Everything You Need To Know About Vanlife In The United States: Full Breakdown By @TheVantasticLife
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30th Jan | 4 min read

Joe and Emily are originally from the Seattle area but have been living in their converted 4x4 Mercedes Sprinter for 2.5 years, working remotely and traveling around the US. You can follow their adventures on their blog, The Vantastic Life, and Instagram @thevantasticlife.

Our Inspiration For Vanlife

We have been living in our van full time for 2.5 years now with no signs of stopping. Originally we were inspired to visit all of the National Parks in the US and decided why not try and do it as one epic road trip since we can both work remotely!

Our Van

We converted a 2017 Mercedes 4x4 Sprinter, purchased from Mercedes in Seattle. There is a great Vanlife trader website for used vehicles (or follow their Instagram account). For new vans check out your local Mercedes or Ford dealer. We love our Sprinter for size and four-wheel drive and at the time we purchased it, it was one of the few vans that came with four-wheel drive. Now you can get a Ford transit with All Wheel Drive so it’s mostly what you can find and how much money you want to spend!

Why We Chose A Van Over An RV

When we first started looking we immediately knew we did not want a big RV. One of the reasons vans are so amazing is that they aren’t massive like some RVs and you can squeeze into so many different places. We wanted something that was easy to drive into cities and a four-wheel-drive vehicle for off-roading and snowy conditions. Our van was purchased as an empty metal shell from Mercedes, from there we had Sportsmobile West cut off the roof and add a pop-top. After that was completed, we insulated the van before handing it over to the amazing folks at Momentum Vans for the complete build. Momentum added electricity, plumbing, cabinets, shower, floor, fridge, induction cooktop, and basically everything we needed to call the van a home! The last stop on our build adventure was to ADF Sprinter to put in a backbench seat futon that also had street-legal seat belts so we could have passengers. 

For first-timers, utilize YouTube, sprinter forums. There is so much information out there to sift through. Also, don’t be afraid to find builds you like on Instagram and send a message to the van owner. Most folks we have reached out to along the way have been incredibly helpful!

The Benefits Of Vanlife Over Road Tripping In A Car & Staying In Hotels

Living in a van is definitely cheaper than getting hotels and more comfortable than tent camping. The best part about our van is that everything we need is at our fingertips! We are comfortable and dry when it’s cold and wet, we can work from the van as a mobile office and it makes for a great base camp for all our outdoor adventures. 

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Where We’ve Traveled To So Far

Our trip started in Seattle, WA, and has taken us all the way east to Maine, south to Key West, Florida, back west across most of the lower 48, and up north to Alaska. We spent a good amount of time in the Utah/Colorado/Arizona area to mountain bike and ski. These spots are also great for boondocking (free camping) on public land. We would love to spend more time in Canada and eventually ship the van to Europe for a year!

Typical Costs Associated With Vanlife

Normal costs include gas, groceries, camping, laundry, showers. Be prepared to pay slightly more for insurance if you are insured as an RV, and have extra cash on hand in case you have any mechanical issues while on the road! We work full time so we aren’t too concerned with travel costs.

Biggest Challenges

Finding consistent internet for working. We learned early on for our work we need to have more of a plan on where we would be during our workdays and how we would get internet. As a back up we both have hot spots on our phones and we purchased an IPad with a data pack to have an extra hot spot. Also, we found having a cell phone booster comes in handy, we use WeBoost and have had pretty good luck using that to help us in areas where we have low signal.

Vanlife During COVID-19

There are SO many more people out camping/traveling in the US right now. I think the main thing is to wash your hands frequently and be respectful of areas COVID mandates. We saw a lot of people this summer that ignored the campground's requests for masks in bathrooms, etc. 

What First-Timers Should Know About Vanlife

Van life has been the most rewarding experience. We truly love being able to wake up and work from wherever we choose to be. We have found that our version of Vanlife takes a bit more planning than we originally thought. Mostly due to our work, but as this lifestyle grows in popularity, planning out where you are staying also comes into play. Be prepared to spend more money on fun activities and adventures, you will find yourself in some really amazing places!

Tired of traveling alone? Connect with users from over 190 countries to plan trips and travel together!