In this series, I explore some of the practicalities of living in a van in the United States. For context, I am relatively privileged: white, perceived as male, raised middle class, able-bodied, in good physical shape. My advice may or may not be useful for others in my or similar situations.
So… I live in my van. I have for 3-4 years now.
Here’s where you say “Oh! Is it…. ‘down by the river!’”
Which is really a very clever reference to Saturday Night Live and definitely something I’ve never heard before. You’re very original. Congratulations.
Yes, I live in a way that is both unconventional and somewhat cliche. I’m comfortable with this.
Why Live In A Van
For me, van life is actually a step up in terms of stability and longterm access to resources. I’ve spent at least five or six years living out of one backpack or another. I’ve been nomadic more or less my entire adult life. So when I think about the advantages of living in a van, I’m likely thinking about it from the opposite point of view as others do.
- I live in a van because it offers me a sense of home. I have my own bed. You should see the look on people’s faces when I explain I’d rather sleep in my van than on their couch. It’s as though I’ve told them I’d rather sleep in brambles than in a hotel. But I like having my bed and my home.
- It offers me a sense of freedom. I know that at any point, if I needed to, I could leave almost any situation: just get in my van and go.
- It gives me a place to keep my stuff. I’ve got a million semi-professional hobbies, and by living in a van I can keep bins and boxes and bags of tools and supplies and equipment.
- I live in a van because I like to wander. I like forests and I like cities and I’d hate to have to pick between the two. I also tour a lot, usually as a writer, and a van is obviously quite good for such things.
- I live in a van because it’s awesome.
What’s Crappy About It
- Sometimes people break into your van and you’re stuck replacing the window and/or whatever was stolen. Also, very few people steal houses. (Banks do, though.) Also, getting your house towed is awful and stressful. You’ll never take parking lightly again.
- I can’t stand up in my van—some people can, I can’t. I also have a harder time curbing my wanderlust when getting from place to place is just so easy and convenient.
- There’s social stigma, which I feel more and more as I get older, but honestly I don’t really care. I’ve been a weirdo my whole life. Now I’m a guy named Magpie who lives in a van and wears women’s clothes. Whatever.
- It’s probably dangerous. But honestly, I apparently drive as many miles as the average american (15-30k a year), so maybe I’m not increasing my risk of dying in an accident at all. I do spend too much of my time sitting though, what with all the driving.
- It’s an anchor. If I want to leave the country or even just fly somewhere for awhile, I have to find somewhere to park my van and ideally someone to let the engine turn over once a week.
- It keeps me from getting a normal-people job. I’m not sure whether this goes here or the “Why Live In A Van” section.
- It’s a money pit. I throw almost all my money into my van, and then when I run out of money, I run out of van until I get more money to throw into the money pit. But then again, other people do this with their houses, so whatever.
Other Van Life posts