Best Van Life Skills to Learn During the Coronavirus Pandemic

photo of a woman cleaning out a van

As many of you know, we’ve spent the better part of the last four years traveling and working out of our Ram Promaster City. We’re freelance writers, photographers and Squarespace web designers and we use our Wayfarer Van as a homebase that helps us create content from the road. Though we’re disappointed we had to change our travel and work plans, we felt it was the safest and best thing to do. (We’re fortunate to have been able to pivot to a more traditional residence but are sensitive to the fact that not everyone has the luxury of leaving their van. We are not shaming anyone who continues to live in their van.) The following tips are geared towards everyone, regardless of where they are living. We hope these tips help the time not only pass quicker, but will also help you put the time to good use. Keep reading to see our list of the best van life skills to learn during the coronavirus pandemic.

Automotive skills

Can you jumpstart a vehicle with a dead battery? If you can, can you do it from memory without looking at YouTube? Can you change a flat tire? What about replacing the windshield wiper blade on your van? These are some basic skills that, at some point, will come in handy when you’re traveling. Much better to learn them now than to rely on AAA for a jumpstart. This is especially true when you’re somewhere remote and can’t get a signal! Bonus points if you can change your own oil. Here’s a link to help you learn how to change a flat fire.

Technology skills

Photo of a woman near a van holding a camera and looking at photographs.

Coronavirus has changed the nature of work. It’s shuttered offices and workplaces and, for many people, it means that they are now Working from Home (WFH). Some people have been working remotely for years, among them, many a van lifer. Being able to earn money so long as you have a solid wifi connection has always been a great skill for an adventurer. It means you’re not bound to any one location. That said, you’re going to need to develop some technology skills in order to be employable from afar. Can you code? Ever wanted to learn? Check out this free Learn to Code course from Don’t want to spend your days in front of a screen looking for a missing comma? No worries. What about learning to take your camera off automatic and learning to shoot manual? How about taking a deep-dive into Photoshop and learning how to edit like a pro? Maybe you can finally open that Instagram, Twitter or even TikTok account and start building a following.

Carpentry Skills

Learning some carpentry skills is on my list of some of my own personal development goals. Though we have a Wayfarer kit I’ve been dreaming about a day when we can create our own custom van. But, until I learn some skills, those are just going to remain dreams. If you’ve got your own van life build ideas, this might be a good area for you to focus on as well. The only catch is that you’ll need some tools, space, and wood to practice with.

Navigation Skills

There will come a time in your van life travels where you will not have a signal. As a result, you will not be able to rely on Google Maps or Waze. What will you do? Hopefully, you’ve got a solid understanding of a map and compass and can use it to orient yourself. If you can’t, now’s the perfect time to learn. Check out this REI article and YouTube video on how to improve your navigation skills using a map and compass.

Learn a New Language

At some point, travel restrictions will ease up and we’ll be able to move about with much more freedom. Those navigation skills that you were learning? Put ’em to good use and end up somewhere the locals speak a different language than you. If you’re like us and you live in the US, there are a couple options. You can bone up on your Spanish which is spoken throughout the US as well as in Mexico. If you want to focus on French, head north to Canada for the opportunity to practice. We recommend the app Duolingo! It’s free and available for both iPhone and Android.

Pick up that Guitar

Now some of you may say, hey, music is a language. And you would not be wrong! Learning a musical instrument is a worthwhile endeavor because it can not only bring you personal enjoyment but it can also be a fun way to spend time with others. It can also be a great tool for helping you meet others. (Nothing helps you make friends faster than a campfire and a guitar.) If you’ve struggled to justify bringing along a ukelele in the van because it’s only been used as a (admit it, fake prop), now is the time. Check out this article by Fender on how to get started learning to play guitar.

Up Your Cooking Game

Photo of someone living van life cooking outside on a grill during the coronavirus pandemic.
Locally purchased clams in a garlic, butter and white wine broth, anyone?

One quick look at the internet will tell you that almost everyone has been baking bread during the coronavirus. So many people are doing this that you may not be able to find any yeast! We haven’t. And while it’s the rare van life traveler who will have access to an oven for baking bread, you can still up your van life culinary game! We love to eat one-pot or one-pan recipes when we’re on the road. It reduces the number of dishes and just overall simplifies things. While you’re at home, experiment with some new dishes and see if you can’t come up with a few new things that will make your next road adventure a little more tasty. For starters, how about a simple twist on pasta or couscous? Keep it simple.

Improve Your Van Life Cleanliness

Photo of a woman cleaning out her cooler and van during the coronavirus pandemic.
When’s the last time you cleaned out your rig and all of it’s accessories?

Say what? Yeah, you heard us. It’s time to not only clean out that van and tidy it up, but come up with some best practices for cleanliness. A clean van is a safe van. The coronavirus has made all of us aware of the importance of hand-washing but it’s also brought front and center, the need for some overall good hygiene habits. Stop touching your face. Launder your clothes regularly, etc. If this sounds like a stretch for the common van lifer, trust us, we get it. We’ve gone upwards of 14 days without a shower. And we’ve worn the same outfit so long that it just about warranted throwing away. However, the coronavirus has made us rethink some of our ‘dirtbag’ ideals. We are reimagining a cleaner, perhaps better, version of ourselves the next go-round. We’re already kicking around the idea of not wearing our shoes in the back of the van. We’re also going to start storing a huge bottle of hand sanitizer in each door, and making sure we wipe down our cell phones at least once a day.

Budget your Money

With jobs evaporating overnight, there’s never been a better time to take a hold of your finances. If you’ve never budgeted your money before, now would be a good time to learn. It can make a huge difference in how you not only spend money but save money. We like the app Mint which is not only a budget tracker but a planner. It’s free and available for both iPhones and Android.

Make Fitness a Priority

Okay so maybe this isn’t exactly a skill, but it is a habit that can have long-lasting benefits. It’s easy to push workouts to the side when you’re on the road. But if you make a point to incorporate them into your life, you’ll reap the rewards. Lower blood pressure, better sleep, improved body composition, improved mood. The list is endless. During this coronavirus pandemic, make a habit of working out so that when you hit the road again, it’s just a matter of taking those new skills with you. Check out some of our favorite and best Van Life Workouts.

Improve Your First Aid Skills

First off, do you have a basic first aid kit in your van? We keep a small first aid kit in the glovebox of our van. It’s nothing fancy. It has some anti-bacterial wipes, a bunch of bandaids, some gauze, a small pair of scissors, medical tape, a few Q-tips and some acetaminophin. You can build yours from scratch or you can get one like us. Either way, you should have something on hand for when you accidentally bump or scrape yourself while adventuring. Beyond that, the coronavirus pandemic is a good time to build upon skills. Can you provide CPR if needed? Check out this tutorial from the Red Cross. They’ve also got videos that you can watch by clicking the links at the end of the page we’ve linked to.

Best Van Life Skills to Learn During the Coronavirus Recap

Almost every blog post that’s geared toward successful van life includes some element of learning a new skill. And yet … it’s hard to actually buckle down and tackle something new. But, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s never been a better time to learn a new skill. (That said, if you’re like some of our friends who have kids, are still working as an essential employee, have a parent or loved one who has fallen ill, etc. this suggestion might sound ridiculous. If this is you, please focus on whatever you need to focus on to get to the next day and forget about learning a new skill.) If however, you find yourself scrolling on Instagram for the 100th time, we recommend choosing one of the options above. It might just make your next road trip a whole lot better. These are our best van life skills to learn during COVID-19. We’d love to hear your suggestions. Please drop us a line or leave a comment below.

Related: 50 Fun Things to Do At Home When You Can’t Travel

Erin McGrady and Caroline Whatley’s work has been seen in Men’s Journal, ROVA magazine, the Adventure Sports Network and more. They’re currently residing just outside of Asheville, North Carolina through mid-June, maybe longer.

Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

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