The Truth Behind Van Life

The Truth Behind Van Life

Claire Bahorski

June 10, 2020

Now more than ever, young adults are dropping everything to travel the world in a remodeled van. This trend has been spiking in recent years, as people are selling their homes, quitting their jobs and traveling, all while living out of a van equipped with the bare necessities. Quickly becoming a popular way of living among millennials, van life has many appeals to it, and many people enjoy the simple lifestyle that it brings. The Instagram hashtag #vanlife contains over 7 million posts and counting. But what is it truly like to trade your daily routine for a life on the road?

Kate Przybycien and Cass Settlemyre are a millennial couple who are relatively new to the van lifestyle, yet they look at it as one of the best decisions they could have made. Hailing from Indiana and Michigan, they were both ready to see more of the world. “What inspired me was a trip to Tanzania. I was there for three weeks and, after seeing how they live, realized money isn’t everything. The majority of the people there live on less than $100 a month to support themselves and their families, while still being some of the happiest people I have interacted with. On the flip side, I was earning a comfortable salary but working all the time and not enjoying life. That clarity inspired me to change my life and devise a plan to live minimally,” says Settlemyre. Przybycien agrees with Settlemyre that the opportunity to live a free-spirited lifestyle is what drew her in. “Van life lives into my core values of freedom, minimalism and health. It also allows me to live within my means while still experiencing the life I desire. I wasn’t willing to do it alone, so having a partner to do it with sealed it for me,” she says.

So what is the reason behind the sudden popularity of van living among millennials? Settlemyre has some ideas. “I think it’s because our generation doesn’t want to wait until retirement to experience this world. Our generation is living into possibility and rejecting the ‘should be doing’ and replacing it with ‘what would make me happy?’ Remote work is more accessible. There is a higher value on quality, not quantity. And it’s becoming more difficult to find a workplace that genuinely cares about you as a person, supports your core values, respects your time and values what you contribute,” he says. Whatever the cause, the popularity of van living is showing no signs of slowing down.

The pair is also the first of their family and friends to take the leap into van living. Przybycien states, “We don’t know anyone in our circle currently doing vanlife, but we follow Instagram accounts and know people who have done it in the past.” Their own Instagram account dedicated to their van travels boasts over 200 followers, in addition to their blog in which they post updates on their explorations. They enjoy their life on the road, and have no concrete plans of stopping anytime soon. “We see ourselves moving back into a house in five to ten years. But, we are six months in and things can always change,” they say.

After deciding to try out van living, the next step is remodeling or buying a van that is ready to live in. Settlemyre was able to refurbish their van while still working full-time, with help from his father. “I purchased the van at the end of June and my father and I had it move-in ready by Christmas. It could have been completed sooner but I lived and worked in Michigan and my father, with all the tools and skills, was in Indiana. This left us the weekends to work on the van. Overall, I would say it took around four to six weeks worth of actual work days to complete the build,” says Settlemyre. Using GoWesty, Settlemyre estimates a full restoration could cost between $30,000-$60,000. Although renovating a van is a time commitment and can be pricey, the investment saves money in the long run. Przybycien and Settlemyre found that they can live more inexpensive lifestyles as van living has reduced the amount of bills they pay, such as mortgage, rent and property taxes. They find that one doesn’t need a large income in order to maintain a comfortable and sustainable lifestyle.

However, as with any living situation there are cons to van living. A major one, they say, is parking. “If there is no free parking available, it is between $10 to $50 a night depending where you are. They also have campgrounds where you can work for three to six months at a campground in exchange for a free spot. There are apps, such as iOverlander, which can help you overcome this but there are times you need to be creative to find a spot to park. Bathrooms and showers need to also be planned. We are fortunate to have both in our van but water is limited so we have to conserve accordingly.” The couple notes spacing and the ability to do laundry as other difficulties, as the van can be confining and not everything can be hand washed. Because of this, Przybycien and Settlemyre spend much of their time outside of the van and utilize laundromats to solve these issues.

The appeal of independence, low-cost living and a simple lifestyle are just some reasons why people are willing to drop everything for a chance to live freely. With no destination in sight, people have the ability to live nomadically and can easily move from place to place. Younger people, especially millennials, are beginning to prioritize traveling more. With low living costs and the ability to work less hours, many are taking advantage of this exciting lifestyle. Could this be the new way of life for you?

Claire Bahorski (@clairebahorski) is a junior at Michigan State University studying Human Capital and Society and Humanities Pre-Law, with concentrations in Public and Professional Writing and History. In her free time, she loves spending time with her friends and family and watching movies. She hopes to always continue writing, along with her aspirations of becoming an attorney.