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Embracing the Golden Years on Wheels: A Senior’s Guide to Van Life

Freedom Awaits: Senior Van Life

The people that inspire us can come along when we least expect them to. One summer, around 30 years ago, I was camping with friends at a remote beach on a quiet little lake. An astonishingly big, shiny, red, 4×4 Euro-style RV pulled up and set up camp nearby. That rig was sweet! It wasn’t long before we introduced ourselves to our fellow camper, a senior man named Grover, who would become my original inspiration for van life.

During the conversation around our campfire later on, I was surprised to learn that this senior chose to eschew the normal post-retirement lifestyle to live in his rig full-time. Grover explained that his nomadic lifestyle allowed him to visit his grandchildren up in Canada and enjoy the most beautiful places throughout North America. Suddenly, it made sense to me. I never saw Grover again after that camping trip. However, the idea of living a simpler life and traveling wherever I wanted to go was firmly seeded in my mind.

Why More Seniors Are Checking Out Of Retirement Homes And Into Van Life

The truth is, van life can be perfect for seniors. Lower living costs and a life of freedom attract many to this lifestyle. However, living an un-fettered mobile life doesn’t make us exempt from some of the challenges that we all run into in our senior years. So when you’re in the planning stages of van life, it’s a good idea to take ongoing or upcoming health and mobility concerns into account. With that being said, if you do it right, van life comes with a wealth of perks that include:

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  • The ability to visit children and grandchildren wherever they live
  • Traveling to amazing locations wherever and whenever we want
  • Enjoying a low cost of living resulting in greater financial security
  • Not having to worry about maintenance and upkeep of a sticks and bricks home.
  • Joining a growing community of other senior van lifers.

It goes without saying that, like anyone else, seniors should take stock of their physical abilities and existing health concerns before they move into a van. Van life could even be extremely difficult for some people with serious health issues. However, for many seniors in relatively good health, van life offers opportunities to enjoy life to the fullest extent.

Getting Into The Right Van

Each of us has our own unique needs. For this reason, it’s a good idea to compile a list of features you’d like to see in your dream van according to your own personal preferences and then go online to have a look at the floor plans and features different manufacturers offer. The reality is you probably won’t find a van with every feature you want, but you’ll definitely narrow down the myriad of options after you’ve identified a few things you can’t live without and some things you can live without.

Here are a few things you’ll want to consider:

  • Physical limitations for you and/or your traveling partner.
  • Will you be bringing a pet? What can you do to accommodate their needs?
  • How important is storage space to you?
  • Will you sometimes be bringing grandchildren camping with you?
  • How much are you comfortable spending on a van?
  • Layout preferences.
  • Do you want a high-top van?
  • Do you need to accommodate mobility devices?
  • How elaborate do you need the washroom to be? For instance, do you require a wet bath with a shower and a sink?
  • What kind of toilet do you want? There are 4 basic types that are suitable for van life. Composting toilets, cartridge-style toilets, flush toilets, and the rustic, lined bucket with kitty litter in it. Click here for a great article about toilet options for van life.
  • Do you prefer a gas, diesel, or electric-powered chassis?

Where To Get A Van For Senior Van Life

After you have a definite idea of what you need in your home on wheels, it’s time to go shopping. Now, there are three ways to purchase a camper van. You can buy one already built from a dealer or private party, you can buy a custom van directly from a van up-fitter, or you can buy a van and do the conversion yourself.

1. Buy a new or used camper van from a dealer or private party

Getting a pre-built new or used camper van from an RV dealer is an easy option, but you won’t get to customize it. Buying this way will also cost you a lot more than building out a van yourself. But its a good option if you lack the ability and/or willingness to customize your own van. While the prices of new camper vans vary, expect to spend between 150 and 400,000 on a new camper van.

Getting a low mileage, used van conversion is a more economical option that shouldn’t be overlooked. If you choose to go with a used van conversion, look for one that’s going to be comfortable. Remember, mattresses are replaceable, and with some vans, you can retrofit anything you need, like upgrades for mobility aids or senior-friendly storage.

Campervan Manufacturers

By the way, there are lots of other RV brands making some very intriguing van conversions. A few of these include:

There are many RV manufacturers that have recognized the explosive market for camper vans. That means there are lots to choose from from a growing range of RV brands.

2. Get A Custom Camper Van From A Van Up-fitters

There are also many van up-fitters that will often customize a van on a chassis of your choosing exactly how you want it. If you have health needs such as accommodation for a CPAP machine or mobility aids, this is an excellent option. Here’s a by no means exhaustive list of custom van up-fitters to get you started:

3. DIY The Ultimate Custom Van Yourself

One thing about seniors is we often have a lifetime of experience in different skills. If you’re skilled with carpentry, electrical, and plumbing, you could buy a van and then do all the upgrades yourself. You’ll not only save thousands of dollars. You’ll also achieve the ultimate custom van conversion. And you won’t have to look far for inspiration either. That’s because (like everything else in life) there are a multitude of YouTube Channels and websites with inspiring ideas and how-to info. Here are a few good ones to get you started:

Gas, Diesel, Or Electric Powered?

The chassis your RV is built on will affect the price. An example is Leisure Travel Vans. The company make two specific lines of luxury travel vans. These are the Wonder and Unity lines. Leisure Travel, Vans’ Wonder, is built on an upgraded Ford gas-powered chassis, while its Unity van conversions are built on a Mercedes Sprinter diesel chassis. Either way, it comes stock with everything you can think of to live very comfortably on the road. However, the models from the Unity Van line start at about $234,000, and the more modestly priced Wonder Van lineup starts at $217,000.

It’s worth noting that soon, your choices won’t be limited to a diesel or gas-powered chassis. That’s because Winnebago is already testing prototypes of an off-grid capable all-electric RV called the eRV2. The eRV2 is built on a Ford Transit electric chassis and will be capable of boondocking for up to 7 days straight. However, we’ll all have to wait with bated breath until prototype testing is finished and the eRV2 becomes available to the public in the next few years.

Whether you choose a gas-powered, diesel, (or electric chassis) will depend on your own specific needs. Diesel motors are more fuel efficient and are said to last longer than their gas counterparts. However, the downside of diesel is that the initial outlay is more for an RV built on a diesel chassis than it is for a gas-powered one. Also worth considering is that it costs significantly more to maintain and repair a diesel motor.

Special Considerations For Senior Van Life

Although baby boomers are a growing demographic in the van life demography, the largest age demographic for van lifers is still less than 35 years old. With that being said, if you’re already over 60 (or heading there soon), you’re going to have a whole different list of priorities than you did when you were 30. That means there are a few things you’re going to want to take into consideration that you wouldn’t have cared about at all when you were 25 or 30. Some examples of things that are top of mind for many seniors are Comfort, accessibility, access to healthcare and medications, safety and security (at some level), planning for emergencies, and being able to stay connected with family and friends.

Comfort And Accessibility

The interior of a camper van is, by nature, a small space. Everything inside this small space has to be thought out to fit and work with all the other components. This is important to consider when it comes to adding easy-access storage or even fold-down beds. For instance, folding a bed down to make a bed to sleep and then having to fold it back up to access storage is going to get tiresome sooner or later. If you want to avoid this situation, you’ll probably be happier with a comfortable elevator bed that drops down from the ceiling at the push of a button.

A bed lift is a practical and comfortable option for senior van life.

This next tip may seem obvious, but too many people regret not doing it. Before you buy any van, make sure the seat will be comfortable for you. This means if you find a van you like, sit in the seat for as long as possible, even after the test drive is over. By the way, If you plan to travel with a partner, it’s a good idea to get a van with 2 power-adjustable, heated front seats.

Trying out van life before you commit to it can keep you from making a decision you later regret. Fortunately, RV rental companies like RV Share allow you to do a trial run of van life before you commit to taking on the lifestyle.

Healthcare And Insurance Considerations

Imagine being many miles from your regular doctor and you start having chest pain or difficulty breathing. The last thing you’ll want when that happens is to have to decide where to go to get health care. Health insurance takes that worry away. It’s definitely not something that can be overlooked when seniors are planning van life, either as a road trip or a lifestyle.

When you buy a healthcare policy, check the coverages and make sure you have everything you need. Many health insurance providers require you to have a separate travel health insurance plan if you plan to travel outside of your country. Finding insurance as a senior van lifer can be difficult. However, RVer Insurance Exchange makes it easy for seniors who have chosen a mobile lifestyle to find insurance.

Senior Van Life And Medications

Medications are an important consideration for many seniors. Before you leave your home state, you should make sure you’re well-stocked with any important medications you need. Don’t assume you’ll be able to get a prescription for the medication you need in the state (or country) you’re going to.

It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before you take off in your van and let him (or her) know your plans. Your doctor may be able to write a longer-term prescription than usual, depending on which state he’s in. That’s because the laws regarding prescription drugs are different in every state. Some states only allow 30-day supplies of certain medications, and others allow up to 90 days. With that being said, be sure you know what the rules about your medications are before you go anywhere.

Do You Use CBD Oil? Read This!

On a side note, if you’re one of the growing number of seniors using CBD oil for medicinal reasons, you’ll want to be aware of the laws about CBD oil in the states you plan to travel to. The majority of states allow CBD oil, and about half of these have specific rules regarding the source of the oil and the amount of THC (if any) it can contain. If you plan a trip to Canada, you’ll want to leave the CBD products at home. Even though CBD is completely legal everywhere in Canada, and you can buy it there, it’s illegal to bring CBD products into Canada.

Other Considerations For Seniors

Seniors are now able to live active, healthy lives for longer than ever before, However, it’s still a good idea to avoid slips and falls, both of which can cause long lasting and devastating injuries as we get older. With that being said, grab handles at entranceways and non-slip flooring and steps in a camper van make good sense for senior van lifers. After all, who wants to be stuck somewhere recovering from an avoidable injury when there’s a whole world to explore?

On that note, it’s a good idea to keep in frequent contact with family or friends to let them know your whereabouts and route plans. While your cell phone can easily put you in touch with family, there are still many places where cell signal strength is scant or non-existent. In the event that something unfortunate happens, it’s good to have someone who knows where you are. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have a plan in case of an emergency. Here are some things to have in your emergency plan:

  • Emergency contact information- Who should be contacted in the event of an emergency?
  • Health insurance information and certificates
  • A living will– advance directives for health care providers
  • Who do you want to look after your pet if something happens to you?

How To Get Wifi On The Road

On my own travels, I’ve found that almost every town has a cell signal or wifi at a cafe, RV park, or public library. However, depending on where you tend to travel, you might want to explore mobile internet options and find one that fits your unique situation.

  • Starlink Mobile Internet This is a popular choice with many RVers. It works well as long as you have a clear view of the northern sky. If you’re camping in a forest or in the Rocky Mountains, it won’t work.
  • Mobile internet solutions from companies like Mobile Must Have leverage cellular data to provide vanlifers with internet access through mobile hotspots. While just using a cell phone for the internet might seem sufficient, mobile hotspots offer a more robust and reliable connection. They are specifically designed to handle the varied and often demanding internet needs of life on the road. With advanced technologies like 5G, these hotspots ensure faster and more stable connections for activities like streaming, video calls, and remote work. Additionally, they offer the flexibility to choose from a range of data plans tailored to different usage needs, making them a superior choice for consistent, high-quality internet connectivity in a mobile lifestyle.
  • Cell Phone Data: Most cell phone packages come with data plans and hotspot capability. Using a cellphone as a mobile hotspot can be a good option for those who don’t need a constant, robust internet connection. At least when you have a cellular signal. Just be sure to keep track of the data you’re using. Otherwise, you could wind up cut off before you know what’s happened. For most people, 100GB of data is more than enough. However, if you stream a lot of videos, you might need more than that.

Building a Network Of Other Van Lifers

There’s no getting around that there are times when van life can get lonely. But your fellow van lifers have devised ways to build a network of like-minded people all over the country. There are now groups and meetups just for van life enthusiasts all over the internet. These are great places to meet other senior van life enthusiasts.

On Facebook:

Van life meetups are another great option if you’re looking to meet others who enjoy the Van lifestyle. To learn more about van life meetups, click here for the Vanlifers article by Vanlifer and author Jamie Leo.

Conclusion

As the van life phenomenon continues to grow throughout North America, more baby boomers and members of the silent generation than ever are discovering that it might be an option for them. After all, many older people are relatively healthy well into their 80s these days. Not everyone wants to be tied down by a traditional home as they get older. Other things that attract seniors to van life are its dramatically lower living expenses and a yearning to wake up to a different, beautiful new view every day. While van life might be a perfect retirement or pre-retirement option for some people, it’s not for everyone.

Like any other lifestyle, van life has drawbacks. For one thing, the interior of the average van is only about 126 square feet. Just for perspective: That’s smaller than some walk-in closets. With that being said, even if you love the outdoors, the inside of a camper van can seem pretty cramped when inclement weather keeps you from going outside.

However, if you’re one of the many people who can be comfortable living in a cozy space, van life can be rewarding in ways that no other lifestyle can offer. Those who embrace their golden years on wheels enjoy fulfilling lives built around a level of freedom that few others get to experience.

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