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  • Writer's pictureNatashia Larkin

How to start van life: Everything you need to know 

How to start van life

We love being outdoors, on the move and seeing new places where no two days are the same - and van life allows us to do this perfectly. 

Our experience started back in 2015 when we travelled around Europe, living in our car for three months. From there, it naturally progressed and we bought and converted our own campervan that we lived in for two years. 

And now, we are eagerly waiting to buy a new van and start the adventure all over again! 

 But during our time living in our wonderful Ford Transit van, one of the most common questions we were asked by those thinking about van life is how you get started. 

So I thought I’d put together this guide to help. 

Are you thinking about starting van life? Let me tell you how we did it! 

1. Decide if it’s right for you 

It might seem like a nice idea in theory, especially if you’ve seen lots of dreamy, romanticised Instagram posts from current van lifers.  

But before you take the leap and start van life you need to seriously consider whether it is for you. This is a serious consideration if you're going to be moving out of your house, getting rid of a great deal of your stuff or if you’ve got dependents, either of the human or fluffy variety. 

And it’s not just about getting rid of your stuff. Van life seems idyllic and man does Instagram make it look fun, but when you haven't showered in three days, you’re washing in the sink (true story), you're trying to find somewhere to fill up your water containers or you can’t find a sensible spot for the night, it doesn't always seem so cute. 

Of course, those moments are just part of the van life experience and we’ve come to terms with that, but we also know it’s not the lifestyle for everyone. 

If you're unsure whether it’s the right lifestyle for you, check out our recent post - Is van life for me? The guide will ask you nine questions to help you determine whether van life is the right decision for you or not. 

2. Decide how you're going to fund your lifestyle 

First and foremost, you need to be able to buy a van (otherwise van life is going to be pretty tricky) so you’ll need to set some budget aside for that. 

You’ll also need to decide how you're going to fund your lifestyle - do you plan to save up? Are you selling/renting your house out? Are you a digital nomad or do you plan to find work during your adventures?

Put some thought into how you're going to fund your lifestyle, particularly if you’re planning on moving around a lot as it can be harder to find long-term positions. Unless you can do your existing job remotely, that is. 

3. Choose whether you want to buy or convert your van (and which van to choose)

To make a real go of van life, you need to choose the right van for your lifestyle. This means deciding whether you're going to buy a ready-made van or if you're going to design and convert one yourself. 

If you’ve got children or pets travelling with you, you might need more space not just for them but for their stuff. 

So before you begin van life you should spend some time looking at other people’s vans, getting some ideas, conducting research and looking at what’s out there depending on your budget. 

Your chosen van might also depend on how much and how far you plan on travelling. There are plenty of people out there living in vans and cool converted spaces like double-decker buses, but they never really move anywhere. They either rent, own or come to an agreement with landowners that allows them to stay for long periods of time. 

Or, you might want something small and compact that is great for stealthy camping. There’s a lot to consider and you want to get the perfect van for you, so don’t rush this process.

If you’re feeling stuck, here’s a really useful guide from Engineers Who Van Life, about things you need to think about before choosing the right van. 

4. Pick where you want to go

Next up, you need to decide where you want to go in your van. Will you be staying in your home country or do you want to venture abroad? If you plan on going further afield it’s a good idea to look into visas and the rules of the road before you get going. 

Once you’ve got a better idea of where you want to go you can also get clued up on the rules of overnight parking, places to stay, your rights etc. There are loads of helpful blogs out there that offer tailored advice for your chosen countries. 

For those in the UK and Europe, I highly recommend you download the ‘Search for Sites’ app, which helps you find places to park that are rated by other van lifers - it was a life-saver around the North coast of Scotland. 

5. Downsize your life

Eventually, the moment will come to start downsizing your life! Even the biggest vans with the most creative storage solutions only have so much room - and it’s not as much as a house. So there comes a time when you need to clear out, sell up or put your stuff in storage.

It can be stressful, but you’ll be amazed how much crap you accumulate over the years that you don't really need. 

As well as being practical, there’s also something very freeing about downsizing your life, it makes you more appreciative of what you do have and everything tends to serve a purpose. 

6. Tie up your loose ends 

Now you’ve got the perfect van, you’ve downsized your life, you’ve got money in the bank and/or know how you're going to fund your lifestyle, you're almost ready to go!

But before you do, you need to tie up any loose ends. This might mean finding someone to rent your house, giving up your rented home, leaving your existing job, redirecting your post to a parent's place or simply just saying goodbye to everyone if you plan to be gone for a while. 

Once you're feeling ready, set yourself a date for the official move to van life and start getting excited! 

It’s time to start van life

It’s a really weird feeling when you start van life, but it’s such an exciting new chapter in your life. 

If there are any stages of starting van life that you still feel confused about or if I’ve missed something obvious and huge (which is totally possible) - feel free to drop me a comment below. 

Happy van living! 

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