"Normal" Life -> Vanlife: How to Transition (10 steps)
Contrary to popular opinion, we haven't always lived in a van. In fact, it's a rather new element of our life. What did we do before and how'd we get here? We'll tell you!
Our "Normal" Lives
We both have degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. Jared graduated in 2012 with a degree in Finance, and Anissa graduated with a Mathematics degree this May (but not really because El Paso Community College had to make everything difficult and still hasn't sent her transcript or maybe she's been lying to Jared this whole time about her accomplishments and she'll never graduate).
Upon graduating, Jared traveled a bit and did some cool stuffs we'll tell you about another time but ultimately ended up back in Austin in early 2015. Once in Austin he drove an electric cab for Electric Cab of Austin. It was a dope gig.
Anissa was steady flipping them bottles and stacking paper bartending at Pluckers Wing Bar by UT's campus. That's actually the location where these two love birds (currently writing this in a very weird tense because we keep switching from 'we' to naming ourselves individually) met.
Okay fast forward. We decided on Vanlife and traveling the country once Anissa graduated. We bought our 1991 Volkswagen Vanagon in May. Then came the tricky part.
If you plan on working constantly throughout your vanlife experience your process might look a bit different. We plan to work sporadically throughout but not consistently so here's what we did.
If you don't plan on working much, you'll need to get rid of as many monthly bills as possible: get leases sublet (or wait them out), get rid of car payments, etc. We kept our phone services and pay auto insurance semi-annually for Vannah, but that's pretty much it.
Get on Craigslist and start van shopping! There are a hundred routes you can go and everyone doing this has a different opinion. VW buses and Vanagons, Sprinter vans, Ford Transits, and old Ford/Chevy/GMC Econoline and Express vans are probably the most common vans we have seen doing this. Make it your own and pick what works for you! Availability and price will probably be the biggest factors for many. We will discuss our reasons for choosing a Vanagon in a future post.
Once you buy your van get it up to speed. Make sure it's road ready. Get the basic tools and replacement parts you'll need. Socket set, oil, coolant, etc. Basic roadside mechanic stuff.
Get AAA. Even if you think you have the most reliable van God or the Big Bang ever created, get AAA. We went with the 100 miles unlimited tows package (~$120/year) and got towed 40 miles from the middle of Wyoming to the nearest city in our first week. Let's put that in perspective: without AAA, Jared got towed 1.5 miles and it cost $125. It's a must.
Take a mini-trip to feel your van and the lifestyle out. Our first trip in Vannah was a learning experience. We got stranded in Wyoming, met a bunch of amazing people, never made it to the end destination, and came rushing back to Texas with our tail between our legs and a long list of improvements that needed to be made before vanlife seemed possible. We did a little over 3,000 miles on that trip. Do a meaningful amount because before you pack your whole life into a van, you want to have some idea about whether you even like life on the road and what sort of skeletons your van may have tried to hide.
Our breakdown in Wyoming & our AAA savior:
SAVE MONEY! This is probably obvious, but it's a must. Every time you're tempted to buy that concert ticket (or $10 craft beer) picture yourself doing something way cooler in the future, like putting gas in your van so you can drive down the coast or up a mountain. When you want to eat out, don't! Start eating in and every time you are tempted to eat out put however much you would have spent at a restaurant into savings. If Jared's financial practice taught him anything, it's that almost anyone can save $400 a month just by refraining from eating (and drinking) out.
Get rid of things! Start sorting through your possessions months in advance. You would be surprised at what you own people want to buy. That candleholder you got at the dollar store...someone will probably buy it. But you have to give yourself enough runway to maximize how much you can sell. It takes time. When selling our stuff, we had the best luck on Craigslist, OfferUp, and Facebook sell groups. Then donate everything you don't want and can't sell. We didn't get a storage room. Almost everything we own is with us in the van. Even if you plan on getting a storage unit, YOU STILL NEED TO GET RID OF MOST OF YOUR BELONGINGS. Storage isn't as cheap as you might think and, again, minimizing monthly bills is important.
Clothes. Downsizing your wardrobe deserves its own bullet. It will be hard but absolutely necessary. Some people change clothes. We change cities :) You won't need much. It will surprise you. Whenever you think you're down to the bare necessities...cut that in half. You'll thank us later. Or freeze because you actually needed that red faux velvet peacoat.
See how what you have left fits in the van. Make final cuts on what stays and goes.
Say your farewells and hit the road!
TLDR? More of a visual learner? Here are a couple videos :)
We ultimately decided to store our clothes differently than we described in this video, but it is an accurate representation of our breakdown in Wyoming, the blessing of having AAA, and some of the fun we managed to have.
Our lease ended before we were ready to depart so we bounced around between a couple friends' places (thank you so much!) and an Airbnb. Here's a time lapse of one of our three moves and proof that pruning your possessions is a process. We had already been downsizing for over a month. As you can see at the end of the video, we still had a lot left to do.