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Can You Live In A Sprinter Van?

Red Sprinter van parked at edge of road

Many people choose to use Sprinter vans as a permanent residency rather than paying rent on an apartment or a mortgage payment. These vans have even given the traditional RV market a run for their money due to their relative economic cost, their ease of parking, and the living space they provide in return.

So can you live in a Sprinter van? Yes, full-time Sprinter van life is possible, provided the owner has the financial means to buy and maintain a converted vehicle and that there is some portable source of income that allows a nomadic lifestyle.

Van life in a converted Sprinter van might seem imminently Instagrammable with its stunning vistas, and carefree lifestyle. However, some trades must be made in comfort to secure the sort of freedom that van life provides, and these inconveniences can be too much for many would-be nomads. Continue on to find out more about life in a Sprinter van and whether it would be the right life for you.

Advantages Of Living In A Sprinter Van

Many advantages come with living out of a Sprinter van. Here are some of the benefits you can enjoy from a nomadic van-based lifestyle:

Freedom: If you live in a vehicle, you effectively have the option to pick up and leave and settle someplace new any time you feel like it. For people who aren’t tied to a single location by their jobs, this can be a great way to see the world and travel while working at the same time.

Low costs: Compared to a monthly mortgage on a house, the costs of living in a van can be minimal. The solar setup typically used to power a Sprinter van’s living quarters cost pennies on the dollar relative to the cost of utilities in a house. Also, you can enjoy the freedom of not needing to pay property taxes and other costs associated with homeownership.

Minimalist lifestyle: It can be challenging to implement a minimalist lifestyle in a traditional home setting. In general, humans are consumers who like to buy tons of stuff and keep it in one place. Living out of a van forces people into a minimalist lifestyle since only so many things can fit into a van no matter what you want to bring.

Opportunities to travel: Most people save up an entire year for the chance to go on a road trip or sightsee, but people who live out of a Sprinter van have the opportunity to do it all year long.

For people who prefer gathering experiences to things, living out of a Sprinter van at least for a few years can let them focus on paring down their lives to make room for the life experiences that are most important to them.

Disadvantages Of Living In A Sprinter Van

While there are many benefits of living in a Sprinter van, there are some distinct drawbacks too. It definitely isn’t a lifestyle for everyone. Here are some of the disadvantages of living in a Sprinter van:

It doesn’t work with all careers: To be able to move around from place to place in a nomadic sort of lifestyle, you obviously can’t work a job where you have to report to the same office day after day. Van life is suitable for retirees, freelancers, artists, and very few other careers. Those constraints can make it hard for anyone who wants to live out of a Sprinter van to be able to pull it off.

Cramped spaces: One of the most significant disadvantages of living in a van is the reduced living space. Many people who consider a studio apartment too cramped for a comfortable living would not be able to cut it in van life. To prevent feeling cramped by a lack of living space, many people who live in a Sprinter van spend the majority of their time outside of it.

Lack of water and basic amenities: Most people who live in a house or apartment take their easy access to water for granted, and don’t take into consideration how many household tasks require it. When living out of a van, cooking, bathing, and even just grabbing a drink becomes more complicated than when you’re living in a house.

Extreme temperatures: Many people in this modern society wouldn’t think about being without air conditioning or an insulated residence. As a result, the fluctuating temperatures of living out of a van, especially in geographies with extreme high and low temperatures, can be a significant discomfort for some people. This is especially true for those who are more vulnerable to extreme temperatures, such as children or the elderly.

Difficult hygiene: Living out of a van requires van owners to bathe out of public baths a lot of the time. Since vans don’t come with bathtubs and showers, it’s harder for people living out of vans to stay clean compared to people who own private bathrooms in a home. This can mean a life spent in porta-potties and questionably clean public restrooms, not for the squeamish.

Displaced due to repairs: Like any other vehicle under heavy load, a Sprinter van outfitted for living quarters will eventually need to go in for mechanical repairs, and this can involve the van being out of commission for days or even weeks. Van owners will need to have money saved up to rent other living quarters during repairs, not to mention saving up for repairs themselves.

Finding a place to sleep: Finding a place to park the van can be difficult in some areas, as it isn’t legal to circle the wagons just anywhere. If you stay in the wrong place, you might find yourself waking up to a policeman knocking on your van window. This means people living out of a Sprinter van always need to be thinking ahead and researching places they can rest.

Lots of retirees, writers, and artists have a dream to get a Sprinter van and go touring the countryside. With the advent of telecommuting and the freelance-based economy, this is becoming more doable all the time.

But there are often a lot of complications and investments involved with successful van life that shouldn’t be handwaved or dismissed without considering them carefully, or you might end up in a miserable situation you didn’t adequately plan for.

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Prepping A Sprinter Van For Living Quarters

After purchasing a Sprinter van to convert into a livable van. You must complete many tasks before it’s ready to live out of comfortably. Below are some of the jobs that you need to accomplished to make a Sprinter van habitable:

Van Camping Life Tip: Sprinter vans make an excellent choice for converting into a comfortable van. However, other vans are roomy enough for this type of conversion also. To learn more, read our post, “What Vans Can You Stand Up In?

Configuring the van’s interior: Let’s face it, when it comes to vans, there are two basic styles, passenger and cargo. Passengers vans carry people, so this means that you need to remove the rear seats, interior panels, and any other obstacles that are in the way. This kind of disassembly can be tedious for novices.

Cargo vans usually are just a large empty unfinished area and have much less disassembly work involved. However, there still may be a bulkhead, shelves, and other fixtures that need removing.

Cleaning the van out: If you’re buying a Sprinter van for conversion, chances are you might be buying it used. Then you’re going to have to thoroughly clean the interior to remove any dirt and grim and make it clean enough for living.

Measuring and designing the van space: Converting a Sprinter van into living quarters involves knowing exactly what you need in a small living space. Then you need to figure out how to put it all together in a single compartment that lets you move around easily inside the van. Each person’s van design will look slightly different depending on their needs. Some van goers might need a place for their dog or cat, and others might need a traveling art studio.

Installing living quarters: Once you have a Sprinter van ready for conversion, you’ll have to install all of your amenities, a kitchen area, a place for a bed, and other smaller things such as curtains to cover the windows at night.

Depending on how fancy you make it, a Sprinter van can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to outfit for full-time living. It’s crucial for people who want to live out of a Sprinter van to plan carefully to get the best out of their conversion investment.

Sprinter Van Life And Portable Careers

Source of income can be a serious issue for those who are wanting to live out of a Sprinter van. Some careers, such as freelance writing or selling handmade art, are ideally suited for a nomadic van life. It would be more challenging for other professions, such as corporate executives or factory workers, to live out of a van since they require people to be at a single location.

Some predictions assert that in the near future, the majority of employees in the United States will be freelancing. In addition to an increasing interest in the “tiny house life,” it has led to a large influx of people who want to try out the van lifestyle. New opportunities in portable careers are making the previously farfetched idea of a nomadic lifestyle a much more distinct possibility for many people.

Listed below are some of the occupations that are well-suited to living out of a Sprinter van:

Freelance writing: Writers are uniquely positioned for van life because a lot of their work can be done digitally, from the promotion of themselves on employment profiles to securing their gigs and processing payment.

Visual arts: Artists are historically a nomadic bunch, and living out of a van leaves them free to follow art fairs and festivals, travel to exhibitions of their work, and sell their work online through various digital galleries. Because art can be a notoriously low-paying venture, van life can help to mitigate the costs associated with a lifestyle dedicated to creating it.

Information technology: Like freelance writers, programmers and other professionals who specialize in IT can often perform their work duties through teleconferences and remote control of other networks, which means they’re able to do their job from practically anywhere.

Foreign language: More and more often, students of a foreign language are turning to the Internet for Skype-based tutors and other digital forms of foreign language education instead of going to physical classrooms. Language teachers now have the freedom to teach a class or tutor a student one-on-one from the comfort of their home on wheels.

Social media marketing: Many of the tasks involved in a creative agency ranging from marketing to graphic design can be performed remotely. This means that they can complete their work responsibilities anywhere a secure Internet connection can be found.

Personal digital assistants: To avoid having to pay for the overhead of maintaining a full-time personal secretary, many corporate executives are turning instead to personal digital assistants. Personal digital assistants do everything from making their travel arrangements to typing up and proofreading their memos—a type of job that is well suited to a van resident.

The commonality of these jobs is the ability to be performed from anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. However, they do involve the necessity for personal hustle. Living the Sprinter van life isn’t suitable for anyone who isn’t capable of being their own boss and managing their own business.

Sprinter Van Life And Monthly Expenses

Living in a Sprinter van might absolve people of many monthly expenses they’d otherwise incur if they had a permanent residence, but that doesn’t mean that living out of a van doesn’t have its own set of unique costs to consider. These are some of the costs you’ll need to think about when you brainstorm about living out of a Sprinter van:

Gas: Let’s face it, Sprinter vans aren’t exactly known for their efficient gas mileage, and once loaded down with a home’s worth of belongings, the cost of keeping a van in gas can cost a pretty penny per month. This is especially true if using the van for extensive travel rather than being parked at a campground.

Insurance: It can often be more difficult to get insurance for a van that’s converted into a camper. Insurance companies may not want to insure the vehicle for either a reasonable price or without loopholes. That could leave the van owner without necessary coverage in case of an accident.

Camping fees: National parks and other campgrounds often charge by the night for parking, so keep money on hand to take care of these sorts of daily charges.

Gym membership: One way that people who live in vans manage to maintain good hygiene is to take advantage of gym memberships at chain gyms that give them full shower access wherever they go. This membership doesn’t come for free, though, and involves taking on a monthly bill.

Internet access: Public Wi-Fi may not always be dependable, especially for those van residents who run a freelancing business that is dependent on their digital availability. That means shelling out for an Internet hot spot, which can become costly depending on how often you use it for work or recreation.

People who chose to live in Sprinter vans can save thousands of dollars a year in the cost of rent, but people who try it shouldn’t expect to pocket all that money. Instead, some of it will inevitably need to be invested in other aspects of van living to live comfortably and maintain a source of income.

Sprinter Van Life And Communication

One of the biggest challenges to living out of a Sprinter van is communication. Luckily with cellphones staying in touch with friends and family back home is possible, but cellphone plans with enough data to support a nomadic lifestyle can be cost-prohibitive. This is especially true when adding in the cost of digital communications such as Internet access, which most van residents require to make a living.

Free Wi-Fi sign

Many people who live out of vans and use the Internet casually try to take advantage of free public Wi-Fi as often as possible. This Internet access can usually be found for free at coffee shops, libraries, airports, gyms, and other areas where people have to wait or spend extended amounts of time keeping themselves occupied.

For digital nomads who live out of a van, this kind of intermittent access to the Internet is often not reliable enough for them to depend on full-time. For those people, paying for Internet access through their phone’s data plan is the best method for making sure they have access to the Internet whenever and wherever they need it.

For people who intend to spend a lot of their time camping in public campgrounds like public parks, it’s important to remember that many rural and wilderness areas do not have the kind of cellular coverage that urban centers do. That means that when work is due digitally, van campers must plan ahead to make sure they’ll have Internet access when they need it.

Sprinter Van Life And Hygiene

Another living aspect that people who live out of Sprinter vans must take into deeper consideration than the average person is how to stay clean. Along with the fact that cramped quarters tend to get cluttered more quickly than spacious ones, just having access to bathing facilities and water can be tricky when you live out of a vehicle.

Because of the closed living space, the van must be kept sanitized to avoid the spread of bacteria and germs that can cause illness more quickly than in a larger living space.

Vans also don’t come equipped with any kind of showering or laundry facilities, which means that to get these household tasks accomplished, they need outsourced. For laundry, many who live out of a van opt for laundromats as a cheaper alternative to drop-off dry-cleaning. For catching a shower on the road, gym memberships, truck stops, and some campground facilities provide adequate bathing access.

For those who don’t have a permanent gym membership, a solution is to purchase a day pass to a local gym that will allow the van resident to work out, shave, and shower. Some adventurous van residents embrace the rough life and even go so far as to do some of their bathing in lakes and rivers.

Sprinter Van Life And Hobbies

When it comes to hobbies, living in a Sprinter van can be somewhat constricting. Expensive hobbies or hobbies that are geographically restricted are usually bad choices, as are any hobbies that require entertaining others often.

The types of hobbies that are best suited for living in a Sprinter van are bohemian ones—creating small works of art such as paintings or jewelry, writing, or drawing in a sketchbook.

Since van life prohibits people from being able to accumulate a lot of accessories associated with their hobby, this means that hobbies like sports, which call for a lot of personal gear, are a little harder to maintain from a van-based home.

Living in a Sprinter van is an excellent choice for those who have outdoor hobbies like camping, hiking, fishing, and surfing. Campgrounds are a great place for van dwellers to set up shop temporarily, and surfers can follow the waves and currents without being tied down to one place.

Overall living in a van is a good choice for people who either have artistic hobbies that don’t take up a lot of space or adventurous types that engage in their hobby outside of the van without a lot of needed gear.

Sprinter Van Life And Pets

Many people who imagine living out of their van can’t imagine going without taking their beloved dog or cat along. While it can be fun to have a companion animal in your Sprinter van, there are a few issues that need to be taken into account when deciding whether an animal is right for your van. Not only will animals need to be kept secured while the van is moving, but they’ll also require a place to eat and sleep.

Dog looking up from ground outside of van

If you already have a dog that has been accustomed to a permanent home in an apartment or house, especially an older animal, the shift to a nomadic lifestyle can be jarring and stressful. You also don’t want to find out your middle-aged, or elderly dog gets carsick after you’ve already invested thousands of dollars into converting a van for residence.

Tank-based pets such as reptiles, rodents, and invertebrates are not typically the right choice for van life. Not only do these tanks have to be cleaned regularly to avoid the smell, but the fluctuating temperatures inside a van can also be detrimental to these animals and make it hard for them to survive successfully in the long-term.

Many tank creatures such as snakes and geckos require heating and lighting to be healthy that is difficult to provide consistently in a van-based lifestyle.

The animal’s bathroom habits must be taken into consideration too. Keeping a cat in a van means keeping a litterbox in a small enclosed space where you’ll be sure to smell it even if you clean it out regularly, and keeping a dog with you means frequently stopping when nature calls.

Is Life In A Sprinter Van For You?

If you’re considering buying a Sprinter van to convert for permanent residence as a full-time camper, there are some questions you need to ask yourself before you commit to the purchase:

  • Do I have a career that will allow me to travel freely and still maintain a consistent source of income?
  • Can I deal with having limited access to running water, bathing facilities, and other amenities?
  • Do I have pets, and are they a good fit for a van-based lifestyle?
  • Can I still enjoy my hobbies from a van?
  • How much stuff do I own, and how much of it am I willing to part with to fit it all in a single-vehicle?

The answers to these questions are different for everyone. Figuring these answers out, however, is key to making sure that you would genuinely enjoy living out of a Sprinter van before you become financially invested in making that lifestyle a reality.

Sprinter Van Life Is Good For Nomads

While living in a Sprinter van isn’t for everyone, the blossoming gig economy means that fewer and fewer workers need a stationary home office. That means that they increasingly have the option to live out of a nomadic vehicle versus putting down roots in a permanent residence.

This kind of spartan, spontaneous lifestyle can come with some serious drawbacks that means it isn’t suitable for everyone, but there are many kinds of people who would enjoy living out of a Sprinter van if they tried it.

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The western part of the country draws me with its mountains, deserts, and red rock vistas. Still, there are numerous other wonders I'm ready to explore., from Maine's rugged coast to California's Big Sur cliffs and everywhere between.