Thousands of urbanites choose to live in vans, but photos show this experience can be more cramped and lonely than it's made out to be.
Living out of a van can be a lonely, cramped existence — yet some people are choosing it over life in a standard home. As real estate becomes more expensive in cities like New York and San Francisco, young tech workers, retirees, and even families are turning to converted vans as a way to save on rent.
Though van dwelling may be a viable option for some, the reality is far less seductive than it's made out to be. Many photos of converted vans show little room for anything other than a bed and a few storage bins. Vehicles that have been lived in for a while are often a cluttered mess, packed with stray belongings and portable fans.
Check out what van living is really like for the urbanites who dare to tackle life on the road — and the many who rely on vans as an affordable housing option.
In Queens, New York, a 1995 Chevrolet conversion van is being advertised on Airbnb. But in order to save on hotel prices, travelers will have to skimp on air conditioning.
Many people spend several thousand dollars to transform used vans.
A van's "storage space" may look neat and tidy when it's first built, but once belongings are added, it could overflow.
Despite its clean decor, this 2002 Honda Odyssey is more of a bed than a home.
Even when van dwellers get creative with space, the quarters are often cramped.
Many are forced to sleep on top of their belongings, meaning beds are located quite close to the roof.
From the inside, it can feel like living in a tunnel.
And there's not always enough room to stretch out your legs.
Even with lacquered wood paneling and granite countertops, van life can be quite isolating.
Dwellers are often forced to cook on small stoves or hot plates.
But some people offset the loneliness by taking their pets with them.
At night, dwellers sometimes park in campgrounds, on national forest lands, in Walmart parking lots, or on the beach.
Many van dwellers meet up with one another on the road, and 36,000 people communicate on the vandwellers subreddit to talk about their experiences.
Mechanical problems are always a risk, and dwellers sometimes need a helping hand before they can get back on the road.
Despite occasional issues, many dwellers say this experience is well worth it. "I'd rather have a tiny messy house on wheels, and be free, than to have a perfect 5 bedroom house that calls on me to work 9-5 to survive," one Instagram user wrote.
But for many who are struggling financially, living in a van isn't a choice. A 24-year-old Tesla employee, for example, lived in a van for five months to pay off $14,000 in student loans.
Van dwelling has also increased significantly in areas with large homeless populations. Below, artist Ira Watkins lives and works out of his van in San Francisco's Bayview-Hunters Point district.
Some local organizations, such as Laundry Love in Huntington Beach, California, partner with laundromats to help homeless people do their laundry for free.
And in Kirkland, Washington, Tamara Bancroft lives in one of two dozen vans that house homeless single women in a church parking lot.
For thousands of Americans who reside in their vehicles, van living isn't a luxury — it's a necessity.