Well for one I highly suspect vanlifers avoid the east coast. I am someone who camps several times a month in the back of my truck, and who once lived in the back of said truck for two weeks straight. I can tell you I've a) never slept in a parking lot and b) have never paid for a camp spot. We use BLM land, which is abundant and often (but not always) beautiful. Pretty sure the east coast doesn't have nearly as much of this. Also, we use zero degree sleeping bags so we don't have to breathe in fumes while we sleep if the heat goes out. I'd be shocked if "vanlifers" didn't have this sort of backup as well.

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