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Living in a camper van full-time can be a life-changing, and cost-effective experience. You’ll save money every year since there’s no utility bill or monthly rent. But living in a camper van is a tricky lifestyle to manage, even trickier than living in an RV full-time. So before you go out and buy a van, take into consideration how difficult it may be to live in one.

The Inside Of A Camper Van Conversion
The Inside Of A Camper Van Conversion | Adam Lee / Barcroft Media via Getty Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Camper vans aren’t big

A cheap RV can typically fit two people, a kitchen, and a full bathroom all at once. A camper van, however, requires scrutinous use of the limited space. But you can still manage to fit everything you’d want (minus the bathroom) inside your camper van, with shelves and countertops for cooking and a bed for two. And truth be told, that’s about all you’ll have room for.

If you live on your own, or with one person, and don’t mind being away from people, then a small camper van could be great for you. But if you’re a social animal, chances are the lifestyle would get old quickly. You’d be alone more often than you’d like, and you would have very little room to let friends tag along. Camper vans are two-person setups at most.

And while we’re on the subject of who you can fit in your van, we ought to talk about what you can fit in your van. Unfortunately, it isn’t all that much.

Camper vans don’t offer many amenities

A Couple Sits Outside Their Volkswagen
A Couple Sits Outside Their Volkswagen Camper Van | Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Unless you spend tens of thousands of bucks on a new Mercedes Sprinter camper conversion, chances are you won’t have a bathroom. Get used to using public showers at truck rest stops, or stopping at any place that’ll put you up for the night. The same goes for toilets, though those are easier to come by.

Another issue you may have living in a camper van, no matter how many creature comforts it has, is doing laundry. You’ll have to use public laundromats, which isn’t exactly glamourous, but necessary (unless you want to smell bad). Those are the two main areas of hygiene that are lacking, but they also lack means of survival.

I’m talking about food and water, those things we need to live. Chances are, you’ll be eating out a lot and buying bottled water. Those expenses may add up over time, though won’t cost nearly as much as monthly rent. Though, if you want to cook your own meals (and manage to find enough space to do it), then you can invest in a portable stove. Those will run anywhere from $50 to $150.

The deeper you dive into the camper van lifestyle, the more expenses seem to pop up. And that’s before we even talk about the van itself.

The initial costs of a camper van

Camper Van Parked In Front Of Sunset
Camper Van Parked In Front Of Sunset | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

If you plan on converting the van to a camper yourself, then you’ll certainly save some money. However, the initial costs of buying a cheap van, then filling it with your camper van essentials, can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000. There are lots of supplies you’ll want, such as the aforementioned portable stove, and other expenses you’ll need to account for.

At some point, you’re going to want electricity. This is especially true if you’re working a remote job and mooching off coffee shop internet. A portable electric generator may be just the thing to keep your camper van powered up, but it can be expensive.

Then there’s gas and vehicle maintenance. If you’re going after a classic van, such as a Volkswagen Bus, then power to you. But that thing gets about 14 mpg combined, and with a 16-gallon gas tank, you’ll be filling up 200 miles. And you may want to consider investing in tools to perform your own maintenance, that way you don’t wind up in a shop (and spend more money).

But let’s say you go through with everything. You buy the camper van, trick it out, and are ready to hit the road. Where do you park?

Parking a camper van

Camper Van Parked On Bureau of Land Management Property
Camper Parked On Bureau of Land Management Property Josh Brasted/Getty Images

Of all the steps in the camper van lifestyle, this might actually be the easiest. Unlike an RV, parking a camper van at a friend’s house isn’t conspicuous. It just looks like a regular van, it could even go in the garage. And there are other places to park your camper van for free across the country. Most Walmarts will let you stay in their parking lot, as will certain rest stops (depending on which state you live in).

The Bureau of Land Management also provides a list of free campsites. There, you can park your camper van on public lands and stay overnight. Though, whatever you choose to do, if you’re parking your van in public, it’s best not to park in the same spot twice.

That said, there are also plenty of luxury RV campsites that will allow camper vans to park as well. They’ll usually provide bathrooms, showers, and grills on the campsite you purchase, but they do cost money. It can range from $20 to $200 a night depending on how much you splurge, but every now and then, you’ll want a pleasant evening in your camper van.

Whether you’re sick of the world, or just want an unforgettable experience, living in a camper van can get you away from it all. Just keep in mind all the contingencies that you’ll experience if you choose to live the #vanlyfe.


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