Campervan Life Traveling and Working Remotely as a Digital Nomad featured image

Campervan Life: Traveling and Working Remotely as a Digital Nomad

Updated March 2024

Virtual Vocations contributor and millennial digital nomad, Eric Schad, outlines his best campervan life tips for traveling and working remotely as a digital nomad.

Campervan life isn’t new, but it’s certainly become a lifestyle more accepted by millennials. Only 25 years ago, Saturday Night Live presented a take on van life that always gives me a chuckle. Chris Farley portrayed a motivational speaker named Matt Foley, who famously told his subjects that they’d end up in a “van down by the river” if they didn’t change their ways.

To the Baby Boomer generation and even later generations, the thought of living in a van was synonymous with failure. Today, it’s becoming more and more common, especially for digital nomads and seasonal workers searching for new experiences while building their resumes.

“Van life” has amassed huge followings on both Instagram and Pinterest, endearing the lifestyle to young professionals and adventure seekers. But like many other types of alternative lifestyles, campervan life has its rockstar side as well as its drawbacks. Before you set out on the road, here’s everything you wanted to know about working and living in a campervan.

Choosing Your Campervan

One of the most pivotal aspects of campervan life is choosing the right van. Several factors play into this decision including your level of minimalism, desire for extra features, and practicality. In addition, you’ll want to make sure your van has been recently serviced and is free of mechanical defects and flaws.

A visit to a trusted mechanic should put your mind at ease and uncover any potential problems that would deter you from purchasing the campervan.

Another often overlooked aspect of van life is whether to purchase a prefabricated campervan or build your own. Prefabricated vans are more expensive, ranging from $10,000 to six figures. However, these vans are professional quality and provide many of the features you need or want. If you don’t have much faith in your carpentry or electrical skills, this is the obvious choice.

Although building or retrofitting a van may seem like a nuisance, it gives you the opportunity to design every facet of the campervan without compromising. For the best results, purchase a cargo van or work van that acts as a blank canvas. Once you’ve found one that’s mechanically and cosmetically up to your standards, a carpenter and electrician can help you draw sketches and blueprints. If you’re a jack of all trades, you can do this on your own, but don’t attempt any projects you don’t feel confident about.

Must-Have Features for Your Campervan

Because you work and live in your van, you’ll need some extras whether you’re buying a prefab van or retrofitting a van on your own. Here’s a breakdown of must-have specs for both living and working.

Living Features

  • High Roof or Low Roof: The roof height may seem inconsequential, but it’s all part of your overall comfort. A high roof or pop-top allows you to stand in the vehicle, making it easier to prepare meals or stretch out. Conversely, a low roof doesn’t allow you to stand completely, but you can always open the door and hop outside.
  • Food Prep Area: A food prep area is something you may not have thought about, but it’s a virtual necessity nevertheless. You wouldn’t want to cook out in the rain, so make sure you have a surface that allows for food prep and another area for a small hibachi or hot plate.
  • Refrigerator: It’s not a total necessity, but a refrigerator sure comes in handy for leftovers, meat, and ice-cold beverages. In most instances, a mini-fridge will do.
  • Sink: Again, a sink isn’t a total necessity, but being able to do the dishes and wash veggies while you’re inside the van is a nice luxury.
  • Entertainment Options: Soaking in the scenery is one of the best aspects of van life. But when it’s raining or you’ve decided to hunker down in the same place for a while, it may become inconvenient or tiresome to constantly explore the outdoors. As such, you should consider a small television with an HDMI cable to run Netflix or watch movies off your computer. It’s the best option to defeat boredom or enjoy a lazy day away from “the office.”

Working Features

  • Second Battery: A second battery is a must for the nomadic worker living in a campervan. While you can charge your electronics on the starter battery of the vehicle, leaving them plugged in while the van is off can discharge the battery. If you’re in the middle of nowhere and your car won’t start, you have an issue. That’s why you should install a second battery. This battery is separate from the starter battery and uses the charge from the van’s alternator to keep it humming along. Not only will you keep your starter battery strong, but you can also keep your fridge and other electronics running overnight.
  • Working Area: Working in your bedroom has been linked to a lack of productivity and sleep deprivation. Because of this potential pitfall, you may want to consider a campervan that has a proper workstation. Many prefab campers have a small desk, while smaller vans and retrofitted options have a bed that converts to a table. Whatever van you choose, make certain that you can separate work from sleepy time.
  • Solar Panel: If you aren’t running your vehicle for a few days, your second battery might run all the way down. As a result, you’ll need a secondary way to charge electronics. For just a few hundred dollars, a solar panel can give you the juice you need to complete work on time.
  • Internet Connection: Internet is a must in any campervan, but how to get a strong signal is another ordeal. Fortunately, the extensive network of providers offers 5G to many locations around the country. While modern campervans have either a standard or aftermarket mobile broadband system, the cheapest and easiest way to maintain an internet connection is by purchasing a prepaid sim card. Find a data plan that works for you and make certain that it also offers tethering or hot-spot capabilities.

Planning Your Campervan Life for Work and Travel

Working and living in a campervan is an exciting chapter in your life, yet it’s also something that may require careful planning (or not). Deciding how to set forth on your journey is entirely dependent on your personality and goals. If you have an inherent temptation to micromanage, chances are you’ll want to choose your routes and destinations. Others might just go where the wind takes them. Either way, you will want to develop some basic framework before you travel. Take time and care to determine these aspects:

Determine a Budget

Regardless of whether you have a job locked down or not, you’ll need to cautiously create a budget. Make sure to include a budget for fuel, campground/caravan park fees, and maintenance. The age of your van will play a crucial role in your maintenance budget as well. Plan to always have about $500 on hand for oil changes, tire rotations, a replacement battery, or more complex mechanical work.

Save Money for Extras

Campervan life is a choose-your-own-adventure spectacle, so don’t let a lack of funds derail last-minute trips and side outings. If your favorite band is playing a concert a short distance away or you want to see your hometown sports team play at a different venue, don’t let a few bucks deter you. Try to save a few hundred dollars or more on top of your $500 maintenance budget.

Consider Extended Warranties for Big-Ticket Items

Unless you’re on the extreme rugged edge of the digital nomad spectrum, you will undoubtedly have some expensive electronics in tow. When it comes to your camera, phone, or laptop, you can’t work if your gear is stolen or you have an unfortunate coffee accident. Therefore, you might want to grab an extended warranty. While most extended warranties are tantamount to scams, the higher repair rates of laptops and some types of cameras may change your mind. Plus, the peace of mind you get may be worth a few hundred bucks.

Outside of these three details, the planning phase is at your discretion as far as where you decide to go. If you’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, head off to Arizona. Or if you’re a bit more adventurous, venture to Mexico, Canada, or beyond. 

The Not-So-Rockstar Side of Campervan Life

While the campervan lifestyle gives you an indescribable feeling of freedom and self-sufficiency, it also has its drawbacks. Unfortunately, many hopeful, eager people who dive into van life without contemplating the unglamorous side of the equation can find themselves in for a rude awakening.

Most notably, you’ll make a ton of sacrifices when you decide to live and work remotely in your campervan. You’ll have to sell most or all of your possessions or put them into storage. Doing so isn’t easy, especially for sentimental items.

You’ll also have to abandon the so-called “normal” lifestyle. If you’ve ever pined for your own bed on a vacation or you’ve found it difficult to cook in a smaller kitchen, living and working from a camper van may not be for you. 

However, one of the hardest transitions of van life is your relationships with others and the fear of missing out (“FOMO”). You may never have thought how much you missed after-work drinks with coworkers or watching Sunday football until you don’t have the opportunity anymore. Relationships with others may suffer, too. While you’ll remain friends with people and meet others along the way, communicating to friends and family only by text or Zoom just isn’t the same as seeing someone in person.

Uncertainty can also weigh on your conscience, causing undue stress if you aren’t prepared. While some digital nomads may see this as a positive aspect of van life, others may want a more rigorous and structured approach to their career and personal life.

Keeping in shape and eating right are also major hurdles. You might be in some places where you can hike, climb, or bike. But the reality is that you’ll also spend a great deal of time in your van. You can counteract this sedentary part of your journey with a proper diet, but like when you’re at home, sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking. Fight the urge to eat junk whenever possible. Otherwise, you’ll have to add a column to that budget for a new wardrobe.

Common Myths about Campervan Life

The joys of van life are innumerable but can vary depending on what you like to do, where you go, and who will accompany you on your journey. Waking up to a pristine, secluded beach each morning with friends or a significant other is indescribable. However, this is often the exception rather than the rule. To avoid disappointment, here are a couple of myths you need to dispel.

First, you won’t always camp near mountains, beaches, or some other ethereal backdrop. In many cases, especially in cities, your home is a parking lot (Walmart is usually a good bet and free), a parking garage, a side street, or even the side of the road. But that’s just part of the adventure, right?

Second, the interior of your van is seldom pristine and social-media-ready. You have to pile your entire life into one vehicle, and it’s not always pretty. Do try to clean your campervan at least once a week to remove clutter, keep your workstation clean, and avoid grime that can affect your health.

Although working and living in a campervan isn’t for everyone, it affords you the opportunity to explore at your leisure and experience something different each day without sacrificing your career aspirations. Turns out, maybe living in a van down by the river is right where you need to be.

Ready for the Campervan Life? Join Virtual Vocations and Go Fully Remote!

Ready to embrace the freedom of the campervan life and thrive as a digital nomad? If the allure of exploring new horizons while keeping your career on track excites you, it’s time to make that dream a reality. Join Virtual Vocations today, and join a world where work meets adventure. Don’t let your location dictate your career prospects. Go fully remote with Virtual Vocations, and start crafting your journey on the open road. Your future awaits, where every day is an opportunity to explore new places while advancing your career. Sign up now and let Virtual Vocations be the bridge to your dream of traveling and working remotely as a digital nomad. Embrace the freedom; embrace the future.

Is campervan life for you? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!

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