Is Van Life Sustainable? - Impakter (2024)

The answer is complicated, but it seems the environmental impact of van life – living in a van as opposed to a traditional house or apartment – depends on a variety of other lifestyle choices.

Van life has gained popularity in recent years and is not without its critics as well. Many longstanding van lifers say that the lifestyle has been glorified over the years. Especially on Instagram, where #Vanlife currently has nearly 12 million posts. These posts largely include the positive side of van life and many are from influencers or micro-influencers who document their lifestyle. Van life is also deceptively expensive, although it may seem like all one has to do is pay for gas. Insurance, food, camping permits, and more add up quickly.

“Van life” used to be largely unknown to mainstream media, but with the rise of social media, and social media influencers it has become more and more mainstream over the past ten years. What is van life, exactly? Well, there is no single definition of van life as each person or family has their own unique lifestyle. Essentially van life involves living a minimalist lifestyle on the road, traveling from place to place, where home base is the car. Some people travel full-time and others dedicate a portion to their year to van life.

Van lifers have various setups with different setups. Some vehicles include amenities like showers, toilets, and a working stove or sink. Others include the bare necessities, like a bed and a water tank. The size of the vehicle and the time and money the owner is able to spend on making it habitable impacts both the amenities and the carbon footprint.

Each van has its own amenities and carbon footprint. For example, a 2018 Sprinter van gets about 14.4 mpg, whereas a commuter vehicle like a 2019 Honda Civic gets closer to 34 mpg. If you trade in a commuter lifestyle for van life, you may end up driving more than the average commuter, and your choice of vehicle and driving habits will increase or decrease your gas consumption.

Van life can push individuals to consume less water, fewer material goods, and less electricity and fuel.

Van lifers tend to go where the climate is less harsh. This means less money is spent on heating and cooling than in an average household. Additionally, many vans are insulated for colder temperatures and can be ventilated in warmer ones. Since vans are smaller than homes, heating and cooling them with the car’s heating systems, requires less than heating or cooling an entire house.

Is Van Life Sustainable? - Impakter (1)

Less space also amounts to less waste. It is harder to accumulate things when you have nowhere to put them. This spatial scarcity makes van lifers more conscious of their consumer choices. Similarly, water becomes more scarce when the space to store it is limited, so van lifers use less water each day than the average person in the UK (142 Liters).

Constantly moving from place to place also gives van lifers the opportunity to buy locally, going to farmers’ markets in whichever town or city they land in means they don’t have to buy from chain supermarkets if they don’t want to. However, this also is more financially burdensome, as produce from farmers’ markets tends to be more expensive than from grocery stores.

Social media has made it easy to idealize van life as an easy and problem-free lifestyle when the reality is there are constant issues that don’t make it onto social media.

For example, car repairs, plumbing issues, if the van has a toilet that can lead to its own Pandora’s box of potential problems and if it doesn’t – well, other types of problems will arise. It can be hard to find parking and places to shower. For van life to be sustainable, one must give up current habits, like your daily shower, and adopt others, like using a wet rag to wipe off every so often. Not everyone’s favorite choice of lifestyle.

It seems that overall living in a van may be cheaper and more eco-friendly than living in a house or an apartment. However, there are factors that make it more or less sustainable, dietary choices, consumption choices, and the fuel efficiency of the vehicle as well as miles driven and driving habits, are the main factors that determine the environmental impact of van life. There are helpful lists of tips for aspiring van lifers that will help them have a more sustainable lifestyle and be more conscious while on the road. Buying solar panels, eating a plant-based diet, and avoiding single-use plastics, will help decrease the environmental impact of life on the road.

Ultimately, van life is often more sustainable than traditional living in developed countries. However, van life still has a great impact on the environment depending on lifestyle choices. Some van lifers write that if everyone lived their lifestyle, we would need one and a half to more than two earths to sustain it.

The sustainability of van life really depends on the financial ability of the van lifers. Something that is quite often overlooked is this: Until recently, “van life” used to be called “living out of your car” and was not seen as the ultimate lifestyle for a free spirit. “Living in your car” was, and is often the last resort for many unhoused individuals seeking shelter and is not a glamorous lifestyle.

What separates these two lifestyles is socio-economic status and privilege. Being able to afford to live in a van long-term, while it may be cheaper, is still a privilege. One must either have savings or a job that they can do from the road and in this day and age, both of those are hard to come by.

Van life is seen as a free-spirited and alternative lifestyle that goes hand in hand with sustainability. A few years ago, one of the Impakter contributors was a van lifer from Australia, who had chosen to live in Indonesia out of his (very bohemian-style) van. He documented his minimalist lifestyle and philosophy for Impakter readers and called a big bus named Rosie his home.

He published two books about his experience: The Anatomy of Escape and The Consumption Cleanse: Giving up 13 consumption habits in 13 weeks for a better lifestyle and a healthier planet. His name is Michael Blue but here at Impakter we all called him Mike. He later took off to Latin America on a motorbike and we haven’t heard from him since.

To sum up. It is important to really consider the difficulties that come with this way of life before buying a van and some solar panels and the choices that can make this lifestyle more or less eco-friendly. Exploring the countryside may be nice, but peeing in a bottle? Less so. While van life is cool and trendy now, it is important to remember how society has treated “van lifers” in the past, as social outcasts whose lives were falling apart. Not everyone can be Mike Blue.

Editor’s Note:The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of the Featured Photo: Van Parked in Desert. Featured Photo Credit: Deemoun via Pixabay.

Tags: Carssustainable livingvan life

Is Van Life Sustainable? - Impakter (2024)


Is Van Life Sustainable? - Impakter? ›

Ultimately, van life is often more sustainable than traditional living in developed countries. However, van life still has a great impact on the environment depending on lifestyle choices. Some van lifers write that if everyone lived their lifestyle, we would need one and a half to more than two earths to sustain it.

How sustainable is living in a van? ›

Newer van models are often designed with the environment in mind. Thanks to stricter environmental regulations, they tend to have a reduced carbon footprint compared to older models. By opting for a newer model, you're taking a step towards a more sustainable van life.

Is van life really worth it? ›

Living in a van is cheaper than living in a house or apartment. However, it's not as cheap as most people think. You need to pay for gas, insurance, parking fees in a campground, and most importantly, repairs. Something always breaks in a van, so most of your money will go towards repairs.

Is van life considered homeless? ›

United States. In the US, individuals who lack a permanent address and stable living situation, including vandwellers, are technically considered "homeless". Of the 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles, approximately 25% were living in a vehicle.

Are vans made sustainably? ›

Despite having an excellent Environmental Report and an Animal Welfare Policy, VANS has a long way to go before reaching its full potential ethically. In particular, it needs to address human rights violations and labour abuses in its supplier chain.

What are the statistics of Vanlife? › reports in their General Vanlife Stats and Facts for 2023 that 51% of van-lifers reside in their vans full time. Only 36% of van-lifers live alone and 44% live with another person. Forty-three percent of van-lifers live in converted cargo vans, and 18% in passenger vans.

Why are people quitting Vanlife? ›

Decision Fatigue Takes Its Toll:

Living on the road requires constant decision-making – where to park for the night, when to move on, and how to manage limited resources efficiently. The romanticized idea of spontaneous adventure can give way to the exhaustion of perpetual decision fatigue.

How do people afford to do van life? ›

Selling anything that we don't need long term or just not buying stuff that serves no purpose has been an ideal way of us being able to afford van life. Since living on the road we've sold leisure batteries, we've sold old cameras, we've sold tools etc anything we need to change or replace we never just throw away.

How much does a van life cost per month? ›

Current van lifers tend to spend anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 on their monthly expenses, including insurance, camping and recreational fees and miscellaneous expenses, according to RV Blogger.

Is van life bad for the environment? ›

As a van dweller, you likely produce more trash than the average home owner due to limited space for recycling and composting bins. Make sure to be mindful of your waste output and find ways to reduce it as much as possible.

What are the pros and cons of living in a van? ›

The pros and cons of van life and other unconventional housing
  • Pro: save money and work less.
  • Con: hygiene issues.
  • Pro: freedom to roam.
  • Con: lack of space for manoeuvring.
  • Pro: closer to nature.
  • Con: maintenance.
Feb 23, 2023

Does living in a van really save money? ›

Van living isn't for everyone, but for the brave few, it can cut out many major expenses. Instead of paying rent or a mortgage, buying a used (or even a new) van, working from the road, and learning where and how to eat, can be a rewarding experience for you and your wallet.

Where do van lifers get money? ›

Look for remote jobs.

You'll need a stable internet connection during working hours, but a remote job is a great way to earn money on the road. There are special job boards for remote work, like Working Nomads, Weworkremotely, or Flexjobs, but you can also find remote jobs on Indeed or Linkedin.

What do you call someone who lives in a van? ›

Vansters/Vanlifers: People who live van life. Vamping: Van Camping. Boondocking/Dry Camping: Camping in which your rv/van is not connected to electric, water, or sewer hookups. Boondocking is usually done in the boonies or middle of nowhere.

Is van Life still popular? ›

Van-dwellers in the U.S. nearly doubled since 2020, from 1.9 million at the start of the pandemic to 3.1 million in 2022. For context, that's more Americans living in their cars than the populations of Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska and North Dakota combined. The nomads aren't going anywhere.

Is it cheaper to live out of a van? ›

Of course, there are other van life costs to consider – insurance, breakdown cover and fuel will be some of your major expenses. However, when you compare these costs to the price of renting an apartment, you will probably still be making a huge saving by living full time in a van.

Does it cost less to live in a van? ›

Gnomad Home estimates the cost of living in a van falls between $1,000 to $2,000 per month for single travelers, and more for couples.

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