The realities of the cost of accommodation at school
Depending on where you choose to go to school, the cost of accommodation at university will likely be one of your largest (after tuition). If you spend first year in a student residence, that, in itself, is going to be expensive, but once you move off campus – especially if you are attending school in a large, desirable, cosmopolitan city in North America – housing costs tend to rise considerably. For most college students, minimizing housing costs are a top priority. Roommates are a must. Less desirable neighbourhoods in large cities are frequently populated by cash-strapped college students. You have to be frugal in order to make it through postsecondary. For most, owning a vehicle while attending school is completely out of the question.
There is, however, an entire subculture out there which has found a way to turn their vehicles into their accommodation. We’re talking, of course, about ‘
.’ Below are some of the things to consider if you are planning on, or even just conducting an idle thought experiment surrounding living in a van at school.
Maintaining your standards of hygiene
This is probably where many people’s minds first go when they hear the words ‘van living.’ The old stereotype of the ‘dirty hippie’ driving the flower-power Volkswagen Westfalia, showering once every month-or-so, still plagues those who choose to live in a van for extended periods of time. But if you’re going to school full-time, chances are you also have access to a facility where you can shower. Gyms, and recreational facilities like swimming pools have showers and bathrooms that you are typically given access to as part of your tuition.
Showering at the gym or pool means you don’t have to pay water bills at an apartment, and you can work exercise and showering into your routine at the same time. Alternatives include asking a friend or family member to allow you to shower at their place, showering at a local YMCA or YWCA, or if you have a membership to some other recreational facility with showers, bathing there.
Living in a van involves some upfront costs which pay off in the long run
Priceonomics did a
study on the economics of van living
. They found that if you purchased a van from the 1980s, that it was unlikely to lose too much value during your tenure, and if you invested some money into refurbishing it, it may even appreciate. You also get ownership of an asset – something you definitely don’t have when you are renting from someone – which gives you something to sell if you are ever in need of money.
You can buy customized vans at online marketplaces like Craigslist, or even at your local Buy and Sell (which will cost you more than an unfinished van), but if you buy something unfinished, keep in mind that it is likely going to cost you anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 (for things like electrical work, a vent fan, insulation, and the like). Keep in mind that these costs will vary depending on what needs to be done, and how you need to retrofit the vehicle. You will, however, avoid having to pay rent. If you know you are going to end up signing a year-long rental agreement with a landlord (at somewhere between $500 to $1,000/month), that’s at least $6,000 dollars for a year’s worth of accommodation at a university.
A vehicle and a home all in one
One of the most annoying things about living off campus (especially far off campus) is having to coordinate your life around public transportation. That is all well and good if you live in an area, or region that has reliable public transportation that can get you to and from school, but some people are not so lucky. Certain areas of both Canada and the United States are more public transportation friendly than others. A car is too big of an expense for many students (especially on top of accomodation at university, food, supplies, books, etc.), but if your car is your accommodation, having a vehicle becomes much easier to manage.
A vehicle is also freedom. Having a van at your disposal means taking a vacation or driving home during a reading break, going somewhere on a long weekend, or just switching up your scenery whenever you feel like it.
Living in a small space like a van builds character
It may not seem immediately obvious how, but after a couple years of living in a confined space, along with all of the other tasks and learning curves that are part of living in a van, you will certainly have learned something about yourself and about life. In order to update and ‘build-out’ your van you have to learn about things like carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and solar power. You will learn how to appreciate the small things in life and be content with less. And you will develop important improvisational skills that will serve you well no matter where life takes you.
Living in a Van will definitely come with its ups and downs, but it doesn’t need to be looked at as a compromise. Rather than spending all that money to live in a shared apartment with four other people – sharing a bathroom, trying to find peace and quiet when you need it – you could spend it on a comfortable, refurbished, entirely liveable van.
Improvising and making-do while at college and university are just facts of life. Most people, especially if they don’t have the luxury of financial support from family while at school, will have to struggle and save in order to make it work. A built-out van is a viable option for accommodation at university, and if you find yourself struggling to find internet, or you have to take the vehicle into the shop for an emergency repair or brake change, get in touch with
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(2018). “Vandwellers.” Reddit. Retrieved from: https://www.reddit.com/r/vandwellers/
Dhar, R. (2012). “Living in a Van.” Priceonomics. Retrieved from: https://priceonomics.com/post/32944888191/living-in-a-van