Personal Loans

How to Pay for a Life on the Road Living in a Van

Van life is a great way for people to hit the road and live an adventurous life, but you need money and planning to get started. Learn about personal loans that can help.
Three people enjoy dinner outside together while their travel fan can be seen decorated behind them.
Written by:
Kenya McCullum
Edited by:
Kristin Marino verified

Have you ever thought of leaving the hustle and bustle of your daily life behind so you can go wherever you want, whenever you want?

People who choose van life do just that — leaving a stationary lifestyle behind in favor of hitting the open road to embark on a unique adventure that can help them save money, increase their connection to nature, and live in a minimalist way.

But how can you afford to get started, and what are finances like when you’re living the nomadic life?

Continue reading to learn about van life, including the financial considerations you should think about, strategies for earning money on the road, and the pros and cons of adopting this lifestyle.

Also, you will find information from van life experts who have a bird’s eye view of what to expect.

What Is Van Life?

Have you seen the viral videos about van life on social media and wondered what it’s all about?

Van life refers to a type of minimalist lifestyle where people convert a van, RV, or camper to make it livable so they can move around as they please, but still enjoy certain amenities — such as a place to sleep, cook, and use the bathroom.

Van life is becoming much more than a social media trend: In fact, according to, the COVID-19 pandemic caused 52% of overall respondents to consider van life, while 72% said they would consider it if it meant they could pay off their debts, and 74% would think about living this lifestyle if it would allow them to retire comfortably.

And those who may not want to make a lifetime commitment to van life would still consider trying it for shorter periods of time: The survey found that 25% of respondents would consider van life for six months to a year and 24% would try it for two years or more.

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Getting Your Wheels

Obviously, van life starts with your vehicle.

You want to make sure that you know what kind of financial commitment you’ll be making to van life before you hit the road, and the following is information on the cost and how people pay for it.

How Much Will It Cost?

Generally, a used camper van costs between $25,000 to $80,000, depending on the make, model, age, and mileage of the vehicle.

For a new van, people can expect to pay $60,000 to over $100,000 depending on the type of van it is.

How to Finance Your Vehicle Home

There are several financing options people can take advantage of when they decide to embark on a nomadic life.

Some people save money ahead of time so they’re able to pay for their van and conversion completely out of pocket, while others may use their credit cards to cover these expenses.

Also, you may be able to get loans to pay for your vehicle residence.

If you own a house and put a lot of work into it, a home equity loan can help you pay for the cost of your van and conversion.

In addition, you can get a car loan to cover the cost of the van, but keep in mind that a high down payment may be required.

Your best bet to pay for converting your van might be a personal loan.

Converting Your Vehicle for Living

Getting a van is just the start of the nomadic life journey: In order to actually live in the van, it needs to be converted.

This can be an expensive proposition, especially if you’re getting a new vehicle — which is why people often take out personal loans to pay for the expense.

DIYers who want to do this job themselves can save money, as it generally costs about $10,000 to $20,000 for them to convert their own van.

Those who want to have their van fully converted pay significantly more, depending on the level of work they want to be done.

Generally, the cost of a basic conversion, which can be a good choice for those who are only using their van for weekends or short trips, can cost between $4,000 and $12,000.

A mid-level conversion, which is enough for you to live in the van full-time, but without a lot of amenities, can cost $26,000 to $36,000, while a high-level conversion that provides a lifestyle that is much more comfortable, is about $61,000 to over $96,000.

Paying for your conversion with a personal loan

Some people are able to sell everything they own, including their cars and homes, to pay for their van lifestyle.

When that’s not possible, a personal loan can help make up the difference between the cash you’re able to come up with and the work that needs to be done to make your van livable and enjoyable.

You may even be able to finance both the purchase and conversion of a van or bus with an unsecured personal loan.

If your credit is good or excellent, the interest rate you pay on a personal loan could be lower than the interest on your credit card.

Personal loan interest is fixed, meaning that the interest rate won’t go up no matter which way interest rates go in the future. Paying with a credit card and making payments could mean a higher interest rate down the line if the Federal Reserve continues raising rates.

While you could end up with a higher rate than the typical auto loan, with a personal loan, you’re pretty much able to use it for whatever you want, while an auto loan won’t pay for any modifications or conversions to your vehicle.

Compare rates, origination fees, terms, amounts, and more with top personal loan lenders.

What Your Van Needs to Make It Livable

After you have bought and converted your van, you still have to think about expenses for the things that you’ll need for day-to-day life. The following are some examples of these costs:

Making a Living and Paying Bills While on the Road

Although some people may save up all the money they need to live on before hitting the road, many people must find ways to earn money when they begin van life.

Luckily, just as living in a van can give you a certain amount of physical freedom, you can also enjoy the freedom of how you fund this lifestyle.

The following are some common ways people living a nomadic life do it.


If you are already working as a freelancer — such as a freelance writer, graphic designer, photographer, or web developer — you’re already in a good position for van life because you’ve created a business that allows you to work anywhere.

That’s not to say you can’t begin a freelance career while on the road, but keep in mind that it can take some time to get your business up and running, so you may not be earning much money in the beginning.

Remote work

With more and more companies embracing remote work since the pandemic, people don’t have to be self-employed to adopt a van life.

And unlike freelancing, having a remote job allows you to better manage your cash flow because you’ll know how much money is coming in, rather than possibly dealing with feast-or-famine cash flow cycles associated with freelancing.

Traveling professions

Van life can also be a good option for people in professions that allow them to work at different locations for certain amounts of time.

For example, travel nurses and radiographic technologists are able to take long- or short-term assignments, allowing them to move from place to place as they begin new contracts at different health care facilities.

In addition to finding ways to pay the bills, people living a nomadic lifestyle need a way to actually receive their bills.

If you’re going to stay at a campground, you’ll be able to receive your mail there.

Also, you can have your mail sent to a post office or mailbox services company in the area where you’re staying.

Pros and Cons of Van Life

Van life may initially sound like a great idea, but it’s important to keep in mind that there are pros and cons to this lifestyle. The following are some of them.

Pros of Van Life

Cons of Van Life


People considering van life will have a lot of questions about how to maintain it. The following are some frequently asked questions about a nomadic lifestyle.

Why do people leave van life?

Although there are numerous benefits to living a van life, there are common reasons that make people reconsider it.

Among the most common are being homesick, having trouble being in cramped spaces for a long period of time, having mechanical problems with the van, and not having enough money to continue.

Where do you sleep if you live in a van?

People who live in their van may be able to park at campgrounds, rest stops, and parking lots in order to get some sleep.

Do you need to pay taxes if you live in a van?

If you’re working, you will need to pay local, state, and federal taxes on the money you earn while living a nomadic lifestyle.

Van Life Experts Discuss Their Experiences

Nat Silver and Don Norris are a couple who adopted a van lifestyle in 2019 after restoring a cargo van to make their home on wheels.

They blog about their experiences at

What made you want to live a nomadic lifestyle?

Norris: We were fortunate in that we both came to the epiphany at the same time while living in our four-bedroom, two-bath house in 2016.

We both knew we did not want to “grow old” living in the same old house, in the same old neighborhood, doing the same old things we had been doing all of our lives.

We wanted new experiences. We wanted new adventures. We wanted to travel to see things we had only seen in pictures and movies.

Once we started traveling, we knew we were meant for nomadic living and traveling.

How long did it take for you to adjust to van life?

Silver: It is a constant adaptation. Life as a nomad is ever-changing.

The first few months were the biggest adjustment.

We moved into 85 square feet in the van, from 210 square feet in our skoolie.

If we had a nickel for every time we bumped a head or stubbed a toe! Sure, we get into somewhat of a routine. Really though, there are mini-routines that are constant regardless of our location or if we are moving.

Things like taking the pups out and feeding them in the mornings and evenings.

Our bedtime routine or ritual is the same regardless of where we are.

We both feel that one of the nuances of full-time nomad life is that it is always fresh and doesn’t trap us in a dull, mundane lifestyle that feels like the plot of “Groundhog Day.”

Do you move from place to place frequently, or do you stay in one place for a long time? If you’re staying in one place for a long time, where do you stay?

Silver: It all depends. That is one of the things we love most about being fully off-grid and completely nomadic.

For instance, we planned on spending a few weeks up in Maine this past summer and ended up spending three months there, because we loved it and we could.

When we do spend a long time in one area, it is likely on friends’ or relatives’ property.

We are now visiting some friends in New Hampshire for October before heading down to Florida for one of our children’s first baby shower.

We may spend a week or two in Florida before heading out West where we will boondock off-grid, changing locations about every 14 days.

How do you deal with day-to-day things like cooking and taking showers?

Norris: Day-to-day routines and things like this are just as they are while living in a house, just different.

We have a propane three-burner stove and oven. We cook as we did in our house, but we are much more efficient now.

We go without modern appliances like a microwave or instant pot because these are energy hogs and can quickly deplete our battery bank and water tank.

When it comes to showering, we still shower outside, in the back of our van, with a 26-gallon water tank.

Due to the limitation of our tank, we use much less water. The days of taking two long, hot showers a day like we used to do in our house are all but over.

While we still have hot showers, they are quick, efficient, and only every couple of days, depending on how hot or cool it is outside and where we are camping.

How do you earn money in your nomadic lifestyle?

Silver: We support this lifestyle financially by working as digital nomads.

We have our own businesses that allow us to create income actively as well as passively. is one of our active businesses.

We travel to clients’ locations and build out their dream tiny house on wheels.

We love this lifestyle and love being able to help others achieve this dream and lifestyle as well through our experience and skills in constructing and converting vehicles into fully functional motorhomes. is a passive income stream for us, as well as our lifestyle blog, We have just completed our first course on quitting your 9-5 to travel.

This is how we did it and we were excited to share that with others.

How do you handle bills and banking? What kind of monthly expenses do people in van life pay?

Norris: All our bills are paid online.

We have a mail service in Central Florida where we can receive mail and then have it forwarded to us wherever we happen to be at any given moment.

It is very affordable — we pay around $8/month — and reliable and efficient.

We can view the mail received online and decide whether we want it shredded or forwarded to us.

Banking is also a breeze. Everything we do is online. With today’s technology and banking practices, there are a few reasons to go into a physical location bank.

Currently, our monthly expenses average around $800 per month, not including groceries, fuel, and maintenance.

These costs vary depending on how much you actually travel or sit still. Our van gets approximately 19 to 21 miles per gallon, which is a delight compared to our previous skoolie, which was getting between 6 to 8 miles per gallon when we sold it in 2020.

We look at our fuel costs as our new mortgage payment, but it is not the same every month. If we sit still for a week or three, we spend a lot less on fuel than if we move several times a week.

What are the most rewarding things about van life?

Norris: The most rewarding thing about living our van life is the sense of freedom we experience on a daily basis.

We don’t have to wait for a vacation or time off to travel and see the sites we have always wanted to see.

We literally have the ability to live and travel anywhere in North America, as well as Central America if we so choose.

Secondly, we love having the luxury and freedom of not “clocking” into a business daily.

Although we work a lot to run our own businesses, it is our choice and at our discretion as to how we do so. Neither of us could ever imagine working for someone else to make them rich ever again.

Thirdly, we love seeing and experiencing places and people we may never have encountered unless we are living this lifestyle.

We knew we wanted to go places and do things while we are still young enough and physically able to do so and enjoy ourselves.

We did not want to hope and wait until we retired, so we took the leap and are experiencing the adventures now.

What are the most challenging things about van life?

Norris: The most challenging thing about van life is having to constantly be on your “A” game.

Traveling, and meeting new people in unfamiliar locations opens up the potential of danger and precarious situations.

Situational awareness, even when filling up with fuel at a truck stop or local gas station, could mean the difference between being a victim or just another normal day.

Another challenge is driving defensively and cautiously without being too cautious.

We put over 30,000 miles on our travels in the first year we were full time in our van. That is over three times the amount of driving as the average American.

Also, having the ability and understanding from your traveling partner to allow for some “me-time” can be challenging. For the two of us, this comes naturally and effortlessly, we feel fortunate in that way.

What advice would you give someone considering this lifestyle?

Silver: Our number one piece of advice for others who are thinking about this lifestyle is if you are seriously considering it or even just thinking about it, then do it.

Your life will pass by quickly and you may one day find yourself wishing you would have seen and experienced all of the interesting and exciting things you used to dream about.

If you love it, then you may have found your peace. If you don’t love it, then you can always go back to your life before.

It’s not an easy lifestyle all of the time. It can be stressful, intimidating, and lonely sometimes, but there are always remedies to overcome the challenges.

We highly encourage those who are just starting out or thinking about full-time travel, to inject themselves into the nomad community through Facebook groups, forums, and websites.

Many of these communities offer events in different locations throughout the year. While we love adventuring and exploring on our own, having a sense of community is key to the longevity of this nomadic lifestyle.

Lastly, if you think you want to do this life, start planning for it now.

You may be a few years away from actually being in a place to make it happen. We began preparations for this life four years before we moved into our first skoolie and hit the road.

It takes time to prepare, save funds, purchase or build your adventure vehicle, find remote work, and figure all of the things out.

Since 2016, Off Highway Van has built out 100 vans in total, and has made over 1,000 upgrades and modifications. We spoke to A.J. Turner, the company’s marketing director, and product manager about their work.

When you build out a van, what do you provide for customers?

We offer seven different floor plans, depending on how many people they want to sleep inside the van, how many seatbelts are needed in the van, and if they want a shower within the van or not.

From there, they can pick the colors, fabrics, and other custom accessories they want for hauling mountain bikes, skis, hunting equipment, or other gear.

It’s very similar to building a custom house, and we try to make the process very fun and customizable.

Do customers buy a van from you, or do you build out vans customers already own, or both?

We offer either option. We work closely with a dealer to provide vans, but customers have the option to bring their own empty van to us for build-out as well.

How much do you generally charge? How do customers pay you?

Our builds range between $50,000 and $90,000, not including the van, depending upon the options or customizations and accessories.

We accept all forms of payment — check, cash, bank transfer, etc. We offer financing through a company called Hearth, which helps with the financing side of the van and build.

Do you also provide maintenance services for your customers? If so, what maintenance services do you provide?

We offer a warranty on the products and overall build that we install.

We treat our customers as though their vehicle is our own and do everything we can to keep them on the road and their family safe and enjoying their off-road and off-grid camping experience.

Our motto is higher quality builds for higher quality adventures.

What advice would you give to people considering van life on how to choose and maintain a van?

We like to advise people to rent a van first and see what features are truly important to them.

Similarly, we like to suggest that they check out a few different models and buildouts to identify build quality and see firsthand why using lightweight, durable, and high-tech materials can lead to the longer overall longevity of the van and drivetrain components, as well as keep fuel efficiency high.

Working with a van builder who employs real engineers is a huge benefit to somebody looking to buy a built-out campervan.

Typical RV components and RV builders often use low-quality and low-grade materials that fall apart after just a year and are very heavy causing unnecessary stress on the motor and transmission and suspension.

These things will make van maintenance much easier and less costly in the long run.