Written by a full time elopement photography team living on the road full time in their van.
We often get asked a lot about what life is like living in a van.
We also get a lot of questions about this lifestyle within our industry. Like how to do van life as a full-time, professional photographer. In this blog I want to cover a little bit about our experience and our story living in a van. I also want to answer a lot of the questions we hear frequently about how to do this and work full time virtually.
My story with Van life started in the spring of 2019, as a single lady on the road with two cats. I bought an old crappy van for $7,000. That was already built out and livable. I chose to buy a van and move into it full time because I wanted to get my business off the ground. I knew I needed to travel and get content in the areas I wanted to work in. The only way I could afford to do that at the time was in a van and with that an affordable van. We moved in and traveled through Colorado, Washington, Utah, California, and Arizona. Unfortunately, I had to sell the van in October of 2019 because it was simply breaking down too much and draining my bank account. I moved into an apartment soon. Meeting Bill, my husband, and the other half of Adventure and Vow. He was also living in van and had been doing this lifestyle for around two and half years already. I bought another van once we started dating. Fast forward and now we are in the same van together both working full-time the business. Our current van is a Dodge ProMaster, the shortest wheel base that you can purchase. We bought it completely gutted, and Bill built out the van himself. We were rushed on time for our build since our busy season would be starting soon, so the build only took us 4 months. Our van is complete with a sink, a stove, a fridge, an emergency toilet, a special cubby hole for Indies cat litter and we have two fans to keep the kitty and dog comfortable. Since we have moved into the same van together, we have definitely had to get rid of more things than we did living separately. It’s also almost a full-time job maintaining the van with the pets as well. The van has taken us to jobs in Washington, California, Utah, Colorado and Arizona. We traveled cross-country in it twice now and we love it, the van definitely feels like home. It can get crowded at times but it is doable for us.
How much does Van life cost?
We get asked this question probably the most, it’s really hard to answer this question because the cost of Van life truly depends on if you already own a house and you’re planning to keep it or if you’re going to be full-time or not full time. How much money are you spending on a rig? Are you going to need to work on your van? Do plan on camping for free or do you plan on booking campsites, often or airbnb’s often? Do you plan to build it out on your own, hire someone to do it or buy already built out and do repairs?
These are all questions that go into determining your cost for Van life. When thinking about buying a van my suggestion would be sit down together or with just yourself and decide how much can you spend. From there decide what your life will like being full time, etc and make sure this works with your budget. Once you have a budget for a van you can start shopping. You can find an older van for anything from 5k-10k that could function for your needs, or you can buy a newer van from anywhere from 17-100k. This is why it is hard to stay what your cost would be getting started because the options vary. Our current rig set up cost 17k for the van and around 15k for the build, however, both of us spent around 7k for our first vans one lasted a year and the other two years.
What are the monthly expenses once you are in your van full time?
For us, we basically pay gas and oil changes, which we drive a lot of miles so this adds up for us quickly. Those are our main expenses with living in the van. Outside of that, we try to think that we will probably spend around five grand each year, on maintenance. For example, this past December, we had to spend $3,000 to fix the radiator and spark plugs, but this cost is still cheaper than renting hotel rooms during our upcoming travels. Outside of that the only specific thing we pay for in regards to living in a van is a Planet Fitness membership and Snap Fitness for shower use! We also do our Landry at laundry mats.
Is the cost of Van Life worth it?
We travel a lot for our jobs or jobs are not all in one state. Our jobs are also in very remote locations. At the end of the day if we weren’t living in a van, we would be paying for rent or mortgage, but then for a job we would need to pay for a flight, a rental car, somewhere to stay and all of our food. In the van, we simply are paying for gas, nine times out of ten and we cook our meals or we may eat out. It just depends on what we want to do. But we have the luxury of deciding do we want to between cook this cheap meal, or go out and spend money? Because of this, I would say yes, depending on where you’re starting out and your finances living this way is cheaper when being a full-time Adventure elopement photographer that travels for work.
How do the logistics of living in a van work when working?
We often get asked about the logistics of being an elopement photographer and living in the van. How do you handle your gear? How do you get Wi-Fi? Etc? so, For us, we have a really good solar setup on the top of our van, with our solar setup we are able to use lights all the time, charge our phones, charge our computers, cameras, use our fans for air, use the fridge, etc. So on a day that we really just need to get a lot of editing done we can a hundred percent work from the van, no matter where we are. When we need to upload galleries or use Wifi it gets a little bit more interesting. For us, the easiest solution has been spending time at libraries in whatever town we’re in, most libraries have free Wi- Fi. However, when we were in the PNW this past winter, we noticed that a lot of libraries had limited stays for using Wi-Fi. So you want to check the area should go in and prepare for what access you may have. We also often go to coffee shops to spend our day, working. Bill and I each have phones that have hot spots on them, bill has Verizon and I have AT&T. We keep it this way in hopes, that one of us will have service if the other doesn’t. You definitely should not expect to upload galleries with a hotspot.
How do you keep your van and belongings safe?
It is not totally uncommon to hear about Vans being stolen or broken into. This is a huge concern for us that we are very aware of at all times. For us, we chain our doors together often with multiple chains depending on how long we’re going to be away from our van and depending on the area that were in. We also have double locks on all of our doors. This gives us peace of mind when leaving our van especially with the pets in it. Some updates we are looking to make in the near future is to put a fire proof safe in the van for some of our gear and paperwork. We have also chatted about adding some sort of board system to the passenger windows for when we leave on backpacking trips. Luckily our van does not have any windows in the home section. I wanted windows because I love natural light, but you have to think about windows as week points if someone wanted to break in.
Where do you stay?
We mostly camp on BLM and Forest Serivce land. We learned early on how expensive it can be to pay for a campsite in the National Parks, State Parks, etc. Once every few months or so we will book an Airbnb when meeting up with friends for travel or just to get a break. You can stay on most public lands for free up to 14 days. We more around a lot so this has not been an issue for us. When traveling we for sure have stayed at Walmarts or rest stops. Some of the apps that help us find a place the most are Campidum (freecampsites.net) and iOverlander. We also use Hipcamp when we need to book a place, which has come in handy a lot in Washington because a lot of the areas we are at doesnt have any near by camping. We have found Hipcamp to be cheaper and easier than NP camping or private camping optiona.
How do you do van life with the pets? What happens when you leave the pets in the van for a job?
We have two pets in our van. I started out with just Indy, the cat. He loves hiking, canyoneering, camping and just being outdoors. This lifestyle works really great for him. The cat can do well in the van up to about 90 degrees, as long as we have, both fans on and running. We also recently installed a heater so we are able to be even in 5° and the cat be warm. Tucker is new addition to our family, a puppy, and has been in the van now for only a short month- and-a-half and he still has a lot of growing to do. We are definitely very aware that the space is going to become much more limited in our van with the dog being full grown. Which is just one of the reasons that we are looking to purchase a home and only be part time in the van next year. We will see in the summer how Tucker does in the heat. We are estimating that anything under 85 degrees and below will be okay. In the event that it is too hot for the pets or if we are going to be gone from the van for a long time and they cant get out we simply book a Rover sitter or a pet sitter.
How do you get work in specific places if you are always traveling?
Unlike, a lot of remote work being a photographer you have to actually show up to a location sometimes for work. You may be traveling often, just to sightsee and see different national parks or you maybe like us and split your time in the best weather. For example, we split our fall through spring in Arizona and then our entire summer in Washington, for the best weather conditions. The best thing to do is to go to these places and put together a styled shoot so you can use the content to market in Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and your website. This is how I have done it and once you get work in these areas, if it’s easy to get repeat work, you can also run ads in specific areas. You can always use close up images of couples to use for marketing or you can get stock imagery online, that are usually just landscapes of the area. You can also join local Facebook groups, and things like that to keep an eye on job that you may be able to pick up, even if they’re not in the types of jobs that you would prefer to have.
What is it like to live in a van with two people?
On the more personal side, we’re often asked jokingly if we ever get tired of each other in the van because it is such a small space. For Bill and I we do really well in the van together. We try to have things that we do alone, like Bill likes to go for runs and go to the gym. Whereas I am usually mostly working from sunup to sundown on our business, in the library, or things like that. We don’t spend really that much time in our van, to be honest. We are either outside on the trails, at a job, walking the pets climbing, kayaking, sightseeing or on other adventures. The van is really our way of getting around and camping at night.
They’re definitely downsides of living in a van full time. One is you don’t really have the luxury of the bathroom depending on your build. More expensive builds may have a small bathroom, but for use we have an emergency backroom aka the bucket. You do for sure get super comfortable with each other being in a van. The other downside is you’re probably often moving not in one place too often, which can fill displacing which for Bill and I has been totally fine until recently. We are finding as we get older we would really like to be a part of a community. That’s another reason for wanting to go part-time.
It is important to know when you are moving into a van with another person you basically have one home, one car. This home is small and usually only one person at a time can be doing things while standing inside. It is important to work out a schedule together that works great for both of you. Since Bill and I work together it helps greatly. However, I would say a year into this together almost we are still working out a balance that works for both of us and makes both us happy.
Some major positives to me is you can travel all the time and not have to leave your pets behind. You also get to meet other people doing this lifestyle and connect that you wouldn’t typically get a chance to connect with. You get to spend most of your time in amazing places that a lot of people may never get the chance to go see. Taking a step out of mainstream living for Bill and I both has done us well, we love being out of towns, out of cities, away from constant consumerism and just out on the trails instead.
Why did you two choose a van over an RV?
Sometimes were asked if an RV would be better. For us it just didn’t make sense with the cat. Outside of Indy it again goes back to what are your own expenses. We have friends that have travel trailers that leave them on BLM land. So they’re not having to pay for places to camp, but typically one of them is always with the trailer because a big concern is why your trailer gets stolen. There are ways to lock them down, but it just didn’t feel as secure to us as the van. We also have friends who have trailers who pay to park at campsites. This is a really great option and can be very stabilizing if you plan on staying in one area for a longer of time. Maybe you only move once every season. The plus side of an RV is you can tow it with a Jeep or Truck so you wouldn’t loose the ability to off road like we have in our van. They do make some vans off road capable, but the cost goes up quick. We like the van, it is simple and easy, plus it fits in a parking spot. When we buy a house we are still deciding if we will keep the van or do a truck build of some sort and rv. We probably wont decide for a while because our van is perfect for us.
Do you have questions about van life or living on the road as a full time elopement photographer? Ask in the comments and we will do our best to answer them!