The number of those living “that van life” has increased 63% in the last couple years, with 1.9M people trying it in 2020 to over 3M trying it in 2022. There are lots of factors driving this trend, including more remote work opportunities and a housing market that makes it more and more challenging for people to get on the property ladder.
- The average cost of a home in the US, according to Zillow, is around $350,000. A brand new camper van is roughly a third of that cost, at $130,000, and can be substantially less for a used model, sometimes as low as $25,000.
- A recent survey said that of the of the Americans who would consider van life as a way of living, almost a third are from the 35-44 age range.
With those stats it can be easy to see why some people would choose #vanlife. They get constantly changing scenery, the opportunity to chase the weather they prefer, a chance to visit friends around the country, and a severely reduced cost of living which can be used to put together savings for a down payment on a permanent home. It’s a drastic solution for those who don’t see a way forward in the current economic climate. But it’s a theory that continues to be validated by those documenting what they did on YouTube and other places.
Some Reality Checks
Speaking of YouTube, everyone knows the glamorous social media shots of van life. What about some of the realities?
- The most popular vans, like the Mercedes Sprinter model, have an average livable square footage of 125 square feet (or less)
- Professional van conversions start at around $30,000, excluding the cost of the van
- Some municipalities and regions are not necessarily camper/van-friendly.
- Gas price changes directly and significantly affect the cost of living for those who choose this lifestyle.
That said, many people — as many as 80% — choose to do a DIY conversion of their camper van, which can run closer to $2-4k. To put things back in perspective, if you buy a new Mercedes Sprinter, at around $45k and do most of the work yourself, you’re still going to be less than half the cost of a home in Youngstown, Ohio ($115,000), one of the cheapest cities for home buying in the country.
It’s likely many of us know someone in our own network or know of someone who has decided to try van life. Some senior citizens are using it as a two-headed strategy: reducing housing costs and creating a fascinating retirement. Others, on the other end of their working careers, are using it to take some time off and really ponder what they want to do next, while “auditioning” other places to live in the country by actually living there, albeit using a van as a starter home. But those who are perfectly happy where they live and have no intentions to move can also leverage the interest and infrastructure being created around this lifestyle to give it a try themselves as an alternative to the traditional family vacation.
After all, van life affords you, where the regulations allow for it, the chance to camp under the stars…with some of the conveniences of modern cooking and technology. As internet coverage continues to grow through companies like Starlink, places that were previously closed to remote workers become options. But perhaps most importantly, van life can remind you and your family of something that all of us should hear more often: you don’t really need that much to live an enjoyable life and relish waking up every day. Van life certainly isn’t a permanent lifestyle for everyone, but everyone should give it a try sometime.