(This article first appeared on Satellite Internet)
Do you have a touch of wanderlust? There’s never been a better time to hit the road in a van, bus, or RV. Living the van life (#vanlife) has emerged as the new American dream for many millennials, thanks to social media influencers like Foster Huntington and Eamon & Bec.
Maybe it’s because living out of a van isn’t as rustic as it used to be. With solar energy panels, satellite internet, custom-fitted vans, and a little creativity, van lifers can explore the world at a fraction of the price of traditional travel. In fact, many adventurers even work full-time jobs from the road.
Who are van lifers?
Van lifers are in all stages of life, including twenty-somethings, families with small kids, mid-lifers, and retirees. But despite SNL sketches about “living in a van down by the river,” millennials are the definite leaders of the van life movement.
There are nearly five and a half million #vanlife posts on Instagram—and these aren’t photos of grannies puttering down to South Florida for the winter. Nope, most van lifers are young, adventurous thrill-seekers.
So how do van lifers support themselves? Over 25% of van lifers are self-employed or work remote jobs as tech professionals, software engineers, videographers, artists, social media influencers, entrepreneurs, and more.
About another 10% work seasonal jobs, making enough during busy seasons to live off for the rest of the year. Only about 4% of van lifers are actually retired.
So if you think you need to be old or rich to enjoy life on the road, think again. What you do need, though, is a good place to start your van life adventure. We can help with that.
Best states for van life
If you want to start living the van life, some parts of the US are easier to live in than others. In general, the western and southern states are more hospitable to van lifers than other parts of the country.
Some places have strict laws that make it difficult to live in a van, some have a high cost of living, and others are simply so crowded that it’s hard to find a (legal) place to park.
Five of the top states for van lifers are in the West: Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. And four of the top 10 states are in the South: Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Florida.
West Virginia is the only state from the East that rounds out the top 10, thanks to its scenic beauty and proliferation of parks and recreational lands.
Here are the top 10 states for van life
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
What makes Wyoming a van lifer’s paradise?
Wyoming is home to several national parks and forests (such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton), but that’s not all Wyoming has going for it.
Other factors that helped Wyoming rank as the best state for van lifers are the state’s low cost of living (not including tourist hotspots—Jackson Hole, we’re looking at you) and lots of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, where parking your van is free and easy.
Wyoming also has the second-lowest population density of any state in the US, which means there’s more room to roam and fewer people to complain about.
More importantly, what makes Arkansas a van lifer’s paradise?
A low population density along with large federal land areas like the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest and the Ouachita National Forest, both with free dispersed camping and more formal, low-cost campgrounds, camping areas on our beautiful Corps of Engineers Lakes such as Lake Ouachita, DeGray Lake, Beaver Lake, Bull Shoals Lake and Lake Norfork amoung others. Add to that a robust state park system and there are plenty of incredible places to stay.
Urban opportunities are readily available in Northwest Arkansas, the Little Rock Area, Hot Springs, Fort Smith, Jonesboro, and Pine Bluff with strong food, entertainment, and craft beer scenes. Plus plenty of ways to enjoy your visit outdoors via mountain biking a Monument Trail, hiking to Hawksbill Crag, floating the Buffalo National River, or rock climbing at Sam’s Throne. There is an adventure for everyone.
How we ranked the states
To gauge the best 10 states for van lifers, we weighed many data points, including weather, gas prices, cost of living (not including rent), the percent of federal land (including BLM land and national parks), and how much people in each state spend on outdoor recreation.
Bear in mind that this ranking doesn’t indicate how many van lifers are actually in these states—it just looks at the theoretical cost and ease of van life in each state.
Since satellite internet is equally available across the US, we didn’t take this into consideration as a data point. Most van lifers stay connected with satellite internet from Viasat or HughesNet, free Wi-Fi zones at coffee shops, by using hotspots from their phone, or another form of portable internet.
Before you go
Even though van life can be cheap, most experts recommend building up significant savings to cover repairs and unexpected expenses before you buy your first van.
You’ll also need to pare down your belongings, practice your cooking and outdoor skills, and check out internet options for van lifers, especially if you plan on working remotely. After all, did it even happen if you didn’t Instagram it?