Last Updated on February 4, 2021
You have probably seen those dreamy shots of vanlife as people wake up to the waves of the ocean or with jawdropping mountain views. With waking up to these stunning views, with well-designed van interiors, perfect weather, and the freedom to roam wherever you choose, vanlife looks like it’s a dream come true. And if you are like us dreaming of a life of exploring freely, renting a van to try out vanlife is the perfect way to get into it!
What is Vanlife?
Vanlife is a type of lifestyle, encompassing living in and out of a van. It is a lifestyle adopted by many nomads either full-time or part-time to be able to travel freely and follow their passions, with less commitments and more mobility. Some people experience vanlife to travel with lower expenses as they don’t need to rent a car our stay in a hotel each night, while others work remotely and the van really is their home on wheels.
One thing to keep in mind though, is vanlife is not just what you see on Instagram. There is so much more to it, which is why you should absolutely try out vanlife before jumping in with both feet first!
Why Should I Try Out Vanlife?
Vanlife is the ultimate way to explore freely while having your home with you and not having to worry about packing a suitcase and catching the next flight. Having a house on wheels also comes with the added benefit of being able to relocate whenever you like. You don’t like the weather where you are? Just drive somewhere else! You want to explore a remote place with no airports or hotels? No problem, you can just drive there and bring your house with you.
However, before you go out and buy your own van, we highly recommend you try vanlife first by renting a van. What hardly anyone tells you about are the struggles of vanlife, as it seems we are all conditioned to show those glamour shots on Instagram and the ‘freedom’ vanlife provides. What you don’t see is the van breakdowns, the struggle of finding somewhere to camp, or the difficulty in keeping yourself well-showered and clean while living vanlife.
Vanlife brings an incredible sense of adventure and freedom that few other lifestyles can match. We would argue that the true benefit of vanlife is freedom, and for that reason alone we recommend everyone try out vanlife, even if it is just for a short period of time.
How to Try Out Vanlife Without Buying a Van and Quitting Your Job
Vanlife isn’t going to be for everyone, and that’s okay. What’s important is that everyone finds what works best for them and their lifestyle. Buying your own van either fully outfitted, or building out the inside of the van yourself is a huge investment in time and money, and is not something that you want to do only to find out that you don’t actually like vanlife.
That’s why we highly recommend that anyone who is thinking about trying vanlife should first rent a van for a roadtrip to try out vanlife and see if this really is a lifestyle that works for them before getting a van of their own. We recommend a week or longer roadtrip so that you get a true sense of what it would be like.
Cabana Campervan Rental Los Angeles California Experience
We had the opportunity to test vanlife with Cabana, which offers converted Ford Transit campervans to dip your toes into this lifestlye. Cabana is the best option for those looking to try out vanlife, as the vans that Cabana offers are designed to be a hotel room on wheels, allowing you to travel anywhere you please with nearly all of the comforts of home (or a hotel room).
We tested a Cabana van for 5 days from their Los Angeles location to check out their version of vanlife, and boy are we hooked! Of course, we already know what vanlife or camperlife is all about as we have lived on the road for months in the United States and Canada, exploring the waterfalls of Oregon and the loneliest road in Nevada, the best slot canyons in Utah, and more hidden places in Utah. But the Cabana vans are different from our pop-up camper and come with more comforts than we could have imagined.
You can currently start a Cabana campervan rental from their Los Angeles or Seattle locations, however they will soon be expanding campervan rentals to other locations in California and the western United States.
We worked were Cabana vans and they provided us with a campervan for us to try out vanlife. We are excited to share our experience with you and all opinions are our own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that support us! Please note that some of the links in the below article are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. Click here for the full disclosure statement.
Cabana Campervan Rental Pickup and Dropoff
One of the most unique aspects of the full Cabana experience, is the Cabana app which you download prior to picking up your Cabana van. Cabana vans are located in West Hollywood, which was easy to access and find. Once you arrive, it is a completely contact-free experience to pick-up your van. You are able to unlock your van, get the keys, and get your trip started within the Cabana app.
As you tour all of the features of your Cabana van, the app provides an extensive FAQ on how to use many of the features, as well as any other questions you might have as a vanlife first-timer. As an added bonus, you can safely park your own car at the pick-up location in West Hollywood while out using the Cabana campervan.
When your Cabana experience comes to an end, it is again an easy, contact-free few steps to drop off your van. Just like a rental car, you should fill up the fuel tank of your Cabana campervan rental before you bring it back. You park your Cabana van right where you found it before your trip started, unpack your luggage, and then safely lock the van through the app. The whole process takes just a few minutes and then you can be on your way to catch a flight, or go on to your next adventure.
Cabana Campervan Rental Ford Transit Features
Cabana’s Ford Transit campervans are packed with features that make living vanlife a dream! Firstly, most people somehow think that sleeping in a van is incredibly uncomfortable, but not in a Cabana campervan! Each van has a memory-foam mattress just like you’d find at home. It’s a little bit shorter than a standard queen mattress, but just as wide! We found the incredibly comfortable bed to be a highlight of our trip.
Helping you sleep in comfort is the forced-air heating in each Cabana van which will keep the van heated to a comfortable temperature throughout those cooler nights. On the contrary, if your Cabana campervan experience is in the heat of the summer, you will appreciate the ceiling fan for air circulation.
Lastly, there’s no better way to fall asleep than watching some of your favorite shows on Netflix. We were surprised to see such a luxurious item as a TV in the Cabana van. If you are hooked up to power at a campsite and have cell service on your phone, you can easily stream your favorite shows to the TV in the Cabana van.
Some of the other features that made our Cabana campervan experience a dream were the built-in toilet and shower. These are luxuries that we don’t have in our truck camper, but we wish that we did! The shower and toilet are both easy to use and you don’t have to feel like you are “roughing it” at all when you try out vanlife.
Speaking of not having to “rough it” the Cabana campervan includes a coffee maker with complimentary coffee pods! This was a great way to start each morning. Another one of our favorite aspects of vanlife is enjoying our morning coffee with an incredible sunrise and view.
Also inside the Cabana campervan you will find a nearly full-size sink, drawer fridge to keep your beverages and food cool, along with a trash can and enough storage for all of your clothes and other items, not to mention a safe hidden away in the cabinets for valuables.
The Cabana campervan was also designed with flexibility in mind, which means that the passenger seat of the van swivels 180-degrees to face backwards. This is perfect when you install the bamboo table and pull out the bench seat from under the sink. Here you can enjoy your morning coffee, get some work done, or play a game!
Our overall experience and thoughts on the Cabana campervan after having used it for five days, is that the design has been well thought out and executed. The bed is comfortable, there’s enough interior space and storage, and the van and it’s features (sink, shower, toilet, heater) are all easy to use. It’s a great way to try out vanlife for the first time and hit the road, exploring new destinations along the way.
Cabana Campervan Add-Ons
If you’re looking to make your Cabana campervan experience extra-special there are a few add-ons that you can select for your trip. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you can add a pop-up tent for shelter from the sun or rain, as well as camp chairs to enjoy more time outdoors.
If you plan on cooking with your Cabana campervan, you will want to select the rear outdoor kitchen, which slides out of the van and includes a two-burner propane stove, outdoor sink, and some cooking pots and utensils. We absolutely love cooking outdoors and used this feature every day, and for the full experience when you try out vanlife, you should opt for the kitchen!
10 Most Frequently Asked Vanlife Questions
We’re here to answer all of the questions you may have about vanlife! Our responses are based on living out of our truck and camper full-time as well as our Cabana campervan experience.
Is Vanlife a good idea?
Vanlife works for some people, but not everyone! We love the freedom and flexibility that you have to travel wherever you like. If the weather is too cold or too hot, or you want a change of scenery, you just drive on to next destination. If you love to travel and experience nature, and don’t mind living in a small space, vanlife is a good idea and definitely something that you should try!
Is it realistic to live in a van?
Everyone has different priorities, but with a few compromises it is certainly realistic to live in a van. You won’t be able to have as much personal space as you might be used to, nor will you have the space to bring everything with you that you might want. That being said, living in a van is a great way to simplify your life and only focus on what is truly important to you. All vans will allow you to cook, sleep, and live in easily, with some having added amenities such as a toilet and shower.
What is vanlife really like?
Vanlife is a lifestyle that is all about freedom! This freedom allows you to create the lifestyle that you want the most. Whether that be staying put in locations for weeks at a time, or being constantly on the move to new destinations. Vanlife is not without challenges and compromises, primarily surrounding the lack of space and some creature comforts of home, but it’s lower cost and flexibility gives you more freedom to make it your own and see more of the world.
Is a campervan easy to drive?
Driving a campervan is super easy! Anyone who is confident in their driving abilities can easily drive a campervan as they are very similar to driving a car or SUV. We were surprised at how easy it was to drive the Cabana Ford Transit campervan. You notice that the van is a bit bigger than a standard SUV, and it takes a bit longer to get up to speed and to stop, but other than that it is easy to drive, fits in standard parking spaces, and doesn’t require any special skills or training to drive safely and easily.
How much money do you need to live in a van?
If you are thinking about vanlife, you first need to consider the costs before making the plunge. Especially if you are taking a break from your career, or pivoting to a digital nomad lifestyle and you don’t already have an established income. We have heard from others that for two people they spend around $2,200 to live and travel in their van. For us living in Swifty, our monthly cost was closer to $3,000.
A lot of the costs are highly variable though, fuel usage highly depends on how much and how far you drive, food and beverage costs depend on your diet and lifestyle, and your overall costs also depend on how often you treat yourself to Starbucks, a hotel room, or other attractions and experiences. Our costs were slightly higher due to us driving a lot, trying to eat healthy (more expensive) foods and enjoying an airbnb or hotel every few weeks.
Can you park a campervan anywhere?
It’s important to know where you can and cannot park your campervan to sleep for the night. Generally speaking, you are not allowed to park and camp in any city or on any private land. Obviously any private campgrounds, or state or national parks with campgrounds are great places to spend the night, however they also come at a cost.
If you are looking at minimizing costs, your best bet is to search for BLM-managed public lands where you can park for free. Be sure to leave no trace, do not drive off already established trails, and note any signs prohibiting camping in the area. The iOverlander app is a great resource to find campsites, but make sure to do your own research as not everything listed on the app is up to date or accurate. As a last resort, we have also used our fair share of Wal-Mart parking lots to spend the night.
How much does it cost to rent a campervan?
The cost to rent a campervan to experience vanlife can vary quite extensively as some campervans are very basic with few features, whereas some are full-on luxury and designed to go off-road. Cabana vans are a perfect mix right in the middle, with everything you need in a comfortable and convenient package. The daily cost of a Cabana campervan varies based upon the location and time of year, but can be found for around $200 per night. There are no additional booking or cleaning fees, and Cabana includes insurance in all of their rentals.
When you compare what you get with a Cabana campervan, and consider that it is your hotel room and rental car costs all wrapped up together, renting a campervan from Cabana can be a great way to try out vanlife.
Where do you shower when you live in a van?
When living in a van, some of the luxuries of living in a house or apartment, like showering, are not always as easy. When we lived on the road in Swifty, our camper only had an outdoor shower. This worked fine during the summer months, but is less than ideal in winter. Many other campervans, such as the rental campervans from Cabana, come with an indoor shower.
The indoor shower of the Cabana campervan is easy to use, has enough space to not feel claustrophobic, and includes toiletries.
How does the washroom work in the campervan?
One of the most mysterious aspects of campervan living, is where the washroom is and how you do your business when nature calls. The Cabana campervan has a fully enclosed washroom with a toilet and toilet seat just like at home. You manually push a button to add a small amount of water to the toilet before you use it, then you use it just like anywhere else in the world, and when you are done, you pull the lever to flush from the toilet into the gray water tank. That’s it, it is super easy.
If you are on a longer trip and using a lot of water, you may have to empty the gray water tank (where all of the waste water from the shower, sink, and toilet goes) at an RV campground, but during our 5 day rental that was not necessary.
What are the downsides of vanlife?
Sometimes it may seem that vanlife is just full of beautiful landscapes and Instagram worthy views, however there are definitely downsides. When the weather is poor, you are stuck living in an extremely small space. You don’t have the luxury of bringing everything you want with you, and you would be shocked how quickly your van can get dirty even when you actively try to keep it clean every day.
Finding a safe place to camp every night is not always easy, and can lead to some stressful situations racing against the setting sun and finding a campsite in the dark. Experiencing showering, doing dishes, and using the toilet varies van by van, but in the back of your mind you are always thinking about how much water you have and where you can empty your gray water tank. You also have to constantly monitor your solar charging and battery usage to make sure you don’t end up without power.
There’s also the possibility of your van breaking down and needing repairs, or getting broken into when you leave it.
Are you looking to try out vanlife with a campervan rental?
If you were thinking that you wanted to try out vanlife, we can highly recommend renting a van for a roadtrip in a Cabana campervan. The Cabana campervans have many of the luxuries of home, while also giving you the freedom to get out there and explore.
If you have any questions about vanlife which we did not answer yet, make sure to leave a comment!
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