There’s no doubt that living and traveling in a van has recently become a massive phenomenon. So much so that we make new touring friends at almost every Walmart car park we stay the night at.
In the online world the hashtags #vanlife and #homeiswhereyouparkit have been shared millions of times and whole families are being inspired to leave everything behind for a home on wheels.
We’ve been living and traveling in our van for a year now and we love the lifestyle of freedom, personal growth, outdoorsiness and constant sight seeing – check out our post 7 brilliant moments vanlife beats living in a traditional home to see why we love it so much.
But don’t get us wrong, living in a van is not always as rosy and perfect as those viral Instagram photos seem to depict. Here’s why:
Sometimes we don’t feel safe
Sleeping in public in a metal box with fragile glass on all four sides can get scary at times. There’s not much stoping someone from breaking a window or pulling a gun or knife on us wherever we park.
Although we’ve only driven through first world countries, in places like New Orleans and Detroit we were very aware of our vulnerability and took extra care finding somewhere to park for the night and keeping ourselves out of dodgy situations.
We’re always tense and aware of the possibility that something might get stolen from the vehicle in our absence. As we drive down into Central America this will become even more apparent.
Extreme temperatures can be challenging
Although we have a fan and a heater to help us sleep and stay comfortably in the van in all sorts of weather, it’s important to remember that most of our daily activities take place outdoors. Going to the bathroom, cooking or just stretching our legs becomes rather challenging and uncomfortable when the weather is extreme.
So far we’ve experienced it all from humid 45C (113F) temperatures in Darwin, Australia to bone-chilling nights of -20C (-4F) in Montreal, Canada.
Rain and wind in particular make our lives way more confined and for that reason we’re constantly chasing clear skies and manageable temperatures.
Having a shower is a big affair
Showers are somewhat of a luxury to us! We’ve had memberships at a chain of gyms to use their showers, but they aren’t always located where we travel. We own an outdoor semi-heated shower (the water is heated by the running engine of the van) however sometimes it’s just too windy or cold to use it, or there’s no respectable place to set it up, strip down and wash ourselves beside the van.
Finding a toilet that is open when we need it can also be an issue sometimes. In the video below we purposefully parked near a public toilet for the night, only to wake up in the middle of the freezing night with a full bladder and a locked toilet door in our faces.
Keeping up with the maintenance
One of the biggest inconveniences in anyone’s life it trying to keep up with all those little jobs that keep popping up. When you live and drive (over some very rough terrain) in a single car, the constant use and shaking inadvertantly causes a massive amount of screws and bolts to pop out, plus an immense amount of engine maintenance to be done.
We’re constantly working on the van to fix that electric window that won’t fully close, fill up the water tank, re-attach the curtains that fall down and service the engine.
Fortunately we haven’t had a serious breakdown yet, but we understand that it is a possibility and therefore carry a whole load of spare parts and tools with us in the hopes we may be able to fix whatever problems we encounter.
Dust and dirt gets EVERYWHERE
We take a lot of back roads and 4×4 tracks because we love exploring and finding isolated locations to camp. Unfortunately this means that dust, dirt, sand and mud get everywhere in the van – not just limited to the floor, but all through our clothing, food and electronic equipment.
It’s a pain in the bum having to be constantly dusting and cleaning – I never knew dust could be so fine and get into so many tiny crevices!
Our social life has suffered
Maintaining a healthy social life is a lot trickier when your family isn’t around the corner and your neighbours are different every morning. Although the internet makes it easier to keep in contact, the interaction you can have with loved ones isn’t the same and we inevitably end up putting the relationship on hold until our return.
Of course we meet a lot of interesting people on the way, and even get friendly with them, but the fact that we’re always on the move means that we eventually leave them too!
Living an international van life means that it can get very lonely at times. This is possibly the worst aspects of living in a van.
Little space – both physically and emotionally
We live in a three square metre box 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’re constantly stumbling over loose objects on the ground, having to move items to get to other things and sleeping in a super confined space with the dirty dishes we couldn’t be bothered cleaning right next to our faces.
We normally don’t mind the lack of space as we have a never-end and ever-changing backyard to explore and use as a living and dining room. But when the weather is bad or we’re just in a grumpy mood the limited space can get to us!
Living constantly in such close quarters to someone else can also take its toll. It means that little things start to bother you more and you’re left with very little ‘me time’.
Not having an afternoon to curl up with a book or do my own thing is one of the trickiest parts to van life for me. Alex is a person who never stops to sit and just chill for an hour or so, and this can get exhausting!
Taking time to go for a walk by myself, immerse myself in the cooking and go to sleep later than Alex gives me that little bit of me time I need so I don’t go crazy.
Although van life can be tough sometimes, it is well worth it. Check out our post luxuries for your van that cost little to get an insight into how we deal with some of the issues above.