The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions

Van dwelling, or the lifestyle of living in a van, is becoming more and more popular as a way to travel full-time. Since we bought a van a few months ago to live in, I have received a lot of questions about van dwelling. While they seem funny to us now, I know that we…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: March 4, 2021

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Van dwelling, or the lifestyle of living in a van, is becoming more and more popular as a way to travel full-time. Since we bought a van a few months ago to live in, I have received a lot of questions about van dwelling.

The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life QuestionsWhile they seem funny to us now, I know that we had some of these same questions before we started RVing. 

Some of the questions we are asked are from those who think we are crazy for living in a van. Whereas, others are from people who are interested in van dwelling but are unsure about certain things. Either way, I hope to clear up a lot of the common questions we receive about living in a van.

You never know, maybe I’ll convert some of you. 🙂

Below are questions that I’ve been asked by friends, family, readers, and even strangers. It’s always interesting trying to explain RVing/van dwelling to strangers who stop me at the store after they’ve seen me get out of our van.

It’s a lot of fun, though. I love answering questions about what it’s like living in a van full-time and getting others hooked on this lifestyle!

Some of the questions I answer in today’s post include:

  • Are you done sailing?
  • Why not just keep your last RV?
  • Biggest pros/cons of van dwelling compared to boat life?
  • Do you shower everyday?
  • What do you do when you have to use the bathroom?
  • How much does living in a van cost?
  • Is van dwelling safe?
  • How do you receive mail?
  • Why would you want to explore the U.S.?
  • What do you do for health insurance?
  • How do you have internet while traveling full-time?

If you want to follow our travel adventures, please click here to follow me on Instagram.

Related articles on van dwelling:

Here are the van dwelling questions you’ve asked me:


Are you done sailing?

If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question.

I know some of you are thinking, “You quit sailing to live in van?!”

No, we did not quit sailing! We are splitting our time between van dwelling and boat life. We still have lots and lots of plans with the boat, and we enjoy having it. We are getting back to the boat in just a few weeks and cannot wait!

So then, why did we get a van?

Last hurricane season, we mainly stayed in the marina on our boat. We did several short sails, but we wanted to do something different this hurricane season.

We talked to so many sailors and quickly realized that many take a few months away from their boat each year during hurricane season, and we completely get it.

To have the best of both worlds (in our minds), mountains and beaches, we quickly realized that having a 4×4 van along with the boat is how we achieve our dream living situation.

We’ll mainly be living/cruising on the boat, but we will also be occasionally living in our van so that we can still do all the hiking, biking, and rock climbing that we’ve been wanting to do. We’ve been feeling like something has been missing from our lives, and now we feel refreshed and ready again for sailing! ⁣⁣

We have done a lot of traveling off the boat this summer, for family reasons, a wedding, and events, and van dwelling made traveling everywhere much more comfortable for us and our two dogs.

Also, another positive of van dwelling is that the systems are pretty simple, and there isn’t a whole lot that goes into it. So, it’s less likely that we’ll have large repairs that take up a lot of time and money.

We really wanted it to be as simple as possible. Since we already have a sailboat that is quite complex (compared to a van or RV), we wanted our time away from the boat to be as carefree as possible.

Related: Welcome To Paradise – We’re Living On A Sailboat!


Was getting a van planned?

I know some people think we’re nuts for our non-traditional living situation, and I hesitated talking about getting the van until we drove it off the lot because I was afraid of being judged. 

When we sold our motorhome in 2018, we had already planned on living in a van when we’re off the boat. So, yes, this was all in the original plan. And, the van makes us even more excited for our future sailing plans!

For us, we think it will be the best of both worlds – sailing and van dwelling.

We have a lot of outdoor goals that we want to achieve, and a van makes all of them much more realistic. We don’t have to wait until we’re finished boating to do those things, and who knows if and when we’ll ever be finished sailing. Now, we can do both of the things we love!


Is it realistic to live in a van?

What kind of van did you get?

We’ve been looking at vans for quite some time, and decided to get a Winnebago Revel. This is a four-wheel drive van that also has:

  • Solar panels on the roof
  • A small rooftop AC
  • A very small bathroom (you shower over the toilet)
  • A bed that can be easily brought up and down, which gives lots of space for the dogs
  • A kitchen (again, very small, haha) with a stove, fridge, and sink

It sleeps the two of us and our two dogs just fine. Honestly, we were a little surprised with the space (the layout is PERFECT!), and we have really loved being in it this summer.

No, we did not pay full price or anywhere near it. We’re master negotiators when it comes to vans and RVs, haha. We got the van at a little over 30% off MSRP, which is a normal percentage when it comes to new vans.

Sadly, I do know of many people who paid full price for this same van! In fact, I know of people who have bought this same van used for a higher price than what we bought it for new. We got such a good deal on it that we are still scratching our heads on why and how it happened.

Related: Living In A Boat Or RV? What Is Better?


Do you actually like van dwelling? Is it realistic to live in a van?


We are willingly living the Sprinter van life, haha!

Our van is 19 feet long, which surprisingly isn’t much longer than your average vehicle at around 15-18 feet (yes, we measured other vehicles because our family became curious as a joke).

Many people even make jokes about living in a home with wheels, like it’s something you shouldn’t aspire to.

“Living in a van down by the river” – I have heard that so many times now, haha.

But, it’s my life, and I really, really love it!

Here are some of the things that I love about van dwelling:

  • I love the freedom. Whether you’re living in a van, an overland vehicle, a big motorhome, or anything else, living in a vehicle gives you a lot of freedom. You can choose where you want to live, and you can mix it up and change it all the time. You can also decide how long you will stay somewhere and travel however you want. Perhaps the city is for you? Or, maybe you just want to hike all the time! Whatever you decide, it’s about living your life the way you want.
  • I love having all of my stuff with me. I really enjoy traveling in a van because I can travel to tons of amazing places and bring everything I have with me. While that may sound like I’m a hoarder and may have suitcase packing problems – it’s really just that I like to be able to bring my husband, dogs, my work, my clothes, food, outdoor gear, and so on with me. Van dwelling just makes sense for me because I can easily bring everything wherever I go. And, it’s more than just going on a vacation, which is nice too, but I love being able to bring my entire home with me. This way, I’m not forgetting anything, and because my home is always with me, I still get to live comfortably.
  • I can spend more time outside. I’m much more active than when I lived in a “normal” house, and I believe that’s because living in a vehicle takes me to all of these amazing places that I am just dying to explore. We love being able to do things outdoors, and we usually pick places that make that even easier. So, we like to park next to hiking trails, bike trails, rock climbing routes, and more. This is great because we can usually just walk or ride our bikes to wherever we want to go, which allows us to spend a ton of time enjoying the beautiful outdoors.
  • I can easily travel with my dogs. A major reason for why we chose to live in a van was because we, of course, had to bring our dogs with us. They are a part of our family. By traveling via van, our dogs can go everywhere with us. While it would be possible to travel full-time with them and not live in a van, I think it just makes it easier on everyone to have a place to call home. 


What do you not like about van dwelling?

Living in a van isn’t perfect. If it was, then everyone would do it!

  1. We can only carry so much water (21 gallons). So, long showers aren’t really possible.
  2. We have a very small fridge. In a van, you can’t have a residential fridge.
  3. We don’t have a washer/dryer. Since we’re really active outdoors when we’re in our van, that means we have lots of dirty clothes!

Those things aren’t really negatives, though, as there are ways around all of them. You simply fill up water more often, go to the grocery store more, and have to visit a laundromat.



How’s van life compared to the big RV you used to have?

Before we started boating, we lived in an RV for several years. Our previous RV was a Tiffin Allegro Bus, which is a big diesel pusher. It had heated floors, a fireplace, a residential fridge, a bathroom bigger than the one in the house we used to own, 4 TVs, and more.

When you think RV, you probably don’t think of the one we used to have (although, it’s actually quite common in real life!).

Our van is much, much smaller. For example, our WHOLE fridge is smaller than the freezer in the RV we owned.

But, the van is great because we are able to get in to some amazing places due to its smaller size and it being 4-wheel drive.

One of my favorite things about living in a smaller vehicle is that we can pull the van in to places that most vehicles can’t get to, and then comfortably sleep and eat there!


Why not just keep your last RV?

Right before we bought the boat, we sold the RV. Some of you are probably wondering why we didn’t just keep the last RV we had, especially if we knew that we were planning on living in a vehicle when we weren’t on the boat.

We didn’t want both a big boat and a big RV – we didn’t want all of the maintenance that goes along with a big RV, we didn’t want a big RV just to be sitting there for months without being used, and the cost difference is fairly large. We also sold our last RV for nearly what we bought it for, so it made sense to get something that better fit our new situation.

We also wanted to be able to pull up to all the amazing trails that we are used to exploring, and since we are only doing it for a few months each year, we don’t need anything massive. The boat is still our “main” home, so living in a van is simply something we do during the boating off season.


Biggest pros/cons of camper van life compared to boat life?

I know that everyone wants me to tell them which one is better, but they are so very different that it would be impossible to answer it that way.

Both van dwelling and boat life are both great. They are both very similar, but also drastically different with certain things.

The biggest pro to van dwelling/RVing is that it is a much easier way of living and traveling than being on a boat. The degree of ease/difficulty isn’t even comparable between the two.

RVing/van life is also great because you can drive straight to the best hikes, bikes, climbs, and sleep right there. While it’s possible on a boat, it’s not nearly as easy to access all of the wonderful land adventures that the world has to offer.

Boat life is great, though, because you’re on the water, it’s more eco-friendly since you can make your own water, tend to have more solar, can use the wind, and sailing is a ton of fun. Boats can also bring you to amazing islands and allow you to access more water-based activities. Sailing is very rewarding because it pushes you to learn really fun and new skills.

I think we will always do both for as long as we can as they allow us to do different things.


How long will you stay in the van for?

We will be back on our boat in just a few weeks. We will be heading to the Annapolis Boat Show in October and then going to the boat right after that.


What will you do with your van when you’re on the boat?

Our plan for now is to store our van when we’re not using it. So, in about a month, we will be tucking her in until we want to use her again.

Here’s an option if you have an RV that you’re not using full-time – How To Make Extra Money By Renting Out Your RV.


Do you shower in your van? Where do you shower when you live in a van?

Yes, we shower. We have a shower in our van dwelling. I use soap, shampoo, and everything else. I shower pretty much the same way I would at home.

See, our water tank only holds 21 gallons, and since we do a lot of off grid camping, I have to take a lot of short showers.

We even get hot water because we have a water heater. Now, it’s not always the most relaxing shower, but I am still able to shower.


Do you shower everyday?


Yep, I’m super gross.

I shower pretty much after each outdoor activity I do. But, if it’s an uneventful day and there’s not much water, I’m probably not showering.

And, when I do shower in the van, I have become the master of the one gallon of water shower.

I do brush my teeth like normal, wash my face everyday, and so on. That hasn’t changed at all.


What do you do when you have to use the bathroom?

We use it.

Haha! For real, we have a toilet in our van, so we use the bathroom, just like if we were in a “real” home.

It’s only different in that you have to dump it.

This is often one of the first questions people have about van life 101.


How/what do you eat?

We make food in our kitchen. We have a very small table, fridge, stove, and a slow cooker. We are able to cook just as if we were at home.

Yes, our kitchen is tinier, but it works well for us.

We try to keep our meals to something more simple, as cleaning a lot of dishes just means that we’ll quickly go through our water tank. We also only have one stove burner, so we try to only use the stove top or the Instant Pot.


How much does living in a van cost?

As I answered in How Much Does It Cost To RV?, RVing can be extremely cheap or it can be very expensive. It’s the same for van dwelling.

We paid for our van in cash, so we don’t plan on having many other costs that go along with it, except fuel and insurance (we did go ahead and prepay for a year of insurance). Of course, we’ll still be paying for food, cell phones, and other normal expenses.

One of the big reasons for why we chose the van is because it is small and can get almost anywhere. That also means that we can park for free in more places, such as family and friend’s driveways, boondock wherever, and more.

You can read more about this here – How To Camp For Free, Even In Beautiful and Desirable Places.


Is living in a van safe?

Yes, I believe that living in a van dwelling is safe. We’ve never really felt unsafe while traveling in our van.

We hardly ever park in cities and are almost always either in the backcountry or in someone’s driveway (it’s our favorite way to visit family and friends!).


Is van dwelling illegal?

Van dwelling is legal.

You just need to make sure you park in places where it is allowed.

Can you live in a van with a family?

I recommend reading this van life guide to living in a van with kids – How This Couple Does Van Life with A Baby (and a dog!).

Also, this one – Becoming an RV Family – How We Travel Full-Time With 4 Kids and 2 Dogs.


Can you live in a van with a dog?

Yes, you can live in a van with a dog.

We live in our van with two dogs.


How do you do laundry in a van?

Interestingly, this is one of the top questions I get about living in a camper. I could probably write an entire van life guide just about laundry because of how interested people are in how we wash our clothes.

Yes, we do laundry!

We either use a campground laundromat or find a public one.

It usually takes us less than an hour to do our laundry and less than $10. We do our laundry around once per week.


How do your dogs do in the van?

We chose the Winnebago Revel because we thought it would be perfect for our dogs, and it is!

Our bed retracts up, so it is completely out of the way when we’re not sleeping in it. We use the area below the bed as a sleeping space for our bigger dog. Our smaller dog has his own area as well.

They also get to go on lots of hikes and walks and explore lots of amazing places.

The van easily stays climate controlled, so that is great for our dogs. We have an AC for when it’s really hot, and we also have a great van fan (if you don’t have an RV, then you probably don’t know what this is, but it’s simply a really, really good fan). We try to follow good weather as much as we can, so that the temperature is nice for our dogs.

Related: 12 Things You Need To Know About Traveling With A Dog


Do you hate each other yet after living in such a small space?

One of the most common things about full-time van dwelling that we hear from others in relationships is that they think they couldn’t do it because they might end up hating their spouse.

We live in less than 100 square feet, and we’re still doing great!

We are just fine with the small space and it’s never really gotten to us. Sure, there are times when it rains all day and you can’t go outside, but there are always other things to do, such as read, work on the business, and just relax.


What do you do for a living, so that you can travel full-time?

This isn’t a common camper van life question that I receive from readers as you all know what I do! However, I hear this all the time when I’m on the road or when I bump into someone in person.

This is a question that is always funny to answer, because many don’t think you can make money while traveling. However, you can!

I make my living entirely online through my blogging business. Here are helpful articles to read:


How do you receive mail in a van?

We belong to a mail forwarding company called St. Brendan’s Isle. All of our mail gets sent there, and then they forward our mail to wherever we are.

For example, the other day I knew I would be at my sister’s, so I had all of my mail shipped to her house. St. Brendan’s Isle puts it all in one tidy package and ships it to where I’m staying.

This is one of the top things that stops people from traveling full-time, and I just find it funny. It’s so easy to get your mail so please don’t let this stop you!


Where do you like to sleep in the van?

I’ll be honest and say that we are not usually huge fans of RV parks. There are some nice ones out there, but we don’t like to be packed in the middle of a bunch of RVs, which is how most RV parks are.

If we do stay at an RV park, we like to make sure that we have a view, where at least one side of our vehicle backs up to something awesome, such as the ocean, desert, mountain, etc.

This is why we prefer campgrounds at state parks, national parks, and so on, because you get a much better view and a little more space.

For the most part, though, we are camping for free in the backcountry. This is our favorite way to sleep while living in a van full-time as you can get a ton of space all to yourself, you can see the beautiful night sky without any light pollution, and it’s great for exploring.

You can read more about this here – How To Camp For Free, Even In Beautiful and Desirable Places.


Can you just park anywhere you want?

Hardly a week goes by without someone saying that we should visit them and that we can park in their driveway, some random lot next to their house, inside their garage, and so on and so on.

I always laugh – you can’t really just park anywhere in your RV or van. RV and camper van life isn’t that easy!

There may be rules and laws against RV parking in some cities on public streets, there may not be enough space, the space might not be level, there can be low hanging trees, or there may be a 9 foot bridge to drive under.

There are plenty of places to stay, though, so for the most part you won’t have a problem. We have stayed in people’s driveways (Google Satellite and Street View are your friend in these cases), free public land, RV parks, state parks, national parks, and everything in between.

However, we always make sure to research where we are going so that there are no difficulties.


Why would you want to explore the U.S.?

This is my least favorite question and it honestly makes me want to scream.


The U.S. is full of awesome landscapes and there are so many beautiful and fun things to see here. Just take a look at some of my Instagram photos for proof.


What do you do for health insurance?

Learning about health insurance options is part of van life 101 – and unfortunately, there are no realistic options. I didn’t want to pay the penalty for not having health insurance, and I also didn’t want to go uninsured.

For full-time travelers, it is difficult to find health insurance companies that will cover you.

Some health insurance companies won’t cover you once you travel out of your state. If they do offer out-of-state coverage, they usually require that you at least live full time in your home state. While we do have a home state and address, it isn’t technically where we live full time. So, it was important to find a health insurance provider that wouldn’t possibly void a medical expense if they found out that we were trying to get around this loophole.

Plus, the only policy that we qualified for (in our state) had an astonishingly high deductible of $39,000 for out-of-state medical expenses. And, as full-time travelers, we are excluded from the majority of policies anyways due to the loophole described above, so that just didn’t work for us.

Paying a high monthly health insurance premium that comes with a $39,000 annual deductible, and the fact that many of our claims would probably be voided, made this decision a no-brainer.

So, in January of 2016, we started a membership with Liberty HealthShare. For the both of us, we pay just $249 each month.

With this monthly fee, 100% of our eligible medical bills – up to $1,000,000 per incident – are covered after the $1,000 per couple annual unshared amount (think of this as your annual deductible).

Now, belonging to a health sharing ministry is not perfect. Liberty HealthShare is not traditional health insurance, which means:

  • They are under no requirement to cover your medical expenses.
  • You cannot deduct Liberty’s monthly costs from your business taxes.
  • You cannot contribute to a Health Savings Account.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions are not covered until years later.

Health care sharing ministries all have some sort of ethical rules that you must abide by, such as no smoking, no drinking, and so on. If you incur a medical expense due to something that is against their policies, there is a chance that they will not cover it.

You can read more about Liberty HealthShare at We No Longer Have Traditional Health Insurance – Liberty HealthShare Review.

Related: Do you need travel medical insurance if you travel long-term?


The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions

How do you get internet while traveling full-time?

I hear this question all the time, and it’s one of the top things that stops people from traveling more.

And, I completely understand the hesitation!

When we first thought about traveling full-time, I had no idea what would happen to my business. I didn’t know how I would connect to the internet, if it would be super expensive, or anything else. I didn’t even really know if it was possible.

I still remember telling Wes (my husband) that I would not be able to travel full-time unless we had internet.

But, now I know it’s actually not too bad. There is usually some form of internet, and I almost always use my own source. It’s not terribly expensive either. Yes, sometimes there is absolutely no internet. However, I usually try to prepare for that by working ahead as much as I can.

We currently have AT&T for our phones and internet. We used to have both Verizon and AT&T (many full-time travelers have multiple sources because you travel to different areas), but we switched to just AT&T and have been happy with it.

Even with that being said, sometimes our internet connection is not that great. Working ahead as much as possible alleviates any work stress that would come from having a lack of internet or a bad connection.

I did just get a WeBoost and put it on the van so that I can improve my signal and work in more places. Since Sprinter van life means we are off the grid a little more often, this is a must for us so that I can still work! 

So far, it has been amazing, and I have been able to have internet almost everywhere that we’ve been due to the WeBoost. About half of the places that we have stayed so far in the van have had no internet, and the WeBoost has boosted our signal to a point that I can actually work! I don’t know how I’ve gone the previous four years of full-time travel without it!

Surprisingly, I’ve found that our internet connection is better in the Bahamas than anything we ever had in the U.S. while traveling full-time. We used a new company called MyIslandWifi. It is truly unlimited internet for just $75 a month (and there’s no contract!). I can make phone calls, text, and hop online whenever I want, and it’s always a fast speed. For people in normal homes, this may seem expensive, but keep in mind that when traveling full-time you don’t have access to the kind of affordable (and FAST) wifi that is usually found in a home.

When we start traveling further outside of the U.S. and Bahamas, I know that finding internet will become more difficult. I’ll update you as I go!

If you’re wanting to know more about the various options (and there are a lot of options!), I highly recommend RV Mobile Internet.

Everyone’s situation is a little different and different options exist due to that.

What other questions do you have for me about van dwelling? Are you interested in living in a van?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Rebecca

    Have you looked into Google Fi? They’ve recently begun offering an unlimited data option – well, unlimited like all the other providers, they start throttling back after 22GB in a month, but only to 3G, so still not too bad. I believe it’s $70 a month for the first line and $45 for each additional line. Works pretty much worldwide.

    1. Yes, I’ve looked into Google FI. We plan on getting it in a few months. It’s not the best option if you’re in the US or the Bahamas traveling full-time, so we plan on waiting until we leave on the boat again.

  2. Great article. Tiny House hunters is my current obsession but I’m not sure I’d be able to go this tiny myself. Thanks for addressing the safety issue, that was one of my main questions. Would love to see some interior shots of the van to see how they create a living space.

  3. This about sums up how I feel about boat and van life, however, I am a little jealous of your amazing Winnebago Revel! What a cool van 🙂 Hope to run into your someday on the water or in the mountains. I think there’s nothing better than having access to wild places both on water and on land 🙂

    1. We really, really love our van! It’s been so great this summer.

  4. Marina

    I love this post. What a great way to travel across America; you’re always discovering some place new. Your Instagram shows that there’s so much to see in the US. Re itinerary: how are you researching the places you visit (guidebooks, specific websites?)? And are you following a set itinerary, or planning as you go?

    1. I don’t know how I forgot to answer this one! I’ll go more in-depth in the future but here’s how we usually decide:

      1) Usually, we go to an area that has a lot of outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, etc. Then, once we get there, we’ll find other things to do.

      2) We’re not the planning type. We usually decide what we’re going to do and where we are going to go once we wake up. Ours plans change all the time.

      3) We definitely have guidebooks. We have guidebooks for lots of 4×4 roads (we’ve had the same books from when we were Jeeping). There’s usually a lot of good hikes, bikes, and history off 4×3 roads. We also have guide books for longer trails like the Colorado Trail, as well as for the 14ers.

      1. Marina

        I love that every day shows you something different. Enjoy, and thank you for the inspiration!

      2. Kati MacPherson

        So inspiring!!! I can’t wait to share my daughters and my adventure with everyone. I have been looking for a fresh start for my girls and me. And now, I believe we have found it, thanks to you.
        Thank you for sharing your inspiring story and success. I can’t wait to take your blogging course. And as soon as I get it set up and started, I’m going to make sure sending you our link first.

  5. Yannick Thomas

    Excellent article (and excellent blog in general ! You just pushed me to create mine, currently in making) I know (I think) the van’s life is not for me but the boat’s life, between 3 or 6 months, seems to fit me.

    1. Awesome! Have you sailed before?

  6. This is all so interesting to me! I don’t know that I could live on the go 100% of the time, and with 3 kids (youngest is 10) I just don’t see our family going for it. However, it is our plan to eventually travel all summer long, and I love the smaller, more compact option of the van vs a huge RV. We love camping, and would love to do much more, which a van or smaller camper would allow.

    I gotta say, health insurance is one thing I had never considered as an issue for full-time travelers. Interesting to know that there are some options, at least.

    Thanks for sharing so much good info with us, and happy sailing!

  7. Patricia

    Not real familiar with small RV’ing, so I hope this question isn’t too stupid. Is the Winnebago Revel in the same family as Class B RVs?

    1. Yes, vans are considered to be Class Bs. They can range pretty widely in size, though. Our van was on the smaller end.