How To Vanlife with Jayme & John - Gnomad Home
So you’ve bought a van, you’ve converted it into a home, and now you’re ready to quit your job, hit the road, and go wherever the wind takes you. But your mind is still swimming with questions. You know you need to find a way to make money. You know you need to find places to camp. You know you need to set up ways to receive mail, get insurance, and convince the powers-that-be that you’re a participating member of society. But HOW do you do all of this?
To help answer your questions, we’ve created an epic "Vanlife How To" resource that answers all of your questions in one spot. We guide you through the how’s and the why's of life on the road to make the jump that much easier.
Below, we answer a couple of the most common questions that new vanlifers have: where to find camping, and how to make money. As you’ll see, there’s no reason these things should keep you from living your vanlife dreams!
Where do you sleep at night?
You’re pumped to hit the road and you want to see all you can. But where the heck do you park your van when it’s time for bed?
For free wilderness camping, you can boondock on public lands. This is where you’ll find us most often. The easiest way to find awesome wilderness camping spots is by using a camping app (we recommend FreeRoam and freecampsites.net). In the US, you can boondock for free on BLM land or National Forest land for up to 14 days, unless otherwise noted. Cell service can be hit or miss, but we have been able to find plenty of awesome boondocking spots with service. (Note: Boondocking typically implies there will be NO amenities, meaning no restrooms. Be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles when camping in the wild, and please leave a campsite cleaner than you found it.)
If you want to hang out around a city, there are a few options for free urban camping. The easiest (and most legal) way is to parking lot camp at a retailer that allows overnight parking. In the US, Walmart, Cracker Barrel, Cabela’s, and Flying J truck stops usually allow you to park overnight. However, we always recommend calling and asking first - some locations or towns may not allow this, and knowing ahead of time is better than getting roused out of bed by the cops at 3AM.
Although we’re personally fans of only camping where we’re allowed, some vanlifers do stealth camp in urban areas. This is where you find a quiet street, an industrial area, or anywhere you won’t stick out, and secretly sleep in your vehicle overnight. If you choose to go this route, we recommend being respectful and aware of your surroundings. Don’t make yourself obvious, don’t walk around with your shirt off or pee on the street, don’t overstay your welcome, and don’t argue if asked to move.
For pay camping, our favorite option is taking advantage of public campgrounds. These include state, county, and National Park campgrounds, as well as campgrounds run by the BLM or Forest Service. These campgrounds typically have pit toilets and fire rings, and some of the swankier ones will even have flush toilets and showerhouses. They are also typically located in beautiful scenic areas, and may have easy access to outdoor activities like hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, or boating. These campgrounds may or may not have cell service. Public campgrounds are usually on the cheaper end of the cost spectrum, and your camping fees are supporting public land (bonus!).
If you have more money to spend (or just really need access to some amenities), another option is crashing at an RV park or private campground. These are typically more expensive than public campgrounds, but also come with more amenities (like showers, laundry, and wifi). Many RV parks are also located in or close to towns/cities, and can be a convenient place to crash for a night or two if you need access to a city.
How do you make money on the road?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here, unfortunately. Van nomads have found many creative ways to make a living on the road. But the one thing we all have in common is a willingness to put ourselves out there, rather than sit back and wait for things to happen on their own. To give you some ideas, here are a few options for making money on the road:
First, if you love your job and you haven’t left it yet - ask if there’s a way to transition to remote work. Pitch to your boss the idea of letting you work from home one or two days a week. If it works out, you may be well on your way to going fully remote. This may not work for all jobs, but with modern technology and the internet, it’s becoming more and more possible to live nomadically while holding down a steady office job.
If you are physically handy, look into seasonal work. Many vanlifers hop from place to place working seasonal positions, earning enough money to fund their travels for a bit before diving into the next job. What kind of seasonal positions can you look for? Farm work is extremely common, and if you work hard you can make really decent money working on a farm. Nomads migrate north for the sugar beet harvest, or south to pick peaches, and so on. Another option is looking into seasonal positions at parks, resorts, or other outdoor adventure locations.
More into the digital nomad thing? If you’re computer savvy and already have a marketable skill, look into freelancing. There are several online job markets out there that connect freelancers with businesses needing work. In our travels we’ve met freelance writers, accountants, photographers, software developers, graphic designers, and construction estimators. The possibilities are truly endless. Another option is becoming a virtual assistant, which is where you help a business owner with tasks they need completed. If you’re responsible and on the ball, you can make a very decent income as a virtual assistant, and it can also be an opportunity to learn new skills and the ins-and-outs of a business.
Want to try your hand at entrepreneurship? We say go for it! If you work hard and do the right things, starting your own business can be one of the most lucrative ways to make a location-independent income. Our biggest advice here is to find where your passions and your strengths intersect, and begin there. To use us as an example, our passion is helping others cut ties with the chains of society and take control of their own lives. One of our strengths is learning about a topic and explaining it in a way that anyone can understand. So for us, a natural business for us to start was a website that explains things in a helpful way.
Epic Resource for All Your Vanlife Questions
We created Gnomad Home to help demystify vanlife, to get people like you on the road, to help you begin the process of creating your own path. We dig into how to build your van and how to live in your van with as much detail as we can, to help you avoid any confusion or setbacks.
Our new “Vanlife How-To” guide is jam packed with information on finding camping and making money on the road. It also answers questions about finding restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities, getting mail on the road, how much does vanlife cost, and even the dirty details of insurance that we all love to think about.
We wish you the best of luck on your adventures, fellow nomad! May your travels treat you well, and remember to roll with the constant changes of life on the road! Follow along and keep in touch with Jayme & John by clicking the buttons below. Thank you both so much for this awesome article and everything you do for this community!