Van Life (Orange Camper Van)

The Ultimate Guide to Van Life: Everything You Need to Know

"Van Life" - or taking your life on the road and living in your vehicle for an extended period - is a lifestyle that's becoming increasingly popular among those who crave adventure, freedom, and flexibility. Whether you are a digital nomad looking for a mobile office, a couple seeking a romantic getaway, or a family searching for a unique way to bond, van life has something to offer everyone. 

However, this lifestyle comes with challenges, which need some consideration before you hit the road - from choosing the right van, converting it into a comfortable living space, route planning, and navigating the road safely. 

In this ultimate guide to van life, we dig deep - we'll provide you with tips, tricks, and must-haves to help you tackle these challenges and pursue the van life of your dreams with confidence.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose the right van based on your specific needs
  • Plan and organize your van conversion, including essential must-haves
  • Budget carefully for van life expenses, including fuel, food, and campsites
  • Stay safe on the road by securing your van and being aware of your surroundings
  • Connect with the van life community for valuable resources and support.

Choosing the Right Van

Choosing the right van is crucial for a successful van life experience. There are a variety of vans on the market, and the choice largely depends on your individual needs and budget. Some of the most popular van models for van life include the Ford Transit, Mercedes Sprinter, and Dodge Ram Promaster - and let's not forget the trusted yellow school bus option.

Cargo Van Gas Mileage Comparison

When choosing a van, it's important to consider factors such as size, fuel efficiency, reliability, and cost - do you buy new or look for a secondhand vehicle to convert? If you plan to travel solo or as a couple, a smaller van like the Ford Transit Connect or Ram Promaster City might be a good option. If you're traveling with a family or need more space, for an extended duration, a larger van like the Sprinter or Transit might be a better fit.

Fuel efficiency is also an important consideration, as van life often involves a lot of driving. Look for a van with good gas mileage, or consider a diesel engine for better fuel economy.

Reliability is another key factor when choosing a van. Look for a model with a good reputation for reliability and longevity, as unexpected breakdowns on the road can be costly and stressful.

Finally, the budget and timeline need to be considered. Newer models can be expensive, so a used van, if available, can be a good option at a more affordable price point. Keep in mind that you'll also need to budget for the cost of converting your van into a comfortable living space on top of the cost of the vehicle.

Converting your Van into a Comfortable Living Space

Once you've chosen your van, the next step is to convert it into a comfortable living space. This can be daunting, but with some planning and creativity you can create a functional and cozy home on wheels. 

The first step in a van conversion is to plan out your layout and design. Consider factors such as how many people live in the van, what amenities you need, and how you'll use the space most efficiently. Some popular van layouts include a bed in the back with a kitchenette and storage along the sides or a "garage" area in the back for storing gear with a fold-down bed overhead.

Once you've planned out your layout, it's time to start building. Depending on your skill level and budget, you can hire a professional to do the conversion or do it yourself. If you're doing it yourself, resources are available online, including conversion guides and tutorials (click the YouTube links below).

Some essential must-haves for a van conversion include a bed, storage space, a kitchenette with a stove and sink, and a power source for lights and electronics. Other optional amenities include a toilet, shower, and a heating or cooling system.

When converting your van, consider factors such as weight distribution and ventilation to ensure that your van is safe and comfortable to live in. It's also important to choose durable and lightweight materials that can withstand the wear and tear of van life.

Overall, converting your van into a comfortable living space can be a rewarding and exciting process. With careful planning and creativity, you can create a home on wheels that meets your unique needs and style

6 Month Van Build
Budget Van Conversion
Tiny Van Tour

Budgeting for Van Life

Van life can be an incredibly rewarding and freeing experience, but it's important to keep in mind that it does come with some costs. From buying a van and converting it into a living space to ongoing expenses like gas, food, and maintenance, van life requires careful budgeting and planning.

The first step in budgeting for van life is to determine your initial expenses. This might include the cost of buying a van, any necessary repairs or upgrades, and the cost of converting it into a living space. Depending on your skill level and the size of the van, this could range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

Once you've calculated your initial expenses, it's important to factor in ongoing costs like gas, food, and maintenance. These expenses can vary depending on your lifestyle and travel habits, but it's important to create a realistic budget and stick to it.

One way to save money on van life is to embrace a minimalist lifestyle. This might mean downsizing your belongings and focusing on experiences rather than material possessions. It can also mean finding ways to save money on things like food and gas, such as cooking meals in your van or using a fuel-efficient vehicle.

Another important factor to consider when budgeting for van life is generating income on the road. There are a variety of ways to make money while living on the road, including remote work, freelance gigs, and seasonal jobs. It's important to factor potential income streams into your budget and have a plan in place for how you'll generate income while traveling.

Overall, budgeting for van life requires careful planning and consideration of both initial and ongoing expenses. By creating a realistic budget and embracing a minimalist lifestyle, you can enjoy the freedom and adventure of van life without breaking the bank.

Staying Safe on the Road

One of the most important aspects of van life is staying safe on the road. When you're living and traveling in a van, you need to be aware of potential hazards and take steps to protect yourself and your belongings.

Here are some tips for staying safe on the road during van life:

    1. Choose Safe Parking Locations - When parking for the night, choose well-lit and safe locations. Look for campgrounds, RV parks, or designated overnight parking areas. If you're parking on the street, make sure to park in a well-lit area and lock your doors.
    2. Invest in Security - Consider investing in a security system for your van, such as an alarm or motion sensor. You can also add deadbolts or additional locks to your doors for added security.
    3. Be Aware of Your Surroundings - When exploring new areas, be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. If something feels unsafe or uncomfortable, it's better to err on the side of caution.
    4. Stay Connected - Make sure you have a reliable communication device, such as a cell phone or two-way radio, to stay connected with others and call for help if needed.
    5. Including a canine companion in your travels can provide added safety benefits such as alerting you to potential intruders approaching your van and acting as a deterrent on a dark night.

By taking these steps, and using common sense, you can minimize the risks and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with feeling safe and secure on the road.

Cooking and Eating on the Go

One of the challenges of van life is finding ways to cook delicious meals in a small space. But with a little creativity and planning, it's possible to create tasty and nutritious meals on the go.

Here are some tips for van life cooking:

  1. Plan Ahead - Plan your meals in advance and make a grocery list. This will help you avoid buying unnecessary items and ensure you have everything you need to prepare meals.
  2. Invest in a Portable Stove - A portable stove is a must-have for van life cooking. Look for one that is compact and easy to store.
  3. Use Simple Ingredients - Keep your ingredients simple and focus on fresh produce and whole grains. This will help you create delicious meals with minimal effort.
  4. Get Creative with Storage - Use storage containers and jars to store dry goods and spices. You can also use a magnetic strip to store knives and other cooking tools.

By following these tips, you can enjoy delicious and nutritious meals on the go, without sacrificing flavor or nutrition.

The Best Van Life Destinations in North America

Van in desert

Van life is all about adventure and exploration, and there are countless destinations to choose from in North America. From scenic national parks to charming small towns, there's something for everyone on the road.

Here are some of the best van life destinations in North America:

  1. Yosemite National Park, California - Yosemite is a must-visit destination
    for nature lovers, with its stunning waterfalls, granite cliffs, and towering sequoias.
  2. Moab, Utah - Moab is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, with its breathtaking red rock formations and world-class hiking and mountain biking trails.
  3. Banff National Park, Alberta - Banff is a breathtakingly beautiful destination, with its turquoise lakes, soaring mountains, and abundant wildlife.
  4. Whitefish, Montana - This charming mountain town is the perfect destination for those seeking outdoor adventure and small-town charm.
  5. Asheville, North Carolina - Asheville is a vibrant and artsy city, with a thriving food and music scene and plenty of outdoor activities nearby.

These are just a few of the many amazing destinations to explore during van life in North America. With a sense of adventure and an open mind, the possibilities are endless.

Van Life with Pets

Van life with pets can be an amazing experience, but it does require extra planning and preparation. The first step is to make sure that your furry friend is up for the adventure. Some pets may be more comfortable in a home environment, while others are happy to explore new places.

Paw Print

Once you've determined that your pet is ready for van life, you'll need to consider their comfort and safety. Make sure your van has enough space for your pet to move around and stretch their legs, and consider installing a pet bed or crate for them to sleep in. It's also important to have a plan for potty breaks and to bring along any necessary supplies like food, water, and medications.

When traveling with your pet, it's important to research pet-friendly destinations and activities. Many national parks and campgrounds have restrictions on pets, so be sure to check the rules before planning your trip. It's also a good idea to have a backup plan in case your pet becomes sick or injured while on the road.

Finally, be sure to keep your pet safe and secure while in the van. Invest in a good quality pet harness or crate to prevent injuries in case of an accident, and never leave your pet unattended in the van for extended periods.

Connecting with the Van Life Community

One of the great things about van life is the sense of community and connection with other like-minded individuals on the road. Whether you're a solo traveler or traveling with a partner or family, there are many ways to connect with the van life community.

Social media is a great way to connect with other van lifers. Joining Facebook groups or following van life hashtags on Instagram can help you connect with others who are living the van life. You can also use these platforms to find meetups and gatherings in your area.

Some great resources are: 

Attending van life events and festivals is another great way to meet other van lifers. These events bring together van dwellers from all over the country and offer the opportunity to attend workshops, listen to live music, and connect with others who share your passion for van life.

Volunteering is also a great way to connect with the van life community while giving back to the places you visit. Many van lifers participate in volunteer programs such as beach cleanups, trail maintenance, and habitat restoration projects.

Finally, don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with other van lifers you meet on the road. Whether it's at a campground, rest stop, or coffee shop, van lifers are often eager to connect with others and share their experiences.

By connecting with the van life community, you can not only make new friends but also gain valuable insights and advice for your own van life journey.


Van life offers a unique and rewarding lifestyle for those seeking adventure, freedom, and simplicity. From choosing the right van to converting it into a comfortable living space, budgeting for the journey, staying safe on the road, traveling with pets, and connecting with the van life community, there are many factors to consider when embarking on this lifestyle.

While van life may not be for everyone, for those who are willing to embrace the challenges and rewards of this lifestyle, it can be a life-changing experience. By following the tips, tricks, and must-haves outlined in this guide, you can be well on your way to living the van life of your dreams.

Remember to prioritize safety, respect the environment, and be open to new experiences and connections along the way. Happy travels!