What We've Learned From Our First Year Living In A Van

 
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We moved into our van October 9th, 2016. Back in November 2016, we wrote a blog post called what we’ve learned in the first month living in our van, so I figured I should follow up on that with a post outlining all the things we’ve learned in the first year of van life.

 

It gets easier over time.

At first, van life is challenging. It flips everything you know about life completely upside down. All of your routines and conveniences are out the door. Van life takes time to get used to, and at first Cody and I found it pretty difficult.

About 6 months in, we finally found a good routine that works for us. Doing dishes got easier. Organizing things got easier. We got into a rhythm when it came to cleaning, and everything became a lot more effortless. It just takes a little bit of time to really get used to the lifestyle.

You need a heater.

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We created this video last winter sharing all the ways we keep warm. Even after using all of those ideas, we were still feeling chilled. So, this year we are purchasing a diesel heater for our van so we can have heat during the colder months. We like to spend a lot of time in the snow and we both enjoy snowboarding. The diesel heater will work much better than the small propane heater we have by Mr. Buddy. That heater works fine, but the diesel heater will provide a more effective solution for our lifestyle over the long term.

Get a carbon monoxide detector.

We literally almost died because we didn’t have one of these in our van. We knew we needed to get one, but we thought, “Oh we have good ventilation, we’ll be fine.”

We have a propane camp stove. We kept the propane hooked onto our stove so that we didn’t have to take it off and put it back on every time we used it, which was about twice a day. One time, we were cooking lunch in our van and after lunch we started driving about 30 minutes to a nearby town. All of a sudden, Cody started feeling really dizzy.

We instantly knew it was the propane. We parked the van, and then left and went to a coffee shop. We called my mom and asked her what we should do. We both felt a little dizzy but nothing too serious. Of course, Google told us to go to the doctor immediately, but we were out of state so we didn’t want to go to a doctor because our insurance didn’t cover it.

We walked back to our van, opened the door, and the whole van smelled of gas! We discovered that our propane regulator had a leak in it because we heard it coming out of the stove. We got rid of it immediately, opened all of our doors and windows, and turned the fan on.

The scariest part about this story is the realization that if this had happened at night when we were asleep, we could have died.

Don’t forget to get a carbon monoxide detector and put it in your van! It’s dangerous not to have one.

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You’ll learn what you do and don’t need and eventually you will want to change your build.

We built our van with good intentions, but over time we realized there were a few things we wanted to change after we already lived in it. Unfortunately, we can’t change our kitchen because the granite countertop is pretty much where it’s going to be forever. So, we decided to take out our closet. You can watch this video to see what we changed inside our van!

We definitely love our build, but I do think there’s a few more things we’d like to change. We’d like to add a composting toilet, a built-in stove top (because we rarely cook outside) and probably a roof rack.

After talking with other van dwellers, it’s clear this is something everyone experiences. I think you just have to think about what you are really using the van for and remember that you will be spending a lot of time inside! Make it comfortable for LIVING, not just sleeping.

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Showering outside is better than showering inside.

We have a Road Shower 2 which is a solar heated pressurized shower. Our shower is outside of the van, so that means we often shower outside during the summer. The first time we used the shower, it was an amazing experience! I don’t know about you, but showering in nature completely naked is very liberating and probably the best shower you’ll ever have.

Before we would only shower at the gym, but it’s great to have another option in case we want to stay out in the woods for a while.

You won’t need as many clothes as you think.

We got rid of our closet because it was just taking up too much living space, but another reason we got rid of it was because we barely even wore the clothes in it. We continuously wore the same outfits every day, which meant we had to get rid of some stuff.

I think it’s great to pare down to the minimum and choose versatile items while living in a van. We are currently working on updating our wardrobe to better fit our lifestyle because now that we live in a van, we are finding we don’t really want to wear some of the things we brought with us. I’d rather have more clothing I can hike in than clothing that I can’t.

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Internet is now a luxury.

Before living in our van, we were able to watch hours and hours of Netflix. We could scroll through instagram all day and binge watch our favorite YouTubers. Now, with only 25GB of data each month for both of us, we can’t do that anymore. It’s now more of a luxury to have free wifi. We spend a lot of time at coffee shops or use our friend’s and family’s wifi when we need internet.  

We realize also how much we rely on the internet for entertainment, so van life has taught us to find other ways to entertain ourselves, like reading more books, drawing, painting, hiking, and playing board games!

The best part about van life is the people you meet, not the van.

Over the last year we’ve met up with SO many other van dwellers. This has been our favorite thing about van life. The community is so supportive and it’s pretty easy to just say, “hey, let’s meet up!”

We’ve made some great friends while traveling and it’s really fun to be able to get together with people that are doing the same thing you are. There’s nothing quite like connecting with others and chatting about what’s great and what’s not so great about van life. A lot of people just don’t understand why you decided to leave your nice, big house for a teeny van, but the people that live in a van already do. It’s valuable because a lot of them have similar lifestyles and mindsets, too.

It can get boring if you have nothing to do.

Yes, van life can get boring. Especially if you are trying to save money, have nothing to do, ran out of data on your internet plan, or it’s winter and you aren’t able to go outside as much. Being in a small space has its ups and downs. I think it’s good to try to look into new hobbies because if you rely heavily on TV or the internet to entertain yourself in the evening, you’ll get bored fast.

You can always get a big data plan so you can watch TV, but it’s gonna be a huge expense.
 

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Finding places to sleep is the most stressful part of van life.

Finding a place to sleep at night is one of the most challenging things about living in a van. If you don’t find somewhere to stay before bedtime, it can get really stressful… especially if you’ve been driving all day and you are ready to call it a night.

One of the best ways to tackle that stress is to make sure you find somewhere to sleep for the night before it gets dark. That way you can clearly see what the area is like and whether its safe while there’s still daylight.

Finding water is hard.

This is something we weren’t really expecting, but finding potable water is more difficult than we thought. We have a 15 gallon tank underneath our van for our sink to do dishes, wash our hands, and brush our teeth. We also have a 3 gallon portable water tank that we can fill up at grocery stores which usually works fine. The only difficult thing is trying to fill our shower and 15 gallon tank. We usually just fill it at our friend’s or family’s house. Sometimes we have to fill it at gas stations, but they usually only have a machine that you put change into and it dispenses water for about 5 minutes. It works, but it’s not enough to fill it.

From time to time, we are able to find free potable water at RV dump stations, but it’s not easy to find places like that! We downloaded an app called Allstays which helps us find dump stations.

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When you go back to a regular house or apartment, you’ll miss your van.

We live in our van full time, which means everything we own is in our van. It does not mean we never stay with friends or family when visiting. We have friends and family that live all over! We often spend time with loved ones for a couple of weeks. During that time, we found that even though the conveniences were nice when we were staying there, we never stopped thinking about our van and how much we missed it. Staying in one place is nice, but we enjoy being able to travel and explore constantly.

You learn to live life slowly.

When we lived in an apartment, we got really stuck in our daily routines. Going to the same restaurants, hanging out at all the same places. When you are stuck in a routine, you tend to not even remember what you did last weekend because it flew by so fast. You’re always in a hurry to get to the next thing.

When we first moved into the van, we were still living like that. We were still always in a hurry to get somewhere, but we realized that you just have to slow down. You have to enjoy the day and give yourself some time to explore. After this year, we’ve definitely learned to live life in the present moment which is one of the greatest gifts that van life has given us.


I’m sure there are many more things we’ve learned over the last year, but these are the ones that stood out the most, and they’re things we haven’t already shared. We are definitely planning on continuing our van life journey, and we will let you know next year all of the things we learned in year two!


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