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The best and worst of vanlife vs. tiny houses

by | Jul 22, 2022 | Popular, Tiny Houses, Van Life | 0 comments

If you’re considering taking up vanlife or a tiny living lifestyle, or you’re already deep in the throes of one but feel the grass may be greener on the other side – this guide will walk you through what we think are the pros and cons of each lifestyle. 

As the current homeowner of a tiny home on wheels and a former full-time vanlifer, I’ve tried both lifestyles so that you don’t have to!

I’ll cover all the major comparisons you need to consider, from safety and cost of living to remote working considerations.

About Vanlife

Red VW vanlife bus in field with hot air balloons in background.

Let’s start with vanlife! This insta-worthy lifestyle is often seen as just that – the most aesthetically pleasing lifestyle out there, and sure it has its moments – but there’s a lot more to successfully living as a full-time vanlifer than finding the occasional picturesque parking spot! 

Living the vanlife can be a dream lifestyle for many; with the freedom of the road at your fingertips and many of the comforts of home, this way of life allows those with an adventurous spirit to embark on an intrepid journey for a relatively low-cost compared to traditional travel.

I’ve heard vanlife described as “feeling at home even when you’re not at home,” and I think that’s a great way to describe one of the greatest joys of living in a van – the fact that even if your day doesn’t go to plan, you can pull over, sit on your couch and make a snack – which is a really comforting feeling. 

But vanlife isn’t what Instagram makes it out to be; it’s not all sunsets, and scenic roads followed by beachside camp spots and random friendships made every day. And it’s definitely worth noting that vanlife in Europe comes with far more challenges than vanlife in the USA.

Having said that, if you’re up for the challenge, don’t mind skipping most creature comforts – and have the mindset that shit happens and you’ll have more fun if you roll with it – this could be an amazing lifestyle for you. 

About Tiny House Living

A tiny house with wooden deck in the Norwegian countryside.
Source: Norske Mikrohus

Tiny House Living has got it all – it provides a feeling of home yet the freedom to move and set up base in a new city or even country with little more needed than a vehicle to tow your home and a friendly landowner to welcome you! 

While I know I’m absolutely biased; I believe a tiny home has everything you could ever need. Our miniature house has a bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, an office/dining room, and a huge (movable) outdoor deck – what more could you ask for?!

A mikrohus (as it’s called here in Norway) is a self-contained home with all — if not more charm — than a traditional dwelling, with the perfect amount of space to live comfortably while still being a conscious consumer.

The tiny house lifestyle has been popular for decades and continues to gain in popularity – but for many, they worry that a tiny home is simply too tiny and won’t be a comfortable way of life. 

If you’ve always dreamed of living on a small plot of land, surrounded by animals, and with a deck to sit out and listen to the birds on – why fork out millions on a farm when you could spend so much less on a tiny home that ticks all of those boxes?!

OK, so let’s get into comparing some of the major points of living in a tiny home vs living in a van! 

Working From Home

A lady stands outside at a desk working remotely.

More and more people are choosing to work from the comfort of their own homes, but there’s a lot more to having a comfortable office on wheels than simply a place to sit and a spot to put your laptop. 

With that said, let’s delve into some of the pros and cons of remote work from your van setup or your tiny home.

Vanlife Pros

  • Every weekend or even lunchtime break can feel like a great adventure!
  • A change of scenery can help distract from boring work or give you the incentive to get it over with.
  • You won’t want to spend much time on devices outside of working hours (not least because it’ll use up precious battery life!).

Vanlife Cons

  • It can be an enormous challenge to keep everything charged – especially in Europe where it’s not as sunny for getting solar energy.
  • Mobile internet is expensive and can be painfully slow in areas.
  • Work from home couples often have to juggle who gets to be inside the van during peak meeting times.

Tiny House Pros

  • You can have a dedicated office area which definitely helps you to disconnect at the end of the workday when you close up your laptop.
  • Your internet connection will be consistent and likely lower in price.
  • If you’re on the grid, you won’t have to worry about running out of power in the middle of a meeting!

Tiny House Cons

  • Most tiny house offices turn into the dining area, so you do need to pack your gear away every day for lunch and dinner.
  • It’s hard for work-from-home couples when you both have meetings at the same time as even with the added loft space – you’ll likely overhear each other.


Vanlife rig with dog.

Personal safety is something I was asked about a lot during my time as a vanlifer, and rightfully so – it does require more thought and planning to stay safe when you’re living on the road and heading to new and unknown areas every day. 

Spoiler alert – living in a tiny house does feel much safer, but that’s not to say that I feel unsafe when living in the van, so don’t let that put you off; instead – take this as your handy list of where you need to be more attentive.

Vanlife Pros

  • You get a lot braver by putting yourself in new situations every day.
  • If you feel unsafe, you can just start up the engine and drive away.

Vanlife Cons

  • You do sometimes end up in dodgy-looking places. 
  • People can and do try to break into your home on wheels – often out of curiosity, I know it’s so weird.

Tiny House Pros

  • You’re on one fixed plot of land and can easily set up your own security measures.
  • If you happen to live near neighbors, that definitely adds a sense of security and community.

Tiny House Cons

  • You need to spend money on super secure towbar locks.
  • Tiny house plots are frequently in the middle of nowhere which are naturally a bit spookier.


A vanlife kitchen.

Having a smaller kitchen can be a learning curve, with counter space often one of the biggest challenges – never mind the lack of space for kitchen equipment that you’ve come to expect as standard. 

But, a tiny kitchen can be a fun and creative zone for the avid home chef, and let me tell you… the smaller the space – the quicker the clean up!

Vanlife Pros

  • A tiny vanlife kitchen is incredibly quick to clean.
  • Cooking with a view is one of the most relaxing experiences you’ll ever have! 

Vanlife Cons

  • Most vanlife setups only have a stovetop and not an actual oven. 
  • Your refrigerator and freezer are likely going to be pretty small.
  • If one person is cooking, the other needs to stay out of the way – there’s no room for two in a vanlife kitchen.

Tiny House Pros

  • A well-designed tiny home kitchen can be as big or bigger than a regular apartment kitchen.
  • You have a full oven – which might not seem like a pro to most unless you’ve lived without one!
  • A galley kitchen works so efficiently, I swear I cook way quicker in our tiny home on wheels.

Tiny House Cons

  • Cooking in a tiny house in the summer turns your entire home into a furnace.
  • Due to less storage space, you’ll need to shop more often.
  • Your freezer is probably going to be utterly tiny.

Bathroom & Shower

A solar shower hung on a tree.

Most of us are lucky enough to have access to clean bathrooms with running water, and it’s so easy to take this for granted. 

Making the switch to tiny living, whether in a van or a tiny home – has such a remarkable effect on the gratitude and appreciation you will have for these aspects of life.

Vanlife Pros

  • Each van is different, and you can choose whether you buy one with or without a bathroom.
  • You will become much more aware of your water consumption.
  • If you don’t have a bathroom – you don’t have a bathroom to clean!
  • You can buy a solar shower and hang it up outside really easily.

Vanlife Cons

  • If you don’t have a bathroom, you’ll realize how hard it is to find a restroom on a sunday or public holiday.
  • If you have a composting toilet – they can be a bit smelly.
  • Solar showers are pretty cold, and finding a nice private spot to set them up isn’t always possible – so swimsuit showers will be your new norm.

Tiny House Pros

  • You have a full shower in your house – it’s luxurious.
  • You can choose between a regular, composting, and incinerating toilet.
  • If your partner is having an important meeting – having this separate room does give you a place to go hangout and do a face mask!
  • Best of all – you can fit a bathtub in a tiny house!

Tiny House Cons

  • Depending on your water heater, you’ll need to time your showers so that the hot water hasn’t been used up doing dishes.
  • Many tiny houses have wet rooms and unless you add a lip to your shower you’ll forget someone just showered and walk in there in socks.


Did you know that taking good care of your clothes by washing them regularly increases their lifespan, saves money, and best of all makes your wardrobe habits more environmentally friendly?! 

Laundry is one of those tasks that it’s easy to overlook going into any new lifestyle – but from experience, let me tell you – it’s one of those things that makes a surprisingly big difference to your overall quality of life.

Being able to open up your wardrobe and put on a fresh outfit really sets you up for a great day!

Vanlife Pros

  • You have fewer clothes, so there’s less to wash!
  • It is possible to buy a vanlife mini hand-powered washing machines.

Vanlife Cons

  • Finding a laundromat and then waiting at one while your clothes wash feels like the most unproductive use of time.
  • A mini hand-powered washing machine takes up valuable space in your vanlife rig.

Tiny House Pros

  • Most tiny house builders will provide space for a small washing machine.
  • You can buy a washer/dryer combo.
  • If you’re smart – you’ll also use your washing machine as your laundry basket.
  • You can go longer between washes because you have more storage space for clothes.

Tiny House Cons

  • When on a spin setting, your entire house shakes a bit – even on the low setting.
  • Running a washer/dryer on a hot day with no breeze makes your house unbearably hot.
  • Washing machines are expensive and don’t come as standard in most tiny homes.

Solo vs. Couples vs. Family Life

Mercedes Sprinter Vanlife rig

Whether you’re planning on a solo adventure around the world or packing up all the kids and moving towards a financially independent lifestyle – the size of your family does impact the way of life that would be the most comfortable for you. 

Of course, everyone is different, and if possible – I’d recommend trying out each lifestyle for at least a weekend before you jump in. The fact of the matter is that many people have tried vanlife or tried tiny living – only to realize that they absolutely hate it in practice.

Vanlife Pros

  • Solo – You do have all the space you need for one person.
  • Couples – If you can travel as a couple, do it – the memories you’ll make and experiences you’ll share will be unrivaled by anything.
  • Family – Allowing your kids to experience the world will make them more confident, independent, and understanding of other cultures!

Vanlife Cons

  • Solo – It can be a little lonelier and scarier; having a dog can help, but it can also hinder as you can’t take them everywhere.
  • Couples – Not every couple enjoys being around each other 24/7 – not to mention if you have meetings at the same time, it can be noisy and annoying
  • Family – Most vans can be small for an entire family; a smart workaround is getting a school bus aka skoolie instead!

Tiny House Pros

  • Solo – It’s far easier to get onto the property ladder as an individual with a tiny house than it is to buy a traditional home.
  • Couples – In my opinion, a tiny house is the perfect sized home for a couple.
  • Family – I genuinely think that one of the best lessons you can teach your kids is to value experiences over things, and growing up tiny would definitely instill this in them.

Tiny House Cons

  • Solo – Putting all your money into a tiny home can mean you’re a little stuck should you change your mind and decide that vanlife would be a better fit.
  • Couples – Due to the open plan layout, you can’t go into separate rooms to have meetings or phone calls.
  • Family – It can be more challenging to build a large enough tiny home in Europe that would be large enough for a larger family.

Day-to-day Costs

Whether you’re looking into vanlife or tiny living because of the financial benefits – or if it’s just a happy accident, the fact is that you can absolutely benefit from saving a lot of money living both of these lifestyles.

Both of these lifestyles encourage you to be a much more conscious consumer – and even if you go into this lifestyle with no plans of changing your spending habits, I bet you’ll find yourself realizing that you buy a lot of things that you don’t truly need and likely adopting a more minimalistic attitude on belongings.

Vanlife Pros

  • You don’t have room to buy things, so you save money without even trying!
  • Being able to purposefully plan to travel in cheaper countries can save you so much money.
  • Finding free spots to park up for the night means that you’re essentially living rent-free.

Vanlife Cons

  • There’s so little room in your fridge that you’ll need to shop a few times per week.
  • Your house has the added cost of gas – and with these gas prices, yikes.
  • Mobile internet is just a lot more expensive – especially for Europe-wide coverage.
  • Unless you have solar power, you’ll need to either spend money on campsites for hooking up to power or going to coffee shops to charge your stuff.

Tiny House Pros

  • You become a far more conscious consumer and will almost definitely end up buying less.
  • You definitely have enough room to meal prep and fit groceries for the week.
  • Having a lovely kitchen really encourages you to cook at home and not waste money on eating out.
  • You can add an electric meter onto your home to help save you money on electricity.
  • Buying energy efficient smart home gadgets can save you a lot on power bills.
  • Having your home in one spot reduces the maintenance and upkeep costs.

Tiny House Cons

  • You will likely have to pay rent for the plot of land where you place your tiny home.
  • You can’t stock up when things are on sale as you don’t have much room to store them.

The Biggest Pros and Cons

And finally – a few pros and cons that don’t fit in any of the categories above!

Vanlife Pros

  • Ability to move whenever you want.
  • Live in locations where you otherwise couldn’t afford to.
  • Cheaper because you’re not paying for rent AND a car.
  • Wake up in locations you could only dream of!
  • Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone teaches you to live life to the fullest.

Vanlife Cons

  • Limited storage and living space.
  • No guarantee of good internet every day – challenging when working from your rolling home.
  • A lack of bathroom facilities – depending on your setup.
  • It’s not always easy to find a free camping spot.
  • You’ll often need to stealth camp or be on your way early.
  • A van can be far less secure than a traditional home and leave you feeling less safe.
  • It’s not as glamorous as it looks on Instagram, and your camp spot will often be no more than a parking lot.

Tiny House Pros

  • A tiny home is the most affordable way to get onto the housing market.
  • All the creature comforts of home – including bathtubs, washing machines, dishwashers and wifi.
  • In Norway it’s now possibly to get a tiny house mortgage. 
  • Tiny homes have everything a regular house does – but in a smaller and cuter package!
  • It is much easier to find a piece of land to put your tiny house than most people think it is.
  • You’re able to have a registered address and get your mail on-site.

Tiny House Cons

  • A tiny home won’t increase in value like a brick and mortar home. 
  • Figuring out how to legally live in a tiny home takes work and patience.
  • Not all areas allow for full-time tiny home living. 
  • If you plan on moving your home – you’ll need a truck with one heck of a towing capacity.
  • You need to prep land before putting a tiny home on it, and that costs money.
  • To move your home, you may find that you’ll have to empty all of your belongings to ensure it isn’t above the legal payload.


I’ve lived both of these lifestyles full-time and long-term; I actually found it hard to sit down and compare them – as they’re more different than many people realize. 

In Scandinavia, where we have our tiny home – a tiny home is made to stay put, our winding roads, mountainous terrain, and lighter payloads don’t lend themselves to tiny home travel.

So while for us, a tiny house on wheels is the perfect, most magical, and genuinely joy-bringing base… I must admit it doesn’t quench our thirst for adventure and exploration. 

Vanlife, on the other hand, fills your adventure cup and lets it overflow for good measure, and you can go wherever your heart desires.

The winner is…

Overall – my preferred lifestyle is the tiny house lifestyle, and here’s why – 

  • The day-to-day chores such as laundry are much quicker.
  • You have your very own shower and toilet – I cannot explain how much of a luxury this is after not having one in our VW bus.
  • Being in one location means you’re able to make and keep a community of friends.
  • We have excellent internet every single day. 
  • This low cost of living allows us to save money for adventures – so we get the best of both worlds.

Even though I picked tiny homes as my lifestyle winner – I would never take back my time living as a vanlifer, and if I hadn’t been in the position to buy my very own dream home on wheels – I’d likely still be living that van lifestyle.

Having a tiny base to come home to, plus our VW bus, we maintain the freedom of being able to hit the road whenever it calls to us. We’ve worked hard to be able to live this kind of life, and I just want to finish by saying – if like us, you crave something other than the traditional lifestyle – go for it, work hard to get it – because honestly, it’s worth it.

Keep living tiny xx




Founder of TLS

Hey I’m Nadia, your tiny house obsessed friend, helping you discover alternative and tiny living solutions that can help you achieve financial freedom.

If I can go from renting to buying my own home, heading towards semi-retirement in 3 years then so can you!

Read more about my story here