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UT student saves money, travels more by living in a renovated van

Have you ever wanted to sell everything and just travel in the van you live in? One UT student is doing just that.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — You’ve probably heard of people who love living the ‘salt life’ or the ‘mud life’ or the ‘jeep life.’

But what about the van life?

That’s the life Davis Tranbarger is living right now.

“This is my new home. I just started living in it a month or so ago and I’ve absolutely loved this so far,” he said.

His new home is a renovated van.

Van lifers like Davis are people who chose to give up their homes and live in a van full time.

“I’ve seen van life videos all over the internet before and stuff and I was like, ‘why can’t I do that?'” said Davis.

The UT sophomore started building his new home last summer with his dad and grandpa. All three of them have a wealth of carpentry knowledge.

Originally, the van was just going to be for travel.

But then rent got expensive.

“I was like, why am I paying all this money if I’m just there to eat and sleep and that’s it? So I was like, I have this van at home that I’m going to use for travel, why not just move into it now save me a bunch of money in college,” said Davis.

Starting this semester, he did just that.

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Davis found someone to take over his apartment lease and now lives full-time in his van.

Aside from occasionally paying for street parking, his main cost is gas. But he’s not really going far during the week and is getting about 14 miles to the gallon.

Inside the van, there is a double bed, kitchen counter, sink, mini-fridge, four seats with seat belts, and a ton of hidden storage.

Pieces of the van’s layout come apart or open up to make another bed and a work table.

The van is wired with fans, air conditioning, smoke and carbon dioxide alarm power controls, water pump, solar panels, and outlets everywhere to plug it all in.

Davis said the electrical wiring was definitely the most difficult part.

But space-wise, he said his pantry and mini-fridge equate to about the size of food storage he’d have to share those things with three other roommates in a college apartment.

“Definitely had to downsize a little bit,” he said. “I probably gave away half my clothes this summer just to be able to fit.”

Davis documented the whole build on TikTok so people can see how it all came together, and get a peek at his daily life living in the van.

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Davis mainly parks on the street in Fort Sanders near UT’s campus during the week.

He has a membership to Planet Fitness, which is open 24 hours. Davis usually showers there or at the gym on campus.

When it comes to using the bathroom, he has an emergency one on the van that he’s never used.

“I really never have to use the restroom while I’m in here,” he said. “I’m usually on campus or at an extracurricular or anywhere else traveling.”

If he ever needs something the van can’t provide, his friends and their apartments are there to help.

Davis said he feels lucky to get to make the decision to have this lifestyle, while others have no choice but to live in cars and vans.

He doesn’t plan on leaving that van for a more traditional home any time soon.

If you’ve wanted to try the van life, Davis said he’s happy to help get more people living a lifestyle like him.

“If you don’t go for it, you’re never gonna know if you can or not,” he said.

Watch for Davis’ van driving around town.

He’s excited to travel to more away UT games and national parks in his home on wheels.


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