Van Life: 25 Things I Wish I’d Known Before

Van Life: 25 Things I Wish I’d Known Before

12 min read

I’ve always said, the hardest part about living in a van is actually gathering up the courage to go ahead and do it. You’re pursuing a lifestyle that still isn’t completely accepted by society. But, once you’re actually on the road, it becomes second nature.

But, I will say, going into a van, there’s a lot of things that I wish I had known. It would have made my life a whole lot easier. I’ve made a lot of mistakes regarding my build and there were sometimes that I was just plain not expecting.

Here are 25 things I wish I had known before living a van:

 

1. Farts linger a lot longer

A “Dutch oven” is slang for when some farts under the covers and traps another person under there, so that they’re forced to breathe that baby in. Living in a van is kind of like that. Every smell — good or bad — will linger for a while, because it’s such a small space.

So if you’re planning on living with a partner that emits the fumes of death after a long night of eating bean burritos, be prepared to die.

I learned that the hard way.

 

2. It’s not as glamorous as Instagram makes it out to be

I’m sure you’ve seen pictures — attractive men and women sprawled in campervans, supposedly living a life of ease and adventure. Somehow they’re always by the beach or by a mountain.

Social media makes it seem like everyone that lives in a van is a hot, single 20- or 30- something.

But the truth is — van life is not that glamorous.

It’s not too different from living a “normal” life. You’ve still got to make money. You’ve still got to eat, shower, and sleep. You’re just doing it in a different place with different rules.

Sure, you don’t have to pay rent or a mortgage, but you still have other expenses that come with living in a van.

 

3. That it would fit my lifestyle so perfectly

It’s a little cheesy, but I wish I knew about how easy living in a van sooner. I was always fascniated with living in an RV and travelling, but I thought it was way harder than it actually was.

Turns out: everything is much easier than you think.

And little did I know that van life was perfect option for me.

Even as a child, I never like owning much stuff. Instead, I preferred to have a few things that I really loved and truly used. So when it came to living in a van, it didn’t feel like I was sacrificing much, material-wise.

Furthermore, I’ve always been interested in business and budgeting, so naturally, the ability to save money while living a flexible lifestyle was something that I couldn’t pass up.

I could live in a van and rent my house. That’s pretty amazing to me.

 

4. Messes feel bigger in a van

I kind of expected this, but at the same time I didn’t. I knew that going into such a small space, I would have to keep everything orderly, but I didn’t know that one thing out of place could automatically make my space look messy.

Sometimes I’ll leave my coat on my bed. Other times, I’ll leave a blanket where it doesn’t belong. Let me tell you, it can get messy real fast. Messes feel bigger in a van. I have to stay on top of things to ensure that things don’t turn into a chaotic mess.

This is something that is common in small spaces.

 

5. If your partner is annoying, it’s amplified 100x in a van

In a van, when you’re living with another person, there’s no escape. Little pet peeves that may have not bothered you then will bother you now. Every single annoying thing that they do will stand out, because you’re forced to live in such close quarters with them.

In a house, you can go into another room. In a van, you can only go outside. And depending on where you’re staying, even that can be questionable at times.

On the bright side, if your partner annoys you that much, maybe you’ll realize that they’re not for you. And if you can successfully live with that partner in harmony, then you’ll see that you’ve got a strong relationship ahead of you.

 

6. You have less time than you think

When I first started living in a van, I thought I was going to have all the time in the world. Instagram really made it seem like that. You’ve seen the pictures — they make it seem like everyone who lives in a van does nothing all day.

But the truth is: if you’re busy living in a house, you’re probably going to be busy living in a van. I’m the type of person that likes to stay productive. I can’t stay still. I’m constantly working on new projects — like this blog — and always working on how to be a better version of myself.

Of course, this is me.

You might have more free time if you, let’s say, spend all your time fixing your house. Get rid of the house and you’ve got a lot more things to entertain yourself with.

 

7. Your first van won’t be perfect

It’s not a good idea make your design so permanent when you’re just starting out. If you’ve never lived a van before, the odds of designing a rig that is perfect the first time is slim to none.

The best thing that you can do is start with the basics such as: insulation, a bed, a table, and a store. Then, a few storage boxes that you can store under your bed.

Over time, as you live in the van, you’ll see what you actually use and what you don’t. This will allow you to create your ideal image of what a van looks like.

Plus, as you travel, you’ll be able to see other cool ideas that people are implementing in their rigs, so that you can steal them too.

Trust me, it’s worth the wait. It’ll save you money.

Many people set out with a brand new build thinking they’ll never change it, only to find out that it doesn’t work for them at all. At this point, they have to tear it down and start over, doubling the expenses on materials.

 

8. You won’t need 80% of the stuff in your first van

Not gonna lie, you’re not going to need over 80% of the things that you have in your first van.

Many new van dwellers go into this lifestyle overprepared, bringing much more than the actually need. As a result, over time, they get frustrated because they have so much clutter that they don’t actually need.

Don’t listen to the articles that tell you that you need “this” and “that”. If it were that important to your survival, you would have thought of it yourself. Everything else is secondary.

Prepare for the most common emergencies that you are bound to experience, such as getting a flat tire, but don’t pack for a billion “just in case” sitituations. Most of them will never happen.

 

9. I have to pee a lot

It’s inconvenient to be a living, breathing, waste-producing human being. Without a toilet, you’ll be very aware of how often you have to go to the bathroom.

Hint: it’s probably more than you think.

I’m sure you’ve been on those roadtrips where you really have to go to bathroom, but there’s nowhere to go in sight. Not even a bush.

If you don’t have a toilet in your van, it’s kind of like you’re living your life like that on repeat.

I’ll be honest — when I have to go, I have to go. Peeing in a bottle is not very fun. Pulling my pants down and getting fined for human indency is not something that I want to do. And having to walk into Walmart at 3 am to go the bathroom is even worst.

That’s how you die.

So having a toilet in your van? That’s a godsend.

 

10. People are nosey

It’s human nature to be curious, but I did not realize the extent. It’s a weird double-edged sword.

On one hand, people are enthralled with your lifestyle, trying to get a peek in your van to see how you live. They’ll ask you questions about it or what you’re doing. And to that I say: I’m grateful for the interest.

But while I’m aware that most people don’t mean this with any malice, it kinds of creeps me out to have people looking into my home and asking me questions about where I’ve been.

On the flip side, other people look at you like you’re some homeless bum. I mean, I don’t agree completely, but I understand why the thought is there. There are a lot of creeps living in vans. But lets be honest, there are a lot of creeps everywhere.

 

11. It’s hard to find quiet parking in popular areas

Honestly, I kind of expected this, but I didn’t realize just how many noises would keep me up at night. Cars honking, trash collectors, people talking, dogs barking, planes over head. So many more things that you would expect.

Parking rates can also get pretty wild in the city.

 

12. It’s a lot easier to get mold than you think

Unfortunately, I found out the hard way.

Sleeping in your van causes the temperature inside to be different from the one outside. This causes condensation on the windows and roof of your car. You can get mold from this even in a few days. So it’s really important to get proper insulation and take the necessary precautions to prevent it.

It’s much easier to prevent mold than it is to get rid of it.

Also, never leave your van unattended for long periods of time, if you can avoid it. At the very least, check up on it every once in a while. If there’s absolutely no way around it, make sure that you’re not leaving anything wet in there.

Make sure to have a dehumidifier just in case. You can buy a pretty good one in supermarkets like Walmart or Target. I hang up these packets from Damp Rid.

Trust me, they’re worth it.

 

13. Your phone, laptop, and electric appliances should never feed off your car battery

I never charged anything too crazy with my car battery — just my phone. But living in a van has taught me the importance of relying on other power sources to power my electronics.

Charging your appliances directly from your car’s battery is a surefire way to deplete its life and get stranded in a random location.

You don’t want to do this.

Instead, opt for a solar panel and get a separate battery. It’s a much better system, because when one dies, you’ve still got a another power source to rely on.

Here’s the solar panel I use.

 

14. It can be lonely

In a fixed location, it’s much easier to invite people over. You’ve got more room to host and people are more willing to go because they’re familiar with the location.

Van life changes that.

When you’re living in a van, it’s far easier to lose touch with the people that are close to you, because you’re moving from one location to the other.

You don’t have a consistent group of people that you’re constantly interacting with on a daily basis, like coworkers or friends.

 

15. People WILL judge you for it

Unfortunately, while van life has become more mainstream, there still are a lot of people that haven’t gotten the memo.

On one hand, some people think that your lifestyle is glamorous. You get to travel and do nothing all day. On the other hand, people are scared of you and think your a homeless bum that’s going to rob them.
And most perfect life.

Of course, some van dwellers give off certain vibes more than others. I can only advise you to be presentable when interacting with strangers. Personally, I’d never want anyone to freak out due to my presense.

 

16. The perfect moment will never come

Never put something that you want on the back burner, if it’s something that you’re really passionate about. Far too often, we make a excuses for things that we want. But, there’s always going to be a reason not to do something.

I learned this more intensely when I started living in a van.

You’ve got to start looking for the reasons to do something.

So you want to live in a van? Go for it.

 

17. Pests will find a way to get in

For some reason, the thought of mice never crossed my mind. But let me tell you, they’ll find a way to get in. Even if you keep your doors closed, they can still enter from the bottom of your vehicle.

Even if they’re pretty cute, they can do a lot of damage, so they’re not something that you should keep for very long. They are known for eating the wiring of cars. They have a funny way of getting into your food as well.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a little furry creature running across my legs at night when I’m about to fall asleep. I’ve heard stories of that happening to van dwellers, so it is a real thing.

But, how to get rid of them?

Set mouse traps around the perimeter of your van and install some nice LED lights near the floor. Bright lights will usually deter them from deciding to nest in the coziness of your van.

 

18. Always make a budget, but then triple it

Always make a budget and triple it. This isn’t just for van life — it applies to any road trip or vacation.

On the road, anything could happen that will require a little extra cash. Little things here and there add up.  Your van could break down. You might need extra gear. The park you’re going to could have an entrance fee that you weren’t aware of. Or maybe the grocery store at the location you’re stay at is a bit more expensive that you expected.

It’s impossible to account for everything, so it’s important to set a budget that allows you room for flexibility. Don’t max out your budget at $500 if that’s all you can afford. Instead, wait until you can afford to pay at least $1,500.

 

19. Putting a little effort into learning how your van works goes a long way

Now, I’m not saying that you have a become a mechanic. However, learning the basics, such as changing a tire or fixing wiring can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

When you’re living in a van, there’s a lot of things that could go wrong, so you need to be prepared to handle those things at a moment’s notice. You don’t have a be a full-on expert, but if your van ever breaks down, being able to fix it temporarily, at least so that you can drive it out to a real mechanic, helps a lot.

It saves a lot of times and makes you feel proactive when you’re in a bad situation, effectively calming your nerves.

 

20. Your first few days in the van are going to feel strange

My first few days living in a van were kind of strange. It was like I was on a long, extended vacation that just wouldn’t end. On top of that, I was like baby learning how to walk.

There were lots of things that I had to learn after transitioning to living in a van. Such as how to deal with going to the bathroom or how to cook without disburbing everyone around me.

My first real challenge was learning how to manage my time efficiently. Now, I’ve always been a fairly productive person, but the change in routine really threw me for a loop.

 

21. Everything is more doable than you think

As a child, I thought that everything was much harder and more complicated than it actually was. Mainly because I didn’t understand how the world worked. I remember when I got my first credit card, I was shocked with how easy it was.

Living in a van is kind of the same thing.

Things only look scary because you’ve never done them before. You don’t want to make a mistake, so you’re paralyzed by the thought of messing up. But you know what?

Messing up is great. Because once you do something wrong, you learn and become a wiser person.

 

22. Not being about to straighten your legs in bed IS a big deal

If you’ve never slept in a van, you might think it’s not that bad, but it is. If you’ve ever slept in a bed where you can’t stretch out your legs, day after day, you’ll know that it gets very uncomfortable. Very quickly.

You’re already living a small space, why sacrifice sleep as well?

Trust me, it’s not a good idea. Comfortable sleep is one of the most important things to consider. You’ll be miserable if you can’t sleep well, no matter the situation.

Here’s the mattress that I use in my van. It fits perfectly and is pretty comfortable.

 

23. Parking on pavement will make your van really hot

As a I learned, parking on pavement will make your rig extra special in the summer. Without proper ventilation, summers can be pretty hot in general. Shade is your best bet and, personally, I love parking under trees.

 

24. Don’t skimp on a bug screen

Bugs in the summer can be a real pain, so it’s important to be prepared for these situations. If you’re camping in the wilderness, you will be eaten alive by mosquitos and other types of bugs. Let me tell you — it’s much more annoying when they get in your van.

You’ll be trying to sleep and get a “BZZZ” hitting your face every so often. Plus, they’ll inject you with itchy juice so you’ll be scratching all the day long when you wake up the next morning.

My favorite thing about the a bug screen, beyond the fact that it doesn’t let these bugs in, is that I can open my windows and let the breeze in.

 

25. Side windows aren’t as amazing as you think

Some van dwellers fall in love with the idea of having a side window because they become obssessed with the idea of having a nice view. The truth of the matter is, when you live in a van, the view becomes much less important and privacy becomes more important.

Side windows can be a beautiful thing. And if you’ve got them already, then by all means, you don’t need to get rid of them. However, something that I’ve noticed is that lot of van dwellers just end up covering them up instead.

 

Final thoughts

I’m sure some of these tips may seem obvious. Why I didn’t realize these things earlier — I don’t know what to tell ya’. I just wasn’t thinking of those things. But hopefully, this was able to help you if you’re thinking about living in a van yourself.

Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.

At the very least, if you’re already living in a van yourself, I hope that you were able to relate to this post. I’ve got a lot of different articles on here where I document my journey and offer tips and tricks for managing how to live in such a small space.

Victoria Miller

I'm the founder of NTT. I live in Miami, Florida, and enjoy learning everything there is to know about tiny spaces.