Thoughts: Things I’ve Learned 6 Months Into “Van Life”
To start, I’d like to apologize. I know it’s been a long time since our last blog post. This is mostly because we’ve been trying to focus on us and living out our dream. Can’t blame us, right? Prior to setting out from San Francisco in March, we had dedicated a lot of time and effort to sharing our journey with you all, both through Instagram and the blog. But as you may know from experience, spending time attached to your phone or computer can really take away from what’s in front of you. So up until now, we’ve taken some solid time to focus on ourselves and get a rhythm going.
All that being said, we’ve learned a lot from living in the van over the last 6 months. Some of it’s positive, some negative, some neutral (just observation). We’re finally to a point where we feel like we can refocus and start getting some of it out in writing. And I'm personally now at a point where I feel comfortable and seasoned enough to share some of my experiences with you.
Disclaimer: obviously all of the opinions and experiences expressed here are my own and shouldn’t be taken as anything more than that. So here it goes.
1. Living in a van is more challenging than we make it look on Instagram
Okay, it didn’t take me six months to discover this. It's been true since the very beginning. And don’t take this as complaining. In no way am I saying that it’s too hard and I’m over it and I want to stop. I just want to be clear that what you see on Instagram versus what life is actually like spending 24/7 in such a small living space is probably like night and day. What we’ve shared with you up to now has only provided a tiny fraction of the truth. What we've shared can in no way relay what it is and isn't. Unless you actually move into a van with another person and do it all yourself, it’s kind of impossible to understand. It’s not because we’re trying to mask the truth at all. It’s really just because there’s just no way we could give you all of the detail through one or two pictures + short captions per day.
As the trip goes on and we’ve come to grips with the realities of it, we’ll be striving to create content that’s much more accurate and descriptive to get closer to that. We owe it to ourselves and to all of you whom we're sharing with to try and get at the closest depiction of what life is really like.
2. Living in a van involves constant tidying
This is a big one (well, if you like living in cleanliness). Because vans are so incredibly small, just the slightest bit of movement can make the whole thing feel out of order. Move one thing over there, and another over here, and the whole things feels like it's been slugged by a tornado. It happens all day, every day. There really isn’t a time when I get in the van and don’t put something away. If your space greatly affects you (as it does me), it can sometimes get a bit overwhelming to try to keep it in order all of the time. Sometimes, it just feels like I want a break from that constant reorganization, but other times, it feels like a ritual. I'm now at a point where sweeping out the van and tidying it up so that it looks nice is absolutely necessary. It's become pretty directly tied to my mood (which could be seen as good or bad).
3. Living in a van is like living under a microscope
As some of our fellow van dwellers put it recently, living in a van is like living in a petrie dish. It’s like a really controlled experiment with yourself. You learn a ton about your body, your mind, your spirits, as well as your partner’s if they’re with you too. This is because you’re really able to pay attention to your wants, your needs, etc. You're really able to isolate certain elements and test them out to discover what really makes you happy or unhappy. Didn’t know yourself/your partner that well before moving into a van? Well, you’ll know more about it than you ever wanted to once you do!
4. Living in a van brings you closer to nature
While sometimes we find ourselves sleeping in Walmart parking lots, most days we can wake up at least closer to the natural areas that we want to explore. This doesn’t always mean killer views (see #5) but it means less driving to get to those places and more enjoying them. This was one of the things that we hoped was true when we set out in the beginning of our trip, and I’m really glad to confirm that it is! If you really want some solid outdoor time, living in a van is a great way to accomplish that.
5. Living in a van doesn’t always mean waking up to a beautiful view
This ties in well with #1, and riffs off of #4. The photos where our back doors are thrown open to that killer vista? Be warned that it’s the exception, not the rule. Sure, we could make it the rule if we stayed in rural places most of the time. But as travelers, we don’t always have that luxury. Don’t be discouraged though. If you want it badly enough, you can certainly have more incredible views if you try. Just know that it involves a lot of research, a lot of know how, and a lot of boondocking. 99% of the time, the best views are free. They can also be tricky to find, and they can also be crowded. Bottom line is that they're not always ideal as they seem. Most of the time, there's something that's cropped outside of the frame that you wouldn't expect.
6. Living in a van means moving a lot, and sometimes it can be emotionally draining
This is a big one. Sure, in general, it's a good problem to have. But it definitely shines light on the desire to be nomadic versus the realities of it. After traveling around for 6 months I can definitely say that I couldn’t do it forever. As you travel and form emotional attachments to people and places, it gets really hard to leave them after a while! Sounds pretty basic, but over time it starts to grow on you quite a bit. I’ve definitely struggled with this one a bit lately, since it feels at times like as soon as we’re getting comfortable and getting into the flow of things, we’re leaving. Again, it’s nice to have no strings attached on one hand, but it can have it’s downsides too. You just have to be able to move on fast.
7. Living in a van with someone else calls for making solo time a priority
The two of us live together in 50 square feet and are generally with each other 24/7. Though we love each other a ton and want the best for each other, one thing that’s absolutely necessary when spending this much time in such close quarters is alone time. Alone time is the key to keeping things stable. Prior to leaving, both of us had full-time jobs, which occupied about 40+ hours a week of our time. Now that we’re unemployed and traveling together, we don’t have those jobs to separate. This means we have to prioritize giving each other space. This one’s tough, but it’s a must and we’ve learned that the hard way. If you're moving into a van with your partner, talk about this ahead of time and make sure that you account for it as you travel. You'll be happy that you did.
8. Living in a van = way less privacy
Unless you have an incredibly decked out van, you’ll most likely be giving up a lot of the comforts of your current situation. To echo #7, one of the big things you’ll sacrifice is private space away from public places. If you spend the bulk of your time alone in your van in the desert or the woods, then I’m sure you’ll get your fair share of alone time. But most likely, if you’re traveling, you’ll be sharing the road and the night spots with others. This world is huge, sure, but there are plenty of people and fewer awesome camping spots. So get ready to meet many new neighbors along the way! Some you'll want to have, others you won't.
9. Living in a van requires serious patience sometimes
You can’t control the weather, meaning it’s hard to make solid plans when living in a van, especially when you’re interested mainly in outdoor activities. As we found out in the desert in Spring, it can just rain for weeks with no end in sight. This kind of disruption of plans can be really upsetting (especially if you’re a climber and you can’t get on wet sandstone). All you can really do though is try to figure out how to adapt to your environment, find things to do that you’re passoinate about, and still have fun!
10. Living in a van can get pretty smelly
This was something we predicted, and it’s really not all that bad. Probably the smelliest thing that we have to deal with is our sink and the grey water that’s stored beneath it. It's not super glamorous emptying it out at sanitary stations. But besides just our general body odors, that’s the only smell that we struggle with. How do we deal? We open and turn on our fan a lot to get fresh air, we use some natural bacteria-killing solutions, and we also wipe everything down pretty often.
Though a lot of these sound like negatives, they’re really just meant to be observations that I want to share with you, hopefully to provide some insight before you begin your own van build and travels. These are just 10 of the things that have stuck out to me over the past 6 months and wanted to highlight. I hope that I can continue to share thoughts like these as we wander on, and I hope that they’re helpful.
But don’t just take my word for it. Make it happen. Most importantly, experience these things for yourself if you’re dreaming about doing it. The journey alone, through all of it’s bumps and ups and downs, has been absolutely worth it. With each passing day and each new experience had in here, I feel like I’m changing and growing in this little cabin on wheels.
Have anything to add here?
We'd love to hear about your experiences and compare notes. Don't be shy, leave comments if you want to share your thoughts on this!