Is van life all gorgeous sunsets, sweet camping spots and pretty pictures showing your feet? Nope. Not exactly. Here’s the truth about van life that you probably won’t see on Instagram. It’s not meant to get you down, but to open your eyes to the realities of a life on the road. If you’re considering ditching your house for a home on wheels, give this a read: What no one tells you about van life.
Finding free parking isn’t as easy as it sounds.
We actually end up sleeping in Wal Mart parking lots more than we thought we might. They’re level, in tons of cities and give us access to food, bathrooms and water. They’re also loud and bright which means we don’t always sleep all that well. We’ve stayed at some really sweet campsites but the costs add up. Most campgrounds are anywhere from $20-40 a night and it’s hard for us to justify the money since we’re on a budget. When we started out we thought we’d be able to find quiet roads and parking lots and lots of good BLM space but the reality is that most of the cool places have signs that don’t allow for overnight parking. Or they’re not level or they’re not safe. Or we’re in the wrong part of the country. We do have a couple of really great memories from stealth camping but these are the exception rather than the norm.
You’ll have to figure out what to do with your stuff.
The process of downsizing and minimizing that we went through in order to live a life on the road was pretty intense. In about a year’s time we either donated most of our clothing to Goodwill or sold it to Second Gear in Asheville. We also parted ways with trinkets and mementos that we’d be hanging on to for years. None of it really sunk in, however, until I sold my car. I got a couple thousand dollars for it but for some reason, selling it felt like the last bit of my old life. Like I was somehow selling more than my car, I was selling stability; getting rid of the person I used to be, so that I could become lighter, freer and more easily able to travel. It was definitely a process but now that it’s done it actually feels pretty amazing. And not having to pay money for a storage unit each month is pretty awesome. To learn more about how to downsize, click HERE.
Living in a van is actually pretty gross.
Though we wrote a post about How to Stay Clean on the Road we have to admit that a lot of time we’re gross! Stinky! Covered in a film of camp funk, van junk and sweat … okay, you get the picture? If you are the kind of person who needs to shower twice a day and absolutely must wish their hands every time they pee, this might not be the kind of life for you.
The lows are really low but the highs are really high.
We’ve heard several other adventurers describe some of this journeys this way. I think it’s just part of living a life on the road. Especially if you have an older vehicle. We experience this a lot less frequently now that our van is new. But we’ve had plenty of experiences where we just saw the most epic sunset, ate the most amazing meal or run the prettiest trail only to then realize the motorhome won’t turn-over.
Homesickness is real.
Though traveling around is awesome, you’re bound to, at some point, miss your home. Or your friends. Or your favorite coffee shop. Heck, maybe even all three. Though we’ve met a ton of really cool people, most of the time the interactions are fleeting. And that can leave you with a sense of not having a community or being part of a community. Which in turn can lead to feelings of homesickness. It usually passes pretty quickly but if you’re not expecting it, you’ll be in for a real surprise when it hits.
The weather will have a big impact on your experience.
This one was a surprise for us. We both love sunny days (hence why we spent a good chunk of the winter in Florida) but we were unprepared for how the rain and cold would impact us. And the heat. Anything from 50-70 degrees is perfect but anything below or above that starts to feel a little stressful when you’re traveling in a van. Especially when you only have two windows and minimal insulation. We’ve found that when it comes to sweating or freezing, Caroline would rather sweat and I would rather freeze. So … we’re considerings places with milder temps lol.
You will have moments of doubt and worry.
Vehicle problems, poor weather, lack of a plan, disruption of a plan, logistical hassles, parking tickets … there’s enough reasons out there to give you some serious moments of doubt. We’ve had a couple moments when we wanted to throw in the towel and just go back to a normal life but we’ve always rode it out together and thankfully always ended up wanting to continue with our travel. Financial worries tend to be the worst. Be prepared for them, know they will come up and give yourself some time before making some drastic changes. At the very least, sleep on it before you make a big decisions. And get used to eating Instant Lunch haha.
You’ll always need to find power, water, gas and food.
Depending how much and how often you need these things depends on your rig. Some vans have refrigerators, microwaves, water tanks and even ovens! Ours is pretty basic in that we keep our food cool with a cooler, we store our water in jugs and water bottles and we’re constantly needing to recharge our laptops and cellphones in other people’s outlets. To see what our most used gear is, check out our piece on our Top 9 Van Life Essentials. These daily needs keep us on the hunt for water fountains, gas stations, grocery stores and outlets for sure but it actually does get a little easier once you get into the rhythm of the road.
The costs are real.
Yes, your vehicle is now your house, but it still costs money to keep it running. Insurance, maintenance, oil changes, fuel … it all adds up. And it can be more than you might think. We’ve started to try and do less driving each day to cut down on costs and make sure that when we’re freelancing, we’re picking jobs up that make sense (in other words: not driving miles and miles for very little money). It’s not something we like to think about, but the harsh reality of van life is that it’s not free. Be sure you have a plan for making money while you’re on the road.
Most plans never go EXACTLY as planned.
If you’re nimble on your feet and flexible then you’re off to a good start. We’ve found that most of our trips, heck, most of our days, rarely go according to plan. Though we often set out with a rough idea of what we want to do and where we want to go, things change. Roads are closed, things break down, we can’t find food, there isn’t a gas station for miles, no cell service…it’s variables like these that keep us on our toes and sometimes make us feel like we want to pull our hair out. Other times, the plan falling through is a good thing because we discover a new beach or trail and realize that it really is about the journey and not so much the destination.
What No One Tells You About Van Life Recap
On the flip side of leaving your home in pursuit of adventure, there are so many things to love about it. You’ll find a new found sense of freedom. Your days will be unique and full of new experiences. You’ll meet new friends! If you’re able to lean into the uncertainty of this kind of life rather than have it freak you out, you might just find that it’s addicting and that you can’t ever go back to a “normal” life.
We’ve just signed on for another year on the road and are currently planning our trip. We’ll be headed north towards Pittsburgh, Erie and possibly even Toronto. If you have any tips for us about those places, we’d love to hear about them!