Why Moving Into A Van Might Be The Best Decision of Your Life

There are few things that give you a sense of freedom like being rocked to sleep by strong winds and passing lorries at the side of a main road.

San Sebastian

In all seriousness, where you live is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your life. I believe it’s a good idea to make this decision as reversible as possible, especially if you don’t know exactly what you want to do (like most people in their early 20s).

What are the options?

The city.

Living in the city has its benefits – the range of activities and volume of people make it easier to find like-minded people. However, one could make a solid case that the quality of life in the city is not the best, whether that’s the nature of the environment or the lifestyle that a city makes it all to easy to fall into. – everything you need practically on your doorstep, tall buildings blocking the sun, it is so easy to spend most of your day going from building to building, not stopping and going about your day with an undercurrent of stress and perpetual business.

Nightlife culture as well. I’ve found periodically getting silly to be tremendously important for mental health, but personally going to the pub or going out every week just didn’t appeal to me. A huge number of people enjoy it, I just don’t get that much out of it.

The sticks.

Living rurally might seem like an idyllic dream to many, and indeed it enables a lifestyle where your health can thrive as a by-product. Naturally, location will still be a major factor, but largely it’s not hard to live an active healthy lifestyle in connection with nature when you live rurally. Living near the sea, near mountains, lakes, waterfalls, having land to grow your own food and rear your own animals – all of these things are largely impossible in a city and some may argue are far more effective than modern medicine at supporting your well-being.

With that said, this lifestyle can become isolating very quickly, especially for a young person with no partner/children. Community-living is a possible solution to this, although this presents the challenge of having to find a community aligned with your values. On that note, if you enjoy beef and rice, raw milk, are sick of them putting chemicals in the water (that turns frogs gay), and want to become a part of a community, I know some people that would love to speak to you. More on that in another post.

This all begs the question, which one to choose? Like with most things the answer often lies in the middle; make the best use of the benefits and facilities available in the city while being able to escape it at a moment’s notice.

How? My answer (as you may have guessed) was to buy a big metal box with wheels, a bed, a kitchen, and a toilet, and make it my home. The fact that my job was fully remote presented me with a huge opportunity, and few things would have allowed me to make the most of it besides living in a van, here’s how. 

Embed flexibility.

The biggest and most obvious one is flexibility – I can choose where I live based on the goal I am pursuing at that moment, and I can do it within 24 hours. There were skills to learn, places to see, and experiences to have that would be near impossible (or very expensive) to access living in a city.

However, one of my goals was to start jiu jitsu, which unless you’re exceptionally flexible, is impossible to do by yourself out in a field somewhere. That goal, and a few close relationships, tied me to the city. One solution would be to rent a place and get a car, but that would not have met my needs in terms of transport (it’s difficult to transport a surfboard in a car). The ability to choose where you want to live at a moment’s notice gave me a sense of autonomy that could only really be beaten by an infinite bank account.

Develop a healthy disregard for other people’s opinions.

Living in a van is not super common. You will be met with reactions, ranging from aversion to awe, from people that find out about your choice. Once you’ve learned how to make it work for you, living this lifestyle will help you develop a healthy disregard for other people’s opinions (and general social expectations). Some people will get it, some people won’t. Do it anyway.

Engineer adventure into your life.

Reducing the barrier of entry to the things you value in your life is one of the most effective ways to design the life you want. If you’re trying to get in shape, you need to make going to the gym as frictionless as possible. At this point in my life, I wanted to prioritise experience and adventure before shackling myself down into corporate slavery. That’s not to say you cannot have experience and adventure while working a corporate job, many people succeed in doing just that. This was just about doing what would make it easiest for me. The other option would be to pay rent on a place and get a car big enough for a surfboard, or take the train everywhere, neither of which seemed like particularly appealing options.

Optimise for the most interesting story.

What story would you like to have? Prioritise experiences that would make a compelling story or build your character. When in doubt, I’ve found that zooming out and taking a third person view on your life and your character to be incredibly insightful as it detaches you from your internal monologue. Make no mistake, it is a challenging experience but it will only serve to build your character and resilience. At the end of the day, a large portion of what you’ll have to share with people is stories. Start writing now, because if you don’t somebody else might do it for you.

Maximise the value of your money.

While I wouldn’t necessarily call it an ‘investment’, there’s certainly something to be said for van life allowing money to go further. Besides the clear benefit of combining your place of residence with your mode of transport, it means that experiences that would normally cost a good chunk of your savings end up being very accessible. For the price of a single night in an AirBnb (not even a good one), you can cover the cost of fuel, food for two, and parking for a whole weekend by the beach. A month in Europe eating unbelievable food and living walking distance from breathtaking beaches and majestic mountains? £1000 each. Including food, fuel, ferry, occasional campsite stays and festival tickets. I can’t think of a better way to convert money into life experience while also meeting your day to day needs.

How much would it cost to stay here? Nobody knows because there were no buildings to stay in.

Condition yourself to live simply.

It’s difficult to be materialistic when you simply do not have room for a nice TV or the electricity to power a voice activated speaker that automates the lighting in your room. Not having an unlimited supply of electricity ensures you only use power on the absolutely essential things. This has the added benefit of meaning you spend less time on screens. Your diet also cleans itself up as you can really only eat things that can be cooked on a stove – no more microwavable or reheatable meals. This worked wonders for my body composition (and wallet).

Beef and eggs.

In a culture of consumerism and materialism, I found myself growing increasingly materialistic. Especially as I started my first proper job and that first paycheck hit the account. Moving into the van was a hedonic reset and made sure I only included things I needed or really wanted in my life. I also had to get rid of a lot of my things, which helped reduce my attachment to material goods and focus on what was truly important.

Just as important as the immediate effects, the subsequent character and mindset that you develop through this way of living liberates you from the fear of living with less, which increases your ability to take risks.

Me living with less.

Some closing thoughts.

You might decide you want to give it a try or you might decide it’s not for you. Either way, living in a vehicle is not the only way to integrate these concepts into your life, but it was the way that was easiest and made the most sense to me. 

This was the only time in my life I knew it would be this easy to do something like this and be in a position to make the most of it.

There are windows for certain experiences in your life. Those windows may close. If there’s something you want to do and you have the opportunity, do it now. As Apollo Creed said, “There is no tomorrow!”. 

If you enjoyed this, there’s no guarantee that you’ll like what I write next but if you stick around you’ll find out. There could be more about vanlife, training, practical philosophy, regenerative farming, software engineering, or any other rabbit hole I find myself going down.

“In this way, we end up spending (as Thoreau put it) “the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.” We’d love to drop all and explore the world outside, we tell ourselves, but the time never seems right. Thus, given an unlimited amount of choices, we make none. Settling into our lives, we get so obsessed with holding on to our domestic certainties that we forget why we desired them in the first place.”

― Rolf Potts, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
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