What do we love about van life?
Even we questioned our decision to downsize into a campervan as much as everyone else. We were lucky. We have great family and friends. Our jobs, the gym, life was easy.
What about our jobs? How will we get along in this small space? Where will my clothes fit (I miss our walk-in closet)? Will we have what we need? Saying goodbye to our nice new house, our dishwasher, his and hers sinks, I loved our shower. Will I even like living in such a tiny space?
I would definitely never have categorized myself as a minimalist before, in fact, I have always had a really hard time letting things go. No alarm clocks, no cable, no wifi. I would also not call myself a girly girl, but the idea of giving up the girly things that had taken up space in my life… No more straightening iron, curling irons, cabinets full of makeup, lotions and potions, my washroom at home was like visiting a Walgreens or a Shoppers Drugmart, I had variety and options for everything I used.
Everything about home life was simple, lights everywhere, a long hot shower, a bath maybe? A big stocked fridge and freezer (we actually had two) laundry whenever you wanted, and our comfy sectional to curl up and binge watch Netflix.
You definitely give up some of those creature comforts when you move into a van. But pretty amazing things happen just outside of your comfort zone.
That all being said our van has everything we need and then some, but there was definitely an adjustment period. Finding the spots to store our things. Being creative with groceries, and learning the “van shuffle”. But we love it. We have spent all but two nights in this van over the past 10 months (two nights the van was in the shop). There’s been exciting moments, and stressful ones for sure.
Yes, we still miss those creature comforts sometimes, but the freedom we have created is priceless. Without question, worth it. We have removed so much stress in our lives, it’s actually hard for us to envision what life was really like before we hit the road. For me the change is monumental, I was taking medication daily for inflammatory issues, and haven’t needed them since our second month on the road. I was a borderline insomniac, and now, for the most part, I sleep and sleep well. I will admit I have gained a few pounds, my activity level is totally different then it used to be, and that’s ok.
This lifestyle is certainly not for everyone but here are 7 things we love about van life.
1. We abide by a “no plan” plan, which means we rarely know where we will end up
In 10 months traveling around North America, there have been gorgeous beaches, stunning red rocks, forests, canyons, old cities, small towns, big cities, ghost towns, museums, three oceans, you name it. There have definitely been some spots that were less idyllic, rough neighborhoods, rough roads, and Walmart parking lots. But when you create room for the unexpected, more often then not you are rewarded with amazing experiences and a great view…
Taking a dip in the Arctic Ocean was a stellar reward for making it up the Dempster Highway (over 900km of gravel roads) every morning of that trip, we just agreed we would go as far as we could, and if we had to turn around, so be it. But we didn’t, and it was worth every minute driving that crazy road.
2. You create Freedom, and it’s a game changer
When we left home one of our first rules was, NO ALARM CLOCKS. For the first time since we met, our time is our own. We don’t have a schedule to stick to. Sometimes we sleep in late, some days we are up at the crack of dawn. It shouldn’t seem so strange, but we fall asleep when we are tired, and we wake up when we are rested. Goodbye insomnia! The knowing that there is an alarm waiting to go off in a few hours was definitely a source of my sleep deprivation.
No rigid schedule means, we can catch a music festival without asking for time off. Lunch at the beach? Sounds great. We can plan our days however we like. If we want to take Holly on an epic hike we can start when the weather cooperates, and we can keep her comfortable and happy.
If we don’t like the weather, we escape it!
We basically lived like snowbirds this past winter, and really, its was a dream. We woke up to snow our first night in Olympic National Park and decided it was pretty and all, but we were done with it. We made our way south and nestled in near Palm Springs with the toasty warm weather. We watched the weather again to plan our trip to Utah, and got to enjoy the red rocks with a dusting of snow, in t-shirt weather! We even took advantage of a sunny day when we convinced my folks who were visiting to randomly road trip to the Grand Canyon with us. There was some grumbling over how cold it got at night, but again, we got a sunny clear day, and the chance to experience an awe-inspiring spot with mum and dad.
3. It’s the friends you meet along the way…
The happiest benefit of traveling in our van has been the incredible people we meet. I would honestly say that we are a little reclusive, so this one kind of caught us off-guard. Since being on the road we have actually formed some really strong connections with new friends. A big part of it is likely that we are meeting fellow travelers mostly. Travel is a great shared interest. Sitting around a campfire, hearing stories of the places they have been and adventures they have had is pretty much the best.
We have met a variety of people, young, old, families, friends, couples, single folks too. Fellow full timers remind us we aren’t crazy for living this way, and even though we came from totally different places, and backgrounds, we all chose this lifestyle (or maybe it chose us) It is definitely a common denominator that we all wanted more time, and more adventure in our lives.
Our friends Cheryl and Jeff from Sarnia, Ontario, who also sold their place and a lot of their things to full time in a travel trailer. They have documented their adventures ever since on YouTube, we became fast friends when we finally met in Alabama of all places. They hosted us with Cheryl’s mom in Sarnia, Ontario and let us join in on our first family dinner in months.
Dave and Irene whom we idolized on YouTube before taking the leap into the van. We felt nervous and excited to meet them in person in Arizona, even though we rolled in after dark to our remote camp spot, they came out with their pooch Pistol and greeted us with open arms (which is great, because it turns out, I am a hugger) We hit it off instantly, the boys even wore matching clothes. They actually interviewed us for their YouTube channel, they are total naturals, we were awkward as could be. These guys have taught us so much about our tiny home on wheels and inspired us to hit the road. We camped out, shared a campfire, and though we joked about it, I am fairly confident that Logan and Dave will be lifelong hiking buddies, while Irene and I will be the traveling support crew having our own adventures.
We met another famous YouTube couple Joe & Kait when we saw them in the parking lot at the gym in Tuscon. These guys took time out to meet us, and have yummy dinner at Chipotle. We later found out they had sadly lost their fur baby that very same day. They still included us in their day, and they didn’t even know us. These guys are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to van life and RV living, they are also successful digital nomads, and we really can’t wait to meet up with them again.
We also met some traveling friends from Switzerland, two couples, both on very epic and very different adventures.
Claudia and Jann are on a 6-month multi-continent tour, and we met them over a Muskox burger in Tuktoyuktuk. We also met Mirjam and Stefen in Yukon, and they were on a 6 week holiday and chose to see the crazy remote areas of Northern Canada. These guys reminded us again how big the world is, and how little we have seen. We felt like we had known them forever, even though we are from very different worlds. We shared Mirjams first Caesar in Dawson City while enjoying a Cancan show. We shared our first Muktuk experience in Yukon with Jann and Claudia, and had a great campfire with their first S’mores! We will be seeing them next year when we travel to Europe!
This was a long one, but it is really the big one. For people who really keep to ourselves, we feel so incredibly lucky to have met these and other new friends along the way. I honestly feel like it is exceptional for an adult to meet other couples and all make friends, and all genuinely enjoy spending time together. We have learned from all the people we have met along the way, and created some of our favorite memories, and I think this is pretty special.
4. There is a learning curve
They say growth happens outside of your comfort zone…
Have you dumped RV tanks before? Well until my first time, neither had I. My first time was in Oregon in a crazy rainstorm (picture me standing with my feet submerged in water, while the wind was howling and blowing someone’s awning off their rig) It was almost as romantic as it sounds 😉
Parallel parking a 22-foot van on a crowded city street in San Francisco…challenge accepted.
Why have we not had hot water in the van in a month?? Reaching out to new friends, and even manufacturers, and Roadtrek constantly, because, our valves don’t look like everyone else or the ones in the manual.
Trying to understand what lights and indicators mean when something isn’t quite right in the van, thank god for Google and YouTube.
You learn a lot about the places you visit, the history, and the culture. We dive hard into bedtime documentaries and reading about every new place we visit. We want to understand more about what we are seeing, and how things came to be. You are constantly reminded that the world is big, and you are in fact very small, and that’s ok. The places you go and people you meet are inspiring as hell, and that basically fuels the desire to keep seeing more.
And of course, you learn a lot about each other. It’s actually surprising how much you’ll learn, we have been together for almost 8 years, and are happy to report we haven’t run out of things to talk about yet. We didn’t even need driving music for the first few months of being on the road, we just talked. Being together 24/7 in a tiny space is testing, sometimes its downright hard. But you find out so much about each other, you start learning all those isms, you embrace being in a tiny space with nowhere to hide. You even get used to listening to your partner singing along to your driving playlist.
5. You consume less, you get by with less, and you are happy about it!
So I mentioned earlier, that I have always had a hard time parting with things. We were those people who were working hard to fill that new house with things. I was never a girly girl, but my cosmetic department stocked cabinets would have told you otherwise.
We downsized our lives dramatically. Seriously we went from a three bedroom townhouse with a yard and two car garage, to under 100 square feet of living space. We packed all the things we thought we would need into the van, and have made a few purchases along the way. Here is the crazy thing, we still have too much stuff!!
I stressed so much about clothes because this wasn’t packing for a vacation, it was packing for life. But in reality, I wear the same handful of outfits most of the time. I live for leggings, loose tops and things that breath for hiking. I have little use for cotton (it gets smelly and wrinkles), I have an ever growing love for merino wool.
I have had two occasions on this trip where having something a little cuter or fancier might have been nice, such as our nights out in Vegas. My one pair of jeans and only semi-dressy sweater did just fine, and my feet thanked me for walking in my Nano’s instead of crazy high heels.
I actually get frustrated with my clothes cabinet, because even though I have donated and given clothes away, it is still packed with too much, and things I don’t wear. I live in a tiny space! That cabinet is about to get overhauled and reduced big time. The two takeaways I have about clothing are: Less is more, and we do laundry super regularly so I am never going to run out. What the hell was in my walk-in closet back home??? The second is if it wrinkles, and that is a problem, it basically has no business being in a van.
Our kitchen has been downsized too. Again we had all the cool little gadgets, appliances (though I miss my dishwasher) all the dishes (though we never entertained guests for dinner) we had 5 different vessels for brewing coffee! Okay, we still dedicate a lot precious real estate in the van to coffee, but that how we start every day. The rest of our kitchen has continuously changed. We switched to camping dishes and stopped worrying about our plates and bowls rattling around on a washboard road. We each have one spoon, one fork, and one knife. We have one pot, and one pan (and they are almost never used at the same time) we love one pot meals, and doing dishes is not an option, it happens as soon as we are done eating, so again, less is more.
Our next change will be installing a water filter. The biggest and saddest waste for us on this trip has been bottled water. We should be able to drink the water from our holding tank, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea. We have been using bottled water, and refilling with potable water as best we can. Despite our best efforts and our fondness for recycling, this consumption just doesn’t work for us anymore. We also learned that several states do not have recycling in place, and in the U.S and Canada you are charged bottle deposits by the bottle, but many places do not have bottle depots where refunds are offered. It’s not like its a big expense, but saving money is a perk of this lifestyle, those deposits ad up to $4/case sometimes and that is a slow drain on our budget that we are happy to put a stop to!
6. Your relationship is bound to change
When we were working full time, by the time we were both homes we were usually bagged. We were like most people, more than happy to change into comfy clothes, get on the couch and binge watch Netflix. While I am all about the Netflix and chill, we basically ignored each other. All we wanted was more time together, but the time we did get was being wasted.
We are also both pretty strong headed individuals. If I am not happy, there’s a pretty good chance I am not hiding it well. Logan, on the other hand, gets quiet, or so I thought. When we lived in a big house and had hectic schedules, we could hide, hang out in your room, head to the gym, go for a drive or stay late at work (boo). If there was a problem, it could get pushed aside and avoided if we wanted.
For better or worse that has all changed. I will never ever claim to have the perfect relationship, but if you want to practice dealing with your own shit and patience in dealing with someone else’s, van life could be for you. If one of us or both of us is upset or just having an off day, there is nowhere to hide. We will talk about, fight about (oh yeah, it still happens), laugh about it, cry about it, whatever needs to happen, happens. There is really no space in our tiny home for extra drama, so if its something dumb (and really it often is) you learn to let it go. Sitting pouting and staring out the window on a driving day, is a laughable offense, punishable by loud off-key sing-alongs.
Privacy is kind of a thing of the past. We do all the things in that tiny space, so you learn to get comfortable in your own skin in a hurry when there is always someone else around. Having a washroom in the van is amazing, (and I may never own a vehicle without a toilet in it again) but kicking your partner out to use it, is a habit that dies fast and hard.
You also understand the actual value of alone time. We recharge in different ways. Logan has logged 65 KM hiking in the last week (yes, we are okay, I have been there for some, but not all of it). When he needs alone time, he gets outside, and he loves it. I do not take it personally at all if he wants alone time, to check out a trail, go birding, or be alone and read even. I again love to black out the van, and watch a girly movie, or read. My recharge or alone time is my little escape, and Logan is more than happy to oblige. We joke that our van has many “rooms”, if we are stuck inside on a rainy day I may hang out in the bedroom, while Logan is 3 “rooms” away in the “living room”.
The short version here is this, you definitely get a lot closer. You learn patience for dealing with your own shit and your partners. You will have more energy to devote to each other when it’s not being expended on work and everyone else’s drama.
The silver lining in my mind when it comes to this relationship piece is that if you get to stay with someone forever, in the end, it is likely just the two of you. So hopefully that person is your best friend, and someone you can handle being alone with, in the best and worst of times.
7. You become a creator
This seems like an accidental byproduct of traveling. We take thousands of pictures and hours of video of all the places we see.
It seems like everyone we meet is in the same boat. We frequently have retired seniors handing us business cards with their contact info and social media handles.
We had the opportunity to speak with a class about social media and traveling at NSULA. They had great questions and a lot of great feedback for us.
We have met an entire community online of people like us who are traveling full time in vans or RVs. They are creating amazing content and sharing their stories and experiences. Social media can be a little freaky, but this is definitely a positive.
The ability to monetize the content you create has also become a very common thing. It’s no wonder many of these people, who are spending way more time then you think (seriously, it’s actually a lot of work editing videos, and photos and writing posts) will eventually make some money from it too. Digital Nomads are everywhere because they can be. The internet and social media are for more than just scrolling. If working online sounds interesting, check out our post.
We are still finding things we love about vanlife, and we still have a lot to learn. We would definitely recommend it to anyone, maybe not full time, maybe rent a camper for a weekend, or your next holiday, and see where your tiny home on wheels takes you.