We’ve all seen the 90s Saturday Night Live skit where Matt Foley, played by Chris Farley, warns a younger David Spade of lifestyle choices that will lead him towards a life in a van down by the river.  Twenty-four years later, many are actively choosing to live in their own vehicles.  In this Lifestyle Highlight, we will try to outline what led to the van movement, the benefits of living in your own vehicle, and a few tricks that make living out of your vehicle easier.

The Rise of the Van Movement

Millennials have been described as a generation of renters.  This younger generation is more likely to postpone home-ownership than all previous generations.  Two main factors are at play.  Primarily, home values in popular areas prevent this newest generation of adults from entering the housing market.  This is exacerbated by overwhelming student loans.  Learn how to make student loans an opportunity, not a burden in our 4 part series on How to Choose a College Degree.  The second major factor at play is the liquidity of the job market.  The days of vested pensions are in our rear-view mirrors.  Any motivations to remain at one organization for an entire career are quite limited and job hopping usually results in a promotion and pay raise.  This loss of company loyalty results in frequent relocation for young professionals making renting a more reasonable option.

If Millennials prefer the affordability and mobility of renting, there are always a few that are willing to take it to the extreme.  Enter the rise of #vanlife.  Living in a van was not pioneered by Millennials in any way, but it is fair to say Millennials popularized it in recent years.

What Attracts People to Van Life?

Mobility

We have described mobility as a primary motive for van life, but the meaning of mobility is very different for all involved.  To some, mobility means the ability to relocate to a new job every few years.  To many, mobility is less about professional advancement and more about the ability to travel affordably.  Living in a van means you can travel to every national park, baseball stadium, or EDM festival in the United States without paying for a single hotel.

Financial Independence

Housing costs can consume 25%-30% of one’s income.  Reducing or eliminating this cost can significantly increase someone’s savings rate.  For all of you seeking financial independence and an early retirement, this is a major opportunity.  A perfect example of this is the Google employee that lived in a truck to save on rent.

Mindfulness

As van dwellers unplug from the rat race of buying a home in the suburbs and take on a minimalist lifestyle they accidentally discover a peace of mind.  Waking up to the sound of birds chirping in a National Forest has a grounding effect, meanwhile the rest of the population wakes up to the sound of traffic and next door neighbors.  The ability to be present to the moment comes naturally when you don’t have immediate access to distractions like Wi-Fi and cable television.  When you don’t have stresses like making the next mortgage payment your cortisol levels will trend downward.

Tricks of the Trade

The most asked question van dwellers will get is, “Where do you shower?”  Many van dwellers have gym memberships to national chains like Anytime Fitness.  Not only do they provide unlimited access to showers and bathrooms, but you can go to any gym in the country using the same membership.

Where Can I Stay?

When in doubt, go to a Walmart parking lot.  Across the country, Walmarts allow overnight RV parking.  However grilling out and setting up a picnic table is asking for an eviction.  More popular locations include National Parks and National Forests.  National Forests generally allow camping for free as long as you relocate to a new camp area every 14 days.

What Kind of Vehicle Do I Use?

Another fascinating topic is what type of vehicle is best for van living.  The short answer is, there is no wrong answer.  Van dweller live in anything from an SUV to a full blown motor home.  Van dwellers are limited only by budget and imagination.  The more affordable end of the spectrum includes the SUVs and mini-vans.  The pricier option is the Mercedes Sprinter van.  The Sprinter’s high ceilings and expansive cargo area make a roomy mobile living quarters.

What is the Future of Van Life?

There is no sign of a contraction in the van life culture.  It is in fact gaining momentum and the negative perceptions of living in a van down by the river are being reconsidered.  Some push-back from local communities is likely as vans begin to populate public parking areas.  Responsible van living will become necessary to prevent restrictive laws.

If you have experience with van life, please share in the comment section below!