We are one week into #vanlife now (and comfortably sitting in my Mother-in-Law’s Vegas house) and I want to talk about #vanlife. What is it? Why do it? What are my thoughts (good and bad) one week in?
#vanlife is a movement to reduce housing expenses by nearly 95% and live a mobile, adventure-based life.
There are two main reasons Rose and I have chosen #vanlife for the next chapter of our life. First and foremost, we value flexibility in our life-situation right now. Free of kids and in good health, we have big physical goals and adventure ambitions.
Denver is a great place to live, however, in the last year here I find myself constantly asking - “What’s there to see in Wyoming? What about central CO? Indian Creek and Moab? What about all those dots on Mountain Project between Moab and Vegas? Man, Ogden, Utah looks like a cool place to spend time. Also, I want to spend at least a season’s worth of time in Red Rock, NV, there is SO much cool climbing to do there!
This years’ worth of detailed exploration does not even include Oregon or the Sierra Nevada Mountains in CA, or the Pacific Northwest (PNW), or Alaska, or Canada, or Arizona, or Chile or Central Asia, or (more time in) Spain. And most of what I’ve mentioned so far is climbing-focused. What about mountain biking? Bikepacking? Backpacking? Even road cycling?
It’s become clear to me that a few weeks of leave per year is not enough and that a more open-ended travel itinerary is required. One that does not come with constraints and a time to return home. One that is sustainable - both comfortability-wise and financially. We felt that a sprinter van converted to live in provides the required comfort without a (literal) foundation holding us to a specific location.
Which brings me to the second reason Rose and I have chosen #vanlife.
We have been personal finance nerds for some time - finding that money when accumulated actually generates more money. Once that pool of savings and investments has grown to a certain size, it’s ability to grow (via capital gains and dividends) outpaces my ability to generate cash through conventional means - that is, a job.
That growth when combined with some targeted frugality can give us enough to live on indefinitely without working for supplemental income. This philosophy and the numbers to back it up are well documented on the internet and can be found by researching the Financial Independence/Retire Early (or FIRE) movement.
I won’t dive into the specifics here except to say that if you make some changes to how you spend your money (cooking instead of eating out, getting rid of debt, being happy with the stuff you have/buying less consumer goods, buying quality items that last instead of crap that breaks, driving less) thus reducing your expenses, you can quite easily live off of the capital gains and dividends your net worth produces.
But what does that all have to do with living in a van?
Well, we were looking at our life goals (travel, adventure, etc.), our projected net worth, and our annual budget and found that we were ready to declare our Financial Independence and to hit the road! Well except we needed a place to live (albeit, not a stationary one), but that a lease or mortgage would bind us to a place instead of give us the freedom we are looking for.
So, we navigated a way out of our lease four months early (thanks to a controlling landlord), and bought a partially converted van to convert and live in. We paid approximately what we pay for 1.3 years of rent for the van, and then a little extra to finish the build. Then, on the day our lease ended (early) we moved into the van.
Instantly, we were saving $2k/month. But more, given the small amount of storage space a van affords, our consumerist habits have become constrained, saving us even MORE money.
We decided to keep working for about a month after moving into the van. A conservative decision that is allowing us to ‘test-drive’ life in a van without fully committing.
One week in, I don’t think I’ll be keeping my job after our 1-month trial run is over. I find van life just about as comfortable as house life - except that there is less to clean, less stuff to lose track of (and less space for that stuff to get lost in). All your stuff is within arm’s reach at all times. We pee in a bottle or a bush outside at night (thanks to manly plumbing for me and a ‘Go Girl’ for Rose), in our climbing gym (Ubergrippen) during the day, and shower and work out at our climbing gym.
Van life is awesome and I have yet to feel any real discomfort one would expect to feel after saying ‘goodbye’ to a house.
That’s not to say that moving into a van was not without some sacrifices and hard decisions. We had to sell, donate, or dispose of lots of the stuff we’ve bought in the last decade (we sold our ~$600 dining room table for $90, gave away our bedroom set to my in-laws, and Goodwill-ed countless jackets, pieces of furniture, and other clothes). We got a 10 ft. by 10 ft storage unit for all the stuff we can’t take with us, but did not want to get rid of (some furniture, motorcycle, bikes, etc.).
And those were the easy parts! What about the cats!?!?!?! Two lovely little kitties that we’ve had and loved for 6+ years that bring so much daily joy to our lives. With sad hearts, we put them in the storage unit as well.
Just kidding - one of my coworkers is an animal lover and actually asked me if he and his wife could take the cats off our hands for us semi-temporarily. So the cats are in a good place, but we miss them and I’ve not given up hopes of turning Mama into a #vanlifekittie.
My concerns and questions for the future are: where will we consistently be able to fill up water? Will the house battery we have provide enough juice for us? Will we end up having to drive more than we did before moving into the van (driving is a loathsome, expensive activity that is to be reduced as much as possible)? Will we be able to control the humidity in the van so that it does not turn into a mold problem in a few months or years?