Tips & Guide

The Basics For Living Ultra-Frugal In A Conversion Van

The last six years have been an economic nightmare for many Americans. There were at least 3.4 million completed foreclosures nationwide from September 2008 to February 2012, according to data compiled by CoreLogic. Millions more lost their retirement funds to various unscrupulous individuals and companies. And unemployment rates were above 9 percent for most of 2009 through 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This adversity caused many Americans to re-evaluate their priorities and lifestyles. This is particularly the case for students trying to get through college and older people having difficult times securing employment after being laid off.

A phenomenon known as vandwelling – a form of off-grid living – is picking up steam as a viable alternative for those unable or unwilling to pay monthly rent or mortgage payments. UCLA law professor Gary Blasi told the New York Times that he believes most vandwellers do it out of necessity as opposed to choice. Regardless, vandwellers have the advantage of always being ready to “bug-out” in the event of some sort of doomsday scenario.

This lifestyle, however, is only suitable for single individuals or physically small couples, as living space in a van is limited and must be utilized carefully. Based on personal experience and information from several videos, blogs and forums online from vandwellers, you can live comfortably and happily with all the necessary amenities you’d have in a small apartment. Some even take a boater exam, haul around their paddle boat and catch their food everyday to save even more money. The best news is that the initial investments are relatively inexpensive if you exercise due diligence.

Get Your Van

The most important factor to consider when you purchase what will, for all intents and purposes, be your home for the foreseeable future, is its mechanical and physical condition. That said, you do not have to spend a ton of money for an above average rig. Craigslist is one of the best places to find older vans for sale that are suitable for your needs. Chevy, Dodge, Ford and GMC vans from 1990 to 2000 are some of the more popular choices. They can last upwards of 250,000 miles with proper maintenance. A used van with 150,000 miles or less is something to seriously consider if the price is right. Many vandwelling bloggers seem to prefer a van with a high-top roof for extra head room.


Whether you live in a warm climate (preferable) or a place with freezing winters, insulation is the key to comfort. Windows are where most of the heat enters in the summer and where it escapes in the winter. Reflectix is an excellent window insulation that keeps the sun out. If you decide to cover your windows with insulation, you will need a roof vent fan for ventilation and air flow. The floors, roof and all the walls (on the bare metals) should be covered with some type of polyethylene insulation that is mold and moisture resistant. EZ Cool Insulation is a popular choice for van dwellers.

Read also: Alternative Energy Sources for Your Home – the Low Down


This is the step that will make your van feel as close to a small bedroom as possible. Decide what all you will want and need to run on electricity in your van. You’ll need to add up your approximate total daily use (note: Watts = Amps X Volts) to determine what exactly you’ll need to produce the needed power. Some people combine solar power, wind power and/or a small gas generator to power their van. An inverter and charge controller will also be needed for solar applications. Appliances such as air conditioners and microwaves use a lot of electricity to get started, and will require you to have a generator. All other appliances can run on (minimum) two, in-series, 6-volt, deep-cycle golf cart batteries that can be charged either by a generator or solar.

Vandwelling is a liberating experiencing and one you’ll never stop learning from. You can get a gym membership to take showers, find places that will allow you to park overnight (Wal-Marts, truck stops or pay someone to stay on their property) and probably get a storage unit for extra possessions you can’t carry around. The sacrifices you make will bring freedom like you’ve never had before.

Rob Lambert

As a writer and activist, Rob believes it’s important he raise his pen, rather than his voice, to be heard.


I’m a writer, new mom and foodie. I love sharing what I know while making others feel beautiful. On this blog, I share my healthy lifestyle, simple meals, fitness tips and experiences.

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