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Becoming an American Nomad: Living in a Van, Is It for You?

Jen is always researching how to live better, including living better for less.

Living in a van is not hard, but is it for you? Read on to see if this is the life you want.

Living in a van is not hard, but is it for you? Read on to see if this is the life you want.

What Is a Van Dweller?

A van dweller is someone who chooses to live in a vehicle rather than a "sticks and brick" home. The vehicle can be as grand as an expensive brand new travel trailer or a huge mobile home, or as bare-bones as a small two-door vehicle with just enough room for a person to lay down on a piece of foam or bedding.

People choose to become van dwellers for different reasons: a desire to travel, a wish to be free of possessions and the worries that accompany owning a lot of stuff, or a drive for financial independence through paying down debt more quickly.

The reason can be as dramatic as fleeing from an abusive mate using the only means available: your automobile. You hope to travel to a place unknown to the abuser while living incognito without fear of violence and harassment.

Some just want to change things up and try a lifestyle that is more free and relaxed, to get back in touch with what matters most in life by redefining priorities.

While van dwelling may seem an extreme choice to many, some find the van dwelling life and the van dwelling community the most fulfilling experience they ever had.

Height Clearance Concerns When Living in a Vehicle

If money is not a big concern, many van dwellers prefer to purchase or fix up a van that has plenty of height. Being able to stand up while moving about is a real luxury for vehicle living, because being hunched over for long periods of time can be hard on the back and make an already small space feel more confining and claustrophobic.

Those who can afford them purchase Sprinter Vans and proudly share their conversions with the viewing public. Others find less expensive models that feature high roofs that serve their purpose. Conversion vans rate high on the list of preferred trucks.

That's not to say that SUV's, cargo vans, or station wagons can't serve the same purpose. Vehicle dwellers are resourceful and imaginative and are able to make a home out of any vehicle they wish.

Toilet Set-Up and Bathing Accommodations

To a person living in a vehicle, bathroom facilities are important but often hard to come by. Some use gym memberships to fill their bathroom needs. Most gyms have showers with unlimited access for members. Planet Fitness, and LA Fitness gyms are among the top choices for membership.

For more private and urgent matters, a five-gallon bucket with a toilet seat will work when public facilities are not available or convenient.

Night-time is problematic without an indoor set-up. Temperatures can be too severe to venture outside the vehicle. Safety is also a concern when exiting the vehicle at night.

Fire pits, and garbage disposal areas are used to get rid of feces and urine. Heavy duty, plastic trash bags can be purchased and used as safe disposal containers.

How to Successfully Battle the Elements

Insulation is extremely necessary with van life. Vehicles have many open spaces which allow heat and cold to enter and escape. Winter weather with its freezing temperatures makes metal surfaces feel like ice, lowering the interior temps.

Summer time with its hot air and scorching sunlight sends inside temperatures soaring to unimaginable and dangerous heights. The same metal that is cold in the winter makes the inside of a vehicle feel like an oven in the summer.

Necessary equipment besides insulation consists of a good vehicle fan to circulate cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Small camping heaters can be purchased for cold nights and are very effective for keeping vehicle occupants warm. Many people who live in their vans purchase simple hand and feet warmers to place in their sleeping bags.

Sleeping bags need to be rated for freezing weather to be of benefit to van dwellers. Dropping night temperatures are hazardous if occupants are not properly clothed and protected.

Living the van life calls for the ability to endure the noise and apprehension of storms and high winds. Rainstorms are very loud and keep a dweller awake as the rain batters the vehicle. Strong winds shake a vehicle and debris can fall onto a vehicle or nearby. Ice forms outside and inside the vehicle when not properly insulated making for a uncomfortable night.

Van Life Necessities Conveniences and Gadgets

Van dwellers are eager and quick to share information and advice about what enhances the lifestyle. Solar power is very sought after for efficient power usage. Batteries, generators and power systems of all types can be purchased to fit individual needs. Van dwellers can buy appliances for cooking, water storage, and other needs. All such gadgets and conveniences add to the homey feeling of living in a vehicle.

Solar Energy a Necessity and Convenience

Solar energy knowledge and expertise is something all those living in their vehicles investigate. It is more affordable to use solar panels and converters than in years past. A small panel can easily provide energy for a van or converted truck. Living in a recreational vehicle is conducive to solar power as well.

Will Prowse is a solar power expert. His ingenuity and mechanical ability is top rate. He has over 49,600 YouTube subscribers and his videos pertaining to everything solar are truly educational and enlightening.


Clean clothes is a necessity and without running water for a washing machine, many vehicle dwellers use laundromats to keep clothing and bedding clean and fresh. Some laundromats make basins available with faucets, which allows for more cleaning to take place. For example, washing cooking utensils.

Clothing is kept to a minimum for most people living in their vehicles. A laundromat is a must under such circumstances since some prefer to have only a week's supply of clothing on hand.

Stealth Living - How to Go Undetected

Many vehicle dwellers who want to escape detection by the authorities, area municipalities, or people intent on doing harm, call their lifestyle stealth dwelling. Stealth camping, off-grid living, or living and travelling in stealth mode, means not calling attention to oneself or to the fact that one is living in a vehicle.

Not leaving personal possessions in clear sight, strewn about the dashboard or front seat, is one good way to avoid detection. Black-out panels for all windows helps to keep out prying eyes. Privacy is important for those who choose to live in a vehicle.

Laws concerning the legality of living in a vehicle are numerous and varied. Research is necessary to be in compliance with local or state laws.

Females and Safety Concerns

Is it too dangerous for women to take up living in a vehicle? Legitimate safety issues exist. But women share tips and personal experience to lessen the chance of physical harm and make their vehicles safe. Women van dwellers have great know-how in the automotive field as well as in electricity, plumbing, sewage, heating and air conditioning.

A willingness to learn is an essential part of success. Also females must be willing to face their fears and conquer negative thoughts and apprehension. Being alone can be challenging yet liberating for women. Preparedness is the key to having a positive experience.

With well over 94,500 subscribers, Carolyn's RV Life is a YouTube sensation. She travels all around the U.S. and keeps her viewers educated and informed on not only her travels, but also day-to-day existence living out of her vehicle. She makes repairs, up-grades her vehicle, manages her finances and travels alone. Her channel is worth investigating.

Female Caravans

There is safety in numbers as solo female travelers can attest. It is not uncommon for a group of females to take a road trip together. Enjoying the comradery, safety, and fellowship is a big reason the caravans exist.

Van Dwelling for People of Color

YouTube and Instagram provide proof that more and more African-Americans are among the growing number of those who have taken to the roadways. While racial prejudice is always a concern, the problem is not prohibitive for those desirous of the lifestyle.

Mia from My Life Now is an excellent example of a black women surviving urban living in her SUV.

Van Dwellers Annual Convention: The RTR

The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous or RTR is a yearly event that gathers ever-increasing numbers. The nomads get together for association and to share knowledge and experiences. The organizers work hard to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible and succeeds in educating the attendees in the various aspects of the van dwelling lifestyle.

Bob Wells, the Best Known Van Dweller

With well over 254,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, and his website by the same name (CheapRVLiving), Bob Wells is perhaps the unofficial lead promoter of what he calls the nomadic lifestyle. He interviews car, truck, van, and RV (recreational vehicle) owners and shares their stories on his YouTube channel. He provides tips and advice that nomads depend upon. His knowledge is endless and he is well-respected in the community.

Financially Supporting Van Life

How does one who lives in a vehicle support their lifestyle choice? Ingenuity is the key. Some work regular full- or part-time jobs in the area where they park.

Many are successful freelancers. Some are YouTube contributors, making money from Google for the number of times their videos are viewed and liked.

Van-dwelling YouTubers can create Patreon accounts where followers can contribute financially to the YouTuber's account. Although critics call such recipients e-beggars, their contributors have a sincere desire to assist and support their favorite YouTube channel. Supporters provide gifts as well as money, all very much appreciated by the recipients.

Most van dwellers are well aware of the best states for living in a vehicle.

Arizona is high on the list of states to establish permanent residency. It has positive attitude toward van dwellers and makes it easy to become a resident of the state. It is required to provide a proof of address when requested by legal entities, which makes finding an approved form of identification essential.

© 2019 Darline Kilpatrick