At some point during the past few years, our beloved Instagram feeds have transformed the thoroughly unromantic idea of “living out of a van” into the highly aspirational, always envy-inspiring concept of “van life.” If you’re not sure of the difference, the first one is about your brother’s weird-ass friend from grade school. And the latter is mostly about tanned limbs, wood interiors and Mexican blankets…with an obligatory dog or sunset in the frame.
But …is van life worth it? Your friends at Kelty know a thing or two about living out of a van, so we’ve rounded up some key questions to ask yourself—along with a few van dwelling tips and van life essentials to help you not lose your mind in vanland.
- Do you like camping? Our first and most obvious question: You DO know that living in a converted van is basically camping, right? Like, every night. No matter how sweet your van life conversion might be, your van dwelling is still a rolling tent—and there are rules for that.
In some ways, your van dwelling will be self-sufficient; but in many ways, you’re completely at the mercy of your environment. You’ll need to find a suitable place to park every night. You’ll need creative ways to keep your auxiliary power charged, and you’ll have to plan ahead for basic life stuff like bathing, waste disposal, and even shade—especially if doggo’s on board.
GEAR TIP: Noah’s Tarp is a must-have for any van dwelling. Ultra lightweight and easy to set up or take down, it’s your solution for creating a reliable shady spot almost anywhere.
- Do you like people? You had better like people. It’s a common misconception that living in a converted van is a solitary (and therefore lonely) pursuit. But here’s the thing: everybody, on some level, is completely fascinated by what you’re doing. So, even if you’re a slightly sketchy-looking dude with a hipster beard and intermittent hygiene, you’re going to make friends on the road. If you’re a cute couple with a friendly dog, expect to be the popular table of wherever you are.
- Do you like dirt? Dude, vanlife can be SO dirty. Even if you park your van dwelling on rain-washed asphalt every night, you’ll be tracking dirt into your home-on-the-go ten times a day—even more if you’re using your van as the base camp for sweaty, geophilic activities like hiking or biking. Another way to think of it: you’re essentially living in a hamper on wheels. And, based on your pared-down wardrobe, you’ll need to be on top of laundry…or willing to be RIPE.
GEAR TIP: We can’t help you with the stank. But we CAN help you create a homey “front porch” vibe that minimizes dirt tracking and works great for picnics, too. Get thyself a Bestie BFF Blanket, STAT. Its durable bottom layer is made for laying on the ground and easily brushing off dirt and sand.
- Do you like personal space? Particularly if you’ll be sharing your van dwelling with other warm bodies, living out of a van will require you to abandon about 98% of the personal space you enjoyed in the real world. And this one is sort of a double whammy, because…how do you feel about your STUFF? Because the amount of personal space you’ll enjoy in your little van dwelling will be directly related to how ruthlessly you can Kondo your worldly possessions.
If you’re one those folks who is 100% down with a capsule wardrobe or zero-waste lifestyle, you’re gonna be GREAT. But if your first question about living out of a van is, “I wonder if StitchFix will forward my monthly delivery to a P.O. box?”—then van life may not be for you.
GEAR TIP: Most van life conversions prioritize sleeping space, even in a fold-down situation, and they’re not wrong. Our Tru.Comfort Doublewide is all the stowable bedding you’ll need.
- Do you like real food? Do you like to prepare it yourself? Because even with a totally swank van life conversion, serious chef types may find their culinary artistry severely limited by space constraints. Real refrigeration may be an issue; lack of counter space usually presents a significant challenge. But as with almost everything in van life, striking a delicate balance between advance planning and completely winging it can help alleviate cooking mishaps.
For example, if you know you’ll be away from civilization for a few days, you can plan a few simple meals and shop very specifically for those items—stock up on ice, and watch your perishables closely. Then, when the journey takes you back through town, treat yourself to laundry and a day or two of restaurant meals before starting the whole process all over again.
GEAR TIP: Our Folding Cooler (which comes in 25L and 45L) was made for situations JUST like this! When it’s not in use, it collapses to a height of 4”, ensuring that your van life tetris game stays strong.