- Christine Benedetti
10 Questions Everyone Should Ask About #Vanlife
The freedom of the open road has never looked better, and that might mean you’re ready to take the plunge into #vanlife? Here are 10 questions you should answer before narrowing down which four-wheel home will be yours.
1. What type of van do you want?
The answer is a very personal one. But there are several factors to consider, including customization, cost-effectiveness, space constraints, mechanical aspects and purpose. A high roof van, like a Mercedes Sprinter or Ford Transit, has lots of space and is easy to customize to your needs, but it may be more expensive both up front and for parts/upkeep in the long run. A cargo van is easy to “hide” for urban camping, but might not have as much space inside—especially for tall people.
If you’re customizing the van—which you probably are if you’re reading this—it’s time to think about layout. How many beds? Are they fixed or convertible? Where does the kitchen go? These questions need answers with the overarching rules of weight distribution and multiple functionality presiding over them. Everything in the van should serve many uses. For example, a bed platform doubles as having underneath storage.
2. Do I need electricity?
Having electricity on the road is essential for your refrigerator, lighting at night and powering up your laptop so you can work anywhere with an internet connection. Most people opt for solar to charge the batteries that power their van, and there are many ways to install kits. Another option is a generator, and of course, many campsites have electrical plug-ins for campers but this may be harder to find or not what you’re looking for in a van life set-up.
Once you’re set with an electrical system, installing lighting is key for around-the-clock functionality. Almost all van people opt for LED lighting because it’s easier on the power source, and doesn’t produce much heat.
3. How do I stay warm when it's cold outside?
Living in a van means proper insulation on all sides. Our preferred insulation product is sourced from Havelock Wool (https://havelockwool.com/). Of course, if you’re planning a winter road trip through Colorado ski resort country, you’ll want to add a heat source that can handle below freezing temperatures.
4. What about ventilation?
Did you ever sleep in your car in high school and wake up with steamy windows and a stuffy inside? You don’t want to repeat this in your van. A rooftop fan is key for preventing condensation, keeping the van cool and airing out cooking fumes. The best fan systems can keep rain and snow out too.
5. How do I keep my beer cold?
When it comes to refrigeration there are few things to consider. Yes, you could just tote along a regular cooler and fill it with ice every few days. It’s cheap and easy. But it may get old over time. If you’re adding lighting and a fan to your van, it’s relatively cheap and easy to install a useful 12 volt fridge/freezer combo. From experience, the 130 liter sized fridge is more than enough for about a week’s worth of food and cold beer.
6. How do I cook?
With a full kitchen option inside your van, it’s time to weigh your cooking capabilities. Do you go with a basic propane camping stove? They’re inexpensive and are portable for inside/outside functionality. What about an integrated built-in propane burner/oven combination? You can also consider an induction cooktop if you choose to have a 110 volt electric system. A built-in counter top burner goes a long way toward achieving that home-y feeling, and can double as counter space when it’s covered. There are many ways to channel Julia Child on the road, and it’s likely time to move past the days of just a JetBoil.
7. Do I need water and plumbing?
Again, this is personal. Will you be doing a lot of cooking and cleaning dishes? A built-in sink with an electric pump is probably a good idea and easy enough to install. Having fresh water on board for anything—cooking, drinking, portable showers—is essential, so you’ll need to figure out a water storage system either way. For something less permanent, opt for a folding camping sink and portable water jugs to wash dishes on the go.
Showering is another amenity to consider. Some vanlifers are OK with showering less frequently and using public places (gyms, campsites, etc.) to do it. But there are options for adding a solar shower or exterior shower function if you’re one of those people who can’t live without being clean. If you absolutely need an indoor toilet and shower, expect to spend a lot more and be ready to treat your water supply as you would a sailboat, unless you’re hooked up to water at a campground.
8. What about the floors?
Nothing completes your home-on-wheels like an aesthetically pleasing floor. Anything laminate works well here. It’s easy to clean and lightweight. Skip the carpets and simply decorate with a washable rug. If you’re in need of something more rugged, look into rubber coin flooring.
9. What else do I need?
To have a cozy and successful life on the road, there are a few additional essentials to customizing your van. Sun shades and window covers are a must. Not only do they keep out radiant heat for hot days, but these double as privacy screenings. A bug mesh screen is also a treat for keeping the doors open in summer months, but keeping out unwanted insects. An awning is a wonderful addition but be prepared to retract it quickly when the wind picks up. Consider a cell signal booster and of course, a compact coffee maker to keep you perked up on the road.
10. Am I actually ready?
The best way to figure out what you want is to take different vans, campers and RVs for test runs. Rent a couple different options for the weekend to see what works best for you or your family. A van is a good solution for maneuverability and portability. But, campers offer more space and home-like amenities (like a bathroom). You’ll learn a lot by trial and error. Rent “Blue” or “Grey Wolf” from our site for your first test drive, or check out the many options available on Outdoorsy. Once you’re ready to commit, we’re here to help you say “I do.”