There is a growing interest in van life—or living a mobile lifestyle in an RV or van—and by acquiring and using a campervan to accommodate massage and spa therapies, the possibilities for your practice open up.
Van life could create a change of scenery, business asset, travel, portability, a greater amount of appointment or business options, tax write offs, potential pandemic safety improvements with better air quality—and more, for practitioners who are able to make such an investment. Acquiring a prebuilt campervan or converting a vehicle to accommodate massage and spa therapy practice can create vast opportunities.
I put on a professional spa uniform and set up a massage table outside of our campervan at a KOA in Florida. Within one hour, I had three appointment requests.
Gorving.com reports there are 11.2 million RV homeowners in the U.S. today, and that number continues to rise. Fellow RV owners, digital nomads and road-warrior aficionados are one potential client pool; additionally, house-call appointments are a growing massage therapy income source, especially as more Americans work from home.
You’re in Control
Massage therapy is a social business, but the pandemic has discouraged social practice for health and safety purposes. Many of our financial budgets and expenses have become unstable as well. So, how can we adapt a massage therapy practice for an evolving current-day practice? Van life may have some answers.
Want to combine work with travel? Looking to downsize? For those who wish to create a minimalistic life and business, van life may provide both.
Van life grants exceptional work environment containment more so than commercial dwellings. You control the cleaning, who enters, and there’s no landlord dictating business terms or restrictions when you’re off the grid.
Campervans can also provide a sense of sanity for those who feel confined when working within four walls or a windowless treatment room. They’re also more practical than a typical business vehicle if you desire running water or a toilet nearby. They have lots of perks that could deliver a touch of fun for your mind and soul with tax write-off benefits that may be similar to your existing business office or vehicle, but you should always consult a tax professional for any type of tax advice.
What to Look for in an RV or Campervan
As society seeks fresh air and better work circumstances, campervans are in high demand and at all-time high prices, so please be diligent in your research prior to purchase. There is a tremendous variety of new and used prebuilt models, floor plans and features. Some RV dealerships have monthly quotas, so purchasing at the end of the month may provide better price negotiation.
When purchasing a prebuilt campervan, there may be two titles for it. The chassis title, such as a Ford Motor Company or Daimler, maybe be a year or more older than the Class B RV title itself such as a Winnebago or Coachman. This is normal because the RV manufacturer may take a year or more to build the RV home onto the chassis before it’s put to market and made available for sale as a Class B RV. Always look at a Carfax and ask friends, family or colleagues for advice.
RV stands for recreational vehicle. The three motorized RV classes with a cab and cabin to drive and live within are Class A, B & C RVs. In this article, we are writing about Class B RVs which are also known as campervans. Our preferences for Class B campervans are because:
• Despite being the smallest of the three motorized RV classes, Class B campervans usually have the greatest amount of air ventilation options per square foot of space.
• Class B campervans are usually under 7 feet wide and between 14 to 24 feet long. Class A and C RVs are typically more challenging to maneuver, park and drive at 8 feet wide and between 21 to 45 feet long. This makes Class A & C RVs heavier, less fuel efficient and more expensive to drive.
• A smaller RV with better maneuverability provides greater parking options and larger public access to your RV plus other benefits such as free pit stop areas. Some outdoor parking lots may prohibit RV parking, but they might still welcome your van.
• Because of the recent explosion in RV use and demand, many RV parks are quite full these days; however, the most abundantly available spaces today are the small back-ups that easily accommodate a campervan.
• Prebuilt sprinter campervans have up to eight windows, five doors, two air conditioners and two ceiling fans to provide a superior amount of air ventilation, which is critical for safer practices with the airborne contaminants of COVID-19. Most campervans have an electrical supply to power small appliances, such as HEPA filters, as well. When providing sessions inside the campervan, always place the client’s airway closest to the open air to disperse any exhaled airborne contaminants during COVID-19.
• Read your RV manual(s). It may seem overwhelming to read a book about a prebuilt campervan, but it’s worth every minute. You might learn of features that you didn’t even know you had, and you’ll get the very most of out of your RV when you know how to properly use it.
• Note that being flexible in van life can create new freedoms and experiences but could also provide new challenges too. Van life can be unpredictable, just like anything else in property or business.
• With the right resources, you may also be able to convert your own van, and with some serious time and investigation, you’ll learn your own tips and tricks to find the best conveniences for you.
From Vehicle to Session Room
Turning a campervan acquisition into a profitable massage therapy business will depend on what you use it for and the state laws that govern your practice. (Regardless of how you work, you will need to check the local laws for business compliance where applicable.)
While van life is about minimization, a campervan provides great travel space for bulky business assets such as prenatal massage cushions plus a portable massage chair and table, all in one vehicle. A greater amount of travelling business assets may provide a greater amount of appointment options and income. Don’t forget there may be additional storage space on the campervan roof.
Most campervans have a large canopy along the side that can be extended to help block the sun for outdoor services and for those who wish to practice without walls. You could use a campervan to create a relaxation center at an RV park or travel and provide massage services at a client’s home, within the van or in close proximity to it, or as a subcontractor for another provider – the possibilities are abundant.
New massage laws that govern our practice may also be in the works because on March 15, 2021, the US DOD received approval for grants to develop interstate compacts for massage therapy licensure portability. It could take several years for the portability laws to become effective, but if they do pass, endless portability options may become available with a campervan.
Additional Van Life Tips
• Consider using removable business logo magnets to advertise rather than painting or wrapping your campervan, because some places such as RV parks might not allow rentals with a logo or business name on the RV.
• Print physical business cards and brochures to market your services on the road, especially when travelling to remote locations where cellular or internet services are limited. Keep a laminated service price list for business conciseness.
• Think about collecting moments instead of things. The weight of the campervan matters with issues such as fuel consumption or being able to stop the vehicle quickly while driving. Consider lesser weight assets such as an aluminum massage table instead of solid wood. Moldable felt baskets create great light weight organization for small space planning.
• If you can choose your floor plan, consider campervans that have removable or folding captain’s chairs to make more space for a massage table, chair or work area (see picture). Think about how you could convert or use an existing couch or bed as a massage or business support surface. Add a vinyl or plastic covering between the RV’s cushion, client and linens to protect the upholstery.
• Offer modalities that are easier to practice in smaller spaces, such as cupping, shiatsu or chair massage when working inside. Be creative and note that converted space and adaptations may have some awkwardness or inconveniences.
• Chill some cucumber slices for eye pads in the refrigerator and make ice cups and cubes in the freezer for cold stone facials and ice massage. You might want to invest in a small portable cooler for food to be kept in your personal space if you use the fridge/freezer space for business.
• If you’re in a state that allows portable massage practice wherever you wish, consider parking areas that provide incredible visual experiences such as waterfalls, floral fields, mountain tops and more. Don’t forget to take some social media pics for advertising opportunities as you collect those special moments.
• Create a safety plan for yourself, especially when working with strangers or in reclusive areas. Consider purchasing a satellite phone for remote use and more.
• Some campervans have an outdoor shower attachment which could be epic in an outdoor landscape. Encourage your client to bring a bathing suit and towel if an outdoor shower option is provided.
• Going on a long road trip? Excellent! Time to do the laundry. Place your dirties in a sealed container with water and detergent and let the agitation begin. Anyone who does not think this method would work has never travelled in the back of a campervan.
• Paper sheets made of recyclable material are more compact and lightweight than cloth linens and will help prevent excessive needs for laundry services on the road. Consider offering a small financial discount to clients for providing their own sheets or linens.
• The IRS will likely want to see definitive spaces between personal and business use if a portion of the campervan is submitted for tax write off purposes. In tight spaces, try to create space divisions with a flexible curtain track that can be temporarily retracted if it obstructs your view while driving.
• Sometimes showing exclusive business space use could provide a greater business tax write off. As laws and rules continue to rapidly evolve during the pandemic, it’s critical to consult qualified business professionals for the most updated legalities.
Massage + Travel
Finally, if you’re facing a modern-day business dilemma in today’s pandemic, ask yourself if a portable van life operation could help.
We operate a massage therapy CE school in Miami, Florida; however, Florida state will not allow us to require vaccines for our in-person classes. With our new campervan, we can now travel to different states that allow vaccination policies, and we’ll be able to save on meal, lodging and business-equipment shipping expenses, which can help contribute to lower class prices.
We’ll also reach new customers and business opportunities during our travels. Van life may provide unique conveniences for you as well.
We’re calling out to all the nomads who are ready to combine massage therapy work with travel: Van life may be a creative breath of fresh air waiting for you.
About the Author
Selena Belisle is the founder of CE Institute LLC in Miami, Florida. She has been practicing massage therapy for over 30 years. She is approved as a continuing education provider by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork and the Florida Board of Massage.