June 3, 2018 — A lot of Americans, including retired baby boomers, are thinking… small. As one example, our last visit to the barbershop was spent listening to the young guy in the next chair talk about the tiny home he is building. Everyone in the shop was fascinated with the unique touches and hi-tech stuff he was putting into it. In mid-May we reported on the boat that John is building for his retirement home, Next Chapter…Afloat. Yet another aspect of the think small movement, and the topic of this article, is the notion of discarding the notion of the RV, and replacing it with a customized luxury van – Vanlife, or Vanliving!
If the mobile lifestyle appeals to you, your thinking up to this point was probably limited to RVs (see our “Living the Mobile Lifestyle” series by Betty Fitterman). Now, enter the customized van, another option with many similarities and advantages shared by the tiny house movement.
Here are some of their advantages:
– Smaller initial costs. Even the most luxurious Mercedes-Benz Sprinter models are far less expensive than a giant RV, some of which are as large as an intercity bus and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the other end of the scale, you can buy a used van and self-customize on a very small budget.
– Lower operating expenses. Vans get pretty good fuel mileage, sometimes comparable to a big SUV. And they don’t need specialists to work on them like RVs do.
– More portable and easier to drive. Most RVs are well… big. Not everybody feels comfortable driving one. They get rocked by the wind and visibility can be tough. Worse, once you guide it into its spot for the night, you won’t want to take it out for a spin to the local restaurant or movie. You can avoid that hassle by towing along a car behind your rig, but that also adds to the degree of driving difficulty.
– Live without a permanent home and save big. For a retired person on a very limited budget, living in a van for part of the year, or even full-time, offers a way to enjoy a richer lifestyle. Snowbirds will find it cheaper than owning or renting a second home, more flexible, with the benefit of almost unlimited travel.
– If you are truly living in your van for extended periods of time, vans are small places. Although you can usually stand up in many models, many do not come with indoor plumbing. Except in the biggest models, you are not going to have much room to stretch out, and you won’t want to spend a lot of time inside it.
– This is not a viable lifestyle as you age. Life on the road can be challenging. And driving to place to place in a big vehicle is not for someone whose driving skills are not tippy-top.
A gearhead’s playground
If you read some of the articles online or watch Youtube videos you will quickly see that people who love gear and tech stuff will find heaven in a van (see Youtube video below). The equipment you can buy is just amazing – solar panels, storage batteries, magic fans, electrical equipment, A/C heating units, etc. All of this equipment is designed to give you the creature comforts to put your home on wheels, all the while completely disconnected to the grid.
What are the best vans for extended living?
There are several choices if you decide on a do-it-yourself conversion:
New vehicles like these start in the high $20’s (Van Promaster) and range to the low $40’s (Mercedes Sprinter) – before customization. Models are generally available with longer wheelbases, engine options (including diesel), extended roof heights, 4WD, and loads of other options. Fully loaded they can go over $100,000 – before you get it fitted out with the necessities of living. Generally the vehicle manufacturers do not sell camper versions, you go to the aftermarket for that. Of course there is an active used market and that is usually where the thrifty can find great bargains. See this Youtube vehicle to see how only a little money will buy you this dream – if you are handy and resourceful.:Tom retired to a converted F150 Ford van . You can outfit a van yourself for less than $10,000 if you are thrifty.
Think you’ll ready to become a Vanlifer?
– Research is fun. Once you start searching online for vanlife and vanliving you might get addicted to all the information available. Youtube has all kinds of videos, fan-sites have articles galore. You will learn a lot quickly, and it will be useful.
– Living on the road . Of course there are state and national parks where you can tie up your van and live the good life. RV parks are usually inexpensive and have many amenities. Walmart and some other big box stores welcome you overnight to their parking lots. But just parking your van along the road, at a rest stop, or in a friend’s neighborhood can be tricky. Fortunately there are plenty of resources to help you find out safe and inexpensive options. Search on “boondocking” in a van to find out more.
Comments? Have you thought about buying or customizing a van for your retirement? Did you consider an RV instead? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the Comments section below.