Do you need to be nomadic to live in a van?

The term vanlife is often associated with terms like nomadic, vagabond and wandering. . But you need not always be on the move to live in a van.
van parked in driveway by a marsh

The term vanlife is often associated with terms like nomadic, vagabond and wandering. All these terms suggest vanlifers are traveling a lot. Consequently, those who are not fond of moving a lot might not consider vanlife an option. But you need not always be on the move to live in a van. That’s the beauty of vanlife – it offers flexibility.

Long-term parking

When Jeremy and I planned to our van move-in date, we intended to immediately park long-term. And by long term I mean years. A friend of mine in Oregon owns a hemp farm, and she offered us seasonal work and a place to park. Because Jeremy’s kids live in Washington State, we jumped on her offer to be close to the kids. Many refer to work-for-stay gigs as workamping. And you don’t have to have an “in” with someone to take advantage of it.

Whether you feel like being nomadic or parking long term, Workamping is a fantastic option. In other words, you can work part-time, full-time, move often, or stay put.  There are opportunities all over the country to work or volunteer and have a place to stay with hookups. For instance, you work so many hours to cover your stay and get paid for additional hours worked.

Moochdocking is another option. That is to say, you can live in your van parked in the driveway of friends or family. For example, Jeremy and I currently parked in my sister’s driveway because of COVID-19. However, not all driveways can accomodate! Some might not be big enough to park your rig. Additionally, parking with friends and family isn’t always the best long-term solution. Make your expected stay time known, and ensure your hosts are agreeable to your length of stay.

Another long-term solution is to stay at a campground or RV park. Consequently, this is by far the most expensive option. On the other hand, if you need a break from living in your van, the amenities of pay-to-stay could be well worth it.

living in a van parked in driveway by a marsh
Jeremy and I got lucky with our pandemic spot.

Live in a van part-time

Do you want to travel but also want a home base? Live in your van part time! That way you get the best of both worlds. Not only can you keep your job and the comforts of home, but you also get the freedom of vanlife when you travel. Besides, the part-timing is a great way to transition to full-time vanlife.

Part-time vanlifing is also an opportunity to make money. While not using your van, you can rent it out! Outdoorsy and RVshare are like Airbnb, but for RVs, trailers and camper vans. However, there is a downside to renting out your home on wheels. Renting it means more miles on the engine, miles you didn’t get to enjoy that shortens the lifespan of your rig.

Not interested in a home base, but still not sure about living in a van year round? I struggle with this myself. Cold winters in the van don’t appeal to me, even with a heater. As a result, Jeremy and I are considering seasonal work in the winter. Many ski resorts offer some form of affordable employee housing. This would give us a warm, comfortable place to stay in the winter. In addition, we’ll make money to fund our travels. Win-win!

screenshot of coolworks.com homepage
CoolWorks is a fantastic website to find seasonal work.

City living

Some vanlifers live in or near a major city because that’s where they work. Living in a van is often more affordable than buying a house or renting in large city. You get all the benefits of city living without the high cost of living. Although vanlife in the city isn’t exactly nomadic, it does require a lot moving. 

Almost every night requires finding a new parking spot. Otherwise, you might draw suspicion from residents or law enforcement. For example, one vanlifer never parks in the same spot more than once in four weeks. Another vanlifer recommends having several different spots to park during the day, as well as separate ones for sleeping at night. Then rotating the spots throughout the week. I also recommend checking out Bob’s 12 Commandment for Stealth Parking in the City.

Another option for city dwelling is to rent a parking spot. However, this option is more workable you live in a smaller van. Pavemint allows people to rent their parking spaces and driveways out. It offers both short- and long-term parking. When I looked for spots near me in Savannah, GA, none came up. But when I looked for spots around Atlanta, many spots were available.

vw bus in the city
Pardon the stock photo, but isn’t this a sweet pic?

Nomadic vanlife

The ability to travel makes vanlife quite attractive. And many vanlifers do spend a lot of time traveling. But even nomadic vanlife can look different from person to person. Some like to travel great distances, like touring all 19,000 miles of the Pan-American Highway. While some prefer to stick to one continent, country our region. Others might fall somewhere in-between.

Traveling and moving around often means finding a new place to park often. But there are resources to make it easier to find a home for the night. FreeRoam is an app that shows different places to park for the night. It also the cost (free as well), cell signal strength, reviews about the location, and more. Similarly, Freecampsites.net is a great website to find free and paid campsites. And don’t forget public lands! They offer free dispersed camping. You can camp in one spot for up to 14 days before finding a new home.

van in campground parking lot with stove in front
This campground in Virginia allows free overnight parking when the campground is closed.

Living in a van is flexible

Whether you want to enjoy one place for a while or nomadic, living in a van work for you. Vanlife doesn’t even have to be a full-time gig; enjoy it whenever free time allows. You can park in the middle of nowhere on public lands, or near a city center. Vanlife offers flexibility that no stationary dwelling can.

Are you planning on or already rocking full-time or part-time vanlife? Do you prefer to hang around one place or keep the rubber on the road? Leave a comment below!

Need more help getting started with van life? Check out our How to Start Van Life guide!

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Christina

Christina

I served 11 years in the Navy, and in 2014 I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail. These experiences helped prepare me for vanlife. My husband and I now live in our self-converted van, Mark.

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About Us

We left “normal” life behind and now live in our self-converted van, Mark. Our time in the military and backpacking adventures made vanlife an easy choice. The leap into vanlife and a self-conversion can be exciting yet daunting. We want to share our experiences and provide resources to give you vanlife your way, and the highway.

jeremy and christina at sunset

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