Can You Do Van Life as a Full-Time Software Engineer?

I am a huge advocate of remote work.

And there's never been a better time to pursue a career that allows you to work remotely... (like software development!)

Of all of the benefits, one has always stood out to me. The ability to work from anywhere. And if you can work from anywhere, why not take advantage of that?

Let's talk about van life.

Can Software Developers Pursue Van Life?

In theory, yes, if you can work remotely then it should be totally possible.

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But clearly there are a lot of challenges involved with living on the road, unplugged from the grid. Like how do you charge your work laptop or make sure you have good wifi for your meetings?

As a software developer, I work remotely and I want to try out van life. So I'm publicly sharing my brainstorming process of all of the challenges that I need to address. And hopefully I can debunk all your excuses and help you hit the road!

Let's jump into what we need to be able to do our jobs on the road.

Full-Time Job Requirements

In order to do my job, there are a few necessities I need to have access to every day.

1. Power

If my laptop dies, I can't do my job.

The entire point of this project is to be able to take advantage of a job that allows you to work remotely. If you can't do the work you need to, you'll probably lose that job. Then you'll have to go out and find another job that lets you work remotely, and I don't think any of us enjoy the interview process.

Power is one of the most important utilities your van will have to be set up with.

How to Never Run Out of Power

Luckily, this isn't a difficult problem to solve.

Most van-lifers manage this requirement by installing solar panels, batteries, and sometimes wind generators. All of these technologies allow you to travel pretty much indefinitely, unplugged from the grid. Having an ample supply of amps (hah sorry) will allow you to charge all the things you need to get your work done.

The combination of solar panels and wind generators is nice for a few reasons. You will have a way to generate power with wind when the suns not out, and by the sun if there's no wind.

2. Fast WiFi

If you want to be able to work effectively with the rest of your team, you will need good internet.

It doesn't help that we are all more comfortable with video calls now too. These require exponentially more bandwidth than just sending Slack messages or other text-based communications.

I have a decent amount of meetings everyday, and if I can't effectively participate then that hurts the team.

Outside of meetings, you also need internet for most of your other job functions. Especially us developers, we need to pull code regularly onto our local machines. And can you imagine trying to make it an entire day without accessing StackOverflow?

How to Access Fast Internet (Most of the Time)

You probably won't be able to bring your gigabit internet with you.

Unlike your home or office, you will likely have to rely on a mobile hotspot. Some nomads get by working in coffee shops, but I would find it incredibly difficult to participate in all of my meetings in that kind of environment. Not to mention you might not always be able to rely on their internet (or their network's security).

So I'd recommend looking at mobile hotspots. You should have access to the internet pretty everywhere that you have cell reception.

3. Places to Stay

Another important part of this journey is figuring out where you plan to camp out every night.

Many people think you can stop paying rent, and travel in your van to save money. But the reality is, you will still likely have to pay to park your van or camp out for the night. Most cities have laws against sleeping in your car, and if you try to pull this off you could get into some legal trouble.

Assume that you will have to pay to camp out some of the time, so you can account for the additional expenses in your budget.

4. Water

Of course we need to talk about the most basic thing we all require in order to survive.

Unplugging from the grid means no more access to basic utilities like water and plumbing. You will need to outfit your van to store enough water for your adventures. It will be infinitely more convenient not having to constantly buy water or hook up to water lines at a park.

Also consider whether or not you want to be able to shower or do dishes from your van. These will require even more planning. Unless you plan to always do dishes outside, you will have to think about how you store your grey water too.

To solve your water needs, I'd recommend getting a water tank large enough to last you based on how long you want to stay off-grid.

I see a lot of van lifers add foot pumps and mini-sinks as well. The convenience of not having to go outside in the cold or rain is massive.

5. Your Company's Approval!

I would strongly recommend you don't suddenly call into meetings from your van, catching your team off-guard.

If your team works remotely it's probably totally fine. (Most of them will probably be jealous too...)

But check with your manager and let them know about the lifestyle you want to pursue. I can't imagine spending all this effort and planning an awesome trip, just to be told that the company needs me back at home for any given reason.

Check with your team, get their seal of approval, and then travel onwards with no worries or stress!

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Hey, I'm Nick Dill.

I help people become better software developers with daily tips, tricks, and advice.
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