Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Vanlifing: What is #Vanlife and why is it so popular?

This Article will talk about the pros and cons of camper van ownership, and how this applies to bicycle adventures.

Meet Ruby, our new Volkswagen Vanagon, and latest family addition

If you haven't been living under a rock for the past year or so, you have probably heard of the term van life. Van lifing is essentially living or traveling for an extended period of time from within your van. Let me give a disclaimer; neither my job nor my wife's job allow for us to actually live in our van. We bought the van for the sole purpose of all weather camping trips where we could in theory sleep in the car if we had to and maybe the occasional road trip out of state. So some self proclaimed van life experts might say that "we're not doing it right". That's okay, we are doing it our own way.

On that note we can start discussing the pros and cons of actually living in a van, or any vehicle for that matter. First off, the illusion to being part of  van life is saving money by living in your vehicle and not having to pay rent. I'm going to burst that bubble real quick. It takes money to set yourself up for van lifing. First you will need a van. Depending on how new or practical the van is (ours is not, as we bought a 35 year old van, even though it is in good condition) you will incur maintenance and repair expenses. Right at the onset, be prepared to shell out $5-8k for a vehicle that is decent and in running condition. Be prepared to spend another grand right off the bat getting it roadworthy if it is an older, vintage vehicle.  In the specific case of Ruby, our VW Vanagon, we will in the long run look to spend another small fortune on a modern engine retrofit. For right now, the van runs fine, although it is cranky to get off and moving and needs a few tries to get it cold started. In the specific case of our VW, regular inspection of the engine is required and fuel lines and ground wires need to be checked regularly for leaks or tears. This requires a willingness to get to know the car mechanically and oftentimes do our own repair work. If this isn't your cup of tea, I would recommend starting with a cheap Chevy panel van or a late 90's/early 00's conversion van. If money is no object then $40-$60k will get you a new Sprinter or just an RV. A starter van in good mechanical condition, no matter what you decide on getting, will be equally hard to come by. That is because very few full size vans were made after the end of the 90's. Fuel efficiency and smaller families have popularized SUVs and mini vans to the point that they are most of the large vehicles seen on the roads today.

Having a vehicle that is large enough to carry all of our camping equipment, bikes and ourselves in it is the main draw for our recent van purchase. I always thought of vans as the ultimate dork mobile. That is because my first daily driver was a Ford Aerostar, during a time in my teenage years where friends drove in mustangs, pick up trucks, Toyota Celicas and Honda Civics. Now, my view has changed somewhat. I don't see owning a van as the ultimate compromise anymore. Rather, I just see it as the right tool for the job. Especially if said van can be used as a bike hauler, interim camper and comes in metallic red with a manual transmission. I'm sure that the honeymoon will wear off as soon as I roll up my sleeves and get under the engine of this thing. But for now, we love our newest addition to the family.

We can conclude that unless you already had a van and lost your job or got evicted out of your home, living in your van as a way to save money and try to live the simple life is oftentimes a false narrative. People who live in their cars do so out of necessity, not choice. I know this first hand because I have a brother who lived in his van for almost a year (remember the Ford Aerostar?). He was one stinky hippie when someone finally decided on giving him room and boarding. He was also one step away from being homeless; a starving musician that would eye people at restaurants so he could swoop in on their leftovers once they were done eating. Not exactly what is pictured on Instagram nowadays under the hashtag #vanlife. The true vehicle for traveling around the country and living in is an RV. That doesn't mean that you can't live in your van and be a telecommuter or just someone who works from their laptop and travels, the question more or less is would you really want to if you had the choice not to? An old, full size van is the perfect vehicle for a weekend mountain biking trip or out of state adventure. For more permanent, on the road living situations there are better vehicle options out there to choose from. No matter how many adventure blogs I read and YouTube videos I watch, I can't wrap my head around the thought of ending a camping trip with my van in the back of a flat bad tow truck. It very well could happen being that I have an old vehicle but it would most certainly happen if I lived in it full time. Of course, sometimes hasty decisions reap unforgettable experiences. Sometimes risks pay off with dividends. Case in point we took Ruby on a 10 hour drive all the way to South Texas. The van had a broken fuel gauge and odometer, so we were guesstimating on when to stop for gas. We made it all the way to South Padre Island and repaired the van on the way back. We ran into some unforeseen expenses, but we spent our winter break traveling instead of being cooped up at home feeling sorry for ourselves. That is what the Vanlife movement means to us.