So you want to get or build a camper van – maybe a simple, DIY van conversion, maybe a high-end, professional Mercedes Sprinter camper van conversion. Either way, you want to start living van life – whether that’s as your full-time or part-time home, or as a campervan that you spend as much time in as possible on weekends and vacations, and are wondering what van life is really like, and how you can find out more before committing and spending a load of money on your own van.
Yeah – we hear you! Buying and converting a camper van is a big financial and time commitment, so it makes sense to first find out what van life is really like to ensure you are pretty certain you will love living in a van (or simply camping in it from time to time), before jumping in with two feet and buying or building your own van conversion.
There are also some other great reasons to try out living van life before you buy your own van or build your own camper van conversion. This is a great opportunity to find out what features are most important to you – what are must-haves and nice-to-haves, what layouts may suit your living / working / playing preferences, whether you really need features such as a toilet, hot water and solar charging, and more. Aside from all of these reasons, it’s also a great excuse to plan a short vacation!
What is Van Life?
The term ‘Van Life’ can mean different things depending on who you ask. Perhaps the original use of the term, and the origin, means simply to be living in a van, and many people mean that to be living in a van full time as your main home. There are many people out there doing just that, some by choice, and others not – the reality is, it is a lifestyle that gets glamorized but perhaps is not all epic sunsets and camping in nature.
Our use of the term van life means, quite simply, spending time in a van built to live in for certain periods of time, and we’re not necessarily talking about selling everything you own and living solely in your camper van. The time you spend in your van could be for a weekend, a vacation, or a longer road trip, or living in a van for a summer season.
As our focus is on Sprinter camper vans, here we’re talking to anyone who is, or is interested in, Sprinter camper vans to spend time living in (the ‘Sprinter van life’ if you will). You don’t have to be living in your van as your main home, although as you’re considering making a sizeable investment in a Sprinter van, we’re sure you will probably want to spend as much time in your van as possible.
The Pros and Cons of Living Van Life
Defining the pros and cons of van life can be difficult because different people have different ideas of what are ‘good’ things about traveling around and spending time in a camper van, and what are the downsides – and compared to what?
In this post we’re assuming you want a Sprinter van to use for long term vacations, trips and even working away from home instead of staying in hotels, renting Airbnbs and other long term vacation rentals, so we’re really comparing living in a van to staying in hotels and/or in someone’s guest house, more than comparing van life to regular house/apartment living. That said, if you’re used to living in a small apartment somewhere with a lot of neighbors, then the transition to living in a van may not be that great and you may find that it offers you more peace and privacy!
Some advantages of Van Life
- Freedom to go where you want, when you want
- The ability to easily travel to other parts of your country (and the rest of the world)
- Sleep in your own bed with your own amenities (seriously, hotel mattresses and bedding can be awful)
- No neighboring rooms or street noise if you camp in nature spots as opposed to established campsites… and if you don’t like your neighbors you can move straight away without having to pack!
- Own your own tiny home rather than renting someone else’s property
Some disadvantages of Van Life
- Limited space to move around your home
- Limited storage will restrict what you can take in your camper van with you
- Van life usually requires some thought and planning when it comes to finding good places to stay (especially if you want to stay in places for free)
- Household tasks can take longer, such as laundry and washing
- Van life can be challenging in extreme hot or cold climates
Three ways to try living van life
Here are three ways that you can try living van life by getting a taste of the lifestyle without committing to buying your own campervan to live in.
All are relatively low-cost options that could be invaluable (not to mention fun) experiences which should help you find out more about what van life is really like, how you would use your own campervan, what features you would need/want/like in your van, and more.
Try Living Van Life Option 1: Borrow a friend or family member’s campervan (or RV)
The easiest way to try out living van life, because it should be (nearly) free, is to nicely ask a good friend or family member who already has one, if you can borrow it for a weekend or so. Even if it’s not the type of van you think you want, you’ll get the experience of driving yourself to your camping destination, living and moving around in the van, and other experiences such as finding camping, keeping the electrics charged and water full… and waking up for early morning coffee and watching sunrises over the horizon – right from your bed.
While you’re chatting with them about their van, it can be really valuable to ask them what they think of it, understand how they use it, what’s great, what they would change or plan to modify on it, and why. Even if their living or camping preferences are different to yours, the more information you can find about campervans and how they can be used, the better-informed you will be if you are still narrowing down your decision around whether VanLife is for you, and what type of van user you will be.
Try Living Van Life Option 2: Rent a camper van for a weekend or vacation
The ‘AirBnb of Van Life’, Outdoorsy RV rentals is a camper van and RV rental platform where you can search for campervan rentals by type of van, budget and location, and book your trip just as you would do with a vacation home rental.
This is an awesome way to find cool van conversions that you can actually rent and use, and gives you the opportunity to try out different size and brands of vans, different layouts, different styles (such as boho chic vs. utility off-road camper) and more. This is a great way to go if you ‘think’ you know what size and layout van you want to convert, but want to get more of a feel for what it would be like to live in a van like that.
If you visit Outdoorsy RV rentals and want to book, use the button below with our code “SPRINTERCAMPERVANS” to get $50 off your booking.
Try Living Van Life Option 3: Go car-camping
Yeah, I know, camping in a car is not the same as being in a sweet cosy camper van. But, it’s cheap and will certainly be cosy. Plus, some aspects of your car/van life experience are the same irrespective of your vehicle choice, such as finding spots to stay and set up camp, packing and traveling light, and enjoying that closeness to nature – without being in a tent.
All you need to go car camping are some car/van camping essentials, to make your car-camping trip a little more comfortable. We’ve put together a list of some van life essentials that may also be useful for car-camping.
Although, speaking of tents, if you have a smaller car, such as a hatchback or SUV, then you can get tents that you can add on to the trunk area to increase your private enclosed space while you’re out camping – such as this one.
Hopefully one of these three options appeals to you if you’re looking to find out what living van life is really like before committing. If you’re serious about buying and converting a Sprinter van (or having someone convert your van for you) then we definitely recommend trying out existing camper vans using the Outdoorsy RV rentals service, so you can be more confident in your choice of van size and layout when it comes to your own build!