From London, to San Francisco and Paris, skyrocketing rents in many major metropolitan areas around the world are prompting many young people to look for other options. Micro-apartments and tiny houses are one, but some are also able to factor in mobility as part of the new deal, especially if they are location-independent professionals who don't need to be in one place all the time to conduct their business: think photographers, filmmakers and outdoor professionals and enthusiasts alike.
Twenty-one-year-old professional diver Matt Sanda is yet another one of these young people who are choosing an alternative lifestyle over the traditional route of renting. Sanda was living in a $2,600 per month rental in Seattle, and decided instead to save his money and bought a van conversion off Craigslist instead, done inside a 2006 Dodge 2500 Sprinter van. We get a tour via nomadic filmmaker Dylan Magaster:
It is nevertheless a simple but functional conversion: as soon as you come in from the side door, there's a kitchen with two counters, one of which is topped with a two-burner propane stove. There's a sink on the other counter, which can be covered with a cutting board to extend the counter space. In one of the drawers sits a Dometic DC-compressor refrigerator. Beneath the counter sits a diesel heater -- these are capable of using the same diesel tank and fuel for heating up the interior.
Beyond the kitchen are two bench seats which double as storage. We love this storage trick of Matt's: one of the benches contains vertical closet organizers that holds folded clothes, so to access his clothes, all Matt has to do is lift the organizers out and hook them onto the ceiling. Clever.
In between the benches, a slide-out table can be deployed when needed. Beyond that is the platform bed, underneath which is a "garage" that holds Matt's outdoor gear.
On the back of the rear doors is an on-demand propane water heater and shower at the back for hot showers and hosing off gear. The van is powered by a 500-watt solar system.
Sanda says that he spent about a year researching vans, before deciding that it was more cost- and time-efficient to just purchase one used instead. No word on how much he spent, but he says that he got a good price, and saved time. But he adds: "If I had to do it again, I'd probably just buy a shell, put an air mattress in the back and slowly built it up."
Granted, living in a van is not for everyone, but there are benefits. Sanda's advice:
Definitely do your research. Establish a budget. It's okay to be different. If you're miserable at your job, quit; make sure you have some money saved up. It's scary at first, and then when you transition the first week, it's just the most stress-free week you can imagine. My message is just do what you want, and don't be afraid to get off the path of being 'normal'. Sure, a lot of people think it's impractical and stupid to live in a van, but they don't do it, and they don't realize the kind of freedom you have, and it does really help you to gain financial freedom.