Van Life - Cop Out or Enlightenment?

Not long heard about the term Van Life and I’m trying to work out whether the people that go off in a van and spend years, sometimes many many of them, travelling around and generally just enjoying themselves and doing what they want are the epitome of self centredness or onto something and secretly laughing at the rest of us mugs actually working to provide the things that van lifers use/need to have their endless ‘adventures’ and ‘experiences’.
I’ve no problem with retired folks that have worked a lifetime and given something to the world - they well deserve to head off into the sunset in their van and enjoy themselves. But when a couple of folk in their 20’s/30’s/40’s decide they can’t hack real life and therefore choose to become full time ‘travellers’ for ever, I just think that’s a bit of a cop out. All the ‘getting back to the simple life’, ‘finding ourselves’ and ‘connecting with nature’ whimsy is a smokescreen for the real reason - they just don’t like working for a living and contributing properly to society and would rather everyone else build the roads, man the shops, maintain the telecoms, grow the food, make the ‘stuff’ and do all the other myriad things necessary to keep the world turning so that they can trundle along without a care in the world, living life their way, without the boundaries of a ‘normal’ life. Great for them that everyone doesn’t just decide to drop out and do nothing but travel isn’t it! Come to think of it, maybe we should…

Greetings & Welcome!

There’s a lot of truth to some of your points, as time goes on there seems to be fewer and fewer people willing to do an honest days work for an honest dollar. Many would rather fake disabilities and get food stamps. These days addicts seem to be qualified as disabled, what a scam.

The majority of #vanlife that you see online is also a scam. Promoters getting paid well to give bad advice, and trust fund kids making it look like it’s all rainbows and roses.

For most of us, life requires money, and that means working. I was a traveling construction worker for 30 years, working full time while living on wheels. Not everybody works full time, do to it possibly being a low cost of living lifestyle, but most do in fact work to support their lifestyle. Some work seasonally, some follow the crops, and some work online. Some keep their normal jobs and stay stationary, while living on wheels, and just venture out on weekends.

There are many ways to enjoy the mobile lifestyle successfully, but almost all of them require some sort of reliable income.

Many seem to not plan well, and find themselves stranded, with no job, and with no money for repairs. Promoters urge people to “Just Do It”. and “DO IT NOW”, then figure it out as they go. The truth is the promoters are in it for themselves, and could care less how many people fail later. They are sleazy sales people and need to recognized as such.

There is no magic in a mobile lifestyle. Less work means less money, and possibly no money when it is urgently needed. The rules of life, work, money, and savings don’t change. Too many people are convinced to chase false dreams that turn into expensive nightmares. For a few, like myself, it’s an ideal lifestyle, but for most, the dream is far more enchanting than the reality of it all.


"If you prepare for the worst, every thing else is easier." ~ Off Grid


I’d like to echo the van dwellers comments, but also add my own.

I work as a professional organizer and estate sale planner. So I travel for my jobs, sometimes 30-50 miles from my brick and mortar home. The expenses to maintain a home, which I was actively using maybe 2 hours a day (not counting sleeping) was exhaustive.

Not to mention the cost of time and money lost during round trip commutes. I had to book more clients than I could comfortably manage or to give the kind of attention that my reputation had established- it was getting harder to do.

I was paying almost 2 thousand a month just for a fancy storage unit, basically.

Then I’d be so tired when I had time off I wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything that made me happy because I felt I had to be in the fancy storage unit to justify the expenses.

I was running in circles to have things I didn’t need.

The last year I’ve been minimizing and downsizing. I have my keepsakes and seasonal stuff down to a 5x5. I’m in my van 2/3 of the month. I can be focused and present with my clients. I get to enjoy my time off. I get to explore and travel.

This isn’t for everyone. Everyone has different reasons for getting into it.

In Western cultures we tend to over work ourselves to death and then in our old age spend so much money and time to play catch up with our health and happiness. I work hard so I can play hard and try to keep a work/life balance.

Good luck with your voyage of discovery.

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Hello DB,

Hope today finds you well.

I agree with the general sentiments that those seeking to take advantage of the system that others work to support is generally just terrible. I 100% agree that people who do not contribute to “the system” shouldn’t take handouts from it either. Either be a part of the system or stop being a burden to it. However…

I would like to also present an alternative theory. The theory that what you perceive as “daily life”, as “contributing to society”, or even how you define “success” to be nothing more than marketing pushed by Corporations to tell you how to spend your life. It is nothing but a product of the Cold War-era telling you to “produce or consume, produce or consume, because that is what builds America”.

Why do objects and physical wealth denote success? Wouldn’t growing as an individual, positively impacting those around you, and finding YOUR true version of happiness be a better pursuit? Because if those are your goals, then you really don’t need very much money to sustain yourself. If I don’t need as much money to sustain myself, why should I continue to give such large portions of my life to traditional means of income?

As for “Building the roads, manning the shops, making the stuff”… Is the quality of your life really improved that much by another Macy’s? How many chick-fil-a’s do you really need? How does all that crap you buy that is made in China really affect you? Has it helped you find true happiness, or have you just exchanged hours of your life for money to then have exchanged that money for a useless trinket you have been convinced holds value? How many roads do we really need, consider most people rarely leave their “25-mile lifestyle” anyway? An entire world to explore, and most people rarely leave the area they were born in, except maybe for the occasional “vacation”.

Ever since I came back from the war all I can consider most days is the question, “what is a life worth living”? When I am old (if I am so lucky as to grow old) and dying, what memories from my life will instill in me peace before my end rather than fear thinking I wasted my time here? No one can answer that question for me, only I can, but I do know the life TV pushes isn’t the answer for me.

I’m not even some “tree-hugging liberal in their 20’s crying for free College and Universal Income”. I served my time in the Marine Corps, I was infantry and did two tours over four campaigns. I came home and went to college on the GI Bill, the one you used to have to pay into and not the one they now receive for free. I worked for years in the pet industry before then going on to open my own Dog Grooming Business, which was semi-successful, not exactly making me millions but did turn a profit before I sold it and moved on.

I did the whole, “American Dream” thing, and god what a nightmare it was for me. Not that it isn’t fine for some, but for me personally, I’d rather have gone back to Afghanistan than continue living like that. So in a way, I 100% agree that it is a “cope out” from being a part of the “traditional” system because when I die that system won’t notice or care. You won’t notice, my family that survives me will barely notice, and all my effort and deeds will have been forgotten.

In the end, the only one who will care about how I spent my life, will be me.

Just my thought process anyway. :man_shrugging::smiley:



Perhaps we need to separate work/income, from the idea of contributing to society in this instance. While work is contributing, it is only a small portion of what we owe society.

Let me explain my thinking… The vast majority of everything good in our lives is provided by society. Therefore, the vast majority of our time should be spent contributing to society in one form or another, thus creating a fair balance.

Today, we are experiencing the effects of too many takers, and not enough givers, and we all pay for this in the form of inflation, higher prices, higher taxes, higher crime, and a lower standard of living. Those of us who contribute more of ourselves, tend to have better and happier lives, while still having all the time in the world for our own personal enjoyment.

Working full time during our working years, takes up less than a quarter of our time. This gives us an abundance of time to contribute without having any negative effect on our lives or livelihoods. It’s all about the greater good, or at least keeping the greater evil in check.


"If you prepare for the worst, every thing else is easier." ~ Off Grid

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Hey everyone,

So I’ve been thinking about this for a few days, really just because it’s kind of a topic I consider often anyway and this was a good question to help me evaluate some of my own beliefs.

I guess my overall issue with the question is the implication that I can’t contribute to society just because I am not conforming to a social norm.

It is the “social norm” to live in a house, to own a car, to find a mate, and to start a family. But just because I am not interested in remaining a member of that group, then that automatically implies that I am not contributing at the same level as those that do? Not that I am saying that is necessarily how you feel DB, since it is impossible for me to fully understand your perspective from such a short comment, but I feel like there is a large percentage of people that feel that way.

They maintain this outdated perception that anyone who doesn’t live in the “traditional American manner” is a “hippie, beatnik, or communist”. Maybe not those exact words or beliefs, but something along those lines anyway, haha.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’d just like to see a change in social perception about judging the way others choose to live. Just something I’ve been considering, hope everyone is doing well during this crazy time!

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Hi Rydel,

Interesting points and I respect your point of view, though don’t agree with it entirely. My problem with some elements of the ‘van life’ movement is that it basically says that there is a way to ‘escape’ the drudgery and relentless monotony of normal life and attain some sort of freedom and in the process find a better way to live. Well fine, and I’m sure that many hundreds of carefree folk are happily pottering around the world in their vans worrying about nothing more each day than whether the sun will shine and will they be able to find a good lay up spot that evening. Some folk go on like this for many, many years and a good number of them will have damn well earned it, but others will have just decided that’s how they want to live their lives and that’s that. But living their dream is only possible because millions of other people make it possible - by providing the infrastructure and the systems that allow them to indulge their whim of eternal travel and total lack of responsibilities, except to themselves. Then they look on these people as somehow inferior to them because they have chosen a normal life rather than a van life existence!
I’ll turn your comment around - you say you would like to see a change in social perception about judging the way others choose to live? How about the way some (and it is only some of course) van lifers perceive others that choose to work in a 9-5 job for 30 odd years, get a mortgage, stay in one place etc. and likely contribute far more to wider society than a perpetual van lifer ever could, because of the nature of their existence?

I think that you might be judging a book by its cover and that cover is likely instagram. From the people I’ve met and from my personal experience, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows all the time. It’s harder than it is easy most of the time. Buying a box on a hill and slaving for 30 years doesn’t exactly mean you are contributing anything to society either. In my experience a lot of people doing the van life thing are contributing to society. Maybe not by building roads and infrastructure as you deem necessary, but let us not forget that they are also necessary to have that house on the hill as well. A lot
of people contribute by raising awareness, starting companies from the road, doing seasonal work at parks, working remotely, creating art, writing books, etc. You should be free to live your life how you want without judgement of others. There is no law that says you need to contribute anything. It’s 2020 not 1950, there are millions of remote jobs and the idea of a 9-5 for 30 years and paying an ungodly mortgage that whole time should be frightening to everyone. It is sad to say someone has earned it for doing that and then by the time they have earned it they may be physically incapable of actually enjoying it. If you want to live your life that way, that is fine, but you should not put others down because they fostered and built the life they wanted.

Hi Bretly,

A lot of what you say is valid but you kind of shoot yourself in the foot a bit and in the process illustrate exactly what I am saying. You state that “there are millions of remote jobs and the idea of a 9-5 for 30 years and paying an ungodly mortgage that whole time should be frightening to everyone”.
So you are judging anyone that does the ‘9-5 and mortgage’ thing by saying that it should ‘frighten everyone’!! Why? Why should it ‘frighten’ people - it’s what most of us do and are perfectly contented doing, yet you think differently and perhaps see it as inferior to your way of life. Or am I wrong in that assumption?
One thing is certain - if it wasn’t for 9-5ers, van lifers wouldn’t be able to exist but the same is not true the other way around. If there were no van lifers the world would keep on turning without a blink.
I think some (and again, I emphasize the ‘some’) of the more extreme types of van lifers ought to think about their attitude towards the people who make their lives of carefree exploration and lack of responsibilities possible, instead of deriding them for their ‘normal’ choice of a box on the hill and a steady job. I’m afraid I’ve experienced these people first hand, which is why I came looking for a van life forum to explore attitudes a bit more. And I have never used Instagram…!
Have a great day

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Thank you @DB0511 !

Even though I have been living on wheels my entire adult life (40+ years), I have always worked full time, plus volunteered a majority of my free time helping others.

Working full time enabled me to be able to pay off my grandmothers house, remodel it, and send her money to improve her life because the amount she got on SS was so small. Later, I paid for a better, nicer nursing home for her, that she would have otherwise not been able to afford. A similar scenario played out with my parents, plus I bought them their very first new car, and made sure they always had nice, reliable transportation. I also helped support my brother his entire life.

When my friends got in trouble, I was there with the money to save their homes, or help with any other needs. All because I worked full time +, and my living expenses were low. Even today, being semi-retired, I work 40+ hours per week, and still volunteer the majority of my free time.

It’s the hard workers that make everybody’s lives better, regardless of their choice for housing. For the last couple of years, most of my volunteer time has been going to elderly friends, both in FL & MN, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to improve their lives a little bit.

My life has been full and busy, but marvelous. I’ve traveled the country & the world, and seen and done more than I ever even dreamed about. Working full time + and volunteering didn’t rob me of a single moment of enjoyment or cause me to miss out on anything, and I am still enjoying my life to it’s fullest.

Lots of people seem to have lots of excuses why working is bad, and how broken the system is. I’m here to tell everyone that the only thing wrong with the system is too many deadbeats that are unwilling to contribute their fair share, and support themselves. Deadbeats, that are hogging the resources that should only be available for those truly in need. My life has been perfect BECAUSE I worked full time, and BECAUSE of my volunteer work.

The simplest truth is that life is better with money, and the easiest way to get money is to earn it. Opportunities are everywhere, more today than ever before. If you don’t want to work, can’t work, or just need extra income, you can always start a hands free business, and it only takes chump change to get started. That’s the route I’m now taking with my elderly friends who are no longer able to run their own businesses.


"Be a trendsetter and support yourself !!!" ~ Camp4Ever

Yep, love the attitude Van-Dweller, and your zest for life. I get more out of volunteering and helping than I do working in some ways (I help out with the local scout group as the Quartermaster and coach kids rugby at my sons rugby club) but as you say, you do need money as well. I just need to work out how to earn the same or near the same (or possibly even more) but still find more time to do the stuff I really want to do - that to me will be the point at which I can feel truly satisfied.
The van-life way of life does intrigue me ever since I met a few such folk at a festival who were pretty much anti ‘normal society’ and protested against everything from fossil fuels to eating meat to corporate greed to the government etc. but didn’t really have any answers except for ‘you don’t have to be part of it can can choose to just live a pretty carefree life travelling round from place to place doing not a lot at all’ - which struck me as peculiarly self centered in a way, and pretty disrespectful to the many many people living ‘normal’ lives that enabled them to live their dream. Of course they didn’t see it like that so we had a few interesting discussions, always respectful and good natured.


Sounds like you might be a good candidate for a hands free, or nearly hands free business.

Money making websites are very attractive to me, and I am currently experimenting with it. My product of choice is advertising, nearly free to me, but always in high demand. Combined with a method of generating free, or nearly free high traffic, I can provide high value, at a minimal cost, generating a sizable income. Since it is also cookie cutter duplicatable, by adding more sites, I can add extra income.

I’m doing it with free local classifieds, with paid premium options. The free classifieds bring in the traffic, adds value, and the paid options make it profitable. There’s almost unlimited cities it could work in, and in my two current cities, there is also a lot of competition, but I am still making large profits. Each city has different paid options, arrived at by examining the competition.

My biggest obstacle has been getting good classified software, with the options I want. I am still working on that aspect, even though they’re making me money as is. The next one I’m looking at is a Craigslist clone. Ease of use is important to me. My profit automatically goes on a PayPal debit card, and I can transfer what I want into my bank account as well.

They’re not making enough yet to hire someone else to maintain them, although that may be an option in the future.


"Be a trendsetter and support yourself !!!" ~ Camp4Ever

Lol… “And that cover is likely Instagram”

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The only difference between van lifers and not van lifers is living in a house or a van. How in any way is not buying a house self centered. Van lifers patronize business and work jobs just like everybody else. We don’t magically not need money because we sleep in our van. I don’t want to sound disrespectful but you give no reason why where your bed is effecting your level of community participation. Expecting everyone to buy a house or rent an apartment because that’s what you did is self-centered. I really just want some sort of clarification about what you think van life actually is. I see zero connection

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@Matt_B, while not disagreeing with you, it is only fair to note that we have a disproportionate number of bad actors in our group, that give all of us a bad reputation. The whole renaissance of #vanlife was started and is perpetuated by bad actors, so most newbies also become bad actors.

Look at all the BS around being “stealthy”. Honest, respectable people have absolutely no need to worry about or practice “stealth” or hide. We are not a part of the larger problem, but we do need to be far more active in policing and denouncing the bad actors, rather than encouraging them.

We’re really lucky here, we’re not over run by the bad actors, anti-society, anti-work, and downright criminals that are so outspoken elsewhere. Here, good, honest, non-selfish, advice is the norm. We are very fortunate.

We do get people who have been influenced elsewhere, and by the bad actors, and many do have legitimate concerns and complaints. I like to think that here, on this forum, that we can highlight the fact that good, honest, respectable, law abiding people who also believe in supporting themselves can and do also enjoy this lifestyle too.


"Respectable people have no need to be _STEALTHY_" ~ Rubber Tramp

I may have come in a little hot there. Some of what the original poster said came off as condescending to me and that ruffled my feathers. I don’t really agree that the van life movement was started and perpetuated by these “bad actors.” There’s no one type of van life person. You can call the grungey, couch surfing moocher types “van life” the same way you can call the folks rolling in $100,000 sprinters with another $50,000 of upgrades “van life”. And I’d say internet research points towards more of the latter in my experience. The same way homeowners run the gamut of people types.

What bothered me most was the statement that van lifers rely on 9-5ers while 9-5ers don’t rely on van lifers. I myself fix cars 9-5. A service that is essential to van lifers as well as non-van lifers. And my van allows me to take that service and myself to different places. I guess my point is that van life doesn’t imply anything about a person or their lifestyle other than where they sleep and that is the best lesson the original poster and anyone else who may be reading can take from this. We’re the exact same as everyone else. Some of us are hard workers, some of us aren’t. Some of us travel a lot, some of us don’t. And that nothing about “van life” is any more reliant on others than their lifestyle. We can be the same 9-5ers while we live in our vans and can provide essential services the same as anyone else.


“Bad Actors” is a wide category for me, and #vanlife promoters (not supporters), definitely fit into that category. Selfish, self centered people who don’t want to conribute to society, or work to support themselves also fit into that category, along with outright criminals and those that choose to do more harm than good for the world we live in.

I’m particularly hard on the promoters because they ruined a year of my life and caused me to lose in excess of $30k in the process. These same promoters, and more who have joined their ranks, are still ruining more lives than they help, and all for their own personal gain. My own survival and happiness required me to reject their BS, and revert back to my original ways. Most of the recruited newbies don’t have the advantage of former successful mobile living to fall back on, so they wind up homeless, jobless, and broke. They’re lured into a false dream that quickly turns into a bad, expensive, life ruining, nightmare.

People just need to be honest first and foremost, the down sides need far more exposure, and the solutions need to be honest and not monetarily driven. I do want to clarify that I don’t have a problem with people making money from good, honest, helpful information or advice. Done right, this lifestyle can be cheap, easy, respectable, and with very little risk. We don’t need to hide or be stealthy, we just need to be good neighbors, and set a good example.


"Gutting or stripping a rig is usually a very bad choice." ~ VanLife

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your thoughts. You will notice that I have been careful in my posts to refer to ‘some’ van lifers, not all van lifers, as the sort of folk who annoy me with their attitude to both their supposed ‘better’ way of life travelling in their van and their rejection and disdain for ‘normal’ life in a house/flat/apartment etc. in one place. I’m sorry that my comment on who relies on who bothered you but I stand by it I’m afraid, in the majority of instances. You are clearly one exception - you provide an essential service to both box dwellers and van lifers alike, and it just happens that you live in a van and move around. The vast majority of box dwelling 9-5ers can live perfectly well without the sorts of services most van lifers can provide to earn a bit to fund their travelling around, such as computer based businesses, vlogs, short term seasonal work etc.The same is categorically not true the other way around - van lifers would not be able to do what they do unless 9-5ers existed to enable them to do it. What irks me is that ‘some’ van dwellers seem oblivious to this and actively sneer at 9-5ers as some sort of tragic bunch of wage slaves that are not as ‘enlightened’ or ‘wise’ as they are, which is a bit disingenuous, is it not?

My very first introduction to the term ‘van life’ was through meeting a bunch of folk at a festival, ‘some’ of whom had this mindset and it just rankled with me! They ran a pop up sauna facility that moved around a few of the festivals over summer in the UK, but for the rest of the year they just traveled around doing basically nothing of any value or worth it seemed, just basically hanging out. Then when their sauna gear and vehicle was in need of repair they didn’t work to fund the costs themselves, they jumped online and set up a donation page for everyone else to fund it for them while they just carried on traveling! Good move for them - they raised about $8,000, so it did the trick but does not sit entirely well with me.

I fully acknowledge that there are probably many van lifers who contribute in many ways to society and are fully appreciative of their ability to travel around as they wish while they are doing it. You and Van_Dweller fall into this category it seems. But there are a number of others I would say (in my limited experience) who are not quite so understanding or accepting of the ‘normal’ life most others choose, including myself, due to various reasons. And that is quite disappointing I’d say - but as you mentioned, it takes all sorts of people to make a world. Let’s make it the best we can, individually. Have a good day.

Well now I’m mad again. The majority of box dwellers also do nothing essential and rely on the same exact people van dwellers do. We all need the same things. The fact is a small minority of people are actually essential. in fact, aside from other mechanics, I’m not sure I know any essential box dwellers or van dwellers personally. Nobody I know provides power, clean water, processes petroleum into gasoline, grows crops or animals. So how and why would I attribute box dwelling to essential-ness. Sounds like you met some people who live in a way that takes more than they give and decided to attach their attributes to van folks because that’s what they were. Like they hurt your feelings and you came here to vent at us. Well vent away but realize you are judging the van lifers in the same way those festival folk you met judged you.

Well, you have your opinion and I have mine, fine. It seems to me that you haven’t realised I don’t mean all van lifers fall in to this category despite me saying it numerous times, and you don’t seem to acknowledge the existence of the type of self absorbed and pretty narrow minded van lifers that don’t exactly do much to positively promote your lifestyle, such as the people I met. OK, that’s your choice. For the record I have learnt much about van life in general since reading these boards and am getting more and more intrigued. Never know, might decide to take to the road myself once I have finished the 9-5 slog…