What's the hardest part about living in a van?
Not having a bathroom. There are a number of folks living in converted vans who have chosen to build in a bathroom, but we opted to save that space for other things. Fortunately, we have 24/7 access to bathrooms and showers at the hospital we work at and we also got a gym membership for extra shower options, but it's still annoying having to leave the van any time we want to use those kinds of facilities. If we don't need to shower there are always a lot of public bathroom options though: libraries, stores, parks, gas stations etc.
Do strangers ask to tour the van?
We've had people come up to us in parking lots to ask questions about the van, but so far we've only had two people straight up ask for a tour. The first time was at a park and fortunately, the van was clean as someone was visiting us. The person who asked was a young woman who was interested in converting a van herself and had spied our solar panels on the roof. The second time was at UPS when I was picking up mail and unfortunately, the van was a huge mess. This time it was an older woman who was interested in getting a Sprinter for moving art between shows.
What's the best part about living in a van?
Saving money! We were throwing away a ton of money on rent and utilities every month that we now get to put towards our loans or savings, which is amazing.
What is something people presume when they hear you live in a van?
People seem to presume we live in a run down van in very basic conditions - like an air mattress and sleeping bags on the floor. They're always really surprised when we show them photos or give them a van tour and say they can't believe that it looks like a miniature house. The other thing people tend to assume (on Instagram at least) is that we're traveling around full time in the van. For example, lots of people ask how we work on the road. While we sincerely wish we were out traveling around like most van dwelling folks, the fact of the matter is that we live full time in a single city where Justin is finishing his medical residency (and I work as a pediatric ER nurse). Residency isn't something you can put on hold unless it's for emergent reasons, and it's very hard to get a job as a physician without finishing a residency (residency is how you specialize in a specific area of medicine) so it's something we just have to ride out. Fortunately, Justin will be done this June and then we'll have a lot more freedom to travel.
What question do you get asked the most?
Where do you use the bathroom? Which would normally be a faux pas unless you're asking someone who lives in a van I guess ;-)
Where do you park?
In the parking lot of the hospital where we work. About a month after we moved in and started parking overnight at the hospital, security paid us a visit and when they found out we were both hospital employees they were super chill and said they wouldn't bother us anymore and they've been true to their word. During the day, if I'm not working (poor Justin seems to always be working) I take the van to a big park near the hospital and spend the day there so that we're not hogging a parking space, plus, the park is obviously a nicer place to hangout. When we take trips in the van we stay at campgrounds, BLM land, Walmart parking lots that allow overnight parking, truck stops, and every now and then we street park in neighborhoods.
Have you had any safety issues?
A few months ago Justin woke up at 3:00 AM to someone walking around the van trying all doors. Luckily, we're pretty religious about locking the doors whenever we're in the van so it didn't come to anything, but it was a disconcerting experience nonetheless. However, that was the first time anything like that had happened and nothing has happened since. We park overnight at the hospital the majority of the time so feel pretty safe as the lots are well lit and somewhat monitored.
How long are you going to live in the van?
We moved into the van last spring and we'll be staying in it until Justin finishes residency this June, so a year at least. After that we'll probably keep living in it part time and will definitely use it to take trips, but we also intend to take travel contracts around the US to get our loans paid off and those almost always include housing.
What does your family think?
Our family is actually super supportive! When we told them we were thinking about moving into a van to cut costs and have an adventure, they thought it made sense and were super stoked for us. Both of our parents have spent numerous years living internationally in unique and challenging conditions, so that definitely helped shape their perspective on this whole van life thing. After we told my parents we were going to go ahead and move into the van, my mom sent me photos of my dad living in a tin shack in Mexico, herself living in a tent in the Amazon Basin in Peru during the rainy season, and of our family living in a tiny brick sauna (built by colonists near one of their homes way back in the day) in a rural part of Tanzania. The message she sent with the photos was something to the effect of "our family has a history of living in unusual places so we think the van is a great idea!"
If you could rebuild your van, what would you change?
I think we'd put in a shore power hookup so we'd have that option for winter if needed. I personally would like the bed the be a little lower too so that we could sit up in it comfortably. That would require situating Justin's bike in a different way, like laying flat in a sliding tray, but I think we could come up with something.
Do you hope to inspire other people to try van life?
Honestly, we didn't move into our van to prove anything or try to convince other people that living in a van will give them freedom. We moved into our van to save money towards school loans and because Justin had always been interested in the idea. However, as time has passed we've realized that we fall into a pretty small niche when it comes to van life, which is working medical professionals living in a van. A lot of people living in vans have jobs, but they tend to be things like web and graphic design, seasonal work, writing, and selling stuff online, which makes sense because it's all easy stuff to do on the road. We, on the other hand, live in a city where Justin is doing his family medicine residency, and I work as a pediatric ER nurse. Eventually, we'll hit the road in our van by doing travel contracts, but in the meantime, we hope we're inspiring other people working professional jobs that may be stationary to realize that van life is still an option. There is no one picture of what van life should look like. All those Instagram photos of people driving around the country doing glamorous looking things are awesome and all, but we live in a hospital parking lot and that's okay.