"People have an image of van life that you're giving up something to do it, and we don't feel like that at all," Van Owner Stan Shapiro said. "We have a house, but we choose to travel like this."
The idea of sleeping in a van means different things to different people.
"Some of it's kind of anti-culture, some of it's.. cheap. Some of these vans are worth quite a bit of money, and it's not a money issue at all," Shapiro said.
Regardless of what draws you to "van life", Shapiro said it offers something for everyone.
For him, it's about more than just traveling.
"You don't just use it to travel in, it turns out being a hobby, because you're always working on it and upgrading it," he said.
Shapiro's love affair with vans isn't new. His 1977 Volkswagen Westfalia Camper is his fourth van. With his partner Kristi, he's learned a lot along the way. By now, they pretty much have "van life" down to a science.
"We have cooking supplies, we sleep comfortably, we carry camping supplies, carry a laptop, we live off of our cell phones for our directions and travel, and it's just like living at home, only it's smaller," Shapiro said.
He even holds talks at Spokane's REI to help others learn everything they need to know about "van life" as the movement grows in popularity.
This is my fourth van, I think maybe we could save you one or two or three purchases," Shapiro said.
The biggest factor in choosing a van? Typically, budget. The more you spend, the more comfortable you'll likely be, but it does depend on your priorities. Of course, skimping on price can mean sacrificing reliability, though the more expensive vans can have reliability problems as well.
Shapiro's van can't really go beyond the Pacific Northwest. He's limited to a 400-mile towing radius, so he has another van to accommodate longer trips. His '77 camper offers a different kind of adventure though
"The bus is fun and people, no matter where we are, people walk up to us, and they want to look in the bus, and they want to talk to us, and it's just a great way to meet people," he said.
Once you decide what type of van you want, you'll have to consider how to outfit it. There are a lot of decisions involved.
"Power supply, like do you get solar panels or do you use a battery, you know, how do you keep your phone charged, what are the cooling options, do you go with an ice chest or an electric 12-volt refrigerator, and what are the cooking options like, what size stove.." Shapiro said. The list goes on.
Once you have the van all figured out, it's time to pack. Shapiro said most people bring too much. Consider only bringing the essentials, and depending on how long your trip is, be prepared to re-wear your clothes.
Getting the logistics figured out is one thing, but according to Shapiro, the support you might need can go beyond that. He started a VW Van Meetup Club to offer something else to the community.
"There's some emotional support to owning one of these, there's a lot of technical support, but, by enlarge, it's just a really nice mix of people, cross-generational, just fun people," he said.
That's been the best part of "van life" for Shapiro, watching the lifestyle forge unlikely friendships.
"There's an older, retired population that's living in vans, or traveling in vans, and then there's the 20-somethings that are also picking it up, and the fun part is that they interact with each other.. and, the most fun is seeing the two generations having something in common, and talking to each other," he said.
"Van life" might still be a little misunderstood. To some, it might seem like living small, but for Shapiro, less is more.