Why I Decided to Live in a Van

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Tiny Van Big Living

Why I Decided to Live in a Van

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May 2016, I made the decision to live full time in a van. 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 even realizing it. There are many different reasons why people choose this type of lifestyle, but here is mine.

Why I decided to live in a van


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 Moving Sucks

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 traveling 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.

Why I decided to Live in a Van

Moving equals folding clothes for 5 minutes and then drinking wine.

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 companycan 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.

Why I Decided to Live in a Van

My first Van adventure May 2016 in Joshua Tree NP.

One is cheaper than two

The first idea I had was to get a trailer and live at campgrounds during traveling assignments. This seemed like 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 summertime. I am also a (self-proclaimed) bad driver and the thought of towing a trailer around the country gave me some anxiety.

Why I Decided to Live in a Van

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.

For 5 ½ years, I worked very hard 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 lifelong 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.

Why I Decided to Live in a Van

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.

Would you live in a van? Leave a comment below!

About the Author


Hi there! My name is Sarah and I am the creator of Tiny Van Big Living. I am a former traveling Occupational Therapist who lived in a converted camper van (Vanny Devito) full time for almost two years. I am collecting experiences, not things while slowly climbing out of the giant hole that is student loan debt.

23 Comments on “Why I Decided to Live in a Van”

  1. As young as you are now I would go for it. I’m 62 and life just becomes to short and the profession your in will always be in demand. If you really like the life than figure how you can get it done. Best luck to you and enjoy the adventure you can make. Suzanne

    1. Hi Suzanne. Yes it definitly seemed like things lined up for me to be able to live this way. Thank you for reading!

    1. It is so nice how just downsizing can make such a positive influence on your quality of life. Im happy to hear you havent looked back. THanks for reading!

  2. Hooray for you for finding yourself waaaaayyyy sooner than I , and most of us, frankly! It’s always best to “collect memories, not things.” I’ve lived the life I thought I was “supposed” to as a daughter, a wife and a mom. There shouldn’t be a “supposed” to route. When my kids have flown (soonish now) my hubby and I will too. Until then, I can watch your adventures and keep having small ones right here, and in our Airstream Buttercup, now and again.
    Cheers!! 🙂

  3. Good on you and what a place to do it… wish I was their, I have done a year in my big old van but want to down size as a big old Merc vario 😊

  4. Hey Sarah! This is so cool! I’m finishing up grade 11 right now and I already feel like I have acquired too many unnecessary things. So I think I would love to do this right out of high school that way I won’t buy random things 🙂 I long to LIVE SIMPLY Plus I long for adventure!!

    1. Hi Rachelle, I think thats a great idea! I started traveling right after college and I never wanted a lot of “things” that I had to keep moving lol. I think thats a smart way to do it right after high school. This also gives you a chance to get ahead and save more money. Good luck and thanks for reading 🙂

  5. I love the process you went through before making the leap to the van. I’m a super planner by nature so I love how much thought you put into this.

    Calculating the daily interest rate for my student loans was definitely what lit my fire to get them gone fast.

    1. I know student loans are literally such a bad loan. What other loan gets interested daily?? I’m hoping to pay it all off in the next few years :).

    1. Yea it seems like more travel nurses and therapists are living in a mobile home to save money on housing, it saves thousands. It also makes it easier to deal with canceled or cut contracts!

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  8. Hi Sarah! Just found this blog post and am so thankful/happy for it! I’m an RN working in a CCU and have been considering doing VanLife for a while now. The pros of getting to travel, downsizing, and pocketing that housing stipend are my deciding factors for sure. Your post will also help convince my parents that this is a feasible/safe idea as I would appreciate their support. I actually had no idea that there were traveling OT jobs and was curious if you’ve heard of the same for RDs as I would love having my gf being able to travel with me.

    1. Hey Tyler, so excited for you to start your travel journey! I know there is plenty of work for nurses I have not ever heard of traveling RD but there may be, I am not sure. If you take longer assignments like 6 months or so and the place is pretty desperate for you, you may be able to negotiate a position for your GF. She may also want to consider remote or online RD consulting while traveling. I think you guys could make it work :).

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