Van life isn’t always fun. Hip Instagram portrayals make it seem like one long, perfect, carefree daydream. We think van living is pretty great… except when it’s not.
Sometimes, van living sucks. Sometimes, you don’t wake up to ocean waves or a bucolic park — you wake up outside a Walmart.
It’s really important to us to be honest with you about van-dwelling and full-time travel. It’s an awesome adventure, yes, but not a vacation. (In fact, when we need a vacation, we find an apartment and do boring things like make frozen pizza and read clickbait.)
If you are preparing to set out in your van, think about how you’ll handle these less-than-ideal situations.
1. When it’s raining
When you have hours — or days — of heavy rain, van living is a real drag. Van dwellers live outside! We like reading outside, hiking outside, eating outside. When your van is a minivan camper for two, you only have space inside for driving or sleeping.
We can’t cook or hang out outside when it’s raining, so we have to venture into town and bounce from coffee shop to library to store to movie theater to wherever else provides shelter from the storm. It is expensive and boring. If we decide to hunker down in the van, we get serious cabin fever. During our recent trip driving around Lake Michigan, we ended up getting motel rooms because we just couldn’t take it anymore.
2. When you’re sick
Being sick sucks already. What’s worse is being sick in a van. There are different levels of being sick, of course. With a mild cold, we do the same activities and just chill in the van wherever it’s parked to rest. If one of us is really sick, we need to find a comfortable, non-crowded campground or hotel where we can have privacy.
When one person is feeling sick though, they usually wake up the other person with coughing or sneezing, and it’s not like there’s a couch for either of us to retreat to so the other can sleep. Fortunately, we don’t get sick often.
3. When you leave the western U.S.
The midwest and east are much more populated and have fewer options for camping on public land. Yes, there are state parks and campgrounds, but they’re usually expensive and surrounded by sprawl. You have to go west to find more primitive campsites.
4. When you have a busy work week
When you’re self-employed, having a lot of work is a great problem to have. But when I have a lot of work deadlines or Chris is trying to figure out where the heck to have some shipments sent, van living is stressful. Sometimes, it’s nice to just be able to roll out of bed, make coffee and crank through some work — except that maybe we’re somewhere without cell service, or it’s raining and my laptop will get soaked. Sometimes, it’s nice to see more of a town than the inside of its public library or Starbucks.
If we’re waiting for packages for Chris’s e-commerce business, sometimes we end up having to stick around somewhere we don’t want to be because the shipment is late. Just this month, DHL messed up his shipment and sent something to Nashville, TN weeks after we’d left. Sometimes, it’s nice to be able to work without thinking about the logistics of working.
5. When you want to hang out with friends
Guess what? Our friends aren’t here. Unless bugs count. Thank goodness for Facebook, email and phone/Skype dates.
6. When you’re in a lame place
There’s nothing worse than rolling into a town after a long drive only to discover it’s total shit: ugly, empty, boring, everything’s closed, they won’t sell you alcohol on a Sunday, no public art or open space, all strip malls and no decent restaurants or bars. It doesn’t happen that often; one of our van-life lessons is that we can find beauty almost anywhere. But when that beauty is hard to find, it feels like a waste of gasoline and our youth — and makes us wonder why we’re even doing this.
To be clear, we love van living. Every day is an adventure and we’re privileged to be able to do this; I know many people are dealing with much more serious problems. But it would be a lie to say van life is perfect.
So the next time you’re parked somewhere beautiful — with sunshine, a tasty camp meal, friendly neighbors and a trail nearby — take a moment to savor it.