For some van lifers, college on the road in 2020 meant major savings and nonstop travel. It left others stressed, unmotivated, and desperate to find good WiFi.

Joe Fonicello and Abbe MinorAbbe Minor, 20, and Joe Fonicello, 21, are currently travelling the West Coast while taking college classes.
  • As universities shifted from in-person to online classes, students reconsidered their college experience.
  • Some decided to trade dorm life for van life.
  • Insider spoke to five students completing college from a van. They were enticed into the lifestyle to save money and travel the country.
  • But it doesn’t come without challenges, like searching for WiFi and staying motivated to complete classwork.
  • Take a look at how these students are finding the balance between college and living on the road.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jocelyn Rausten’s fall semester at Lewis and Clark College was sprinkled with adventure, and it was easier for her to hit the road than most of her peers.

For each of the several road trips she took, the 20-year-old junior didn’t think about packing a tent or reserving a hotel. Her dorm room is also her vehicle; she lives in a Ram Promaster van.

“I always felt like I got stuck being busy with school, and I didn’t get to do things that are exciting or adventurous,” Rausten told Insider. “With the van, I can be studious … but also go anywhere.”

Jocelyn RaustenJocelyn RaustenJocelyn Rausten had hoped to use on-campus facilities this semester while living in a van. Unfortunately, her college campus was closed this fall.

While some students, like Ruasten, had been interested in van life for years, others saw the pandemic’s impact on travel and college as the optimum time to try out van life.

Students were enticed by saving money, and others were eager to travel. But the van lifestyle didn’t come without challenges.

Insider spoke to five college students who have spent the semester searching for WiFi and discovering new destinations.

Some students aimed to save thousands of dollars by living in a van

Nicole VasquezNicole VasquezNicole Vasquez said she’s constantly on the hunt for an open coffee shop with Wi-Fi so she can complete classwork.

When the pandemic hit the US, Nicole Vasquez and her boyfriend packed up their apartment in San Diego, California, and headed home to Saginaw, Michigan.

Vasquez, a junior at San Diego Mesa College in California, told Insider that they were quickly getting tired of living at home, but moving back to San Diego didn’t feel possible with its increasing coronavirus cases.

Over the summer, the couple used savings to purchase a van for $US3,200 and spent $US800 renovating it.

“I figured this would be the safest option because we’re not really around people,” Vasquez told Insider. “We’re mostly in nature.”

An added benefit was saving money.

Back in California, Vasquez’s off-campus apartment cost $US1,200 a month. Vasquez estimates they save hundreds of dollars each month by living in the van.

Emma DemorestEmma DemorestEmma Demorest moved into a van to save money in college.

Emma Demorest’s biggest motivator was money.

“I came into college knowing that it takes a lot of money — more money than it needs to take — to get through college,” the 22-year-old senior at UC Santa Barbara told Insider.

Demorest joked that she looked at living in a van as a way to “cheat the system” and save money throughout her college experience.

With savings and her family’s help, Demorest purchased her sprinter van for $US10,000 and started living in it the summer before junior year.

Instead of paying rent, Demorest pays around $US200 each month to park in a friend’s driveway and use the house’s shower, bathroom, living room, kitchen, and WiFi.

Beyond saving money, the students were allured by nonstop travel

AbbeMinorVanCollegeLife3Joe Fonicello and Abbe MinorThe couple said they have learned valuable life skills while living and renovating their van.

Abbe Minor, 20, and Joe Fonicello, 21, never had the stereotypical college experience of living on campus.

For their first few years of college, they travelled from their homes in Connecticut to classes at the University of Connecticut, to save money.

With that money, Minor and Fonicello planned to travel. When the pandemic altered where and how they could travel, Minor and Fonicello adapted.

Instead of plane rides, train trips, or car rentals, Minor purchased a sprinter van.

The couple has seen awe-inspiring destinations, and both the students shared stories about the people they have met along the way.

Emma Demorest college van lifeEmma DemorestEmma Demorest said living in a van has taught her to live more independently.

Demorest said she’s also had experiences she couldn’t have imagined without her van. Her van has encouraged her to live more independently.

“It’s pretty isolating at times, but for me, I’ve learned to lean into it,” she said. “In college, you’re constantly surrounded by people … so I really appreciate being able to get in touch with myself in a way I wouldn’t have been able to in college.”

From finding WiFi in McDonald’s parking lots to balancing classes, van life is not without its challenges

Jocelyn RaustenJocelyn RaustenJocelyn Rausten is using her van for weekend road trips.

Rausten faced huge obstacles this semester when switching to van life.

She had assumed her college campus would be open. She planned to use gym showers, study in libraries, and spend her days in lecture halls.

When the college announced its campus would be closed, Rausten had to draft a backup plan and started parking in the driveway of a friend’s house.

For Fonicello and Minor, the hardest part has been finding reliable WiFi.

Inflexible school schedules have forced them to head to McDonald’s and Starbucks’ parking lots in search of free WiFi at all hours of the day.

Time zones add an extra layer of stress. The couple is exploring the West Coast, but their classes are currently in Eastern Standard Time.

“Those 9:30 a.m. classes are actually 6:30 a.m. classes for us,” Minor said. “I mean, it sucks, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Beyond WiFi struggles, a major stressor has been finding a balance between travelling and schoolwork, Vasquez said.

She’s said there have been points along their trip where it’s been hard to find the motivation for a hike at the end of a long school day.

Minor has the opposite challenge. She’s prioritising travel first, so she said it can be hard to set aside the time and stay motivated with her college courses.

“[Classes] can kind of takes a back seat because you get so excited every day to go hiking or see a new place,” she said.

The students have no regrets

AbbeMinorVanCollegeLife2Joe Fonicello and Abbe MinorThe couple shared that it can be challenging to focus on college work when the world is at their fingertips.

The five students Insider interviewed all said college from a van has been challenging, but it’s created memories and life lessons they will never forget.

Rausten said her van has pushed her out of her comfort zone and given her the chance to reflect on her values.

“A college education is incredible, but I think what you learn by travelling and meeting people is something that could never be taught,” she told Insider.

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