July 25, 2017

Vanlife… it’s all about carefree wanderings through deserted landscapes, coffee over wood fires, mountain sunsets, and beautiful miles driven while hanging out of the passenger window. It’s about your hair flowing in the wind and a patterned wool blanket hanging majestically around your suntanned legs, right? Not quite. At least not for us. It is occasionally some of these things, but rarely ever all of these things at the same time. It is amazing, and it is currently our preferred way of existing. But it’s rarely ever as perfect as Instagram makes it look, and frequently a bit messy and exhausting. But so is ‘real’ life, right? So is it time to quit your job and give up your dream house so you can hit the road? Read on for some of what we’ve learned: the good bad and the ugly, over the past four years of van living

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The Good!

We love always having everything we need with us: toys, gear, and supplies. If we see a beautiful mountain lake on our drive and feel like going paddleboarding, we can! If we’re hungry and want to pull over and cook a meal or just eat leftovers out of the fridge, we do! If we’re tired and want to take a nap in the middle of a long drive or after a long morning of paragliding, we climb into bed. We also never have to pack for an impromptu road trip. This makes us infinitely flexible and available for spontaneous adventures at all times. If the weather changes or we meet a friend that has a great idea for a new location to explore, we are ready to adapt.

We’re not in a hurry to go anywhere in the van, which is good because we’re not usually going anywhere too fast. When we upgraded to a Sprinter from our Astro Van, our highway speeds may have theoretically increased, but our washboard/ rutted out/ pot hole/ dirt road speeds decreased significantly. The Astro Van was definitely on the slow train to nowhere, and not much has changed even in a vehicle that is almost 20 years newer. We love slowing down, going with the flow, and not rushing to get anywhere because there’s nowhere we need to be besides right here, right now.

Moving into a van forced us to get rid of anything that we didn’t actually use on a regular basis. Decluttering is still one of our favorite activities, and we make regular visits to donate stuff to the thrift store whenever we discover something we haven’t used in a while. We also try to limit unnecessary purchases and have a rule that everything we buy must have multiple uses. This cuts down on adding new clutter to our lives.

Living in a van has forced us to pay even more attention to sustainability and be as efficient as possible. Having a finite amount of water on board and relying on the sun for all our power really makes us think about the resources we consume on a daily basis. We also pay a lot of attention to the amount of trash we produce, because we don’t have a giant dumpster to easily throw garbage away and forget about it.

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The Bad?

Tedious life logistics didn’t just magically disappear when we moved into a vehicle. Taxes, bills, insurance, doctor’s visits, etc don’t go away and can even get more complicated to deal with when we don’t have regular access to wifi, a permanent address, and easily accessible records. We deal with all of these things one way or another, and really it’s not a big issue compared to all the benefits we reap from our lifestyle. The whole income thing is worth an entire post in itself, so we won’t even go there. We’ll just say this: yes, you still have to make money somehow. What’s the best way to do that? No idea. Please let us know if you figure it out!

Finding a place to sleep at night is not always as easy as the internet makes it look. We spend a significant amount of time when we’re travelling looking for free, beautiful, and uncrowded camping spots. Sometimes it’s time consuming, it usually involves extensive research, and even the most careful planning can often result in disappointment (and occasional disasters). Driving around in the dark trying to find unmarked dirt roads after a long day in the van isn’t always fun, but the sunrise is usually worth it. And if that elusive campsite doesn’t pan out, there’s always Walmart!

You will be forced to give up some modern conveniences of a house. You might say, “but I can’t live without my vitamix and a hot shower at the end of the day!” But trust us, you can. People have been living without vitamixes and hot showers for thousands of years. You’ll jump in more rivers and cuddle more to stay warm. You’ll nearly pee your pants with excitement every time you see a roadside sign for smoothies or milkshakes. You’ll learn how to cook with a single cast iron pan and one medium size pot. You’ll forgo plates often because that would just create more dishes to wash. You’ll realize that mugs work for any beverage: coffee, water, or cocktail. If you get really fancy and creative, maybe you’ll figure out how to have a hot shower and a Vitamix in your van one day. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you really do want your Vitamix and your hot shower everyday. If that’s the case, you might actually just prefer to live in a house.  

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The Ugly.

The personal hygiene struggle is real. Showers, clean bathrooms, and laundry facilities can be hard to come by on the road. This is probably the most frequent question we get from friends, family and strangers: no, we do not have a bathroom of any kind in the van. And yes, this takes a little bit of figuring out how to manage. Have you ever peed outside on the ground? Ladies: I’m talking to you. If you are not comfortable doing this, you might want to make that ‘Step 1’ before you consider living in a van. Try it out. You might just be okay with it. On another vein of the same topic: are you okay with public bathrooms? (and showers, and washing machines…) If you don’t like using communal facilities, the #vanlife just might not be for you. Don’t get me wrong, you can install toilets and showers in vans. But if you’re not okay with public toilets, I’m going to go ahead and assume you aren’t going to like emptying a black water tank into an RV dump.

In addition to probably not showering too often, you will also stop looking in the mirror throughout the day. You’ll probably stop worrying about whether you have stuff in your teeth or dirt on your face. You will stop thinking about what your hair looks like or even whether you smell bad. You might consider wiping the important stuff down with a baby wipe at the end of the day. Or giving yourself a little scrub in the river between showers. But I guarantee you’ll care how you look a lot less, and spend that energy doing more important things. Not having easy access to a mirror can be an enormous blessing in disguise in the modern world. It can be easier to feel comfortable in your own skin when you’re not worried about how other people perceive you, and getting rid of all those silly mirrors might be the first step to a massive self-confidence boost.

Mechanical breakdowns can leave you temporarily homeless. This is a tricky one no matter who you are. The older/cheaper the van, the more likely you are to end up down and out. Even a simple issue on a Friday afternoon could have you end up being both carless and homeless over a long weekend (or for weeks on end). And in the worst case scenario, if your vehicle needs a major repair that you can’t afford or it gets totalled in an accident, you could end up losing your house and your vehicle in one fell swoop.

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One final word of advice:

The best thing you can do for yourself if you’re embarking on a vanlife adventure is to expect there to be unexpected blessings and pitfalls. Just as in the rest of your life, there is no road map. You will figure things out, and you will adapt vanlife to fit your goals, preferences, and comfort level. Give it a try. You can always go back to the ‘real’ world if you find out it’s not for you. Have fun and happy vanning!