Adventures with Debra and Robert

Nomad Tips, Tools, and DIY

5 Things to Try Before Full-Timing in a Van or RV

Image: Five Things to Do Before Full-Timing

I often say that the nomadic lifestyle is a great option for many people, but it is definitely not for everyone. I also often warn people that, almost without exception, there is quite an adjustment process involved in transitioning from living in a house to living in a vehicle. The hardest part of this adjustment is usually mental rather than physical as I discussed in a video last year.

The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take before you start full-timing in a van or RV that will make the adjustment to nomadic life easier. We published a video today (see below) that explores five steps you can take now to make the nomadic transition smoother. The highlights are listed below, but you may want to watch the video as well for even more details.

Move Into One Room

Our first tip for preparing to embrace vehicle dwelling is to move into one room in your current home. In most cases, that room will still be larger than a van or small RV, but it will at least help you begin to mentally process the idea of living in a much smaller space.

Tape Van Dimensions on the Floor

After you have moved into one room (or even if you skipped that tip), one of the best ways to appreciate the small size of a van or RV is to tape the dimensions of your anticipated vehicle on the floor. In the case of Fancy Free, our 2005 Ford E-350, the interior dimensions are roughly six feet wide by nine feet long. Taping the dimensions on the floor allows you to experiment with different layouts.

Pro Tip: We recommend using painter’s tape as it is designed to not leave a sticky residue. It is also a good idea to not leave it on the floor too long just in case.

Place Essentials in Stacked Boxes

No matter how much of a minimalist you are, you will still need to bring some things with you in your van or RV. Stacking boxes along one wall of your “mockup” van build allows you to see just how much space your possessions will take up in the van or RV. You may discover that you are planning to bring more than will fit in your vehicle, but it is easier to learn this before moving day.

Kill Your TV (and Other Appliances)

We single out TVs here because, in our experience, it is one of the more common concerns people have when moving from a house into a van or RV. The bottom line is that unless you are moving from campground to campground with utilities, you will have far less electric supply than you did in a house. Practice turning off the television and other electric appliances, and focus instead on adopting hobbies or entertainment that use little or no electricity. Similarly, consider ways to replace appliances like toaster ovens, hair dryers, etc. with other options that do not require a lot of power.

Take Weekend Trips

Finally, there is no replacement for experience. Try taking short trips before moving into your van or RV full-time if at all possible. This will provide an opportunity to see if your layout, bedding, storage, cooking setup, and more work as anticipated. Even if you don’t have your van or RV yet, consider trying short trips where you sleep in the car or a tent. Boondocking in a van or RV is more similar to camping than it is to modern “sticks and bricks” living, though with some distinct conveniences over tenting. This experience will allow you to gain a sense of what it is like living in or out of a vehicle.

Many people are surprised by the nomadic lifestyle, whether for good or bad. Too many, in our experience, are disappointed when they transition immediately from living in a house to a vehicle because the lifestyle was not what they expected. We believe that these five tips will help to smooth the transition.

Watch the Video


  1. Calvin Rittenhouse

    One comment on the above: rather than stacking boxes along the wall of their van-sized outline, I would put whatever I plan to use as a bed in there and place much of the other stuff under that. Few van-dwellers fail to use that space that way.

    Of course, I didn’t do any of this but trial trips. I considered what I needed, built the bed with plywood laid across milk crates, packed the stuff in and around the milk crates, and took off. I knew I’d rearrange things on the road, but didn’t end up changing much.

  2. Donna G

    The top photo looks heaps better here than on the video. Doing great.

  3. Oz

    You guys are so funny. I feel your pain, and your joy. lol

    Althought I was forced into hashtag van life in a hatchback and a tent, with brain damage and ptsd, I managed to enjoy my life in a more elemental way than anyone else I know. The only thing I really needed was a good night’s sleep, and a hot meal the next day. Yeah, a shower, clean clothes, and music were nice to haves, but not need to haves. I became totally free. I wound up being grateful for being forced into this life, because I would have clung onto the old way and not known this joy otherwise. KOKO!

    • Comment by post author

      That is so very well said 🙂 What we truly need to not only survive, but to thrive, is often far less than we have been conditioned to believe. Not to say that there is anything wrong with those extra luxuries, but it is possible to live a full and rewarding life with very little.

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