How to Explain Van Life to Your Parents

So you’ve given the idea of van living a great deal of thought, and you have spent months, maybe years preparing for this next mobile chapter of your life. Even if you have all of your bases covered, and have left no stone unturned, chances are telling your parents about this venture is going to take some of the wind out of your sails. I don’t care if they’re even the most free spirited individuals, or if they themselves have spent time van living as well, they’re going to find some ways to perforate what you thought was an airtight plan.

But worry not! We’re going to look at where these concerns come from and how to have an effective, civilized discussion with the people who care about you the most.


A lot of this comes down to basic concern about your wellbeing. It is a parent’s role to care for their children. It existed back when you were first crossing the road, or when they told you not to talk to strangers, and it exists still today, albeit in a different form. It’s a big old world out there, and we tend to worry most about that which we have no control over. While you’re out there on your own path, your parents will be wringing their hands worrying about the endless “what ifs,” and potential dangers that await you.

The best way to approach this issue is to ensure that you will be safe and take all the necessary precautions to keep you out of harm’s way.

On the topic of safety from other people, show them that you have done the proper research on locking mechanisms and other break-in deterrents. If you plan on doing most of your living outside city limits, verse yourself in information about flood-plains, and other hazardous areas to occupy.

Make sure you carry a first aid kit with you. You should also prove that you have some basic understanding of how to use these things if need be.

Finally, make sure you understand the legality surrounding this type of nomadic living. Your confidence will help quash your folks’ concerns as you travel off the beaten path.

Van Life Stigmas

Remember that during your conversation with your parents that you are reconciling two different generations’ outlooks on van living. Recently, van living has experienced a great boom in popularity, and because of this our thoughts toward it have normalized quite a bit.

I’ve mentioned this before, but Chris Farley’s down-and-out “living in a van down by the river” character is so well-known that it’s often one of the first things people think of when you tell them about vanlife. While being hilarious, it doesn’t help much with first impressions. It’s emblematic of the connection many draw with living on the fringes of society and substance abuse.

It will be your duty to inform your parents otherwise, and this may be a bit of an uphill battle.

One way of doing this is telling them that there are more trappings, such as alcohol and drugs, that come with living under the stressors of a 40-hour work week just to make ends meet. Convince them that the life that you are choosing is your own, and not one driven by fear, or an inability to fit in with society.

Your journey is one that is driven by personal discovery, adventure, and experiencing life in the purest possible sense.

Financial Security

One of the greatest concerns of generations coming up today is money. It’s more expensive than ever to live your life, even if you are trying to do so as frugally as possible.

Furthermore, jobs that pay living-wages can be incredibly difficult to find. You parents may voice concern over you not investing in your future enough and not having a significant amount of money to retire with, or if that’s even a possibility. By reducing the amount of time spent working, doubts will arise to the self-sustainability of van living. Also, if you have not yet procured and outfitted your van, you may be grilled about the costs of doing so.

Something that you must make clear is that by living in a van, you are going to greatly reduce your daily expenditure.

It is a life free of rent, wifi, utilities and, for better or for worse, socializing. Before long, life on the road will teach you what you don’t need to live a happy and fulfilling life. Whether it be running water, $12 cocktails at some swanky downtown bar, or cable television, by removing these things from your routine you will learn just how much you can limit your spending per day.

Living minimally isn’t a concept easily understood, especially by those who grew up in a time of plenty, so this may take a bit of explaining. A good angle is to really emphasize how this can be a financially prudent way of life.

Where wealth used to be something easily accrued over time, in today’s world we need to get a bit more creative. Prepare some figures and cost breakdowns to show that you’ve done the research and asked yourself the hard questions. If you are still in need of a vehicle, do your homework and gather an exhaustive list of things and costs you will need to get yourself on the road.

Suggest Reading Material

There’s a lot of great sources out there from people who have taken the leap and done van life for themselves. I suggest first acquainting yourself with these resources, as any knowledge is an asset. Once you have amassed a good deal of information, recommend some of the most effective material to your parents. By having this information come from a point of authority, they should better understand the factors at work in van living.

Additionally, this will help them get rid of the idea that van dwellers are an anti-social group of miscreants unable to string together a sentence. They will become acquainted with people from all different backgrounds with different dreams who have chosen van life as a means to accomplish their goals in life. Understanding is the key to accepting and respecting that which we don’t fully understand.


With these things in mind, you should be well prepared to talk to your parents about your big plans. It may take them some time to get on your side, if at all, but with these things in mind they should be better equipped to understand your motivations for van living, and how it can be safely done when you eventually forge out on your own. Another thing to keep in mind is to not jump to the defensive so soon. It can be frustrating to try and explain oneself when your point just doesn’t seem to be getting across. Stick to your guns, and keep cool. You may not see eye to eye immediately, but having a well thought out and civil conversation will definitely get the ball rolling. Good luck!

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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