Living in a Van Down by the River

by Andy Hough on June 30, 2008

I’m thinking about living in a van to lower my living expenses. I’ve already done all the usual frugal stuff but I feel the need to do more. To make any significant reduction now I have to eliminate either my apartment or my car. I decided to go with eliminating the apartment.

Ever since reading Blue Highways in high school I fantasized about traveling the country in a van but never got around to doing it. Eventually that dream expanded from just taking a trip but having a full-time adventure. After joining the Vandwellers group on Yahoo and reading various blogs by van dwellers,such as HoboStripper (NSFW), I’ve realized that this dream is actually quite feasible and I intend to make it a reality this year.

My plan is to move into a van when my lease terminates at the end of October. I’ll purchase a van in August or September so I’ll have plenty of time to prepare it for living in. My needs for the van will be very simple. I just need somewhere to sleep and the ability to store things. I’ll take my showers at the fitness center at school. I have my own carrel at school where I can keep my books and a small amount of other stuff. It also has an electrical outlet that I can use to charge my laptop and cell phone. For food I can use the microwave at school and keep a small amount of food in the refrigerator there. There is also an ice machine which I might utilize ice from occasionally. For my bed I’m just going to use a couple camping pads stuffed in a sleeping bag with a folded comforter on top. I’ve used this combo before and it is comfortable.

I don’t really think it will be difficult to live in the van while attending school. There are plenty of vehicles parked there overnight so my van shouldn’t draw any attention. This should save me about $400 a month and get my living expenses to a minimal level. This idea of living in a van down by the river probably seems crazy to some but I welcome any comments,suggestions, or questions you might have.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Lee June 30, 2008 at 9:33 am

Nice writing style. I look forward to reading more in the future.

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Ashley @ Wide Open Wallet June 30, 2008 at 10:03 am

Wow… I’m interested in finding out how it goes for you. Make sure you keep us updated. Could be a real adventure.

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KRod June 30, 2008 at 1:09 pm

I always dreamed of doing this. Good luck.

K

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shoyu June 30, 2008 at 9:37 pm

Even if you only last until winter, you’ll always be able to tell people you once lived in a van.

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Hobo Stripper July 6, 2008 at 9:54 pm

Awesome. Where are you, how’s the winter weather? Did you see the pics of Davka’s new van on my page? I think it’s the best van design ever, and under the shelves is like 6″ of spray foam insulation.

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Tight Fisted Miser July 7, 2008 at 3:10 pm

I’m in KC,MO. Winter will be cold but nowhere near as cold as in Alaska. I’ve got a 0 degree sleeping bag which I’ve used to sleep outside many night so it should keep me warm inside a van. My lease doesn’t run out until the end of October but I hope to get a van in the next couple of months. I’m more worried about the heat next year than the cold this year.

I saw the pictures of Davka’s van and I really liked it. It would be great if I could find something like that although I’m thinking a minivan might work for me.

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Hayden Tompkins July 8, 2008 at 1:22 am

That’s so funny. I went the other route and am getting rid of my car. May I asked why you chose to get rid of your home versus your car?

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Tight Fisted Miser July 8, 2008 at 9:43 am

Hayden- I posted yesterday on why I’m choosing to get rid of my home over my car. I haven’t done either yet though so I might still change my mind on which I get rid of.

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Summer Fey Foovay July 8, 2008 at 12:44 pm

My husband and I actually lived in our car + a tent for several months a couple of years ago. We enjoyed it so much we seriously discussed making it a permanent change. As it happened, we were given an opportunity to live on a ranch essentially for free (we had to pay electric) and from there had the opportunity to move elsewhere and share bills so our living expenses are still very minimal. During the time we were in the tent and camping we met many people who live in their vans or RVs full time. Some of them travel quite a bit, some very little. One of my long term goals is to purchase one of the converted van RVs – and that will be our home as far as I am concerned.

Best of luck. I’ll be keeping an eye on the blog.

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Seth Miller July 8, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Here is a link to my brothers myspace page, who lived in a van for a quarter of college for the experience. He wrote some blogs and posted some pictures explaining his process.

http://www.myspace.com/philkmil

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Scott July 8, 2008 at 3:20 pm

I couldn’t do it. I’ve slept in an suv with two dogs for one night, and got zero sleep. My hats off if you could live in a van. Maybe if the van was one of those tour buses that bands use on tour.
What about roommates? Could you save money sharing the rent at school? I had a college roommate that worked nights and it felt like he never lived at our apartment.

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Don Farley July 11, 2008 at 10:12 am

I was excited to read your article. I am almsot forty this year but I have live in vans on and off for years. I am a licensed contractor. Too many people in society dictate to us that if you live in a vehicle that your a bum or a user or whatever. I say hogwash. I dislike wasting money on a house or an apartment for just myself. Although I live in a very nice three bedroom house with a double car garage and all the ammenities. I live with my girlfriend and children. If we ever break up I will go back to living in a van or small RV. I setup a van many times with good insulation and paneling around the walls and ceiling. Put a nice single bed down the wall with a comfy six inch cusion. Then I took and mounted an undermount propane tank. Then went to an rv salvage yard and bought a good vented to the outside propane furnace with a thermostat. Warm as toast in the winter. When I live this way I save tons of money and have extra to do what I want. Just make sure you have current registration and insurance and that way when you get an officer that is profiling you as a bum you can show him you are legal and then call the precinct and ask why you are being harrassed. Anyways be careful by the river and do get too close too strangers because some of them are bums………

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charles rhyne July 11, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Eustace Conway lived in a tee-pee for seventeen years and stills lives without electricity or running water in the mountains near Boone, NC…and lives a great life.

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kf July 11, 2008 at 5:19 pm

I love to camp and have slept in my VW van many a time, however, not in MO in the winter! (I lived in CA and now HI). But to save $400/mo. or less than $5000/yr it hardly seems worth it. The van, gas, maintenance, insurance, parking tickets will certainly be way more than $5000 for a year. And public transportation is probably cheap, easy and you would have a place to study with a cup of warm cocoa every night. (I’d think long & hard…..)

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laura July 16, 2008 at 1:42 pm

this would be a great thing for me if I was single and my kids are all grown…….
and I am female, I have always wanted to live
a free life…..I do pretty much now. I don’t need fancy things, I enjoy my dsl and such,
but by the time my 15 year old flys the nest, (and if my husband would do it)but don’t have much hope in that…I would think the tech would be so good we could use the internet most places.
we love to camp, and we like the kind where you “really” camp. We live in Missouri and there are some of the most wonderful places
to camp……where no one else is around.
good luck and enjoy.

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Jim July 16, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Check out Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson. The main character lives in a van for a short while because he can’t find an apartment. After a few months he actually likes it. He then builds himself a treehouse on public land – but out of public view. Nobody at his office discovers his secret. The book does a good job explaining what it might be like.

He has a three room house, the rooms are just seperated by several miles.

Starbucks is his living room and home office.
He has internet access at his office.
His gym membership is his shower/bathroom
His van and treehouse serves as a bedroom.
When he wants to cook he either uses the kitchen at work or he uses a grill at the local park.

This works best for a single person. You own the van and can decide where to go each day.
For a couple you need to coordinate schedules.
For a family it becomes much more difficult.

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Online Dividends July 25, 2008 at 8:18 am

But wouldn’t living in a van decrease your quality of life? Wouldn’t it also decrease the quality of your social life as well?

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Joe September 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm

It could greatly increase it! It all depends on what quality of life you want. As quality is different than quantity, quality can not be decreased, only defined.

Imagine; no rent, no neighbours, the freedom to go wherever you want, stay over at whomevers house you want (in thier driveway, or inside if you so choose), warm bed, blue sky…

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David Smith October 25, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Do it.

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Matthew Whitney October 25, 2008 at 11:05 pm

I am attempting the same thing in the near future, I am excited to read that you are starting it too. I will be living in a van to save up for school next semester, I’ve been wanting to do it for as long as I can remember, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. Its really exciting. What school do you goto? I’m visiting my best friend out there next month?

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Tight Fisted Miser October 26, 2008 at 3:58 am

David and Matt- Thanks for the encouragement but this post is from this summer. I’ve since decided not to move into a van because I’ve moved in with my GF who already has a house. If things don’t work out with my GF than I’ll consider moving into a van again.

Matt- I don’t want to post my school name here although it wouldn’t be hard for people to figure out. Send me an email if you want. My email is on my about page or you can use the contact form on the Make $$$ with TFM page.

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Phil March 10, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Living in a Van (Down by the River, or anywheres else…) would be a cheap way to do things. Two stories for you… one I had a friend that I worked with at an aerospace company, who lived in his Toyota 4runner, and then bought a small boat, that he put down in the marina in Long Beach. He lived this way for a couple of years, and he said that he saved thousands and thousands every year.
You probably need to decide on a vehicle because a 4runner is kind of small, and you probably want a little more room, and it is a pain to work on if it breaks, and expensive too.
I would go for a VW van… We had a couple while we were growing up and they worked great, and they have a nice low door on the side, and you can almost stand up in it (well stoop) but this is better than a 4runner. Prehaps the best reason why I think that they are pretty cool is this little story. Sometime while I was in College, (back in the early 90’s) I saw this black VW van in a grocery store parking lot, what caught my attention is that it had a small deployable satellite dish, plus a number of other antennas on the roof, the windows were all heavy tinted black, and it looked like some kind of spy mobile. Well, I saw this old guy sitting in the side door having something to drink, and I went up to him and asked him about the van. When I got up close, it was really cool inside, had a bed, small stove, fridge, plus a bunch of computers and stuff all mounted into the walls (really unusual because this was back in 1991), it looked ultra modern inside, even with the outside being a 20 plus year old van. I talked to the guy and it turned out that he was a retired Air Force Colonel, and he had been driving that Van for several years, and he had really tricked it out with computers and stuff, and he even had a reworked HUD (Heads Up Display) from a F-15 fighter plane, and Infra Red Sensors and other stuff, pretty cool and long before any other cars had anythink like this. After talking with hime for a while, he said that because of his connections with the Air Force, he had brought and driven that Van on “Every” continent on the planet (except Antartica), and that he had been doing this for the last 5 or 7 years. The reason that he chose VW van is because you can get parts for it “everywhere” and they are cheap as well, and that this vehicle gets good gas mileage, and is easy to work on and you could take the whole engine appart with just a limited set of tools, even on the side of the road. He even showed me that he could print out the manual that he had stored on his computer, to assist in any complex repair.
So if you have any kind of mechanical knowledge, you can basically get yourself fixed and back on the road in few minutes, to a day or so.

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Andy Hough March 11, 2009 at 2:45 pm

Phil- Thanks for the advice. I won’t likely live in a van anytime soon but if I do it looks like there are lots of people that are interested in it.

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Mike March 12, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Living in a van actually doesn’t save you money. You wind up spending more on food and gas. If you smoke you will wind up smoking more.

You also have to find a quiet place to park. If it’s winter even if you keep warm you wake up ragged out. Summer is worse because of the heat. If you run the A/C or heater in either case you’re defeating the whole pupose.

I’ve done the live in the van thing. You don’t save anything if anything you will wind up spending more. You will get ragged out and not get a good nights sleep. You won’t eat right and you will be stressed to the max. it would be cheaper to rent a decent furnished room.

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Andy Hough March 13, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Mike- Some people don’t save any money living in a van but I’ve read of many other people who do save money living in a van. And I think I would be in the latter group.

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don March 24, 2009 at 1:40 am

I lived in a dodge SUV with blackened out rear windows from March to May 2009 while I worked in the Bronx, NY. I am an RN and parked in the hospital parking lot occassionally or parked in a hotel lot at night, while I worked a temporary PRN assignment at a hospital. Threw down a foam pad, blanket and a down sleeping bag, worked great for me, never a hassle. Used the hospital shower and bathroom facilities, ate at the cafeteria or bought enough groceries for a couple days meals, again, used the employee breakroom facilities. The company I work for gives an additional stipend of $500/week when I provide my own housing over and above my pay, so never have to use the pay. Have an inverter for computer, scanner and printer use, cell phone has fax capability, and computer has GPS capability, been doing this now for about 2 years, and have received back what I paid for the vehicle, plus get to claim all travel expenses and depreciate the vehicle. No hotel hassles, and take my rolling home to the next hospital assignment. Been great for me.

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Andy Hough March 27, 2009 at 3:43 pm

It is cool to hear from someone who is actually doing this. One of these days I will do it too.

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Ron September 23, 2009 at 2:37 am

I started living in my 2006 Dodge Mega Truck with topper in Jan 2007. It is now Oct 2009. It has been a constant arrange and rearrange seats, windows, air conditioner, refridgerator, computer, printer, desk top, DVD player on ceiling, tinted window, ect, and it’s not over yet. Futons to air matresses; pick an air matress. I am a member of couch surfing and I have hosted several travelers. You can make a van into an apartment on wheels. I suggest getting a motor cycle or scooter lift on the rear bumper in order to leave the house / gas guzzle parked.

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Larry @ Easy Van Living September 9, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I think van living can save you money if you are a careful spender to begin with. I mean, I don’t usually spend a ton of money on snacks or drinks when I’m out and about. I think if you start out prepared with a means to keep some comfort foods and drinks handy, you won’t have to go overboard on the expense side. Obviously you can think ahead and plan out what you will need to stay comfortable. This goes for any aspect of van life and travel (bathroom, sleeping, electricity, water). Plus, there are lots of great resources on the web to help you learn from others that have come before you.

Larry

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Gundy May 10, 2013 at 11:48 am

How would/did you overcome cold temperatures while van dwelling? What come to my mind, would be plenty of blankets?

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Andy Hough May 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I only lived in my van for a few months last year and not during the winter. A zero degree sleeping bag would be good to have to keep warm.

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