According to a New York Times article, “The #Vanlife Business is Booming,” some van companies can’t keep up. They have yearlong waitlists. The same #vanlife hashtag shows its popularity on Instagram with over 8 million posts. Van life, van living, or van dwelling is a lifestyle of living full-or part-time in a van that has been converted with a home's amenities.
I had a chance to chat with two solo female van travelers to gain insights about their lives on the road. Their comments will inform and inspire you to join the growing number of van lifers.
There’s Nothing Like Freedom
In June 2020, digital nomad Tiffany Grayce created the YouTube channel Tiffany Grayce to document her solo adventures and life living full-time in a Class B van equipped with a kitchen, living room and bathroom. She has been traveling solo for six years, and she has been living full-time in a 2019 Winnebago Travato 59G camper van for a year.
She has visited 18 states and crossed the borders to Mexico and Canada twice. The Texas native began her journey after walking away from a toxic 11-year relationship one year prior. She got bored living in the same place, and she wanted to do something for herself. “I wanted more freedom to explore,” Grayce says. And she has.
Thus far, she has explored 23 national parks and counting until she reaches all 62. “My van, Freedom, gives me the freedom to live wherever my heart desires.” Her not to be missed places include the national parks, of course, and the Pacific Ocean along the coast like Big Sur, Bixby Creek Bridge and McWay Falls in California. She has completed 60 percent of the 1,650 miles of the Pacific Coast Highway that stretches from Southern California to Northern Washington.
Change of Pace
Video content creator Crystal Vanner has been traveling the country full-time in her 1995 E150 conversion van, Taurus, since August 2015. Before hitting the road, she worked for the school system and was a cosmetologist for 22 years.
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She initially thought she wanted a tiny home. However, “Van life chose me,” she says. After doing research on YouTube and discovering van dwelling, she decided to jump into it 24/7. The mother-grandmother has traveled solo to all but 12 of the lower 48 states. She has visited some must-see places such as the Cotton Museum in Vienna, Georgia and the Tina Turner Museum in Brownsville, Tennessee.
Vanner captures her experiences on video and shares them on the Crystal Vanner YouTube channel. Over 3 million people have watched thus far. This allows her to sustain the lifestyle since van living is cheaper than renting or owning a home. Her only expenses are everyday living costs. If she plans to be stationary for a while, she gets odd jobs.
The Best Part About Van Life
Freedom “…to change my backyard views as often as I like,” says Grayce.
Freedom “…to just travel and do your own thing,” says Vanner.
Van life also has its challenges. A good cell connection is hard to find in national parks and campgrounds. Grayce spends a day or two near a cell tower to get her work done.
Vanner feels as though being a Black van lifer is challenging. The community is large, so people's biases, opinions, and prejudices come with them when they start van life.
She recommends staying in nomad-friendly communities in Arizona such as Lake Havasu City, Parker, Quartzsite, and Ehrenberg so that people aren't bothering or harassing you.
Staying Safe on the Road
Both travelers take additional precautions while traveling. They rely on common sense and instincts. Grayce says, “I’m always aware of my surroundings. It has kept me safe as a solo traveler for over six years.” She makes sure she arrives at the campground no later than 2:00-3:00 pm. If a place seems sketchy, she still has daylight to find a comfortable spot.
Vanner sticks to truck stops like Pilot Flying J and Love’s Travel Stops when getting gas. They usually allow people to park there overnight. Vanner personally prefers rest stops because they are near the highway. However, she does not go into their restrooms during the evenings. She doesn’t want anyone to know that she is traveling alone.
Grayce does not step outside her van after dark either for the same reason. Neither one travels at night for safety reasons.
Van Life: Advice on How to Get Started
- You don’t have to live in your van full-time. Do it part-time, some time or become a weekend warrior. Live van life however you want to. Once you get started, you'll find your groove and what suits you best.
- Give yourself a solid 30 days before giving up.
- Save money. Set aside at least 6 to 12 months’ worth just in case the lifestyle isn't for you. It will give you a little cushion until you can determine your next steps.
- Camp close to home for convenience and peace of mind, especially if you’ve never camped before or slept inside a vehicle. Find a local state park and make a reservation.
- Go for it! We fear what we don't know, and to find the courage, you have to give it a try.
- Downsize and downsize some more. Everybody brings too much on the road. Some give up because they can't live comfortably inside whatever rig they've chosen. It doesn't function well because of too much stuff. If this life is about freedom and you're trying to gain freedom for yourself, this includes stuff as well.
- Don't expect your van life to look like somebody else's because it's not. Some YouTube channels and Instagrammers choose van life to earn money, so they make it look glamourous and glorious. They are living at home. They take pictures and video when they travel occasionally, not while they are living in their vans full-time.
- A mobile job can help you sustain the lifestyle.
- Do it! Don't keep waiting. No one is ever promised tomorrow.
Vanner stresses the importance of freeing yourself from having the perfect van life so that you can enjoy the travel, the sites and the lifestyle.
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Though their family and friends think they’re crazy, Grayce and Vanner are unbothered. It’s evident from their Instagram pages. They continue to experience the joys of travel one national park, state, and great trip at a time.
Grayce sums it up perfectly. “All I know is I'm free. I've found my adventure, and I'm living my best life unapologetically. My allegiance is to God, not people. You only live once.”