5 van homes that take "glamping" on the road

  • Photo courtesy of Mary Ashley Krogh and Owen Chikazawa

    "Van life" is a movement -- and a social media trend -- started by people who want to live simply and travel freely by downsizing their lives into converted cargo vans.

    But living in these homes on wheels isn't exactly roughing it. Taking cues from the glamorous camping (or "glamping") and micro-housing trends that have also gained popularity over the past few years, these vehicles often feature creature comforts found in stationary houses -- like refrigerators, toilets and gas stovetops. They also sport inviting décor that would make any aspirational Instagrammer jealous.

    Some van owners utilize the tiny abodes for temporary trips, but others have used them as full-time starter homes that help reduce living expenses and allow for flexible career paths.

    Freedom from traditional housing payments makes it financially possible for many of these travelers to explore, ditch the cubicle and get in touch with the natural world. But there can be significant upfront costs.

    The good news for van-life hopefuls is that it's easy to prioritize and select vehicles, custom features and finishes to fit almost every individual budget and lifestyle. Van conversion projects can cost anywhere from $16,000 to $65,000 and can take years to finish, depending on how "DIY" owners choose to go.

    These homeowners often find large communities on social media platforms like Instagram, where many have thousands of followers and learn from each other's experiences. They share images, stories and advice using hashtags like #homeiswhereyouparkit, #exploremore and, of course, #vanlife.

    Some of the most popular van lifers secure sponsorships from food or outdoor lifestyle brands, thanks to their large social media followings, but most simply enjoy sharing their passion with others.

    "The crazy thing about all this is that Instagram has been a huge driver for everything," said van-home owner Mike Shisler. "The whole van-life community lives on Instagram. Years ago, that's how we found another couple living in a van that inspired us to do it."

    But these communities don't always stay online. Van lifers can also be found flocking together at campgrounds, and there are even outdoor festivals that incorporate van-life villages.

    Dreaming of a life on the road? Click ahead to see five converted vans and the people who call them home.

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    Ilyce R. Glink is an award-winning, nationally-syndicated columnist, best-selling book author and founder of Best Money Moves, an employee benefit program that helps reduce financial stress. She also owns ThinkGlink.com, where readers can find real estate and personal finance resources.