Last Sunday, we drove back to our campsite ― and found it empty. After two years of traveling full time by van, someone finally jacked our stuff.
The good news is we hadn’t left behind anything valuable. Our two-burner camp stove, two camping chairs, hatchet and two bundles of firewood were taken. Altogether worth about $100. Frustrating since we’re not made of money, but manageable and easily replaced. We let the campground host/staff know, just in case they turned up. The next day, we bought a replacement stove and chairs.
One week later: As I’m walking to the showers, the guy three sites away hands me a bundle in black trash bags. “I’m sorry. I’m not a thief,” he says. “We thought you weren’t coming back and when you did I didn’t know what to do. We’re leaving today, so here.”
Inside the bag was our stove and one chair. (I guess the hatchet and second chair were worth keeping?) I didn’t press it and walked away.
Our stove and one chair, returned to us
What This Has To Do With Insurance
The whole situation got us thinking: It was something easily replaceable this time, but what if someone breaks into our car and steals something of value next time?
(Don’t judge. We are human and it’s natural to be paranoid for a little while afterwards.)
The point of insurance is to protect against risk. While we believe van living is no more or less risky than regular living ― those items could have been stolen from a back patio ― we realized that most insurance is set up for house-dwellers, not van-dwellers. Van-dwellers often have all of their personal property in their vehicle at all times, which can include valuables like laptops and hard drives, cell phones, tablets, cameras, expensive sporting equipment, GPS devices or jewelry.
So I did some research. I read blog posts and consulted other van-dwellers on Reddit. I got on the phone with insurance representatives and straight up said, “We live in a vehicle full time and want to insure our personal property; what products do you have available?” Here’s a quick review of what we learned.
Auto Insurance Covers Your Van, Not Your Stuff
- In case you don’t already know, auto insurance policies cover things like medical expenses and damage to your or other vehicles in an accident. It depends on how much coverage you purchase.
- It doesn’t cover your personal belongings inside the vehicle. If you were to turn your van upside down and shake it, everything that falls out are personal belongings.
Renter’s or Homeowner’s Insurance Can Help…Maybe
- House-dwellers have coverage for their personal belongings via renter’s or condo/homeowner’s insurance.
- Here’s the great thing about renter’s and homeowner’s insurance policies: They cover your personal property no matter where it is in the world. If someone breaks into your car and steals your laptop, you file a claim with your auto insurance (assuming your policy covers that) for the car damage and a claim with your renter’s/homeowner’s insurance for the laptop.
- But there’s a catch: If you live in your van full time, you don’t have an apartment/condo/home to insure!
- If you try to get insurance at a relative’s home where you don’t really live and your insurance finds out, they could deny your claim. Not only will you be out the cost of your belongings, but you’ll have made insurance premium payments for nothing. (More on this from other van-dwellers on Reddit.)
- If you are genuinely a part-time van-dweller and maintain a residence somewhere else, that’s a different story depending on the insurer. They might be willing to insure you if there is a place where you spend the majority of your time.
- In our case, we learned that the homeowner’s insurance we pay for our condo (that we rent out) covers a limited amount of our personal property that isn’t physically present at the unit. But, the deductible is so high that it would only help if we lost absolutely everything.
You Can Insure Individual Items, But It May Not Make Financial Sense
- One Redditor referred me to another van-dweller who wanted to insure his electronics. You can watch the video to learn more about the companies he found and the cost.
- Here’s my take: Unless you have really expensive equipment and carry it all with you, it’s not worth the monthly premiums and deductible.
Travel and RV Insurance Cover Personal Belongings, But Come With Extras
- When we were backpacking in Latin America, we had a travel insurance policy through World Nomads that included personal property coverage. Their customer service was easy to deal with and they cover you so long as you’re 100 miles from home.
- The potential downside is that you’re paying for other insurance, like for medical expenses, evacuation and cancelled flights as part of a package deal. If you’re van-dwelling in your country of residence, that’s coverage you might not need.
- RV insurance is almost like auto insurance and home insurance combined. Some insurers offer “full-timer” policies for people who live in their RVs, which covers the actual RV, personal possessions, liability at your campsites and more.
- We don’t know how much these policies cost because a converted minivan wouldn’t qualify as an RV. If you have a van that was manufactured to function as an RV, then it may be worth looking into.
Or, Be Smart and Learn to Live With Risk
In the end, we weren’t able to find a perfect solution for insuring our personal belongings. But even if we had, it wouldn’t change two things:
- You shouldn’t keep irreplaceable, high-value items in your van full time. Bring your laptop or camera with you ― or hide it well out of sight if you don’t. Keep irreplaceable items with trusted friends or family or in secure storage. Be smart about where you park.
- Even with insurance, there is always risk. Something could happen that isn’t covered by insurance. If you weren’t comfortable with a walk on the wild side, you wouldn’t be van-dwelling. And, in the end, it’s just stuff.
After we got our stove and one chair back, we were a bit miffed because we wouldn’t be able to return the new stove we bought. The next day, we met a lovely woman who had just completed her first week of solo truck-dwelling. We spent a good chunk of the morning talking about the ins and outs of full-time travel and self-employment: the excitement, the frustrations, what we’re all learning.
She didn’t have a stove yet, so we gave her ours. See? Sometimes things work themselves out on their own.
Let us know if you know of other insurance options in the comments.