Festive Wheels: Embracing the Holidays on the Road with Van Life Travel


Van Life During The Holiday Season

The real appeal to living in a van during the holidays is the ability for overnight parking anywhere you want—even if that means moochdocking on your parents’ property. There is no such thing as the right van for this experience, but there are certain things that can make it easier. Likewise, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to what you ought to do during the holidays, but living in a van gives you a ton of options. So let’s get started and discover how camper van living gives you endless possibilities.

Displaying van life adventures on holidays with decorated van with Christmas tree,
???? by @rambleandrevive

Preparing for Your Holiday Van Life Adventure

Thinking through travel plans, destination holiday plans, or even gift-giving from your full time van life can be a bit tricky. However, careful planning and strategic communication can help overcome any obstacle you might see coming ahead. Van living doesn’t mean the end of those family gatherings or even abandoning all of your festive traditions, but it does mean leaving room for new ones ahead. Below we will take a look at four van life tips to help you make this holiday season more memorable. 

1. Van Life Adventures: Family Style

For many van lifers there is no such thing as the holiday season with visiting family and friends. Van life pros know this can be a bit tricky, but it doesn’t mean it is impossible. Planning a road trip to visit family—even in the coldest of climates—is absolutely doable. Be sure your van has a fantastic heater or be willing to leave an empty van behind in a secured storage space and fly home for the holidays. 

The real adventure comes in the form of spending an extended time with your family members. If you decided to fly home and stay with your family, you might want to cut your time shorter than you think. As someone who has experienced this, you will probably get frustrated not being in your own space pretty quickly—and you might get on the nerves of your host. This doesn’t mean you don’t love one another, you just aren’t used to sharing space twenty-four hours a day. 

Taking your own van on visits to see family creates a little bit of a different dynamic. You do have your own space, and this can make a huge difference. Communicate ahead of time on expectations and hopes for your host to accommodate your nomadic lifestyle. Will they provide the following: electricity, an off-street parking arrangement, a hot shower, clean restrooms during the day, share their meals with you, and let you cook your own meals in their kitchen? By making this journey with your camper van, you’ll mix your small space with some host amenities that could help extend your visit. 

2. A Destination Holiday Experience 

If van life traveling doesn’t include snow for you, consider inviting friends and family to a shared destination. National parks, beach front, or even visiting snow capped mountains are just a few ideas for your family vacation. Holidays don’t have to be about Christmas trees, mistletoe, and baking cookies. They could easily be about campervan travel, family being together, and making memories. 

A hesitation for this experience could be the logistics of gifts, travel plans, and space. While you are used to the minimalist life and living out of a tiny home—a.k.a. being a van lifer—others aren’t used to this experience. You might need to take the lead and use everything van life teaches you to help accommodate other people’s expectations. Find the unique destination from all of your van life road trips, prepare a few helpful resources for things to do in the area, and be sure to create plenty of space for others to create their own schedule. 

In addition to this, you might want to ask a few questions ahead of time to help you facilitate and locate the right experience for your visitors. Even though this isn’t your usual type of campervan travel, you will probably have to take the lead in helping your friends and family figure out things that you’ve already learned during your life in your Mercedes Sprinter van, Ford Transit Van, or one of many other vans people choose for their own van life.

Two girls standing near a van conversion wearing Christmas pajamas and holding their coffees.
???? by @the_knox_twins

3. A Family Campervan Road Trip to A National Park

If your family is really adventurous, invite them to experience a road trip with you. This would be an amazing way for them to get a taste of van life and experiencing everything you do. They might even catch the van life bug. I’ll drop a few hints below on how to pitch this idea!

To cast the vision, you’ll want to think about everyone you are inviting into the journey and then get on Google Maps. How many miles can you cover? Are you wanting to do some stealth camping? Do you want paid campsites? Do you have a connection to a campervan rental company? How can you help people out with saving money—like finding them budget campervans? Ultimately, you need to cast the vision of destinations, experiences, memories made, and the logistics of professional conversion company van rentals—RV rentals are an option too. 

A nicely converted van mixed with a beautiful national park will typically help out a full-time van lifer in their goal of attracting family members—it’s at least a good jumping off point. If your family is a family of dreamers, you can invite them into the planning process and just see where it goes. Personally, I think this would be an amazing trip—though I have never pulled it off. I think more people would go for the RV rental route because living in a van can feel like such a small space. But keep an open mind and take what they will give. 

4. Maintain Course

Nothing says you need to return home for the holidays. Since the pandemic, society has really pressed forward with ways to stay connected all year round. And the mobile lifestyle has become more acceptable to society at large. While going home for the holidays might seem like the right thing to do, it doesn’t mean it fits into your van life cost. It doesn’t mean your van build is prepared for the conditions, and to be honest you don’t need to feel guilty for not going home.

Van life at its core is a break from the normative with a mix of simplistic living, a desire to save money and adjust your spending habits, and freedom to do what makes you happy. This might mean spending time with your friends instead of family, or visiting your family when the weather is more accommodating. Or you could just spend the day rock climbing—simply because that is what you want to do. Living in a van full-time as a van lifer means you have the freedom to choose what to do and where to go. Just watch out for those mountain lions!

Photo of a dog sitting in a converted van during winter with covers on it.
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FAQs About The Christmas Season

How do I give my gifts while living on the road in my new van?

It’s no secret that camper vans can get a little cramped. That means keeping gifts piled up under a tree isn’t exactly an option. Do your best to keep gifts to a minimum and send them ahead of time to their end destination. Or get to your destination early and buy the gifts there. If you aren’t going to be present at the time of gift-giving, you can always send them to different friends or family members and ask them to share the gifts on your behalf. 

How do I tell family members that I don’t want physical gifts without sounding ungrateful?

The best van is a van conversion that isn’t cluttered with stuff. While you understand the limitations of your space, others might not. One of the best things you can do is to point them in the direction of other van lifers on social media to look at and get inspiration for things that might make sense for you. The other options include things like state park or national park passes, memberships to RV parks or an overnight stay at an RV park—especially ones with shower facilities, or even gift cards to your favorite gas stations. 

How do I handle loneliness during the holiday season?

It’s no secret that the holiday season can be incredibly exciting for many, but super lonely for others. Not all families have great memories this time of year, but it doesn’t mean this season can’t be redeemed. Don’t be afraid to talk to a therapist—BetterHelp.com offers online therapy—and anticipate what you might be feeling by adding an extra session. 

In addition, be sure to communicate with friends and family that the season can be difficult for you. This means being a little vulnerable and trusting people won’t hold it against you. Be selective and honest with those closest to you. 

How do I stay connected with my family and friends during this season?

The pandemic did a real number on society, but it did help us come up with new ways of staying connected. Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, and even Facebook make seeing one another helpful this time of year. In addition, there are a lot of games you can play with your loved ones. Here is a link to some helpful notes on games to play with your family. Another thing is to share your views of the national park—and cast that vision for a future road trip together. 

How do I not miss out on my nieces, nephews, and grandkids growing up?

The same way you stay connected with the adults in your family is how you can connect with the kids in your family. I’ve heard stories of kids calling their grandparents and just sitting on a video chat while they play with their dolls, cars, or even video games. While it might seem rude at first, realize they are inviting you into their real life. They could call anyone, or not call at all and sit all alone. Instead, they contacted you. Be patient and trust that they are wanting to get or stay close to you, even as you are living in your DIY van conversion. 

How do I stretch my budget during the holiday spending season?

If you’re concerned with making money go further during the holiday season, prioritize thoughtful planning and strategic decision-making. Begin by establishing a realistic budget that includes all anticipated expenses, such as gifts, decorations, travel, and even gas mileage. Look for opportunities to save more money by taking advantage of discounts, sales, and promotions, especially during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

Consider homemade gifts or DIY decorations as heartfelt, cost-effective alternatives and be sure to stay at free campsites. Embrace a gift exchange or Secret Santa with family and friends to reduce the number of presents you need to purchase. Additionally, explore budget-friendly experiences, like hosting a potluck dinner or organizing a festive movie night at home. Staying disciplined and focused on your budgetary goals ensures a joyful holiday season without breaking the bank.

The post Festive Wheels: Embracing the Holidays on the Road with Van Life Travel appeared first on Project Van Life.