Van life dwellers have been taking over Instagram by storm. We’ve all been there, getting #instajealous over perfectly staged photos of a cosy van in a beautiful setting, with the most amazing view through the back door …
Whenever you see a post on social media of people traveling and living in a van, all they usually show is how great and dreamy it is. While van life is an awesome experience, it isn’t all just good times, sunshine, epic sceneries, perfect views and feet through the back.
While we’re guilty of the above on our Instagram, in this blog post we’ll try to paint a realistic picture of van life for you. We’d like to provide you with all the not so glamorous facts about van life, so you’re well informed and know exactly what to expect if you decide to move into a van yourself. This might make the difference between loving or hating it.
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Things to consider before moving into a van
Chores take forever
This is what we miscalculated the most. The most basic tasks take up a chunk of the day, everyday. Doing dishes without a big sink or warm water for example, cooking a meal for two that isn’t pasta (because you’ve had it every day for the past week) or setting up and breaking up camp.
We found that not postponing chores and putting on music while we do them makes it a whole lot more bearable.
Even if you’ve bought a modern van and have the most professionally built fit-out, things will break. Everything in the van gets used heavily and the van moves, which means that everything in the van moves too (thank you gravel roads!). Screws will slowly rattle loose, things will fall, and cabinets will open when you make a sudden sharp turn or hit a bump just a bit harder than you intended to.
Don’t let this get to you as it happens to all of us, and when you get a bit creative, there’s usually a quick fix or workaround. Bring a basic set of tools with you so you can fix small things on the road, and keep the mechanical parts maintained to reduce the risk of your van breaking down.
You can’t control the weather
This is probably one of the most obvious issues but still worth mentioning. Bad weather already sucks when you have a big and comfy house, but when you’re living in a van the weather can make or break your day. There will be days when the rain just won’t stop and you’re stuck inside the van, and there will be days when it gets stinking hot and you can’t escape the heat. This sucks, but there are countless ways to still make the most of the day.
When it rains you can catch up on work for example, or when it’s really hot you can use this opportunity to hand wash your laundry and let it dry outside! But if the weather is really ruining your day, remember that your home has wheels and that you can simply drive towards blue skies!
You have limited resources
When you’re living in a house in a populated area you hardly ever have to think about resources like water or electricity. When you’re thirsty you open the kitchen tap and water comes out, when your laptop needs to be charged you plug it in and voila; it has power.
In a van this is a whole different story and all of this needs to be planned and monitored. You have a limited storage supply of water that usually only lasts you a few days. This means that you need to know where your nearest source of safe drinking water is to ensure you always have enough for cooking and drinking. Your battery doesn’t provide an endless stream of electricity so you’ll often have to check the power level of your battery to make sure that you have enough power to charge your laptop, or to keep the fridge running overnight.
Think about your power supply when building or buying a van. Solar panels are a great way to keep your battery topped up, or get one or more massive batteries and an outlet that lets you hook up to outside power.
We chose for a portable solar panel that we hook up to our house battery every time we make camp. We like it because it has a long cable, so we can park the van in the shade and still have the solar panel out in the sun. Plus we can move it around to always position it in direct sunlight. The advantage of a roof-mounted solar panel compared to a portable one however is that you don’t have to drag it in and out every time, so whenever there’s sun, it will charge your battery
You’re not allowed to park just anywhere
You’ve probably gotten #instajealous from seeing amazing photos of vans parked in the most idyllic, secluded camp spots with breathtaking views. While you might be allowed to stay the night in some of those places, often you’re not. In New Zealand for example freedom camping is only allowed in assigned freedom campsites and even these have conditions. It really depends on the country and of course you can take the risk of freedom camping even where it isn’t allowed, but if you do, be prepared to haggle your way out.
Then there’s stealth camping. At some point in van life you will be required to stealth camp, and it's one of the things we dislike most. There will be times when plans unexpectedly don’t work out, it is late in the evening and you’re rolling up into an urban area where there are no official camp spots. This is when you park up in a parking lot or street where your van looks inconspicuous, you dim your lights and stay quiet so it isn’t too obvious that you are in your vehicle, and you try to get a good rest.
Don’t let this scare you off though. There’s plenty of stunning freedom camping spots and while stealth camping isn’t always legal and can feel really uncomfortable, you should be able to park up somewhere beautiful most nights.
There is more!
And there you were thinking this is it, it can’t get any worse - chores, maintenance, weather dependance, limited resources, camping prohibitions… Well, sorry to inform you that there are a lot more things to consider before you jump into your own van and drive off. We’ve come a long way at putting you off in your van life dream, but this certainly isn’t all!
On the upside, we’ve been living in our home for over 6 months, so there must be something good there, right?! Check out Part 2 of this article where we explain more reasons why van life sucks, and possibly even the reason why we love it so much ;)