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You’ve seen those Instagram clips and Youtube videos of the gorgeous couple living your dream of van life. However exotic the locations and nomadic your adventure, van life is not all beaches and remote forest beauty. Behind the scenes are many humdrum routines and daily headaches that make up a good part of the glamorous van life.
Van life can get boring at times, due to finding places to park, shower, and clean. Filling and dumping your toilet and greywater is a constant, and living 24/7 with your partner or alone has its own set of challenges. In fact, endless routines are the reality behind the freedom of the open road.
There is no doubt that van life offers high excitement and unpredictability and the promise of unforgettable adventures. However, between the highs are many daily necessities that take up your time and energy. Van life can be tedious, and here’s what you need to know before you set out on what you consider a life of adventure and excitement.
Finding a Place To Park Can Be a Headache
It’s a very different world for those of us who live in our vans full time.
Vacationers and part-time travelers usually book their parking sites beforehand at the place of their choice. Van life consists of having to find a place to park almost every night with little respite.
Depending on the town, you could spend hours driving up and down in a state of exhaustion, looking for a place to park that is safe and legal. Often you end up at a spot that’s hardly glamorous, to say the least.
The constant search for a place to rest your weary head can get monotonous.
Urban Camping Is Far From Exciting
The internet is full of glamorous folks posing in their vans in exotic and beautiful locations.
Sure, this can and does happen on your travels which is great. However, they don’t show the sometimes awful parking sites in extremely unglamorous urban settings, which are part of your everyday van living.
Waking up to the sights and sounds of an empty Walmart parking lot is hardly an adventure.
Nor is an urban side street that allows for overnight parking. In fact, for every exotic parking spot worthy of shooting an Instagram pic, there are plenty of humdrum overnights in less than exciting locations.
The Constant Toilet Issues
One thing that can take a toll on your van life adventures is the constant search for a toilet. Or the other constant search for a place to empty your van toilet. Composting toilets need emptying pretty often, which is not the most exciting job.
With two people, you will need to empty your liquid waste every 3-4 days depending on public restroom access.
Solid waste lasts a bit longer, and you can get away with emptying the container once every couple of weeks. Cassette toilets are the more economical option, but they come with their smelly challenges. The cassette contents can really start to stink in warm weather, and you will need to empty them regularly if you want to avoid a stinky van.
In fact, finding public restrooms becomes more urgent when you live with a cassette toilet which is time-consuming and annoying.
Living in a house with working plumbing means you never have to think about where your water originates. Living the van life will set you straight that every precious drop of water has to come from somewhere, and every bit of used water has to go somewhere.
Filling your tanks with fresh water and disposing of your greywater is a constant headache when you are on the road.
When you are lucky enough to find a water fill station with a pump, it’s still a chore, but it could be worse if your water source has no pump. In this case, you will need to fill your tank by hand. Finding water in urban areas can be time-consuming and a headache.
You need to find a designated dump area for the greywater that you accumulate on your travels. There can be miles between dump stations in some regions while you drive around with sloshing greywater and a sink you can’t use.
More info: there are some articles I wrote that could help you avoiding potential water issue: Do RV water pumps have a fuse? (Where is it?); Guide: How to know if RV water heater is full; Best Places to Get Water for Van Life (Cheap and Free)
You never realize what a chore laundry is when you are on the road. You can opt to wash by hand or let your dirty clothing accumulate until you find a laundromat. Washing by hand gets tiring quickly, and you might find yourself on the hunt for a laundromat when you ran out of clean clothes days back.
Weather can play havoc with your washing days, just as your location may force you to hang your washing indoors. Anyone who has gone to bed with a camper full of damp washing above them can testify that it’s not the highlight of their van life travels.
More info: You can install your own laudry in your van it's big enough, check this article for more info.
Constant Choices Without Relent
When you embark on your van life journey, it is exciting not to know where you will sleep or end up. Every seasoned van nomad can tell you that the constant choice-making on the road can become stale pretty fast.
Where will you shower? Where is the gas station, the toilet, or the fill dump?
Every day, you will be faced with a series of choices quite unlike the routines of living in one place. You need to fulfill several priorities almost daily on the open road, leaving you less time for relaxation, hobbies, or creativity.
Being Alone Can Be Boring, but Being With the Same Person Could Be Worse
If you are going solo, van life may become isolating, and you may find yourself missing the excitement of companionship. Having someone to laugh, and sometimes fight, with provides excitement and amusement.
If you are feeling down, a friend or partner can often cheer you back up but not so when you are a stranger in a strange town.
On the other hand, living in confinement with your significant other has its own set of challenges. Being in your partner’s company 24/7 without any alone time could make even a saint slightly un-saintlike.
When you know each other inside and out, living the same dream in a van means that you don’t have much to share about your lives. All those little quirks that you found tolerable in the stay-at-home world can get ramped up on the road all day.
However, just as van life has its lows, there will be highs that you can share with your partner, and you may discover new ways of knowing each other and living together. Just be prepared for moments of boredom with each other between the inevitable highs of van life.
Related Articles: Does Van Life Get Boring? Everything You Need To Know Just How Lonely Is Van Life? The Truth Revealed
To Shower or Not To Shower
If keeping your laundry clean can become a constant chore, it’s even more so when it comes to keeping your body clean on the road.
If you don’t have a portable shower, you need to find campsites or gas station showers which may be few and far between depending on your travels. Often we find ourselves having to do sponge baths, which is far from ideal.
If you have an outdoor shower, you need to find the privacy and space to use it.
Indoor showers take up a lot of space and use a lot of water, even with shorter showers. This fact means you are back to the issue of water filling stations and frequent water refills.
More info: I made a complete guide about showering on the road, have a look.
The Constant Mess Is Exhausting
In the confined space of your van, the simplest things put out of place are magnified.
At home, you have the luxury of flinging clothes into a hamper or letting your plates stack up in the sink for a wash. The most uncomplicated chore is a must when you live in a van. Things can get chaotic if you are not disciplined and ensure everything is in its correct place.
Often you will find your space cramped, and you have to perform several routines daily of moving things and packing/unpacking/preparing/putting away. The constantly repeated routines can work on your nerves over time and overwhelm you with a sense of boredom.
You gave up your humdrum 9 to 5 job for the excitement of the road, and now you find your routines are even more critical.
If Your Van Breaks Down, Your Home Breaks Down
The glamorous Youtube videos of beautiful people living the van life hardly ever show the downside of a nomadic existence. Your van can and will break down at some stage of your travels, and when it does, you are out of a home and pocket.
Depending on where the breakdown happens, you might find yourself in rather drab motels with nothing to pass the time while your house gets fixed up. With attractions like the world’s biggest potato, some towns are the opposite of excitement. Of course, that giant potato might be pretty interesting.
Chances are good you could be stuck there for a while.
More info: I tried to compile the regular mechanics repair expenses you need to save money for in this article.
Elaborate Meals Are a Thing of the Past
Having the luxury of a home kitchen and space is not really possible in the confines of your van.
Depending on your budget, refrigeration may be a challenge, and with limited space, often, you can’t keep a large selection of meal prep. Even if you could get the ingredients, tiny food preparation and cooking areas make elaborate meals challenging at best.
If you are like my partner, you loathe grocery shopping.
In that case, you better be ready to change your attitude because you will need to visit a grocery store almost daily to ensure you have fresh ingredients for your limited storage space. You will also get used to eating cold leftovers and forgoing that cup of coffee for the hassle of having to boil the pot.
Lack of Personal Space
The reality of living your van life dream with your partner is not as rosy as Youtube would like you to believe. In the confines of your van home, you get to share pretty much everything and trust me, it’s not all pretty.
When you live in a home or apartment, you can always find some space when your partner is getting on your nerves, such as visiting a friend or closing the bedroom door to get some alone time.
Not so when your home is on four wheels.
A fight in a tiny space without escape is like being in a compression chamber with no means to decompress. Psychologists reveal that van life can cause feelings of isolation and even cause mental health issues. When you live the van life, you have to find new ways to deal with conflict, which can break you down or make a strengthened partnership.
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You May Find Yourself Longing for Home
Don’t be surprised if the very life you chose to escape is what you begin to long for after a long time on the road. After the initial excitement of the journey wanes, and you have made a life on the open road, you might find yourself longing for a hot shower and a clean, warm space with a double bed.
You might dream of a bedroom with a door that you can close, and you can sleep for a week without having to drive and search for parking in your dirty clothes. It’s not easy living on the road, and the creature comforts you gave up for a life on your own terms.
Van life is not for the faint-hearted and takes a lot of hard work to accomplish. Many people who chose the van life get right back to house living once they have spent a year or two on the road. You may miss your family and friends and long to socialize with people you know and love.
Being a stranger in town can isolate you and create a feeling of loneliness.
The van life offers an escape from a humdrum existence and the lure of endless possibilities. However, the reality of this remarkable life holds a lot of the humdrum, incessant routines and necessities, and time-consuming daily chores and maintenance. Van life can be boring at times, but many of us will tell you it is well worth all the effort.
Here are some of my favorite van life essentials:
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you’re experiencing your life on the road. Here are some tools and gadgets I use on a daily basis that made my van life a lot easier. I hope you’ll also find them as useful as me. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to purchase any of them, I’ll earn a commission.
But in all honesty, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my closest friends and family.
Kitchen: I’m cooking a lot and I’ve finally found my perfect cookware set: The Magma Cookware 10 Pcs that you can nests and store in less than 1/2 cubic foot of cabinet space is really handy. Since I’m also spending a lot of time working at my desk, I use my favorite coffee mug from Yeti. For more, check my list of kitchen accessories I can’t live without.
Outdoor: Even though I’m spending a lot of time in my van working, I do enjoy getting out and explore my ever-changing neighborhood. This sometimes requires me to take my portable solar battery with me. And when I just want to chill outside and take a nap, I use the Winner Outfitters Hammock.
Clean/Tidy: Space is precious and therefore I used these heavy-duty storage bins from Homs to store my material. They’re robust and you can stack them together. Regarding showering, I like to use this portable solar shower from Advanced Elements when it’s hot outside.
To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations about van life, check out this resource that I made for you!