How to Talk to Your Family about your Van Life Plans

Afraid of how your family might react when you tell them you want to do van life? Here are helpful tips on how to share the news.

A campfire scene with four people sitting in chairs around a fire

After exploring New Zealand in a camper van for three months, I returned to the US craving the freedom of the open road. When I decided to purchase my first Sprinter van in 2016 and start van life full-time solo at 33 years old, I shocked a lot of people close to me.

Most of my friends and family were excited for me when I told them the news about my decision to live and work remotely in my home on wheels. Others thought I was crazy, expressed concern for my safety, and tried to talk me out of it – especially since I started van life as a solo female. What if I encountered weirdos? How would I make money and was I throwing away my career? What would happen if I didn’t like van life?

I spent two years living in my van full-time without paying rent. Since then, I’ve spent more than a thousand nights on the road, traveling across the US and Canada with my partner Ryan, our two dogs, and now our son.

As the people closest to me saw how happy this lifestyle made me, they slowly came to terms with my decision (even if they weren’t on board at first). Now, my friends and family look forward to hearing my stories from the road whenever I visit them.

It is hard to hear critiques and negative reactions from the people closest to you, especially when you care about them and their opinions deeply. In this guide, I will walk you through my tips for talking to your friends and family about your decision to do van life and offer advice on handling their reactions if the conversation goes south.

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    Tips for Breaking the News to your Fmaily

    You know your family and friends best. While there is no one right way to talk to them about your decision to start van life, here are my seven tips for handling the subject.

    1. Know your “why” for van life

    As with all big life decisions, you probably spent a lot of time researching van life and thinking about whether it was right for you before you decided to move into a van full-time.

    Personally, I spent countless hours researching the nomadic lifestyle, reading van life blogs, and reflecting on whether working remotely would be the best choice for me. I wanted to know the ins and outs of how to live on the road, along with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    Once I decided that I was going to go for it and give van life a whirl, I felt confident in my choice. I knew why I wanted to live in a van and how it would benefit my life (as I’ll explain further below).

    Although you may want to share your news with your parents or closest friends as soon as you decide to do van life, it is important to slow down and reflect on your “why” for wanting to do van life. I can almost guarantee that this one-word question is the first your friends and family will ask when you tell them your news.

    If you don’t know your “why,” then how will you explain it to others? I recommend journaling about it or meditating on it until you feel confident in your reasons for wanting to do van life.

    My “why” for van life is because I am the happiest, healthiest version of myself when I prioritize time outdoors. I see van life as a means to spend more of my time in nature and do the activities that make me feel good, including hiking, backpacking, and skiing.

    Woman standing in the doorway of a sprinter van looking out on the rolling mountains
    Van life allows me to spend more time in nature doing the things I love like hiking

    Once you have your answer, practice saying it out loud as if you were explaining your reasoning to a close friend or family member. You can even try saying it to yourself in the mirror or do a little role-playing with the person you plan to do van life with. Keep rehearsing until you feel confident you can look someone in the eye and explain your “why” without hesitation.

    2. Explain your reasoning

    Once you tell your friends and family that you’re doing van life and you explain your “why,” they will likely want to hear you expand a bit more on your reasons for choosing this lifestyle. There are numerous advantages to van life, and you must consider which of these benefits best explains your decision.

    Since most of your family and friends probably follow the traditional path of graduating college, climbing the corporate ladder, and settling down somewhere, you may also consider explaining why this path doesn’t appeal to you. When you explain this to your people, ask yourself: what does van life offer that a traditional path does not?

    Here are some reasons to share with your friends and family about your decision to pursue van life. I don’t recommend overwhelming them with all of these reasons; rather, describe a few of the pros of van life that are key factors in your decision:

    • Travel spontaneously: Have the freedom to go wherever, whenever you want.
    • See the country: Scope out potential future home bases and see where you might want to plant roots.
    • Save on rent and utilities: Avoid monthly payments for things like rent, electricity, sewage, trash, etc.
    • Travel affordably: See more destinations without having to spend money on flights, rental cars, and hotels.
    • Spend more time in nature: Wake up each day with nature right outside your door.
    • Be active: Live a more healthy, active lifestyle that inspires you to get outside every day.
    • Live with less: Get rid of the clutter and only live with the items you truly need.
    • Simplify chores: Instead of spending your weekends cleaning, live in a small space that you can tidy in a matter of minutes.
    • Be self-reliant: Cook your food, sleep in your bed, and take care of yourself on your own.
    • Meet new people: Meet open, like-minded people who also chose not to follow a traditional path.
    • Work with a view: Instead of working in a cubicle, work wherever you want.
    • Personal development: Increase your self-confidence as you navigate challenges and step out of your comfort zone.
    Bearfoot Theory founder Kristen Bor working in her Sprinter Van outside of Joshua Tree
    One fo my biggest reasons for starting van life was so I could work from the road and travel spontaneously.

    3. Outline your plan for the van

    When you tell your family and friends that you are going to live in a van, they will likely want to know which van you have in mind. You will also want to share your plan for obtaining a van.

    Whether you plan to build out a DIY van or purchase a professionally converted van, you will want to share this information with your friends and family. Prepare to explain which make/model of van you’re looking to purchase (and why you picked that one), the floorplan you’ve decided on, and how you will convert it (or which company you’re going through).

    They also might want to know how you will afford the van. If you need to take out a loan, you will want to research which loans you qualify for and what your monthly payment will be.

    Make sure you also know how much the van costs to register and insure. You’ll want a rough timeline of when your van will be completed and when you’ll move into it.

    White Sprinter Van parked in front of a campsite with a fire
    For my first van, I bought a new 2015 Sprinter van and had it converted by a private builder

    4. Demonstrate your van life knowledge

    Before you open the floor for questions, explain to your friends and family you’ve researched how to make this lifestyle work. You will want to familiarize yourself with van life 101, show them that you’ve thought through the pros and cons of van life, and anticipate the questions they will ask (and how you will respond – feel free to use my ideas below).

    Although I like to be spontaneous and figure things out as I go, this is NOT what I recommend for this conversation. Demonstrate a realistic grasp of life on the road, the troubles you may encounter, and how you will deal with the complexities of being a nomad.

    From there, you will want to address some of the most common questions and concerns about van life. Although this may seem over the top, I guarantee that these are the questions your family and friends will have when you tell them you are starting van life.

    It is good to be prepared and show them that you have thought through these things to give them assurance and peace of mind.

    • Belongings: Will you sell your possessions or put them in a storage unit?
      When I moved into my van, I sold the majority of my stuff and paid for a small storage unit for the rest. Don’t assume you’ll be able to store your stuff in your family’s garage. You want to show them you can do this on your own without relying on them.
    • Current home and vehicle: Do you plan to keep or sell?
      I had lived in an apartment, so I simply moved out when the lease ended. I decided to sell my vehicle so I wouldn’t have to pay insurance and registration costs on it while I wasn’t driving it. If you’re only going to do van life for a short time, you may want to keep your home and vehicle. Renting your current home is also an option that will bring in some money while you’re gone.
    • Income: How will you make money on the road?
      My blog was already two years old when I moved into my van, so I decided to work remotely. If you aren’t sure what you’ll do yet, here are some remote job ideas for van lifers and travelers.
    • Health insurance: What will you do for health insurance while traveling?
      If you don’t plan to work a full-time remote position with benefits, here are some health insurance options for van lifers.
    • Mail: How will you get mail on the road?
      You have a few options for this, including using a friend or family member’s address. There are several ways you can establish residency and get mail on the road.
    • Internet access: What will you do for Wi-Fi?
      Thankfully, there are multiple ways to get internet access as a van lifer, including Starlink and cellular hotspot data. I like to use a mix of both.
    • Bathroom: What will you do for a toilet?
      You can include a toilet in your camper van build and might consider picking one of these best options for toilets for van life. I recommend going this route to follow Leave No Trace principles when you’re out in nature.
    • Finding amenities: How will you find places to shower, fill your water, and do laundry?
      Thanks to technology, it is fairly easy to find van life amenities on the road, including showers, dump stations, water fill-ups, and laundromats.
    • Finding campsites: Where will you park each night?
      While you don’t need to have all of your campsites mapped out, you should at least have some ideas for how you’ll find spots. I recommend downloading iOverlander and using this guide to find free campsites.
    • Safety: How will you stay safe while traveling and living in your van?
      This is a common concern, especially for staying safe as a solo female van lifer. You can take precautions to stay safe on the road.
    Kristen Bor working on her blog Bearfoot Theory at a campsite
    I recommend doing your research and reading van life blogs (like this one) beforehand

    5. Address their questions and concerns

    After you explain your decision, reasoning, and plan, your friends and family members will likely have some questions and concerns. Give them a chance to react and talk about the things on their mind without getting defensive.

    It is difficult to anticipate what their biggest concerns might be. While you may not be able to predict how they will react, you can have a plan for what you’ll do if they raise a concern that catches you off guard.

    I recommend actively involving your friends and family in the actual planning and problem-solving of the very problems that they brainstorm. If they raise a concern you haven’t considered, you could ask them for their thoughts on how they would handle it or what they would do if they were in your shoes.

    It is also okay to admit that you don’t know or have all the answers to something they suggested, but tell them you plan to look into it. After the conversation, follow through with this and show them what you found. This will help your friends and family members feel heard and respected.

    Bearfoot Theory founder Kristen Bor talking with a friend inside of a Sprinter Van with a laptop on the table
    Researching van life solutions with your concerned friends and family can help them feel reassured

    6. Empathize with them

    Remember to be patient with your family and friends as they process your news of starting van life. Although sometimes their comments may come across as insensitive, annoying, or patronizing, remember that they love you above all else.

    People often project their fears onto others, especially when you are doing something that scares them or they could never fathom doing themselves. Their biggest concern is likely your welfare, and they want to do whatever they can to keep you safe.

    For BFT contributor Kaylin, her parents sent her news articles about dangers for places she was traveling to, weather alerts, and even a taser to defend herself on the road. Although Kaylin never asked them to do these things (and secretly rolls her eyes), she knows it comes from a place of love and appreciates them thinking of her.

    I experienced something similar with my parents. My parents were primarily worried about my safety, as well as my financial well-being. Even though my blog was two years old at the time and starting to bring in money, they couldn’t understand how I’d be able to support myself or make a reliable income on the road.

    People also fear change and being left behind. Your friends may be more concerned about your friendship ending. As a full-time van lifer, you will be far away for months at a time, and they will likely miss you.

    Thankfully, you can text, talk on the phone, and video call. You can even send them postcards from the places you visit. Staying in touch is easier said than done, though, and ultimately requires effort from both sides to make it work. You will want to carefully consider the friendships in your life, which ones matter to you and are worth the extra effort, and how you will prioritize keeping in touch.

    Looking into the back of Kristen's second Sprinter Van as she's laying on the platform bed looking out
    When I lived in my van solo, I took safety precautions like storing valuable gear inside my van

    7. Give them time to process

    Although your friends and family may seem confused or caught off guard when you tell them you’re starting van life, they likely need time to process the news before they can fully share your happiness and excitement.

    People often assume that you will follow the same formulaic life plan as they do. Since you are going against the traditional roadmap of checking off boxes, this might be the first time they have ever considered that you won’t follow in their footsteps or pursue a similar life to what they chose.

    They may even need more time to see how much happiness van life brings you before they understand. When you are happy, it radiates, and people who see that will naturally be happy for you.

    You may be surprised how their reactions change over time. My parents who were very concerned at first have since told me that in hindsight, they wish they would’ve done the same thing at my age.

    In fact, my dad, in his mid-70s, has now followed in my footsteps with a Sprinter Van of his own. He’s been traveling in it the last few summers, and we’ve been able to meet up on the road.

    Bearfoot Theory founder Kristen Bor sitting in a camp chair next to her dad at a campsite with their Sprinter vans behind them
    Camping with my dad at an RV park near Ophir Beach in Oregon

    How to Handle Negative Reactions to Starting Van Life

    Although you might approach this conversation feeling prepared, confident, and empathetic, it is still possible for your friends or family members to react negatively to your news of starting van life. Depending on their reaction, here are three different ways you can respond.

    1. Laugh with them

    If your friends and family have a sense of humor, they may quote the classic Chris Farley SNL skit and say something along the lines of: “So you’re going to live in a van down by the river?” Everyone thinks they are so original with this joke!

    If they are teasing you, laugh with them and try not to let it bother you. If you feel comfortable, you can even jump in with your own jokes!

    In my opinion, this kind of teasing and people giving you a hard time is actually a positive reaction. However, it ultimately depends on the relationship you have with the person teasing and if it feels friendly or mocking. If it feels like they are mocking you, you’ll want to ask them their intentions, as outlined below.

    2. Clarify their intentions

    Words can hurt. If your friends or family members make you feel bad or mock you for your decision to live in a van, it is likely because they are doubting their own life choices and deflecting to save face.

    If they still don’t “get it,” that’s okay. You don’t need their validation or approval to live in a van. But you need them to respect you and your decision if you want to maintain a relationship with them going forward.

    In my opinion, the best way to handle this is to be direct. Let them know that their comment hurt your feelings and explain why. You could also let them know why you were excited to share your news with them and how you hoped they would react.

    If they apologize and explain their intentions in a way that makes sense, you can forgive and move forward. Perhaps they are jealous, insecure, worried about your safety, or concerned that your relationship will change. They might not know how to express it.

    However, if they persist, become defensive, or blame you for their hurtful comments, I recommend taking a step back to get some space. They may not be thinking clearly and later regret their words and apologize.

    If not, you will want to consider if this is a relationship that you want to continue.

    4 people standing next to a lake in Stanley Idaho
    Van life has allowed me to introduce my parents to the outdoors. Now they love hiking and getting outside.

    3. Set healthy boundaries with those who don’t approve

    Sometimes, the people closest to you know how to hurt you the most. Your friends and family may express disapproval to your face or gossip behind your back. 

    If they express that you are in any way a failure, loser, or loner, you may want to ask yourself if you even want to continue to keep these people in your life. Or you may need to set a boundary that all conversations about your decisions around van life are off-limits.

    As we evolve and grow, there will be people who accept and embrace our changes and others who want us to stay the same.

    You ultimately need to follow your happiness without caring about what others think. Their opinions are just that – opinions.

    As you get on the road and meet other van lifers and build a brand new community, you’ll swap stories and find that so many of us went through similar experiences sharing our desires to live in a van. Relating to other van lifers, you’ll quickly find validation in your decision to move into a van.

    Three women standing in front of a Sprinter van at Open Roads Fest
    Hanging out with my fellow van lifer friends in front of my Sprinter at Open Roads Fest
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    What questions do you have about talking to your friends and family about starting van life? If you are a van lifer, how did they react when you told them? Let me know in the comment section below!

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