Man and woman outside converted van
Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

Our Digital Marketing Executive Chloe is in charge of our e-newsletter. There's no one better placed to inform and delight you every month, so keep your eyes peeled for her newsletter hitting an email inbox near you soon.

Read time of 5 minutes.

This unconventional way of living is starting to skyrocket in popularity. 

Summer is the most popular time of year for travel plans and the endless parade of caravans parking up at our local seaside has recently got us thinking.

More and more, we’re seeing people camping out in converted vans all year round.

Between a deepening housing crisis, the rising cost of living and good old-fashioned wanderlust, van life is an increasingly appealing alternative for those looking to escape from the daily grind.

If you’ve spent any time on Instagram in the last few years, the chances are you’ve stumbled across a snap or two from a van life account. While historically society has tended to ostracise people who opt to live in vehicles, social media has played a huge role in destigmatising this way of living.

But what is van life? And why are people increasingly turning to it in this modern age?


The way of the van

Nomadic lifestyles have existed for as long as humans have, all over the world.

The Western world’s dominant cultures have always been rooted in land ownership. Globalisation has made nomadic living less common than it once was. For many years its been a highly stigmatised way of life.

But in recent years, more and more people are seeing the appeal of shedding their roots and taking up a more nomadic lifestyle.

But we’ve evolved far beyond the days of wooden caravans.

Van life is probably the closest modern-day equivalent but allows people to travel faster and in greater comfort. The ability to work remotely online has only made this more achievable. 

Van life involves living in a vehicle either full time, or part-time. Typically, it’s been kitted out for the purpose and can include basic amenities like house batteries, solar panels, a bed platform, a sink and storage space.

For some it’s a personal lifestyle choice to enable more freedom and self-sufficiency while getting to travel. For others, it’s a step away from having to live in a homeless shelter, or worse, unprotected on the streets.

What are the positives of van life? 

People wouldn’t choose this lifestyle if there weren’t massive positives involved.

Those who take up van life are often digital nomads who post about their experience online. From them we see sweeping views of mountains, lakes and woodlands framed through open van doors.

Who wouldn’t want to wake up on the literal doorstep of a stunning natural view every morning? But there are other benefits too, like having a greater personal freedom and flexibility to travel.

Van life can be an adventure; depending on where you travel it can also allow you to get closer to nature. Those great shots on Instagram are from people who love being outdoors.

The restricted living space is also an opportunity to declutter your life and live with minimal possessions if that’s something you’re interested in. Think Marie Kondo, but at an extreme level.

And if you’re motivated by the cost of living right now, living in a converted van will do a lot to help lower your monthly expenditure – but only after you’ve stumped up the one-off cost for buying and converting the van in the first place.

There’s no need to pay out rent or mortgage costs of course, but it’s a lifestyle that also saves on electricity, sewerage, and internet bills.

But it’s not always smooth sailing and picture-perfect snaps on Instagram.

A couple stand back to back alongside their converted van on a sandy beach

The flip side

It’s important not to underestimate how hard van life can be.

While there are definite positives to the lifestyle, it comes with huge sacrifices too. Starting with the sacrifice of personal relationships, of a normal sized living space, a ‘conventional’ lifestyle and most definitely the sacrifice of many of your possessions.

This is not the lifestyle for a maximalist, or anyone sentimentally attached to possessions. Forget about the niceties, there simply isn’t space to hold onto anything other than the necessities. There’s no room for your late grandmother’s cherished best tea set when you live in a van.

And while the lifestyle may come with greater freedom and flexibility, the flip side is dealing with uncertainty a lot of the time.

You also have to regularly maintain the vehicle, or risk breaking down unexpectedly. Not ideal when the van is not just transport, but also your accommodation and storage. If you’ve ever broken down you’ll know how inconvenient it is at the best of times.

As for other challenges – consider the lack of space and the difficulty keeping that small space organised. If you’ve ever struggled to keep your bedroom tidy, it’s not going to be enjoyable for you.

Most converted vans don’t have room for shower facilities so keeping a comfortable hygiene level will be more difficult than you may be used to.

Not to mention, you’ll be sleeping somewhere that is not necessarily insulated to cope with extreme heat or cold. No matter how well you insulate your van, it’s not going to have central heating.

Other daily challenges include dealing with where to park, interacting with the police if they decide to move you on and having to stealth camp when there is nowhere safe or legal to stop for the night.

Logistically, life is harder in a van.

When you live with no fixed address, you may not know where you’ll be ending the day. This can be a fun adventure, or a source of stress. If you can’t deal with knowing where you’ll end up every night, this isn’t a lifestyle to take up flippantly.

What are the dangers of van life? 

Unfortunately, there are risks associated with van life.

Of course, anyone living in a house can be burgled at any time – but van living is more exposed and in some ways makes you more vulnerable to crime.

Most petty crime is a result of opportunity. Thieves may look at a kitted-out van and see easy access to your few belongings (or your person).

If someone breaks into your van, they could steal it along with everything you own. You could lose everything in one moment. It’s also more exposed sleeping in a van – there are times you may not feel safe.

But it’s not just strangers that you are more exposed to when living in a van. It’s close quarters to be in alone, let alone with a second person – and as a living situation it can make tensions run higher than usual.

So, if you plan on living in a van with someone have a good think about whether the two of you can deal with the pressures of the lifestyle in a healthy way before committing to it.

The legalities

We’ve talked about travel and mobility as one of the perks of this lifestyle, but there are legalities to be aware of.

There’s no UK law against living in a van, campervan or motorhome, but there will be regional and local restrictions on where you can park in one.

Depending on who owns the land, you may or may not be able to park in the following places:

  • Laybys
  • Public car parks
  • On the road
  • On residential streets
  • On private land
  • At a motorway service station
  • At designated camping grounds

Local authorities often own roads and can have their own regional regulations. It’s always best to do your research beforehand and check any regulations in the area so you don’t get a knock from the police in the middle of the night.

There are apps that can be used to locate permitted parking zones such as BritStops and Park4Night to help you find safe and legal parking areas near you.

If in doubt, don’t park somewhere you’ll cause an obstruction to residents or landowners.

Living their best life? 

There are many reasons why people are increasingly turning to this unconventional lifestyle.

We’re told that the end goal should be a house in our own name, a marriage, two kids, a dog and most importantly, financial security. So, we embark on the traditional path to achieve these things, living exactly how our parents did.

After all it worked for them, didn’t it?

But some of us are born with wanderlust in our veins. Some of us have itchy feet that never feel settled in conventional routine.

Some of us just aren’t interested in chasing the things we’re told we’re supposed to want. We don’t necessarily want to live how our parents and grandparents lived.

And then, of course, there’s the depressing reality that some of us simply can no longer afford to chase those things, regardless of whether or not we want them.

So, when the conventional path is closed to you, or you simply don’t want to pursue it, what other options are there?

Adventure, maybe.

Freedom, for certain.

And an escape.

All these things may be more appealing – and feel more achievable – than ever following the 2020 lockdowns due to coronavirus. With so many of us furloughed and trapped at home for months, it gave millions of people a chance to reflect on their normal lifestyle.

It was a chance to think about what we wanted out of life. And what we definitely don’t.

Since 2020, internet searches for ‘van life’ have more than doubled from pre-covid levels; make of that what you will.

But whether it’s down to pure internet escapism, or people genuinely wanting to make a drastic life change, it’s clear that interest is continuing to grow. And for now, the flock of kitted out vans appearing summer after summer shows no sign of slowing.

We hope everyone who has started a van adventure is living their best life.

Van life isn’t the only way to see the UK. Pick the right car for a road trip and travel in absolute comfort.