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Living Out of A Van, Part I: Here’s How to Do it

Meet Austin Laurent. In the beginning of 2014, he left his job in IT to travel the country rock climbing with partner Dimitri Papazoglou. Tired of the cutthroat business-driven mindset of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area, Austin wanted to climb on all the iconic rock faces that North America has to offer and explore natural wonders, while working to keep them natural and clean through a variety of volunteering opportunities.

Austin Laurent, Dimitri Papazoglou, Bucephalus the Honda Odyssey.

Austin Laurent, Dimitri Papazoglou, and Bucephalus the Honda Odyssey.

He now lives out of a van – the climber’s ultimate dream of being an unbound nomad, leaping from rock to rock. Here’s his story on how to do it, straight from the source:

Are you tired of the 9 to 5 work grind? Do you want more excitement in your life, combined with a schedule that is absolutely free? Do you want to feel like nothing is holding you back from becoming exactly who you want to be and making real positive change in the world?

Then you should live in a van. It’s an alternative lifestyle that many people are seeing not only as a viable option, but as a much better alternative to the typical modern lifestyle.

It’s certainly not a decision to be made lightly.

You will have to sell or store most of your belongings. You will be leaving your friends, neighbors, and coworkers behind. You will have to live frugally for months before you depart in order to save the money to buy a vehicle, and all of the gear required to do whatever it is you want to do. You will have to give up the creature comforts of living in a house or apartment, and learn to love brushing your teeth on the side of the road and pooping in the woods.

Deciding to live in a van is a hard choice to make, but the rewards can easily outweigh the challenges. You will meet a variety of inspiring and wonderful people who will completely change your perspective on the world. You will rediscover the beauty of nature as you slowly forget what it was like to constantly be surrounded by sensationalized media and the endless drone of pop music. Most importantly, you will rediscover yourself as you land in novel situations that force you to view the world through different lenses. By the time you are ready to rejoin society, you will return as a newly forged version of yourself that has learned to be outgoing and extroverted by necessity, and welcomes adventure with a tenacity unparalleled by most. On top of that, you’ll have a slew of engaging stories to tell, friends all over the world, and the power to inspire others to seek their own adventures.

Living in a van was clearly the best way to accomplish these goals as it gives you mobility, shelter, and lets you avoid the constant search for a place to set up a tent. When selecting your noble steed, you need to focus on a few key elements:

  • Price
  • Gas Mileage
  • Size
  • Features

I chose a Honda Odyssey for the reliability and the gas mileage. I picked up an ’04 Odyssey for $4900, removed all the seats, built a sleeping platform in the back, and upgraded the stereo so I could play music with an auxiliary cable. It has leather seats that are comfy and easy to clean, a 2” tow hitch receiver so I could put bikes on the back, and it should run well into the 200,000 mile range with proper maintenance. Vehicular options range from less than $1000, all the way up to $15,000 if you want to get a retro VW sleeper van.


Style, comfort, and economy. What more could you want?


Once you have selected and modified your vehicle to your liking, you have to plan out a budget. Here’s mine:

  • Gas: $300/month
  • Food: $300/month
  • Car Insurance: $80/month
  • Phone Bill: $60/month
  • Misc: $20/month
  • National Parks Pass: $80/year
  • Emergency Fund: $1000

Minimum needed to survive per year: $10,200

This is a rough estimate, and you may have more or less expenses. You can also cut down by traveling with a partner and splitting the cost of things like things like gas, insurance, and other shared equipment.

Another budget-saver? Living off Soylent, an open sourced nutritional drink that provides you with all your daily needs. For Austin, it’s also induced some wild lucid dreams… stay tuned for Living Out of A Van Part II: Soylent & Lucid Dreams.

See more of Austin on his blog, A Climbing Odyssey.

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