What is Van Life? A Comprehensive Guide to Living on the Road in a Van (USA) 🇺🇸

Camper can mirror by landscape

What is Van Life? A Comprehensive Guide to Living on the Road in a Van (USA) 🇺🇸

Buy or Sell Campers

Buy or Sell Campers

10 April 2023

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So what is vanlife? This is the ultimate guide to all things #vanlife in the US! 🇺🇸 #vanlife is a lifestyle that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. At its core, van life is all about freedom and flexibility. It’s a way of living that allows you to travel around and explore new places while still having all the comforts of home. By definition, vanlife is a lifestyle. But how you live van life, is up to you!

🚐💨 Vanlife: A Definition

So, does van life even mean you HAVE to live in a van? Not necessarily. While the term “van life” originated from people converting vans into cozy homes on wheels, it has evolved to include a wide range of vehicles, such as caravans, cars, trucks, roof tents, RVs, and more. Essentially, anything that can be used to live on the road can be considered part of the van life community.

The van life movement is all about minimalism and living a simpler life. It’s about focusing on experiences over possessions and embracing the freedom of life on the road. Whether you’re a full-time vanlifer or someone who just wants to take a weekend trip, van life offers endless opportunities for adventure and exploration. In the next sections, we’ll dive deeper into what van life is all about and what it takes to join this growing community!

This comprehensive guide will explore the advantages and disadvantages of van life, how to prepare for it, tips for finding park-ups in the US, and answers to frequently asked questions. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of whether van life is right for you and how to get started if it is! This guide is for vanlife enthusiasts and wannabes in the US.

🇬🇧 In the UK? Here’s our ‘Comprehensive Guide to Living on the Road in a Van (UK)

🇪🇺 In the EU? Our ‘Comprehensive Guide to Living on the Road in a Van (EU)’ is coming soon!

Woman living Van life gear

What Is the History of Vanlife?

The van life movement is not new, though. It has its roots in the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when many people were searching for a simpler, more sustainable way of living. Since then, van life has evolved into a modern subculture that spans the globe, with vanlifers of all ages and backgrounds coming together to share their experiences and knowledge.


Why Choose Van Life?

Van life offers a unique way of living that is both liberating and challenging. If you’re considering this lifestyle, it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages before making the leap.


Advantages of Van Life:


  • Freedom: Living in a van gives you the freedom to travel and explore new places on your own terms. You can change your location as often as you like and stay in places that are off the beaten path.
  • Minimalism: Van life is all about simplifying your life and getting rid of the excess. Living in a van forces you to downsize and live with only the essentials, which can be liberating and fulfilling.
  • Cost savings: Van life can be significantly cheaper than traditional living arrangements. You won’t have to pay rent or a mortgage, and your living expenses will be minimal.
  • Sustainability: Van life can be a more sustainable way of living, as you’ll be consuming less and living a more minimalistic lifestyle. Plus, if you choose a van with good gas mileage or opt for an electric or hybrid van, you can reduce your carbon footprint.


Disadvantages of Van Life:


  • Limited space: Living in a van means you’ll have limited space to work with. You’ll have to be creative with your storage and living arrangements to make the most of the space.
  • Lack of amenities: Depending on your van setup, you may have limited access to amenities like running water, electricity, and a bathroom.
  • Loneliness: Van life can be a solitary lifestyle, and it may be challenging to find community on the road.
  • Legalities: Finding legal parking spots for your van can be challenging, and you’ll need to be aware of local laws and regulations regarding overnight parking.

Despite these challenges, van life can be a fulfilling and rewarding way of living. If you’re considering van life, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and decide if it’s the right lifestyle for you.

Converted camper on beach with side door open

🙋‍♂️ Frequently Asked Questions about Van Life in the US

If you’re considering #vanlife in the US, you likely have a lot of questions about how to make it work. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about van life in the US:

How Do People Who Live Van Life Find Park-Ups?

One of the most common questions vanlifers get asked is, “Where do you park at night?” And while the answer varies depending on the vanlifer, there are a few tried-and-true methods for finding a safe and legal place to park for the night:

Free campsites

There are plenty of free campsites across the United States, often located in national forests, BLM land, or other public lands. Check out websites like Freecampsites.net and Campendium.com to find free campsites near you.

Paid campsites

If you’re looking for a little more security and amenities, paid campsites can be a great option. Many state parks, national parks, and private campgrounds offer campsites for a fee. You can find paid campsites on websites like ReserveAmerica.com and Recreation.gov.

Rest areas

Rest areas along highways and interstates are designed for tired drivers to take a break, but many also allow overnight parking. Check the signage at the rest area to see if overnight parking is allowed.

Walmart parking lots

Many Walmart stores across the country allow overnight parking for RVs and vans. Check with the store manager to make sure overnight parking is allowed, and be respectful by parking away from the store entrance and cleaning up after yourself.


Boondocking is the practice of camping for free on public lands, typically in remote areas. While it’s not allowed everywhere, there are many places where boondocking is legal and common. Check out websites like Campendium.com and the Bureau of Land Management’s website for more information on boondocking.

Remember, always be respectful of the places you park, and follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment. These principles include things like packing out all trash, minimizing campfire impact, staying on designated roads and campsites, and respecting wildlife and other visitors.

By following these unwritten rules, vanlifers can help preserve the natural beauty of the areas they enjoy. If we all agree to leave a place better than we found it, wouldn’t that be amazing?

Additionally, be sure to research local laws and regulations before parking overnight in any location to avoid any legal issues.

What apps do vanlifers in the US use to find park-ups?

Finding a place to park and sleep can be a challenge for vanlifers, but thankfully there are some great apps that can really help with this.

One popular vanlife app and website is iOverlander, which provides a database of free and paid campsites, wild camping spots, and parking lots that allow overnight stays. Another useful app is Campendium, which features vanlife reviews and detailed information about campsites, RV parks, and other places to stay.

For those looking for a more unique experience, Hipcamp allows vanlifers to book stays on private land, such as farms, vineyards, and even private islands. With these apps, finding a safe and comfortable park-up for the night has never been easier.

Another app that has become increasingly popular among vanlifers in the US is Park4Night. This app provides users with a database of over 60,000 spots for free overnight parking, including campsites, rest areas, and other locations.

It’s possible to filter their search by amenities, such as toilets, showers, and Wi-Fi, to find the perfect spot for their needs. The app also allows users to leave reviews and photos of the locations they have stayed at, so you can get the best up-to-date lowdown on park-up spots.

While there are other apps available, Park4Night is a great option for vanlifers who want to find free parking spots on the go.

What are the US laws about sleeping in a van?

Vanlife is not just about the thrill of the open road and the freedom to explore; it also means dealing with laws and regulations related to living on the road. In the US, laws related to sleeping in a van can vary by state and city, making it essential to know the rules wherever you go.

Generally, the legality of sleeping in a van depends on where you park and whether you are on public or private property.

Sleeping in a van on public land is often prohibited, but rules can vary. Some national parks allow overnight camping in designated campgrounds, while others do not permit camping at all. It is also worth noting that many cities have laws prohibiting sleeping in vehicles parked on public streets. These laws are intended to discourage homelessness and prevent people from living in their cars, but they can affect vanlifers who are just passing through.

The legality of sleeping in a van on private land depends on the property owner’s rules. Some private landowners, such as Walmart, allow overnight parking, while others may prohibit it. It is essential to research and obtain permission before parking on private property.

Vanlifers should also be aware of laws related to hygiene and waste disposal. Many cities have laws that require vehicles to have a bathroom, and some national parks may require the use of a designated dump station for waste disposal.

It is always a good idea to research the rules and regs of the areas where you plan to park, to ensure that you are parking in a safe and legal spot. Let’s face it: you want to have a peaceful night’s sleep, without any unwanted fines or legal issues.

Lady working on a latop in a camper van doing van life jobs

What do vanlifers do for a living in the US?

Vanlifers in the US make a living in a variety of ways, from freelancing and remote work to seasonal jobs in industries such as hospitality and agriculture. Some vanlifers have even started their own businesses, such as selling handmade crafts online or offering services such as photography or writing. Check out our blog to find out how vanlifers earn money – we’ve got 13 ways!

How do vanlifers stay connected to the internet in the US?

Staying connected to the internet is essential for many vanlifers, whether for remote work or simply to stay in touch with loved ones. Luckily, there are several options for internet access on the road in the US.

One popular option is to use a mobile hotspot. Many cellphone providers offer plans with unlimited data, which can be used to create a hotspot and connect other devices to the internet. This is one of the most popular options for folks who are always on the move, but it’s not completely reliable in very remote areas. Signalchecker.com is a great resource to check cell coverage in the US.

Another option is to use public Wi-Fi. Many cafes, libraries, and other public places offer free Wi-Fi, which can be a great way to save on data usage. However, the downside is that these networks can be slow and unreliable, and not all areas have access to public Wi-Fi.

For those who need faster and more reliable internet, there are options like satellite internet. Starlink, for example, is a satellite internet provider that is popular among vanlifers due to its fast speeds and wide coverage area. However, it can be expensive and may require some setup and installation.

To boost internet signal, vanlifers can use a signal booster or a Wi-Fi extender. These devices can amplify the signal from a hotspot or public Wi-Fi network, allowing for faster and more reliable internet access. It’s important to note, however, that boosting a public Wi-Fi signal is not always legal and can lead to security risks, so it’s important to use a reputable device and check local laws and regulations.

What about cooking and food storage when living vanlife in the US?

Many vanlifers in the US opt for portable stoves, outdoor grills, or even full kitchen setups in their vehicles.

When it comes to food storage, there are several types of fridges that are popular among vanlifers in the US. One common type is the compressor fridge, which is powered by a 12V battery and can be run off of solar power. Brands such as Dometic and Engel are popular for compressor fridges.

Another type is the absorption fridge, which can run on propane or electric power. Brands such as Norcold and ARB are popular for absorption fridges.

Yet another type is the thermoelectric fridge, which is powered by a 12V battery and is most suitable for shorter trips. Brands such as Koolatron and Coleman are popular for thermoelectric fridges.

When choosing a fridge for an off-grid camper van, it is important to consider factors such as size, power consumption, durability, and cost.

It is possible to run a freezer in an off-grid camper van. However, it requires a larger battery bank and a more powerful solar panel system than what is typically used for a fridge. There are also portable freezers available that run on 12V power, which can be a good option for vanlifers who want to store frozen foods. Some popular brands of portable freezers for camper vans in the US include Dometic, Engel, and ARB.

How do vanlifers handle bathroom needs?

For bathroom needs, vanlifers in the US often rely on public restrooms, campsite facilities, or portable camping toilets. A really popular choice for vanlifers is composting toilets, which can be installed in the vehicle. If you want to know more about camper vans with toilets. Check out this article: Campervan Toilet Talk: The Questions You’re Just Desperate to Ask

Where do vanlifers dump their campervan toilet waste?

As a vanlifer in the US, there are several options available for dumping your campervan toilet waste.

Dump Stations

Many campsites, RV parks, and rest stops across the US have dump stations where you can dispose of your waste. These stations typically have a hose that connects to your van’s sewer outlet, allowing for easy dumping. Some may charge a small fee for this service, while others offer it for free.

Sanitation Stations

Some cities and towns have sanitation stations specifically designed for dumping waste from RVs and campervans. These stations are typically found at rest areas, truck stops, or RV parks, and may also offer potable water and other amenities.

Alfresco vanlife shower with woman camper vans with showers and surfboard by beach
Image courtesy of Nova Conversions

How do US vanlifers handle showering?

Showering can be a challenge for vanlifers, but there are several options available. Some vanlifers use gym memberships or public facilities, while others install shower setups in their vehicles or opt for portable camping showers. Some popular gym chains for vanlifers include:

Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness is a budget-friendly gym chain with over 2,000 locations across the US. Many locations offer 24-hour access, which can be convenient for vanlifers on the road. Additionally, the gym typically has clean facilities and free Wi-Fi, which can be a plus for vanlifers looking to get some work done while working out.

Anytime Fitness

Anytime Fitness is another 24-hour gym chain with over 4,000 locations worldwide. The gym offers a range of equipment, including cardio machines, free weights, and functional training equipment. Many locations also offer private bathrooms and showers, which can be a plus for vanlifers who prefer more privacy.

24 Hour Fitness

As the name suggests, 24 Hour Fitness offers 24-hour access to its gyms. The chain has over 400 locations across the US and offers a range of amenities, including cardio machines, weight machines, and free weights. Many locations also offer group fitness classes, which can be a fun way for vanlifers to stay active and socialize with other gym-goers.

Ultimately, there are lots of camper vans with bathrooms out there, but if you aren’t going to be too remote, a gym membership is a great option. The choice of gym chain will depend on individual preferences and needs. Vanlifers should consider factors such as location, cost, amenities, contract, and hours of operation when selecting a gym membership.

What do vanlifers do for a postal address in the US?

Vanlifers in the US often use mail forwarding services, which allow them to receive mail at a permanent address while they travel. Some vanlifers also use the addresses of friends or family members.

One popular option for mail forwarding services for vanlifers in the US is Escapees RV Club, which offers mail forwarding services specifically tailored to RVers and vanlifers. This service allows users to receive mail and packages at a designated address, and then have them forwarded to their current location.

Some vanlifers also use virtual mailbox services, such as Anytime Mailbox or iPostal1, which allow users to view their mail and packages online and choose what to have forwarded.

What if something goes wrong with the van while in the US?

Living vanlife can be a great way to save money! Once you have your camper, one of the biggest expenses will be gas – and even that can be kept to a minimum if you don’t cover that many miles.

However, there is an unavoidable truth: things go wrong. And when they go wrong, it’s often pretty spectacular! Mechanical problems can happen in places you’re unfamiliar with, where you can’t call in favors from friends and family.

Staying on top of servicing and addressing any problem as soon as it arises can help, but vanlifers in the US should also have a plan in place for vehicle repairs and emergencies. This can include having a roadside assistance plan, carrying spare parts and tools, and having a backup plan for transportation if your camper needs to be repaired for an extended period of time.

It’s not always easy, but if you’re earning money on the road, it’s best to try and build-up some financial back-up. These problems will happen, but the extent to which they slow you down will depend on how prepared you are for them.

🥇 Choosing the Best Van for your Vanlife

Choosing the right van is crucial for a successful and comfortable van life experience in the US. The right van will depend on various factors, such as your lifestyle, budget, and travel preferences. It is important to consider these factors before making a decision on the type of van to purchase or convert.

Factors to consider when choosing a van for vanlife in the US

Size and layout

The size and layout of a van will depend on how many people will be living in the van, how long you plan to stay in the van, and the types of activities you plan to do. A smaller van may be suitable for solo travelers or couples, while a larger van may be more appropriate for families or those who plan to spend more time in the van.

Fuel efficiency

Fuel efficiency is an important factor to consider for those planning to travel long distances in their van. Vans with smaller engines tend to have better fuel efficiency than those with larger engines, and diesel engines tend to be more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines.


Reliability is crucial when choosing a van for vanlife. You want a van that will be able to handle the wear and tear of constant travel and provide a comfortable living space. Researching the van’s reliability and reading reviews from other vanlifers can help you make an informed decision.


The cost of the camper van is an important consideration for most vanlifers. It’s important to set a budget and prioritize what features and amenities are most important for your vanlife experience.

Popular van models for vanlife in the US

Grey Mercedes Sprinter camper - side-on
Image courtesy of Nova Conversions

Mercedes Sprinter Campers

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is a popular choice for vanlifers due to its spacious interior, reliability, and customization options. Its high roof and long wheelbase make it ideal for conversions and living spaces. This is where you can find your converted sprinter van for sale in the US. And check out our ‘Essential Guide to Mercedes Sprinter Camper Vans for Sale’.

Transit camper van with awning surrounded by trees
Image courtesy of Old Growth Van Co

Ford Transit Camper Van

The Ford Transit is another popular van for vanlife due to its versatility, fuel efficiency, and affordable cost. It comes in various sizes and configurations, making it suitable for a wide range of travel needs. This is where you can find your Transit camper van for sale in the US.

Silver Ram Promaster camper by mountains with snow
Image courtesy of Sierra Van Co

Ram Camper Van


The Ram ProMaster is a popular choice for its front-wheel drive, which provides better handling and traction in slippery conditions. It also has a spacious interior and is relatively affordable compared to other van models. Check out the Promaster camper vans for sale in the US.

Silver VW pop-top camper in forest

Other vans – Chevy Express/GMC Savana, Nissan NV, Volkswagen Vanagon/Westfalia

Other vans such as the Chevy Express/GMC Savana, Nissan NV, and Volkswagen Vanagon/Westfalia are also popular choices for vanlifers in the US. These vans offer unique features and styles, and can be customized to fit specific travel needs.

Pros and cons of each van model for vanlife in the US

Each van model has its own set of pros and cons for vanlife in the US.

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter offers ample space and reliability, but it is also one of the most expensive options. The Ford Transit is versatile and fuel-efficient, but it may not have as much interior space as other van models. The Ram ProMaster provides excellent handling and traction, but it may not have as many customization options as other models.

The other vans offer unique features and styles, but may not have as much reliability or customization options as some of the more popular models.

For a super-detailed lowdown, check-out our vanlife pro article: Which Vans are Best for Vanlife?

Camper van with side door open overlooking beach

💭 Is Van Life Right for You?

Van life in the US is an exciting and adventurous way of living, but it’s important to figure out if it’s the right fit for you. Before committing to the lifestyle, take some time for self-reflection and assessment.

Think about what you value most in life, your priorities, and your goals. Consider your budget and whether you’re ready to adapt to different situations and environments.

But don’t let these considerations scare you away from the van life dream! There are plenty of ways to test the waters before committing.

Renting a camper van for a short trip or taking a weekend road trip is a great way to get a feel for the lifestyle. And if you need more guidance, there are tons of online communities, van life events, and books and blogs to help you out. Check out our Vanlife Hub!

Questions to ask yourself:


  • Are you ready to ditch the nine-to-five grind and live life on the open road?
  • Can you live with only the bare essentials and leave behind material possessions?
  • How do you feel about using nature as your personal playground and restroom?
  • Are you prepared to be self-sufficient and solve problems as they arise?
  • Do you enjoy meeting new people and experiencing different cultures?
  • Can you handle spending long periods of time alone or with only a small group of people?
  • How do you feel about adapting to different climates and weather conditions?
  • Do you have a sense of adventure and a willingness to explore the unknown?
  • Can you handle the unexpected and the uncertainty that comes with a nomadic lifestyle?
  • Finally, are you ready to create unforgettable memories and live life to the fullest?
Vanlifer in back of van in bobble hat

📚 Key Takeaways

In conclusion, van life in the US is a thrilling and fulfilling way of life, full of adventure and new experiences. With careful consideration and an open mind, it can be a perfect fit if you seek freedom, simplicity, and a deeper connection to nature.

This guide has provided an extensive overview of van life in the US, from selecting the perfect van to finding the best park-ups, staying connected online, and managing everyday needs.

Remember to always pursue your dreams and take advantage of the many resources available to you. With the right mindset and tools, you can embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure full of unforgettable moments and lifelong memories!

The vanlife community in the US is an incredibly supportive and positive group of individuals who share a passion for adventure and a love for the outdoors.

It’s a community that embraces a simpler way of living, and many members are eager to help one another navigate the challenges that come with living on the road. Whether it’s sharing tips for finding the best park-ups, recommending a reliable mechanic, or simply offering a friendly ear, vanlifers are quick to lend a helping hand.

The community also provides a sense of belonging and connection that can be hard to find in traditional lifestyles. With regular meet-ups, social media groups, and online forums, it’s easy to connect with like-minded individuals from all over the country and form lasting friendships.

Overall, the vanlife community is an incredibly supportive and uplifting group that fosters a sense of adventure, community, and positivity.

📸 For great vanlife inspo, check-out these great profiles and give them a follow for your daily dose of vanlife:

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