Family Car Van traveling on a remote highway
Living the Van Life

How to Live the Van Life … Without a Van

Unbound, unwritten, untapped experiences — this is van life.

It’s a seductive daydream. But, for many of us, it may not feel like a realistic one. Maybe you haven’t the time or the gear to make it happen, or perhaps you’re not ready to sell your house and abscond from “normal life.” Whether you’re looking to dip your toes in the water of van life or you just can’t commit to buying an actual van, this gear provides everything you’ll need to live the van life … without the van.

A van is an obvious choice for simple, minimalist life on the road. It strips down your “home” to the bare essentials which often means only a place to sleep, somewhere to cook, and (if you’re lucky) something resembling a bathroom and shower. It’s also important, of course, that it’s all mobile. And not in the way that a monstrous RV is mobile just because it has tires and an engine. You want to be able to go just about anywhere — possibly far off the beaten path — without concern.

The All-in-one Route

All you really need to live the van life is the proper gear. If you’re an “all-in-one” sort of gearhead, an ultra-light travel trailer is likely the way to go. The best trailers feature clever designs that package everything you might find in a well-kitted van — mainly a kitchen and sleep space, with the option for an outdoor shower.

TAXA Outdoors Cricket Camper Trailer
TAXA Outdoors Cricket Camper Trailer

Timberleaf hand builds beautiful teardrop trailers which balance design, utility, and function.

If you’re after something more outdoor-centric, TAXA Outdoors is the go-to for adventurous travelers. Their Cricket Camper Trailer is like a Swiss Army knife for wannabe van-lifers who like to off-road.

If you’d prefer a rugged, pared-down alternative that you can outfit and option yourself, Hiker Trailers are endlessly customizable.

The A La Carte Route

Yakima Skyrise Tent
Yakima Skyrise Tent

Of course, it’s also possible — sometimes preferable — to piece together your own van life “kit.” Above all else, you’ll need a sleep space, and there are all kinds of options on the market. One of the easiest to setup is a purpose-built rooftop tent. These mount to almost any sized sedan or SUV and come in a wide variety of styles and configurations. Yakima’s SkyRise Rooftop Tent is a solid, entry-level option that sleeps two, includes a ladder, and is durable in all but the worst weather. For a more full-featured alternative, Cascadia Vehicle Tents Mt. Denali Extended Stargazer Summit is like a spacious, soft-sided studio apartment that expands from the roof of your vehicle.

You’ll need a place to cook, make coffee, and crack a beer. The revolutionary EatOut might be just what you’re looking for — it’s almost an entire kitchen in a rolling modular cube. It includes a two-burner stove, storage space, dining tables, a cooler, overhead LED lanterns, and more. Just add food.

For bathroom purposes, a simple pop-up shower stall like this one from WolfWise is the way to go. It weighs next to nothing, folds completely flat, offers a six-foot-tall ceiling, and takes less than a minute to setup. Add a five-gallon solar shower and a basic camp toilet, and you’re good to go.

Just like actual van living, you can fully outfit your vehicle for life on the road with minimal investment. Or, if you’d prefer to go all-in, the sky is basically the limit to how much you can spend.