start van life

How to start van life – everything you need to know

I can’t really remember what it was that first made us want to live the van life.

We both love looking at cool camper van conversions and we always stop to point at old school motorhomes as they drive by – I’m a sucker for a pre 1970 VW splitty, and on the very rare occasion we see a Karmenn Gipsy I do lose my s**t!

But I’m not sure at what moment we decided we had to do it.

In 2015 we spent three months living in the back of a VW Sharan  (which was far more basic than a van!) on our first European road trip, perhaps it was just a natural progression from there.

Whatever it was, in 2018 we were down in Perranporth and got a call saying someone we knew was selling a Ford Transit and did we want it? And of course, we did. And that is where our journey began!

But anyway, enough of the back story. One of the most common questions we get asked by those who are thinking about van life is how to get started. So I thought I’d put together this guide to help.

Want to know how to start 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, but before you take the leap you need to seriously consider if van life is for you – especially 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 (apart from 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 stop to park for the night, it doesn’t always seem so great.

Of course, those moments are just part of the van life experience and we’ve come to terms with that, but it’s not a lifestyle choice that everyone would want to make.

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 eight 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 new 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? Or are you a digital nomad? Put some thought into how you’re going to fund your lifestyle and get as much in the bank as you can before you make the move.

3. Choose whether you want to buy or convert your van

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 want 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 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 allow them to stay for long periods of time.

There’s a really useful guide from That Adventurer about things you need to think about before choosing a van. This covers everything you need to know before choosing your new home on wheels.

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 to offer tailored advice for your chosen countries.

For those in the UK and Europe, I highly recommend that you download the ‘Search for Sites’ app it 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

Then, at last, the moment will come to start downsizing your life! Even the biggest vans with the most creative storage 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 actually keep 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 have.

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 parents 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 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! 


Photo by Lucian Alexe on Unsplash