When it comes to mail, virtual forwarding services like MyRVMail and Anytime Mailbox are common solutions.

As far as car insurance goes, companies like Roamly offer van conversion insurance designed specifically for this type of travel.

Van Dwelling Secrets

On the surface, van-dwelling looks like a glamorous and exciting life, but there are many obstacles that come with it. So if you’re thinking about joining the van-dwelling crowd, our advice is to learn some of the pros and cons up front.


There is an extra level of stress involved when everything you own is packed into a car. There’s no out if you experience a breakdown or get into a fender bender (even if it’s not your fault). Over time you’ll get more comfortable with the idea that everything is replaceable, but you’ll never feel as carefree as living in an apartment.

van-dwellers parked at a campground in joshua tree national park


Van-dwellers sometimes struggle to find community when they don’t stay in one place for too long. It also becomes harder to relate to old friends while your life is constantly on the move.

However, there are also some great benefits to van-dwelling. You’ll likely meet interesting people everywhere you go and be exposed to different cultural norms that don’t always exist in one area. Plus, you can make new friends with similar interests and hobbies.

There are several van-dwelling communities to connect with and online forums to join. The Project Vanlife Forum and Cheap RV Living Forum are popular virtual communities for example.


It can often be hard for friends and family of van-dwellers to accept the lifestyle. The key is to explain the why behind your decision and be crystal clear about expectations.

They may not understand your decisions at first, but over the months and years that follow they will come to accept and appreciate your journey.

Storing your stuff

People who are van-dwelling full time don’t have the luxury of storing their things in a garage or basement. This means that everything needs to fit inside the vehicle in a way that maximizes space and efficiency.

It also means that having too much stuff can quickly become an issue. The best thing to do is learn how to declutter and scale down your belongings. Have a garage sale and save up as much money as you can before you hit the road. Check out these storage and organization ideas.

feet of a van-dwelling person

Keeping clean

People van-dwelling are constantly fighting off the stigma of being homeless. And one of the best ways to do that is to keep yourself and your van clean and respectable.

Showering regularly can help you feel refreshed and energized. And keeping your campsite clean will reduce the chances of being asked to move on.

Many van dwellers take advantage of 24-hour gyms like planet fitness or these other public shower options to stay cleansed.


The best way to save money is to cook it yourself. When van-dwelling, a portable refrigerator or small camping stove can make all the difference. This way, you don’t have to rely on restaurants or fast food every night.

Stock up on foods that don’t require any cooking or minimal preparation. Cereals, nuts, fruit, and PB&J sandwiches are a quick way to pack in some calories without the hassle of preparing a meal.


If you’re into the van-dwelling lifestyle, it’s imperative to be aware of your finances. Try to save as much as possible before you leave, so that you’ll have a buffer in emergency situations.

Having multiple sources of income is also helpful. A part-time job or freelancing gig can help make ends meet and keep things afloat when expenses are higher than expected.

Van-dwelling is much more affordable than traditional housing, if done correctly. Take advantage of free camping sites and lack of utility bills. Read through this van life budget to determine how much you can expect to spend per month.

Van Dwelling FAQs

Having a van-dwelling life can be thrilling but it does come with its own set of challenges. Create clear expectations with friends and family, declutter your belongings, find yourself a community, and save money along the way.

For a more detailed explantation, read about our van life experience. Good luck on your new adventure!

Can a van be a dwelling?

Yes, a van can be used as a dwelling. This is a popular option for van lifers who convert vehicles into a living space for full-time or short-term use.

Are van dwellers homeless?

People who lack a permanent address and fix, regular, and adequate nighttime residence including a car, park, or camping ground are considered “homeless” by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). However, full-time van-dwellers can get around this stigma by establishing a legal residence.

Can I live in a van permanently?

Yes, you can live in a van permanently! This requires dedication and a willingness to make sacrifices. But it is possible with the right preparation and setup. Learn about our experience living in a van full-time where we discuss the pros and cons.

Kate is the lead content creator for and has spent over two years living in a camper van conversion. She has traveled through 48 US states and writes about van life, camping and RV living.