More Americans are Thinking About Van Living

COVID-19 is giving them a push.

Woman using laptop.
MStudioImages / Getty Images

Van living is booming this year, thanks to COVID-19. As Treehugger emeritus Kimberley Mok (and author of "The Modern House Bus") wrote before the current crisis,

"The Internet allows a growing number of people to work from home, or to travel and work full-time and combined with the huge interest in minimalism and tiny living, we're now seeing more and more people converting vehicles into homes that they can take wherever they go."

Then we get the pandemic, with offices closed and people getting awfully tired of being trapped in apartments, and van life looks even more attractive. According to a recent survey for Move.org, over half of Americans are dreaming about this, and only 7% said they wouldn't consider it under any circumstance. From the survey:

Van Life Survey
 Move.Org
  • 52% were more likely to consider van life as a result of COVID-19
  • 72% would trade the comfort of their home to pay off debt
  • 74% would choose van life if it meant they could retire comfortably
  • 24% would live in a van for 2+ years
  • 25% would be willing to live in a van for 6 months to a year
  • 35% would like to be located in beach regions
  • 35% are primarily drawn to van life to travel and be outdoors more
  • 33% said their primary motivation to live in a van would be travel
  • 23% said their primary motivation to live in a van would be to live without rent or a mortgage.
Van Comparison costs
 Move.Org

The survey then takes a diversion into a cost per square foot analysis, with a completely meaningless comparison of a tiny movable home and one that includes real estate, and when van conversions can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $300,000. It is also irrelevant because they are not selling 100 square foot houses in Denver.

Any kind of comparison to a conventional home is fraught. Whenever Kimberly would write about van living, readers would complain, "Articles about a lifestyle of driving around with no purpose other than to avoid middle-age boredom come off as selfish, rather than tree-hugging." Or, "It might look good on Instagram, but has no place on an environmental focused [site] like this one." But it would be interesting to do the math; yes, they are burning gasoline, but in a house, they are probably burning a lot more natural gas and probably have a car anyway. You certainly can't buy a lot of stuff; it is a minimalist lifestyle. It's likely that even with the driving around, van living has a lower carbon footprint than a house and a car.

Zenvanz
 Zenvanz

(Photo above from "Streamlined Bamboo DIY Kits Make Converting a Van a Breeze.")

The problem with 35% of the population wanting to live in their van by the beach is that a lot of the beaches are closed because of the pandemic. The gyms where people often go to shower are closed. So a lot of the places that people are dreaming about are not accessible, and the support infrastructure for an explosion in van living doesn't exist yet. When the pandemic hit, many trying to live the van life were getting yelled at; according to the Washington Post, there were worries about them bringing in the virus. "Communities begin to resent the presence of outsiders, whether they’re van dwellers, hikers or vacation homeowners." RV parks have restricted capacity, and there are fewer places to fill the basic needs like emptying waste tanks. One van-living couple told Insider:

"Van life is different now. What was once part of our routine is no longer possible because of the pandemic. We typically rely heavily on public areas, cafés, gyms, and more. We now had to change our routine and become even more self-reliant." 

But the pandemic is driving the van life boom. As one California van builder tells the New York Times,

"Right now with coronavirus and the political instability, people want more control over their environment. If you’re in a van, you know who’s in it, you control how clean it is, and you know where you’re going."
40 Hours Of Freedom
 40 Hours Of Freedom

(Photo above from "Two Online Entrepreneurs Travel & Work From Off-Grid Van Conversion.")

Of course, a survey asking people if they would consider considering van life is very different from actually doing it, and likely everyone in the country is dreaming about being somewhere else right now. But it is fascinating to see how many people are dreaming about vans.