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Frequently Asked Van Life Questions Answered


Has the phenomenon of van life caught your attention? If so, you’re probably curious about what this nomadic lifestyle entails. Van travel provides the freedom and flexibility to go wherever the wind takes you. When you become a full-time van dweller, you eschew traditional ways of living and working in favor of a more minimalistic and balanced approach. With the help of your trusty traveling home, you’ll make memories to last a lifetime.

However, the transition to living in a van shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are many practical concerns and lifestyle factors to consider. Start your journey with eyes wide open with our van life FAQs. 

Practical Concerns

Q: Where do van lifers camp? 
A: There are a wide variety of places to spend the night in a camper van, ranging from free to more luxurious options. Where you choose to stay will largely depend on your lifestyle. If you are on a van vacation, why not splurge a bit and stay at RV resorts with tons of amenities like pools and rec rooms? There are also plenty of midrange campsites and RV parks across the country. RV parks always offer hookups for electricity, water, and sewage, while only some campgrounds do.

If you’re living full-time in a van, paying a camping fee every night may not be financially sustainable. Luckily, there are many places to camp for free. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is one of the best options for sustained free camping in nature. Van lifers have also been known to stay in the parking lots of big box stores like Walmart when in need of a quick overnight rest. For more tips, check out “Free Van Camping 101.”

Q: What are potable, black, and gray water tanks?
A: Camper vans with running water have three holding tanks: potable water, black water, and gray water. The potable water tank is where you’ll keep freshwater for drinking and daily household uses. The black water tank stores sewage and thus only applies to vans with toilets. The gray water tank captures all the other wastewater from sinks and showers. You will empty both the black and gray water tanks at designated dump sites. 

When choosing your rig, keep in mind that vans have different size holding tanks. If you plan on dry camping (camping without hookups) often and for longer periods, you’ll want sizable holding tanks. For more details, visit “Understanding Black and Gray Water in Your RV.”

Q: Where do RVers find water?
A: To keep your house on wheels running smoothly, you’ll need to get good at finding sources of water. A water hookup is included in the price of RV parks. Many campgrounds also offer potable water sources. Dump stations, gas stations, travel centers, truck stops, rest areas, visitor centers, state parks, and national parks are also good places to check for water. 

Make sure you know the difference between potable and non-potable water. Potable water is safe for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and bathing. This is what you should use to fill up your freshwater tank. Sometimes the water spigots at the places mentioned above are non-potable, meaning the water cannot be used for the above purposes. You can still use this water to give your van a nice wash. Want to become a pro at finding free water sources on the road? Read our guide.

Q: How do van dwellers get electricity?
A: There are three primary ways to get electricity in a van: hookups, solar power, and generators. Each of these sources is useful in its own way. Unless you plan on only staying at RV parks and campgrounds with electrical hookups, you’ll want redundancy here. 

Solar power is an eco-friendly and cost-saving source of renewable energy to power your devices. You can purchase a van with a solar power system or outfit a van with this setup after purchase. To delve deeper into this subject, check out “Solar Power for Your Camper Van–Is It Worth It?” and “Why we Love Vans With Solar Power Systems.” However, sometimes cloudy weather or shady campsites prevent charging up. Also, a solar panel may not generate enough electricity to power things like your AC. 

Generators are a reliable source of electricity when off-grid. They come in diesel and gas versions. If you purchase a camper van from Rec Van, your RV will come with a powerful and efficient generator already installed. Many of our vans also come with solar power systems.

Q: How do van lifers shower and go to the bathroom?
A: Again, if you select any model from Rec Van, you’ll have a bathroom on board. Options include compact wet bathrooms where the entire bathroom converts into a shower and dry bathrooms where the shower is separate from the toilet and sink. Some of our vans also provide the option of a refreshing outdoor shower. 

However, some van lifers make do without a shower or toilet. This requires planning around public restroom visits and staying at campgrounds and RV parks with bathroom facilities. You can also often shower at these locations for the included price or an extra fee. If you’re camping somewhere with privacy, you can use a portable outdoor shower setup. Community centers and gyms (with a day pass or membership) are smart options for freshening up in cities. 

Lifestyle Factors

Q: Can you do van life with kids? What about pets?
A: The short answer to this question is yes! The long answer is that you and your loved ones can have a memorable experience with a little planning, flexibility, and reasonable expectations. There are many family-friendly vans with comfortable sleeping accommodations for your whole crew. You can even travel with an infant, as proven by our “Rec Van Interview: Van Life With a Baby.” For more tips on van life with kids, check out our guide.

Many van dwellers love sharing the experience of exploring new places in nature with their pets. Dogs, in particular, make excellent hiking companions, can keep solo travelers company, and provide a feeling of safety. To ensure Fido is a happy camper, check out “Van Life With Man’s Best Friend.” Feline companions can also get in on a cozy nomadic lifestyle–read “Must-Know Tips for Van Life With a Cat.” If you plan on bringing a four-legged friend on your travels, make sure you invest in a van that is well-suited to their needs. To find one, browse “The Best Class B Vans for Pet Owners.”

Q: How can van lifers make money on the road?
A: There are many ways to finance your adventures, from remote jobs to freelance work to seasonal gigs. We’ve compiled some of the top career choices for full-time van dwellers in this list. Whether you like to work with people, be creative, or control your own hours, you’ll find an ideal option in this post. If you have an office job currently, you can even talk to your boss about transitioning to remote work so you can travel without needing to find a new job.  

Looking for more details on day-to-day van life work? Get tips and tricks from experienced digital nomads with “How to Work on the Road: Q&As With Van Dwellers.”

Q: How do van travelers prevent loneliness or getting sick of their partner?
A: When you’re constantly changing locations, it can be hard to keep up a normal social life. However, you’ll have an opportunity to meet interesting new people everywhere you go. If this seems daunting, check out “8 Tips to Meet and Connect with Fellow Van Dwellers.” You can also regularly visit friends and family across the continent to stay connected in a way that non-nomadic people just can’t do. 

If you plan on traveling with a partner, expect to bond in a completely new way. Of course, there are challenges to living with another person in a small van. The lack of personal space and privacy can challenge even the strongest of pairs. You and your partner will also need to get good at working through any stressors that come up with travel plans or the van itself. To give you encouragement and practical tools, we compiled advice from van life couples in “Tips for Cohabitating With Your Partner in a Van.”

Q: How should I choose a van?
A: With so many appealing vans on the market, it can be hard to know where to start. The model you ultimately select will depend on the lifestyle you envision. At Rec Van, you can search a wide range of new and used state-of-the-art camper vans with our helpful filter tool. We also regularly review van models and explain what makes them uniquely appealing to different types of adventurers. For all of these articles, visit News and Reviews.