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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

Over 3 years ago I was sitting at home on Zoom (throwback to the COVID years) when I came across a YouTube video from a girl named Hannah Duggan. In the thumbnail was something I had never seen before, a cargo van that looked like a small RV. Intrigued, I decided to watch the video and quickly discovered that I couldn’t get enough. The adventure, the beauty, the freedom — I had begun an obsession that would last to this day. Finally, a few months ago, I was able to buy my very own, sort of old, and absolutely amazing cargo van! Currently, I am in the process of DIY converting it into a home on wheels, but I won’t bore you with the details. Why, you may ask, did I fall in love with the idea of this lifestyle? What is so intriguing about it? There are loads of reasons why I, along with so many others, came to love the idea of “van life.” While the prospect of dropping everything, packing up, and going on a life-changing escapade may sound amazing at first thought, the struggles that come with this lifestyle are not for everyone. Stick around to find out why van life was right for me, and if it may be right for you! 

It’s Not All Pretty 

When I first began to have an interest in van life, the only content I would watch showcased the best parts of living on the road. Videos of beautiful sunsets, incredible hiking trails, and a sense of community and freedom clouded my vision. However, like all things in life, nothing is perfect. The more invested I became, the more information began to surface regarding the hardships and difficulties associated with living on the road. While, in my case, these negatives did not outshine the positives, they are still important to acknowledge. 

Van life entails that you are living in a very small space with limited amenities. While this can vary depending on the van size and budget for the build, there are still struggles that every van lifer faces that are typically part of our everyday conveniences. The list of issues is seemingly endless: where to do your “business,” where to store your belongings, where to park, how to shower, and so on. Like I said before, this lifestyle is not for everyone. But don’t fear, there are solutions to these issues that help make living in such a small space much more comfortable. For example, where to go to the bathroom? This one is an issue that is hard for a lot of people to get over and to put it quite bluntly — no matter what you do, it’s not going to be pretty. The most ideal option, in my opinion, is a compostable toilet. However, this solution is not in the budget for all, certainly not for me. A more budget friendly solution that deals with this inconvenience is using a good ol’ camping toilet for emergencies and a public or campground restroom whenever possible.  

Another major inconvenience with living on the road is the unavoidable mechanical issues that will manifest. Already, I’ve dealt with multiple issues with my van, which are sometimes pricey to remedy. Like regular vehicles, vans will need typical upkeep. However, with so much time spent driving, major issues can occur causing unexpected problems like breakdowns. While there are no real solutions that can prevent these inconveniences, precautions can be taken to ensure that things will be taken care of. For example, proactively saving money that is intended to deal with unexpected problems can relieve much of the financial pressure that comes with these obstacles. Furthermore, learning basic mechanic and maintenance skills can help save money on pesky check-ups and standard procedures such as oil-changes.  

Why did I choose van life? 

Although adjusting to these changes may be difficult, there were countless reasons that convinced me to continue pursuing this lifestyle. I’ve always longed to travel, but wondered how in the world I was going to be able to afford it. While there are plenty of other ways to travel economically (e.g., staying in hostels and backpacking), van life was the most exciting to me. On a similar note, one of the biggest pulls towards van life for me is financial freedom. When living on the road full-time, large monthly expenses such as rent or mortgage can be avoided. The idea that I could save more money while simultaneously traveling full-time was a very attractive benefit.  

Money aside, all the other amazing experiences that come with this lifestyle were truly the selling point for me. I am a huge fan of outdoor activities and absolutely love hiking, camping, paddle boarding, and everything of the sort. Side note, I’m also passionate about photography and hope to be able to pursue that as a hobby while on the road! Ultimately, this lifestyle fosters creativity and would allow me the freedom to explore my interests and passions.  

Finally, I love design and decoration. Because of this, I didn’t just want to buy a pre-converted van, I wanted to do it myself. Maybe that was a bad idea (I’ve found that I’m not much of a manual labor person), but I love that I can customize my van to my exact preferences. As a plus, I’m learning so much about all the components of a van build, like electricity, plumbing, carpentry, and more! Personally, I’m most excited to see how my kitchen turns out (I’m putting my blood, sweat, and tears into designing the layout and features). For me, the decision to be a part of the van-life culture was a choice I made based on my desire to travel, meet new people, and explore myself and my interests.  

How to get started! 

By now, I hope the notion of buying an old cargo van and hitting the road is enticing. If so, there are plenty of things to consider when deciding what would work best for you. Do you want to be able to stand up fully? Do you need an indoor kitchen or shower? Are you going to be living in it full-time or part-time? What’s your budget? The list goes on. The task of finding the perfect van may sound daunting but this guide has some great examples that cater to a variety of needs. I personally chose to go with a high roof RAM Promaster 2500, based on my preferences. To save money, I was able to find my van, used, on Facebook Marketplace. There are so many other great sites that can be used to find your perfect vehicle. If you are more interested in finding a pre-converted van, a site that I relentlessly scoured was Vanlife Trader. When I first began my search, I kept my options open. I didn’t know if I wanted a tall van, a short van, or even a school bus. But that’s the amazing thing about this process — there are so many possibilities that it is almost impossible to not find what’s right for you! 

Deciding what type of vehicle would best suit your needs is truly a personal comfort choice. What works for one may not work for all. In my experience, making sure that I knew what amenities were non-negotiables was extremely helpful when determining what size and type of vehicle I was going to need. In the end, you will be the one living in that space, so make sure to cater to your comforts. No matter what your van ends up looking like, the most important thing is to embrace the excitement and beauty of the experience and never forget to enjoy the journey! 

Hi, my name is Sofia! I am a student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and I am on track to receive a degree in Communications and Multimedia Journalism. I have always loved writing and hope to be able to pursue it as a career! I enjoy writing about environmental issues, travel, wellness, and animal rights. Outside of my school-life I spend a lot of time on my crochet business on Etsy. Im hoping to start selling at local farmers markets as well :) I also love thrifting, hiking, reading, and photography!