What comes to mind when you think of vanlife? For me, my first impressions of vanlife was when I was scrolling through Instagram, looking at a pair of happy couple’s feet as the majestic view of a mountain is in the background of their opened van door. Vanlife had a magical quality about it: Traveling throughout the country, having absolute freedom and being able to experience all kinds of new adventures. After my first months of being a full time vanlifer, this is what I’ve learned:
1. I used to waste a lot of water. Having a foot pump sync makes me realize just how much water I can conserve. I have a 6 gallon water tank that I use for hand washing, cleaning dishes, everything except for drinking. I can easily go for 1 week without having to refill it. I think of all the times I keep the water running when I brush my teeth (sorry! Yes, I was guilty of that.) and I realize how wasteful I was when I was living in a regular house. Having a foot pump sink also means I only run the water when it is time to rinse the dishes only, so water is not just running in the background. This makes a huge difference in conservation.
6 Gallon Fresh Water Supply
2. Walmart have so much stuff! As a vanlifer, Walmart becomes a sort of safe haven. Many of them will allow you to park overnight, which I am really grateful for. Each region also has special items. For example, when I was in Alaska, Walmart had a huge supply of dehydrated food for camping or emergencies. Just a few weeks ago, I was driving north towards cooler weather, I realized I needed another sleeping bag for the kitties to hide under. I was able to pick sleeping bags, cat litter, as well as groceries AND crash for the night, all at the same place. I know it sounds silly, but when you are doing vanlife, efficiency matters (fuel savings) and having a one stop shop is amazing.
3. Truck Stops are awesome. Not only do they have some of the coolest gadgets, most of they have amazing showers for around $10-15 dollars. I have seen some for only $5, but most are closer to $15. They are clean and they even supply towels and toiletries. Plus, many will allow overnight parking, which is amazing when you are sleepy and didn’t bother to plan ahead to figure out where you are going to stop for the night.
4. Everyday, you will have the opportunity to practice patience. I travel with my 6 pets: 4 cats and 2 dogs. When the pets and I live in a space of less than 150 sq feet, we step on each other’s toes (literally sometimes!) All the pets seem to have their own opinions and not everyone gets along. Factor in the dogs are both working breeds, well, now it gets even more interesting. To be fair, most of the time, the pets are really well behaved. They travel well, and get along with each other. However, practically every day, one out of six animals will misbehave.
I remember being asked, “Does it ever get lonely on the road?”
I replied,” I don’t have time to get lonely. I have 6 pets.”
5. I’ve become the “Marie Kondo” of Vanlife. Seriously. Organizing and cleaning up after yourself becomes an essential part of life. First of all, if anything is left out, it automatically becomes a huge clutter because there is so little space. On top of that, if it is not strapped down or put up, it will fly as I am driving and most likely hit me or the pets. I’ve learned to be creative to take advantage of every nook and cranny of the van. Downsizing becomes an every day fact of life due to lack of space. After a while, I realized I don’t need most of my things stored in my attic at the house. What am I suppose to do with 2 huge storage containers of cocktail dresses anyway? There was a time in my life when I use to go to weekly events where I would dress up, but now a days, my uniform consists of wearing yoga pants & a cotton top. There is a great amount of freedom with simplicity. Next time I am back at the house, it is downsize time.
6. If it is not secured down, bungee down or Velco down, it will fall off. Every single thing in the van has to be securely fastened in place. At the end of the day, it is still a moving vehicle. I remember when I was going to Instagram looking at all the beautiful vanlife pictures. Marveling a the beautiful ceramic mugs hanging on the wall, I was inspired to create that in my van. Real life is very different. When you drive, things move and vibrate. The clinking sounds of mugs on the wall becomes really annoying after the first 2 miles. Those beautiful magnetic strips for knifes? Just imagine what would happen if you had to emergency stop? … No thank you. Once, I accidentally forgot to strap down the slow cooker and it toppled over, right on top of the dog. Luckily, the latches on the lid did a great job and nothing spilled, but my dog was not too happy about being woken up by a flying crock pot. Bungee cords and heavy duty Velcro are definitely a staple in my tool box.
7. The road less traveled really is better. National parks are great but I found some of my most memorable days are spend in smaller or less well know state or national parks. Sometimes, I would turn into a small dirt road to find it leads to a beautiful lake. Some of my favorite spots include Dixie National Forest in Utah, right by the more famous Bryce National Park, where I was able to see hoodoos and camp for free as well. Navajo National Monument in Arizona was filled with amazing canyons and Lone Rock in Glen Canyon in Utah is still one of my favorite places, with beautiful beaches you can drive on and lot of space to roam. While national parks are great, national forest and other lesser know parks give you more privacy and a chance to truly escape into nature without the crowds or tour buses. And of course, when you boondock or go to these less know places, usually you can camp for free. In fact, I have only paid for camping once this last year of living in a van.
8. If you plan to travel with pets, people will stare. At any given time, I have 3 pets in the cock pit. The two dogs sit in the front and one or two cats will be sleeping in on the dashboard by the windshield, soaking up the sun. It really is a funny sight. Be ready for tourist to come with cameras in hand taking photos of the pets in the van. =)
9. People will react to you in two ways. They either think you are really cool living out of a van and traveling the country, or they think you are weird. Not that anyone has ever said it was weird, although a few have said I was “crazy” to traveling as a single girl by myself. Others people will think you are cool. When I was passing through Colorado I was looking for a healthy food shop to buy some supplements for the dog. There was a guy who looked like he was in his mid twenties skateboarding in the area. When he saw my van, he came up to me, with a huge smile and said he wanted to do the same thing. Once when I was washing my dog at the pet store, an older woman in her late 50’s came up to me and started asking me about my van. After walking my my van in the parking lot and seeing the pets, she hunted me down in the store so she can pick my brain. She was thinking about converting a van herself. After waiting for me to finish washing my dog, I gave her a tour. She was happy. =)
10. I’m a much nicer person with hot coffee in the morning. Especially when it’s 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside. After waking up to hungry cats meows and excited dogs pulling on their morning walks, having hot coffee really helps me with the practicing patience.
11) The secret to waking up at 6:00 am is simple. Go out to a place were there is no internet or cell phone service. Without social media, Netflix or the internet to keep me entertained, it is just me, the pets and a good book. Most nights, I’m asleep around 10:00 PM. Before vanlife, I am usually up until 2am in the morning.
At the end it wasn’t the beautiful places that I saw that made vanlife special. Visiting places like Yellowstone National Park, Zion, and Moab was great, but what truly makes vanlife special is the actual experience of living in a van, slowing down to enjoy the simple pleasures in life and really being able to live in the moment. Meeting new people, especially the elderly, and hearing about the adventures of their youth was one of the things I really enjoyed from my van travels. Taking time to prepare a hot meal while watching the sunset is one of life’s simple joys. Traveling in the van and living the vanlife isn’t really about the destination. Vanlife truly is a unique way to slow things down and live life in the moment.