Vanlife in the USA

I have been reading about the possibilities of living in a van (customized to be a small RV) for several months. I am getting more interested in this idea. The cost of living in the USA is so high, especially if you want to travel – which I do.

The combination of where I want to travel (National Parks, National Forest and nature largely) and the cost effectiveness for van living works out very well. You can often park for free in US National Forest and BLM land. Also the cost of campgrounds is much less than any form of lodges, motels or hotels; so even in the instances you pay for lodging the costs are greatly reduced.

Another option for free parking are many Wal-Marts across the country actually don’t mind RVs and vans parking overnight. Many other businesses are hostile to just using their parking lot overnight when it isn’t being used. I must say this is something that greatly increases my opinion of Wal-Mart. I am not a huge fan in general but this is a very real positive action they are taking. It definitely encourages me to shop there.

Stealth parking on city streets or parking lots is another option with van living. Often cities seek to stop such living which is why the stealth part is important. Some cities and residents are more apposed to the practice than others. Obviously if there are negative externalities from you parking your van for a long time that will encourage people to seek to stop that. But if you don’t make anyone’s life worse there is much less likely to be an issue.

Even if you don’t it can make residents, police or security guards nervous (which I understand is possible in some instances) and that is something that again makes it more likely you will be bothered and maybe not allowed to park. I am still in the early phase of learning about all this but it does seem a tactic of driving to a sleeping spot at night and leaving early in the morning is a good idea. And moving around so you don’t park in the same spot (that people will notice anyway) for long periods of time.

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One of the words I learned recently is boondocking, which is free camping and at least when I have read about it means also off the grid (no electrical connections, water…) for your RV (or a van that is able to plug in to services). I knew that this was somewhat available on USA Federal Government lands (BLM and forests) but I think it is much more available than I thought (I am still learning so…).


There are quite a few great resources I have been reading in the last few weeks (and a few a bit longer than that) including many You Tube channels and videos. Here are some of my favorites:

The cost of getting on the road is not as cheap as I would like. The custom made vans are very expensive new and not that cheap old ($15,000 and up – sure maybe sometimes cheaper but mostly they are more expensive). Getting a cargo van and customizing it yourself is not that cheap either and is very time consuming. But for someone that isn’t scared to do the work this is likely a good option.

It is possible to rent the vans (or trailers) but it is expensive. Still I think I will try this at least for a couple weeks to see how I like it before making the plunge. Or I might do something like just try driving with my car and a small tent and seeing if it seems with a van it would be nice.

I will likely be posting more on this topic as I do more reading.

Related: Camper Van Travelphotos from my National Park travelHousing Savings by Living as a NomadMagical Day at Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park

One thought on “Vanlife in the USA

  1. Pingback: Wiring a Thermometer to Your Van to Turn on AC as Needed as You Sleep » Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog

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