Most people would never see them, most people would disagree with their lifestyle, some people can spot one in a parking lot, campground, or Starbucks. I am talking about “Vanlifers” or Van Dwellers. Just like Paddleboarding, van life has exploded in recent year’s with the cost of living going up and to some, student loans they want to pay down. Sadly I think it is a trend, especially for younger people going to college or just getting out of college but calling it a trend is not a bad thing. You can see in the late 70’s and most of the 80’s people would completely pimp out vans by either building powerful engines, giving them crazy paint jobs or basically turning them into lavish “Limo-Looking” street machines. Today vans are being seen as inexpensive means of living.
If you think about it, 40 square feet can give you thousands of miles of living room space. That comment may sound nuts but think about it, all you need to “Function” is a bed, a place to cook your meals, a shower, and a shitter. Your living room can be wherever the hell you park it. You can be in a different state or federal park with a new beautiful view every day, there is even free campgrounds all over the country. Imagine waking up to a beautiful river flowing right by you, right out of your bed window, a huge mountain backdrop as you have your morning coffee. This is one of the huge things van lifers get to enjoy. But, sometimes van lifers get looked at in a different way, they get called a loser, bum, lazy or WEIRD. That is ok because those people are quick to judge and might not realize how much of their life they are missing out on. They also might not understand that having everything could also give you absolutely nothing. “Thing’s”, people like to decorate and have lot’s of living space and a full kitchen and full bathroom and have lot’s of “things”. But, having “things” won’t help you see the next sunset from a different place every night, having “things” won’t make your life any better. Conforming to what people think are rules to life like you HAVE to own a house or rent an apartment, you HAVE to have this or do that is not what life is about. Most van lifers do this so they can live free and enjoy the short time on earth they are allowed. This does not make them a Loser or a Weirdo or Lazy, think about it, you own or rent you get a nice roof over your head, a place to sleep and a shower in the morning. What is sad is, you get to do that in the same spot every single day. A Van Lifer still has a roof over his/her head, a bed to lay in and a place to cook a meal or shower but they can do it from a different place every day.
This “Van-Life” revolution is obviously not for everyone and some people don’t have the means to do it but that does not mean you can’t have a taste of the life and live a little more free. Weekend van lifers and adventurers are taking notice of the benefits of owning a van. You can load up a kayak, a mountain bike or a paddleboard, and on Friday at 5pm you can hop in your van and find a local lake, river or trail and completely disconnect from the world for a couple days and all it cost you was a little bit of gas and what you would have normally spent on meals at home. No hotel cost’s, plane tickets or chain restaurants. Everything you need is right with you. Doing this is not as far-fetched as it may seem, you can pick up a good running old van very cheap. For example, I picked up my 2003 Ford E250 cargo van for 1900 dollars, it may have some miles on it but it was a medical supply van in its former life which means it was maintained very well. I am about 90% done with the build and I have only spent about $150.00 on the entire build. I used as much reclaimed wood and parts as I could find. I even made a shelf out of a section of kayak. So, for 2050 bucks I can hop in the van when the weekend hits, head to lake 30 miles away, stay in a free campsite and paddleboard all weekend. I can do this every weekend if I wanted to. If you say the average hotel room is $90.00 and you went away every weekend for a year you would spend $4680.00. That is a pretty cheap way to enjoy the country, a trusty old van and your favorite outdoor gear. Once again this may not be for everyone but for those that love the outdoors and could sell that old treadmill and olyptical you could be out in nature every chance you get and you can take your own bed and kitchen with you.
In my rambling I guess what I am trying to say is, if you see a van lifer, they are not weird, they are in fact normal, it folks that don’t like to step outside of the box who is weird. You could say this to any adventurer really, a person with 5 days of camping gear in their hatchback car, an SUV with the back seats laid down and a mattress in the back, a truck with a topper, a minivan all the way up to big RV’s. These folks are starting to get out of their recliners and get out in the world to see what this country has to offer. The cost can be thousands or 40 bucks it just depends on the adventure you want to take. You can see the mountains and rivers and hike back to your RV with air conditioning and running water or you can have a 20 tarp, some food, and a 6 pack and enjoy a camping beach. Either way, you can still be outside and start to enjoy your life and “be normal” let everybody else be weird.
Why am I writing this post, I am writing this post because one, it is a cool lifestyle and it is fun to see the different ideas and second, I have not been paddling for a month so I have had no SUP adventures or news to talk about, and SUP and Vanlife sort of go together very nice. It is a new hobby for me, I have always had a van at some point and I have always dreamt of building one I could live out of and finally I decided to do it and figure out how to do it cheap and make it look funky. Now, I have the ability to take little adventures to the rivers and lakes in my area and give me a little piece of freedom every weekend. My wife and I do own a house and we are sort of in the majority of where we like our roots living but, we are starting to see the appeal of living smaller, even if its not as small as a van. Maybe 500 or 600 square feet, but there will always be a van in our lives ready for adventure.
Since I would not be living in my van full time, I decided to make the entire van based on my lifestyle and my personality. I don’t like sharp lines and bright walls and high tech stuff. I wanted to build a van that was float trip inspired and simple. I wanted it to be my form of art you could say. Odd Layouts, uneven cabinets, clashing colors and lots of things stripped from kayaks and paddleboards. The countertops are pallet wood and not a single plank is even or level and somehow it works and looks amazing “to me” at least. This is the way that fit me and I will learn to build things here, and move things there as time goes on. You can do a simple google search on Camper Van Conversions and you will see thousands of layouts and designs in all type of vans. The other cool thing you notice is so of the photos are just regular pictures, no professional pre-laid out shoots, just pictures and in those pictures, you will find that most of the people in the photos are smiling. This is a side effect of van lifing. In these photos, you will see that people have built their vans to fit their needs. They have added their own personal flair. This is also another cool part about van life, you can get a look into the lives of some of the coolest people. Just like Paddleboarding, it’s a family, and you can tell what type of a person a paddler is simply by the stick collection they have on their car. Yes it is a stereotype but, it has a little truth in it.
Finally, this hobby, lifestyle or life is once again, not for everyone and for some they would be completely against it. But for those of you that simply have a car or minivan, it holds stuff, so grab some clothes, a tarp and a cheap air mat and get out an enjoy life.If you can get yourself a van just remember that you don’t need new and shiny and fancy, old shitty and rusty could still run for a long time. Hell, the rust and funky faded paint could be your personality. Either way you look at it vans are out there, you can find them for 5,6,7 event 10,000.00 dollars but don’t sweat, you can also find vans for 500 to 1500 bucks and some of them could have less mechanical issues than a newer van. These 500 to 1500 dollar vans can be picked up everywhere and with a little elbow grease, you can build a pretty sweet adventure rig. Once you have built your van, show it off. People like to see cool shit done to vans, whether they would want to live the lifestyle or not, they like to see how peoples minds work with the design of them. And to those that are still actually reading this post, don’t let anyone tell you that you have should of don’t this or you should have did that. It’s your space and your personality so make it the way you like it. If a master electrician living in his van tells you that maybe you should do this or that you might take that type of persons advice, you wouldn’t want to wire something wrong. If you decide to try this lifestyle just remember, You’re not weird, You’re normal, Everybody else is weird.
This Blog post was written under the influence of coffee, and lack of sleep and maybe an ambian ” prescribed”. I take ful responsibility for the rambling above. I just hope you enjoyed a little of it.
Vanny DeVito is my project that shows my love of paddling and close to home adventures, there is tens of thousands of miles of America to explore however, the Ozarks has some of the most beautiful spots to explore and paddle. Being this close to all of this nature allows me to put more of a trash/reclaim art look to my van instead of making it a 24/7 live in van. It is a mix of old wood, bright colors and a whole lot of What in the Hell.
Vanny is about 90% done minus some electrical like solar and more lighting but , he is coming together nicely and we have already made a couple overnight trips. He even saved me a hotel room fee a couple weeks ago when I was playing music in lake of the Ozarks. I will do a full blog post and maybe a video tour soon …..