I Tried Living In My Car For 24 Hours To See If #VanLife was For Me

Inspired by “Van Life” content on YouTube, I lived in my car for 24 hours to see if “alternative living” is something I could do long-term.

I first discovered “Van Life” content on YouTube when Jenelle Eliana blew up on the site, and have expanded my viewing to include many different types of ‘alternative living’ content ever since; from ‘Van Life’ to ‘Tiny houses’ and everything in between.

The vast library of inspirational, luxurious-seeming ‘Van Life’ content on social media got me thinking — could I survive as a “Vanlifer”? Is living in a vehicle as easy as they make it look?

So I set myself a challenge; to live the ‘Van life’ for 24 hours.

This didn’t mean staying in my car for 24 hours; it meant living the way I’ve watched Jenelle and the other YouTubers live — sleeping in the vehicle but spending most of the time out if it; eating out, getting in the sea, going to the gym to work out and/or shower, doing yoga etc. The challenge was to live as normal as possible a life while living in my car (and without running water) and see if I could last.

Firstly, the experiment was a surprisingly expensive one. To really live the #VanLife, I not only needed to eat out all day; but I also needed to entertain myself, out of the car, for a good portion of the day . Entertainment, food, and even toilet facitilies all cost money when you have no fixed abode.

Food

I ate lunch in the park and ended up eating dinner at a fast food restaurant, as I was tired, I had no cooking utensils in the car and, by the end of the day, I didn’t smell well enough to enter most food establishments. My lunch in the park wasn’t very healthy (crepes and coffee), and even though I avoided the cost of lunch, I didn’t feel very full nor was my meal very healthy.

For dinner, I doubled down on my unhealthiness and brought my husband to get fast food to say thanks for supporting me in my unusual endeavour. I didn’t have the utensils to cook anything plus I was not clean enough by that point to go into a restaurant.

One positive is that I didn’t snack as much as I would normally when sitting on the couch at home, but that could be because I didn’t have any snacks in the car and, when cold, didn’t want to leave the car to buy any.

Entertainment

Most “VanLifers” I watch show themselves engaging in things like yoga, and watersports. In the morning, I attended an outdoor yoga class. It began to rain halfway through and we ran for cover in a nearby gazebo, where we finished the session on rock hard ground before leaving €5 in a little jar. Later that afternoon, I battled the traffic to rent a stand up paddle-board near a tourist hotspot to paddle around the (freezing!) pier in the evening. I dried myself off outside my car, changed my clothes in the front seat and wished I could have a hot shower without driving all the way back to my gym. Laziness won, and I didn’t drive to the gym — so I just didn’t shower.

That night, I parked outside my house and wrapped myself in a duvet, tracksuit bottoms, a hoodie and a beanie hat. I watched a few shows on Netflix (stealing my own wifi — technically a cheat!) before eventually falling asleep. I woke up the next morning around 6am, when a combination of the light streaming through the car and the neighbour’s dog barking woke me up.

Cost

Day costs included:

  • Petrol: €20
  • Outdoor Yoga Class: €5
  • Renting A Stand Up Paddle Board: €25
  • Crepe and coffee in the park: €9
  • Takeaway dinner: €21

The above costs are not including road tax, car insurance or car-loan payments, nor does it include the cost of the wifi I was using, or the cost of my phone package. Therefore, one day living in the car cost me upwards of €80, before any of the major, ongoing costs of the car were taken into account. Simply put, take into account first the afore-mentioned costs plus any repayments due on the car and a gym membership (Most of the “Van Lifers” without running water in their vans recommend a gym membership for showers) and costs would be in the hundreds per month, before the daily costs of entertaining and feeding yourself are added on.

Adding to the list of costs would be the cost of the van and the conversion, as most of these content creators don’t live in small Hyundais as I tried to — they live in custom, converted Sprinter or similar brand vans. A vehicle, similar to a house, needs constant maintenance too — add in the cost of new tyres, regular services and petrol/diesel depending on how much travelling you’re doing and the lifestyle portrayed on YouTube doesn’t seem much more economical than renting a fixed abode.

Parking

While I didn’t have a terrible time trying to park my very small city car, I did struggle to find parking at the park (which made me late for the yoga class) and I had to pay for tourist-rate parking while stand-up paddle-boarding. Parking at my own house overnight saved me that cost and helped me feel a lot safer and more secure; As a five-foot woman, parking somewhere in the city centre overnight without my windows tinted could have been a very dangerous thing to do, and I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

When Nature Calls

The first run-in I had with the lack of bathroom was after the outdoor yoga class. I hopped around the park, cursing myself for not planning ahead and locating the nearest toilets before the need was so dire. I luckily passed a tennis club and was able to run in and use the facilities before anyone noticed that I was not a paying member.

For my second run-in with mother nature … I cheated. I ran into my house to go to the bathroom before I had an unfortunate accident in my car. The lack of bathroom facilities would, for me, be a huge problem with this lifestyle. I lack the kind of foresight to plan my days by where car parking and bathrooms are, and I would dread needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

It’s important to remember that while some people live in their car because their economic situation forces them to, the “Vanlifers” online are distinctly seperate from this, selling to their viewers a dream of low-cost, low-stress living that just doesn’t appear to be the reality.

To summarise — while car living is relatively warm and comfortable and therefore, a good option if there are no others, I didn’t enjoy the lifestyle as a choice and would prefer to be warm at home with wifi and an accessible toilet whenever I wish to use it.

Travel & Lifestyle Content Creator on YouTube, freelance multimedia journalist in Ireland.

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