Beyond #Vanlife

by Ashly Winchester / May 22, 2021
Beyond #Vanlife

Some Unexpected Perks to Living the Unconventional Vanlife Lifestyle

When most people think of what vanlife is they think those idyllic moments caught on Instagram and hashtagged with #vanlife. You see miniature homes-on-wheels parked in the most stunning of places with doors thrown wide open and the vandweller lounging across the immaculate bed.

It’s really no surprise that the vanlife hashtag has seen an uptick in use since its inception in 2011. In just the last three years, there has been a 312 percent increase in the hashtag use on Instagram, and with more people having to work from home during the pandemic, the vandweller lifestyle has gotten even more popular.

Personally, I was first drawn to this lifestyle because, like so many, the romanticized photos and idea of freedom drew me in. While there are obvious perks to this lifestyle, it’s not without its downsides, like if you break down and your van home has to be in a mechanic’s shop for a month, you’re essentially homeless (true story - that happened. Thank goodness for good friends.) There are upsides and downsides to every lifestyle choice, but for many of us the positives aspects of vanlife far outweigh the negative. There is so much more to vanlife than meets the eye.

Home is Where You Park it

The obvious and probably most exciting perk to living in a van is that the world is your backyard. You may find yourself waking up with snow-covered mountains in your backyard, or a sweeping desert landscape… or maybe you’ll wake up to the sound of waves breaking along a sandy beach.

There is also the possibility of waking up at your favorite climbing spots and trailheads. By eliminating drive time, it may give you the upper hand when trying to hit a popular route. I’ve slept near the start lines of trail races on multiple occasions, and have slept in parking areas at popular trailheads that don’t allow camping but do allow overnight parking. Imagine being able to run, bike, or climb right out your back door. There are limitless possibilities and you can sleep (almost) anywhere. 

Other obvious perks include not paying rent, the disappearance of pricey utility bills, and an increase in free time. The small space is easy to clean and maintain, and I no longer have a yard to care for and mow every weekend. If you do go full-time vanlife, you’ll probably find that your cost of living decreases substantially and that you have more free time. 

Vanlife is Customizable

Pro gravel bike racer and Athletic Brewing athlete, Pete Stetina, adopted the vandweller lifestyle purely out of necessity. He wasn’t interested in living in a van, but logistics of traveling with all of his essential gear, like helmets, tires and spare wheels proved to be quite difficult. “Flying is actually harder logistically due to the sheer volume of gear,” he says. “With my van I'm able to basically have my own team bus/mechanics truck for any scenario, and also it's ideal as many of these races take place off grid in nature, so having your own comfortable bed and kitchenette is ideal.”

 Stetina enjoys how the lifestyle can be customized to individual situations. “It pushes you to optimize every square inch of space, just like training, where you search for the last 1% before a big race,” he says. “It’s fun to see how others have curated their own setup to their specific needs.”

You don’t have to be a pro athlete or Instagram influencer in order to make vanlife work for you, and you don’t have to quit your job in order to adopt this lifestyle. Stetina pointed out that everyone’s setup is different, and that’s part of the beauty of vanlife - it is infinitely customizable. 

Quitting your job and hitting the road full-time isn’t always an option for most people. Many vandwellers do have full-time or part-time jobs to support themselves. My partner and Fastest Known Time connoisseur, Jason Hardrath, is a school teacher and a full-time vanlifer. He spends most weekends, as well as his scholastic summers, chasing adventures because this lifestyle gives him the freedom to do so. 

If you’re one of the many people who started working from home because of the pandemic, it’s easy to imagine that with the right setup you can easily work from the road. And if you have a family but you’re still drawn to the lifestyle, you can be a vanlife weekend warrior. There is no rule that says you have to be living in your van 100% of the time.

A Sense of Community

One of the surprising perks to vanlife that I never expected is a feeling of belonging to a community. I’ve made some amazing friends and met some incredible people because of the van. It’s kind of like when you buy a Jeep, and suddenly others who own Jeeps start waving at you. Only, with vanlifers, we truly support one another. I’ve never met another vanlifer who didn’t offer a hand when needed or share a kind word.

As a writer, I’m able to work from almost anywhere, but during the times we’re not on the road I have a desk at a coworking space. Having access to the coworking space has given me the use of a bathroom and a small kitchen. While those little things are great, the best part has been getting to know all the other people who utilize the workspace. These people have become like family, and I wouldn’t have met any of them if it weren’t for this somewhat odd lifestyle.

Another little community I’ve found through this way of living is at the gym. My gym is where I shower, so I have to go there. Not only does it give me additional motivation to work out more, but my frequent presence at the gym has led to more friendships and connections.

Minimize and Simplify

There really is nothing like living in a tiny space to make you realize how much you don’t need. Before vanlife, I had a whole apartment full of stuff - furniture, kitchen gadgets I never used, extras of seemingly everything, and cabinets filled with unimportant things I had collected over the years.

Moving into a small space forced me to purge all the junk. I sold, gave away, and donated most of my belongings, keeping only the most precious and important items and doing my best to make sure the rest didn’t end up in a dumpster. It’s amazing how good it feels to minimize and to cast away societal materialism, and you begin to put more value into experiences.

The move into a tiny space also shrunk my carbon footprint in a big way. The small fridge makes it so that we can’t buy more food than we can use which minimizes food waste, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. We also use less electricity, less water, and more reusable containers, because a little bit of garbage in a small space like a van takes up far too much space.

Athletic Brewing Pairs Perfectly with Vanlife 

If you’re like me, you enjoy a cold beer at the end of the day or after a run. Depending on your location and circumstances, it may be illegal to be inside a vehicle while drinking alcoholic beverages. Athletic Brewing has given me the option of being able to drink a couple of cold beers, then hop in the driver’s seat and drive to the next trailhead. There’s no compromising on the experience, I’m still able to make good decisions. It’s a win-win.

Vanlife is freedom. It’s living outside the box. And maybe more importantly, it’s giving yourself the opportunity to experiment, learn, and create lifelong memories. It takes some dedication and adjusting, but once you settle into new routines and patterns, you may start noticing all the additional benefits besides the obvious.

Cheers to living without compromise.