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If you would have told me four years ago that I would be living in a van full time, I probably would have laughed. A lot of things have changed since I left college and the comforts of my parent’s lovely, spacious home. The decision to live in a van probably developed over the course of three years without me ever realizing it. There are many different reasons why people choose this type of lifestyle, but here are mine:
When I first started work as a traveling occupational therapist in March of 2013, I quickly learned how much I loathed the process of packing and unpacking. Obviously, a travelling job involves moving frequently, as most travel contracts are typically 13 weeks. I wasn’t even traveling around with large items (furniture, appliances…etc) and yet I still found moving to be an extremely ANNOYING process. The part that I hated the most was packing and unpacking CRAP (a word I will be using often- thanks, Dad) that I always toted around with me but never used. I seriously started to evaluate what I really needed. The decision to downsize was initially derived from my inherent laziness. The thought of having to do less work each time I moved was highly motivating. However, I began to notice that the less crap I had, the happier I became, and I also had a little bit more money in my pockets.
Housing is expensive, and short term housing is hella expensive
When you are a traveling healthcare professional, you typically require short term, furnished housing. Fun fact about short term housing- it is EXPENSIVE. Yes, your travel company can find housing and pay it for you, but a housing stipend is most of your paycheck. Then, if your company does it for you, they take all your housing money. Most of the time I found the housing myself and it cost anywhere from $1600-2900 a month. I could think of so many better ways to spend my money so I quickly began brainstorming alternate options. The revolution of tiny house/home living that I had been reading about had me very intrigued.
Being outside is awesome
Being born and raised on the famous “Jersey Shore”, I have spent many days on the beach. Everyone loves a stroll on the beach, but then I moved to Arizona and California for travel jobs. I started hiking and quickly fell in love with it. The phrase “great outdoors” is truly an understatement and I became addicted to spending as much time exploring as possible. I began camping and hiking regularly (hanging out at REI because I mostly had no idea what I was doing), and city (LA) life became more annoying to me by the day.
One is cheaper than two
The first idea I had was to get a trailer and live at campgrounds during traveling assignments. I figured this would be a good way to save money and time when traveling and I could wake up every day in the great outdoors. I already had a Jeep Grand Cherokee that could tow a trailer and I thought it was a perfect idea. I started working a per diem job and put all the money I made from that job into a savings account titled “My future home.”
After researching full time trailer living, I quickly discovered that trailers are awesome but pricey. It also seems that most campgrounds have a 14 or 30 day limit and can cost up to $800/month to park a trailer , especially in the summer time. I am also a (self-proclaimed) bad driver and the thought of towing a trailer around the country gave me some anxiety.
I then considered teardrop trailers which are pretty cost effective compared to other ones. Plus, they are still quite small. This seemed like the best option until I began to feel uneasy about the idea of leaving my trailer at a campground or random spot and driving to work every day. So, that idea went out the window. I found myself thinking, “If I am going to live in such a small space, why not a van?”. This way I would not need an RV spot at a campground, it could fit into a regular parking spot, drive to work every day, and I could stealthily camp in different locations. I found this to be the most cost effective and practical option, and I would use the money I saved for a trailer to convert the van to what I liked.
F@CK Student Loans
I’ll never forget the day I picked my Sallie Mae repayment plan. It was the only plan that I could afford. For some reason, unbeknownst to my current self, I decided to calculate what I would end up paying after thirty years. The interest alone was significantly more than the initial loan itself. I couldn’t help but to feel defeated. The feeling returned when one day (about 2 years later) I decided to log into my account and quickly realized that only about 12% of my large payment each month went to my principal balance. I multiplied the amount that I had paid since the start of repayment and, compared to the progress I made on the actual principal amount, the number was so small in comparison that it made me want to throw up.
I worked very hard for 5 ½ years to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy and I do not regret it one bit. However, I truly did not realize the amount of debt I was acquiring and did not understand how it would affect my life well into my 50’s. I have accepted student loan debt to be part of my life and for that reason I have no strong desire to acquire any more debt. I am constantly trying to figure out ways to pay extra on my loans each month just to cut down slightly on my life long potential interest. Living in a van became extremely more appealing to me once I figured out that I could put all the money that I would normally set aside for rent towards my student loan debt.
Vanlife is for me
As one can see through my thinking and decision making, there are many different options to minimize a living space and to live more simply. Whether it’s a travel trailer, RV, tiny house, van or car, there are many different options and many things to consider. Luckily, there is a ton of information out on the interweb about the pros and cons of each type of tiny home.
At the time I decided this, I was a 26 year old female with no real plans other than to be a traveling occupational therapist. A van would allow me the freedom I wanted, I would NEVER have to pack and unpack again (lazy me loves this), and from my own calculations this would be the most cost effective. It was also comforting to know that if I ended up hating this lifestyle this tiny van could easily be a daily driver and perhaps just an adventure vehicle for the weekend. Luckily, I ended up loving van life.