The dark side? Van life’s 5 moral dilemmas

It’s no secret we think van living is awesome. I mean, this photo says it all.


Swimming in Montana

Swimming in the Fork River near the Idaho-Montana border


But, in our travels, these five moral dilemmas have gnawed at us. Could van living be harmful? Here’s what we’ve determined. You can decide whether we’re reaching in our rationalizing or not.

Dilemma #1: Van life means a lot of driving, which contributes to climate change.

We are consumers of gasoline. But, we’re not burning gasoline on a daily commute or driving a gas-guzzling RV. If we drive 50 miles to spend five days someplace, isn’t that less harmful than driving 50 miles roundtrip each day on a commute? We use less water than most households: three gallons for drinking and dishwashing, and our <5 min. showers. We charge electronics while driving and use flashlights at night, so we’re using less electricity too.

Dilemma #2: We’re not giving back to our community.

We don’t have a community in the physical sense. Our community is virtual: other van-dwellers and digital nomads. For the past two years, we’ve given back by sharing what we’re learning. We’ve also gone out of our way to help others who want to live and/or work in a non-traditional way. Lastly, we pay state and federal taxes and spend money in the places we visit.

Dilemma #3: Our lifestyle depends on people who can’t travel full time.

The Starbucks barista. The grocery store employee. The gas station attendant. This is tough because we want to help others pursue this life — if that’s what they want — but working in a knowledge job is practically a requirement. If we were to rationalize this one, we’d say: 1) regardless of industry, not everyone wants to travel full time, and 2) in our lifetimes, a number of service jobs will be taken over by robots. Then, new jobs will emerge that could be location independent.

Dilemma #4: We really milk the free Wi-Fi.

Camping out at a coffee shop for Internet after our coffees have run dry just feels like we’re taking advantage. In the end, we try to use common courtesy. If a place is really busy, we try to be efficient. Or, we’ll order more food. But really, is Starbucks hurting? We also try, when possible, to patronize local coffee shops. Oh, and always tip!

Dilemma #5: Some people have to live out of their car; we just choose to.

There are people who live in their car out of necessity, sleeping in Walmart parking lots or wherever they can find a roof over their head. We, on the other hand, are tourists in every sense: we think sleeping in a Walmart parking lot is an adventure. We could easily swipe a credit card for a hotel room and have the income and credit history to get an apartment tomorrow. On the nights van living is especially challenging, we’ve learned to appreciate just how privileged we are — and never take hot showers and a safe place to sleep for granted.


Coeur d'Alene Moon

Full moon over Lake Coeur d’Alene


Idaho Potato Plate

If you’ve got it, flaunt it


Chris and Cesario

Our new friend, Cesario, who showed us the sights after sharing some wine in Pendleton, OR


Cozy Rooms

Posing with Madam Stella Darby, one of the two women statues gracing Pendleton’s main street, who operated the Cozy Rooms, one of the few places women would work


Swinging Bridge

On a rickety bridge over the Kootenai River in Montana


Flathead Lake

A smoky sunset in Flathead Lake, Montana due to the wildfire in nearby Glacier National Park


Tamara Chris Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park


Grinnell Lake

A view of Grinnell Lake from the trail in Glacier National Park


Lunch at Grinnell Glacier

Lunch and relaxing at Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park


Campsite Pig

This oinker surprised us one morning at our campsite near Spokane, WA


Hoh Rainforest Olympic

The Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park


Nurse Tree Olympic National Park

A nurse tree in Olympic National Park


Bellas Truck in Forks

Obligatory Twilight pilgrimage to Forks, WA, where Bella let me borrow her truck to scout for vampires


Orcas Island Ferry

Waiting to get on the ferry to Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands in Washington


Cascade Lake Orcas Island

We camped near Cascade Lake on Orcas Island; earlier that day we took a sea kayaking trip where we saw bald eagles, seals, and porpoises


Mt Constitution in clouds

The beautiful view after hiking to the top of Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island was, well, a little foggy


Orcas Island Labrynth

A view from Eastsound, the town in the center of Orcas Island with a library, shops, bakeries, and more

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