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Van Dwellers: The Modern Day Nomads

The concept of living in a van has existed as long as vans themselves. You could even argue the lifestyle precedes the automotive industry altogether, if you include the early pioneers who traveled and lived out of covered wagons.

The lifestyles were relatively similar, but you’d have to admit that modern day van-living has become much more comfortable thanks to rubber tires, shock absorbers, and simple comforts like fully functional heat and A/C.

Who could forget Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live as “Matt Foley,” a depressing motivational speaker who was always quick to remind others that he was “living in a van down by the river!” Needless to say, this type of off-the-grid living has often been seen as a sign of poverty – a life left for the broke, beaten, and even the shady characters of the world.

But like so many things, that’s changing in a big way. In a world where miniature houses are the new height of trendy living, and even fishing for food out of the dumpster is considered elegant in some circles, living in vans is the latest craze among millennials.

Photo: Unsplash.

Modern Day Nomads

A key difference with this contemporary wave of nomads is how the choice is not guided by poverty, and poverty is not a necessity of the lifestyle. With the ubiquity of the internet, it’s easier than ever to telecommute and work from home, even if that “home” is two tons of steel rolling down the open road. Even eschewing full-time employment altogether in favor of temporary freelance gigs is easier than ever thanks to an unending list of online job boards now at your disposal.

And perhaps taking a cue from the miniature housing craze, organization and efficient use of space are keys for many of today’s vandwellers. Many of these rolling residences are fully wired with roof-mounted solar panels and running water. A folding bed is pretty much a necessity, and of course, as much storage as possible.

Even though these ramblin’ men and women are packing light, you might be surprised with how quickly “just the necessities” can start to eat up available space. Storage is relegated to any and all nooks and crannies the van has to offer. But it’s not just about functionality, fashion plays a crucial role as well. Just look at Reddit user MrMish’s drivable domicile. Starting with a standard Dodge Sprinter, MrMish turned this utility van into a cozy castle, fully stocked with a stove-top, running water, and three sleepable bunks.

Photo: Unsplash.

Freedom & Adventure

With all these limitations, some may ask what the point is of van dwelling. If you give up so much, what do you gain? The freedom to see the country. Wake up in the cool Rocky Mountains, go to bed by a warm California beach, and end the week in foggy San Francisco.

For some people, that’s worth the loss of a permanent mailbox. Just look at the tales from imgur user RedCanyon who chronicled his five month trip across the country (and outside of it) in a souped up Ford Transit Connect.

While this drastic change of lifestyle certainly won’t be for everyone, most of the van dwellers of today tell a similar story. They were burnt out on the daily grind, stuck in a rut, and just like the train-hopping vagabonds of yesteryear or the prairie-crossing waggoneers, these folks are sure to find an adventure somewhere.

Jake McKenzie is a copywriter and content manager with and resides in Chicago, Illinois. Jake is passionate about film, comedy, and of course, the automotive industry.

Cover Photo: Unsplash.

  1. Great article! As a postscript: our site is a destination for digital nomads + van-dwellers to find travel information + inspiration, as well as new work-to-travel jobs + creative opportunities.

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