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Vandwelling is a lifestyle of living full or part-time in a wide variety of vehicles, mainly vans that have been modified with basic amenities like house batteries,[1] solar installation, [2] a bed platform,[3] some form of toilet,[4][5] sink and storage space. Although the term can apply to living in other types of vehicles, it is mainly associated with vans because the word vandwelling is a portmanteau of the two words van and dwelling. Some vandwellers live this lifestyle by choice while seeking freedom, self-sufficiency and mobility without paying for conventional stationary housing. While the term vandwelling implies living in a van, many types of vehicles are used for permanent living arrangements, including conventional buses, school buses (called skoolies), campervans, RVs, travel trailers, or mobile homes. Even SUVs and larger station wagons can be used for long-term living.



The history of vandwelling goes back to horse-drawn vehicles such as Roma Vardo wagons in Europe, and covered Conestoga wagons in the United States. One of the first uses of the term vandwellers was in the United Kingdom showman and Van Dwellers' Protection Association,[6] a guild for travelling show performers formed in 1889. Shortly afterwards in 1901, Albert Bigalow Paine wrote “The Van Dwellers”,[7] about people living on the verge of poverty having to live a nomadic life in horse-drawn moving vans. After the introduction of motorised vehicles, the modern form of vandwelling began.


The contemporary view of vandwellers by the general public ranges from urban campers to mobile homeless who are one step away from losing their last shelter, or as people who prefer to live in an unconventional house. Many people accept the idea; however, there are some who dislike the lifestyle because its not "responsible" if you live rent-free and own your home outright. Some municipalities have laws prohibiting overnight parking regardless of whether businesses allow vandwelling on their property. Oftentimes this law is selectively enforced at certain parking lots, such as Walmart or Homedepot, some of which allow basically any RV.

Some cities, such as Venice or Playa Vista in California, have special police funding to enforce Los Angeles vehicle dwelling[8] laws and sometimes even impound vehicles and arrest vandwellers. Other counties in Southern California have also put in laws about vehicle living including fines and parking violations for those who are parked for extended periods of time. However, the majority of places which restrict overnight parking will ask that a vandweller move someplace else; whether that be private security, store employees or law enforcement officers.


The vandwelling lifestyle can allow for significant autonomy due to lack of a mortgage or rental lease. Vandwellers are free to stay in one location or travel as much or little as they would like. Some vandwellers choose to remain in one city, and work full-time or attend school while living in their vehicles. Others travel full-time, while working remotely via the internet or finding other short term employment opportunities.

Since vandwelling consists of living in a vehicle with a footprint no larger than a parking space, there is usually little to no space for a shower or washer/dryer. So, some vandwellers use gym and truck stop showers or cleaning wipes when showers are not available.[9] For washing clothes they often use a bucket and the van's vibration to agitate the water,[10] or will go to a laundromat or use friends or family members washers and dryers; usually in exchange for work, money or security, like when the homeowners are on vacation. Vandwellers will usually go to places close by for weekends and holidays; which would be anything people living in conventional housing would do in their free time.

Vehicle ModificationsEdit

There are van conversions with accommodations on all parts of the spectrum. It can be as simple as a folding bed in the back, with only the engine battery for power; ranging to vans that function like micro-apartments on wheels with complex power setups, a kitchenette, and even primitive plumbing. Simpler vehicles like the Volkswagen Westfalia, a regular passenger van, or a cargo van, can easily be modified for day-to-day living by a professional conversion company. Upscale van conversion can provide most of the amenities of a conventional home including heating, air conditioning, a house battery system, a two-burner stove, a permanent bed, and other modifications that make the vehicle fit for full-time living. School bus modifications are also common among vandwellers.


Vandwellers do not have a permanent address, so they will use mail-forwarding services so they can have a real address, and not just a P.O. Box. It is useful to receive packages and other mail. The service works by receiving mail, then mailing it out to any address where the vandweller can access. Vandwellers pay their bills online along with other essential finances. VoIP phone service is used to have an actual phone number, along with a cell phone. Usually Vandwellers will access public Wi-Fi, or even have a mobile broadband device to get online.


Vandwellers will usually work seasonal jobs, ranging from national parks to warehouse jobs. A lot of vandwellers work only half of the year then use the money they made to live on the other half. This is possible because there are no house payments, whether that be renting or paying a mortgage; which for the average American costs 40% of their income or more.

Vehicle dwelling legislationEdit

Some cities in the United States, such as Los Angeles, have municipal codes about times and places where somebody is authorized to live in a vehicle[11].

Notable VandwellersEdit


  1. ^ "Battery Isolator". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  2. ^ "100W Solar Panel Install | MTB Van Life". MTB Van Life. 2018-06-04. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  3. ^ "The Rig(5/30/13, updating Nov 2017)". SwankieWheels. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  4. ^ "Toilets". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  5. ^ "Sanitation". SwankieWheels. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  6. ^ "Introduction to the History of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain and the Regional Divisions - Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  7. ^ Paine, Albert Bigelow (1901). The Van Dwellers (Ebook). NEW YORK: J. F. TAYLOR & COMPANY. Retrieved 2018-10-03 – via ManyBooks.
  8. ^ "Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) 85.02 – Vehicle Dwelling | City of Los Angeles". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  9. ^ "Bathing". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  10. ^ "Laundry day". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  11. ^ "Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) 85.02 – Vehicle Dwelling | City of Los Angeles". Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  12. ^ CheapRVliving (2017-03-02), 15 Years a Nomad: My History of Living on Wheels, retrieved 2018-10-03
  13. ^ Enigmatic Nomadics (2017-10-07), Picking up the Skoolie, retrieved 2018-10-03
  14. ^ Alex Honnold's Van Life, retrieved 2018-10-03

Further readingEdit

Bergstein, Rachelle (23 September 2017). "America's forgotten men and women are becoming 'vandwellers'". New York Post. Retrieved 3 October 2018.

Green, Penelope (31 January 2018). "The Real Burning Man". New York Times. Retrieved 3 October 2018.