How to Get Started in Van Life and Find Your Freedom

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Want to get started in van life but don’t know where to begin? Not sure which type of van to go for? Worried about the costs? We were in exactly the same position six years ago with only a very small budget.

We somehow muddled through but want to make things a lot easier for you!

On this page we’ll help you…

  • Clarify your reasons for wanting to join van life: why do you want a van?
  • Identify the type of RV or campervan that will best meet your needs
  • Help you work out a likely budget for van life (or if you’re already living van life keep track of your expenses)
  • Decide whether to buy a ready-made motorhome or convert a van yourself
  • Know what to check for when inspecting an older motorhome
  • Look after your vehicle all year round with our summer and winter van tips
  • Familiarise yourself with where you can park and sleep overnight in your van

Plus, we’ll introduce you to our old VW Cree motorhome and tell you how we started van life on a small budget – and how you could do the same.

It’s time to find your freedom…

what is van life? How to get started in van life: top tips and online van life course
Image: Drew Bernard

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The growing trend toward #vanlife

When Foster Huntington published ‘Van Life’ in 2017 he captured in words and pictures the dawn of a new era.. Since then, through choice or necessity, thousands of folks worldwide have taken to living in motorhomes, old buses, and RVs.

Whether full or part-time, van life has now developed into a movement that offers an alternate way of living, free from the every-day world of the 9 to 5, high rents/mortgages, and ever-increasing living costs.

vanlife book by Foster Huntington

For sure, societies the world over have always had a maverick element – those ‘alternative’ types who wanted to do things different, to go against the grain; look back a hundred years and you’ll see some folks living in vans and buses even then. The nomadic or gypsy gene might be in us all.

However, there is no doubt that in the 21st century the van life movement is growing. All over the world, people are walking away from the ‘American Dream’. And they are seeking new ways of living, driven by need or necessity or something even more urgent springing up from deep within.

So ask yourself, ‘Why am I interested in van life?’

Why do you want to join van life?

So what’s really going on here? What is the allure of RV living? Why are thousands of folks all over the globe deciding to live in vans (either full or part time?)

Why are you thinking about it?

We’ve pondered this question a lot, spending hours wondering what really drove us to join van life…

  • Is van life about escapism – a desperate attempt to flee the drudgery of the 9 to 5?
  • Is it about returning to a more natural way of living – nomadic, like our ancestors?
  • Maybe it’s an attempt to break free from the ‘system’ and the norms of society?
  • Perhaps you’re fed up paying a never-ending mortgage or rent?
  • Perhaps it’s driven by financial necessity – the costs of living have gotten too high?

Whatever the reasons, it’s worth exploring your own motivations, whether you’re just starting out or have been living on the road for some time.

What’s almost certain is that underneath those motivations, there will be a need, tagged with a powerful emotion. We do van life because it makes us feel a certain way.

What you’ll find is that your van – and the journeys you take – become the catalyst for a new way of being in the world.

Van life as a call to adventure

To us, van life means all of these things…and more…

Seven years on from getting our VW Cree, we still get a buzz every time we turn the key and set out, ‘on the Road Again’ – as Canned Heat famously sang in the trippy-hippy days of the late 60s.

We’ve wondered about The Merry Pranksters’ psychedelic bus trips and Jack Kerouac’s long drives back and forth across America in his famous ‘beat generation’ book, On the Road.

What fuelled the urge to do such things?

These stories and songs tell us that van life (and the call to adventure) is in our very DNA, as if deep down in our souls there is a reptilian hunger waiting to be satiated.

The ‘call to adventure’ – a term coined by mythologist Joseph Campbell – forces us out of our comfort zones and into the wild unknown territories of far flung places.

Perhaps it is what drove Chris McCandless into the wilderness, the story told poignantly and beautifully in the film and book, Into the Wild.

Van life as an inner journey

Getting a motorhome or campervan answers that call to adventure. But we’re talking more than geography here…

Sure, there’s the essential practical stuff you need to know but more than that, every trip will affect you mentally and/or spiritually in some way, feeding your mind and soul with new challenges, new learnings, knowledge, wisdom and, hopefully, a whole heap of gratitude for life.

Van life is as much an internal experience as it is external. The roads out there reflect the new pathways in your mind.

Perhaps this is the ultimate reason people take to living in a van; to feel more connected to the earth and to honour a calling from deep within.

classic van life
Image: Balkan Campers

Our tips to help you get started in van life

If this makes van life sound like some kind of utopia, you might be chomping at the bit to get started (if you’ve not already done so).

So, how to begin?

Explore these pages to find out more…

  • If you’re looking for a cheaper RV take a look at our vintage vans and motorhomes gallery where you’ll see over 100 older vans with a rough UK price guide, most of which are valued at less than £10,000.
  • Plan a realistic budget if you’re starting out (or if you’re already living the van life keep track of your expenses) with our free budget tracker as we explore the real cost of van life
  • If you’re thinking of buying a used vehicle, you simply must read 13 things to look out for on older motorhomes – which includes a free RV inspection checklist you can download
  • See what’s in our latest ebook, How to Find Your Perfect Motorhome, that talks you through 4 simple but essential steps to help you find your ideal RV, saving you heaps of time, money and hassle
  • If you are certain you want to convert a van, make sure you check out 3 of the best campervan conversion guides to help turn your vision into reality
  • And if you want expert guidance to help you get started – and do it right – consider enrolling onto the online course How to Live Van Life

Worried about being too old for van life?

If you’ve reached a certain age, maybe you’re thinking that you’re too old for van life? There’s no doubt that van life appears to be something youngsters do. View van life pictures on Instagram where everyone looks like a twenty-something model!

But here’s something to consider…

We’ve met many vanlifers, who – like us – didn’t get started till much later in life. Indeed, we’ve spoken to many vanlifers on the road who only got their vans after retiring.

If you’re an ‘elder of the tribe’ and wondering about van life – and whether you’re too old for it – read Hobo Trudi’s blog post. It may help you decide.

BLOG POST: Am I too old for van life? Find out now!

Why not try van life before you buy your own RV?

Of course, if you don’t want to dive in at the deep end, you might like to dip your toes in the water before you spend big money. Hiring a motorhome or campervan for a week or two could be the perfect solution.

Renting an RV gives you the chance to ‘try before you buy’. You’ll have an epic road trip (or should do!) and it will help you decide whether you love being in a van, like we do. Of course, you might hate it but at least you didn’t spend thousands on your own RV to find that out!

If hiring a motorhome is something you’re considering, there is a whole heap of stuff you’ll want to know before you hit the road.

See our motorhome rental tips and find out all the questions you need to ask any RV rental firm…

Campsite options for motorhomers in the UK

If you’ve already acquired your campervan or motorhome but still feel like a newbie (we did for the first year or so) you might be wondering about the best places to stay overnight. You can’t sleep anywhere, at least not in the UK.

So what are the camping options for motorhomers in the UK?

From large touring parks, to small campsites and pub-stop-overs, we explore the best options once you hit the road. Not forgetting wild camping, of course, if you want to go off-grid but this has become more difficult since the pandemic.

RELATED CONTENT: How to wild camp in your van without getting into trouble

And if you’re already the proud owner of your very own van, see our top tips for looking after it all year round…

How to prepare your van for the spring and summer season

And how to winterize your RV – keep warm and keep the rodents out!

Best van life news stories

Every month we collate the most interesting stories in the world of van life from the UK and further afield.

For inspiration, have a read of the best van life and motorhome news stories to find out what other vanlifers are doing and how they got started.

Maybe your van life story will be in there soon?!

So, whether you’re still thinking about joining van life, are a newbie, or have years of experience – we’d love to hear your story. Indeed, that’s one of the great things about van life – meeting others on the road and sharing tales of woe, wonder, and wisdom.

Please get in touch if you have any questions or refer to our van life FAQ page. Hit the button below. We’re here to help!

Already a full-time van-lifer? Check out our van life and mental health section to help you stay mentally well on the road.

Still looking for an RV? Read our essential blog post: Motorhome Scams – How Not To Get Caught Out!

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