Living a free and nomadic life on the road is a dream come true, though it is true that in many ways van life sucks.
We have been living out of a van for 2 years now; indeed, it is fantastic! There are so many freedoms presented while travelling. There is no better way to see the world than out of a portable home. You can reach places that wouldn’t be possible by public transport, you rarely need to book in advance, and you can decide each day what you will do and where you want to go next.
Life on the Road Is Great! But sometimes Van Life Sucks. Why?
For us, the benefits far outweigh it, and we would never try to deter someone from this lifestyle. We did not know many things before moving into a van, and we hope to help prepare you for what may be to come. If you have not yet had a taste of camper life, then you may be thinking it is all glorious. We have put together a list of 10 things why Van Life is sometimes really annoying for us.
1. Overnight Parking
Finding a comfortable place can be quite a challenge for van lifers. This will most likely become one of your most common chores throughout the week. The options available for overnight parking can vary a lot depending on the region.
You will almost always have the option of paid campsites. These will generally provide most facilities and are often more comfortable. They might not be the most Instagram-able setting, but at least you know you are allowed to be there. This may not work within your budget if you intend to travel for extended periods like us.
Free Camper Parking
We have visited many places that provide free parking designated for campers, to encourage tourism. Though they may not be pretty, they often provide some basic facilities and are located conveniently around the town.
Often, you will find areas that are restricted by the hours you can park or the length of time you may stay. It is not uncommon to see signs allowing parking between the late evening and early in the morning. This is common in busier areas or industrial estates, meaning you can stay the night, though you must move to make space for employees in the morning.
Another common restriction is the length of stay, you may be allowed to park for a maximum of 24-72 hours depending on the region. This can be a perfect opportunity for van lifers as you have some time to relax and explore the area before moving on to make space for more campers to enjoy.
Some regions may highly discourage, or even criminalise overnight parking for campers. This is often the case in cities or highly tourist areas. In most cases, it can be more convenient to park outside of the city and use public transport if you wish to visit.
In general, we have not had many issues with parking. We are always sure not to set our chairs and table out unless it is allowed. Being respectful and keeping the area clean will get you very far.
2. The Space
If you decide to move into a camper, you will notice that space quickly becomes a luxury.
There is only so much space. Everything needs a home, otherwise, it can get very messy, very quickly. Having less space means you have less room for luxuries. You can only have so many clothes, shoes, or gadgets and fitting everything in can become a consistent game of Tetris. This can be tiring especially with multiple people in the van.
In most cases you will fall in one direction or the other: becoming overly tidy and organised, or a completely chaotic mess. Either way, the best solution is to find clear spaces for everything stored in your van and don’t let the mess build up.
A camper is extremely small compared to a standard house or apartment. It is very easy to take something out and leave it on the table. If you do that 10 times a day, there will be no space left! Be sure to keep things in order and put everything away occasionally. You will become very resourceful with space, finding ways to store things more conveniently.
It is essential to set some boundaries if you will be sharing a tight space. Make time for yourself, have your rooms and theirs, and ensure that you get outside as much as possible. Especially for a relationship, living in a camper can be a test of strength.
There are some moments when we realise how comfortable we have become with our small space.
- We have become a little cautious of what is behind us – always check if a cup is on the kitchen table before turning too quickly
- When looking for something, we find ourselves turning around on the spot – if it’s here, then it must be around us
- Make space for each other – when someone is walking past, the other must sit or stand to the side
Moving into a box of 5 square meters can be confronting. You will lose a lot of privacy, especially with more than one in your home. The reality is, you will be pooping in your kitchen and cooking in your bedroom and there is no second room to escape from your roommate. You will need to be close and comfortable together otherwise it won’t last long.
Living in a van is an easy way to put your life on display. If you decide to leave your door open for the breeze, then expect some heads to be looking inside. While you’re doing chores that require you to step outside frequently, people will ask for a tour. In general, your closed door is the only thing between you and a public parking area.
If you frequent the towns and cities you may easily become annoyed by the sounds of cars and people outside your door. Staying further off the grid or in rural areas may be the only way to find some peace.
Van dwellers may be seen as unhygienic, though this is not always true. In a traditional house, you wake up and walk to the bathroom to take a shower with ease. This is not the case with van life, while some campers do have a shower, it is not always so simple.
Our shower is normally used for storage so we need to move everything out first. It takes about half an hour for our hot water system to heat up, as long as it is not too windy (or freezing) outside. In the meantime, we need to find a greywater drain to park over, in case our greywater tank overflows. After showering, we need to dry everything up to prevent too much humidity inside. Only then can we put everything into the shower storage room to continue driving.
For those that don’t have an inside shower, it may be a trip to the gym or swimming centre. For others, it could mean finding a quiet corner to shower outside behind the van. In any case, living in a van will make you very aware of the local resources, like beach showers, as a possibility in case of need.
When your home is so small, everything needs multiple uses, and more use means more wear. A camper will require extra maintenance as you are more liking to bump, scratch or damage things in such a small space. The tasks that get done every 5 years at home will need to be done every year. Your spring cleaning will be needed every week.
Prepare to become a DIYer, as you may find yourself fixing, tightening, or replacing something every other week. Van life requires a bit more hands-on action. You’ll become a professional painter with the yearly practice, a plumber when you find a leak, and a semi-qualified electrician when a switch stops working.
Over time, any camper will begin to show wear. You have a moving house. It is impossible to expect everything to stay in top condition while you’re rattling down the road every day.
For some, it is enough to be below the stars every night and the internet may not be a problem. For, like many, we enjoy a movie or series to wind down at the end of the day. We spend quite some time each day researching where we would go next or finding things to do the following day. Working online can make this even trickier, requiring a solid connection to complete your tasks can sometimes become a burden.
When you’re on the road for a while, you may want to go further along the tracks to find something new. It is often hard to find a peaceful place that is safe, legal and has a good connection.
If you are driving across country borders often, you can quickly collect a pile of SIM cards. In Europe, each country has different internet providers. It is possible to get a plan that includes international data though it is generally quite limited. Often it is cheap to buy local data-only SIM cards though this means you need to find a new one each border you cross.
7. Additional Chores
While van life gives a lot of freedom, it also requires a lot of work to keep that freedom. All of the chores that you do at home still need to be done, only smaller and more often. You will find some new common chores also to keep you busy while on the road.
If you are moving from a home to a camper then prepare to be overwhelmed. Filling your water will become a new normal, depending on the water tank size, this may be once a day or once a week. All the water that is used needs to go somewhere, emptying the grey water is not such a fun job. Finding rubbish disposal can sometimes take days, especially when thoroughly recycling. And emptying the toilet, yeap, you need to deal with your poop.
Many of the camper-specific tasks can become quite tedious. It often takes a lot of time and energy to find a location and get the jobs done. These are often the most inconvenient, though all of the standard chores still need to be done.
You won’t have the luxury of a full-sized fridge meaning shopping multiple times a week is normal. Laundry is often the most time-consuming chore. No longer can you start the washing machine before leaving for work, to return home to clean laundry. While on the road, you will find yourself waiting at the laundromat for an hour or more each week. In many cases, you will find a laundromat close to the ideal shopping centre. We generally do our groceries while the washing machine is on, then swap the clothes into the dryer, putting away our groceries in the meantime.
8. Decision Overload
With all of the freedom from van life, you’ll be left with a lot of decisions to make daily. Every day you will have a question to answer, while most are basic, they can become overwhelming.
In one day you could have so many decisions to make while on the road. Where to go next, how long to stay, is there enough food for a meal, to find laundry or not, where to do services, does it feel comfortable to park for the night.
Eventually, you become used to it and start to plan the basics ahead of time. Constant decision-making can quickly become a headache, this is also the gift of van life. It is not very often in a traditional life that you will have so many options to choose from daily.
9. Weather Reliant
The weather heavily affects how much you see and do each day. Rain can be a real negative when living in a van. At some point, you become tired of seeing the same 4 walls and wish to get outside. If you have packed the essentials then this is possible, though things don’t dry too easily in a closed-off van.
You may end up spending more time close to a city to give you more chances to get out of the camper. Cafés or shopping can be a temporary saviour to keep you out of the weather while seeing some other scenery.
On the other side is the heat. A hot sunny day can keep you busy throughout the day. Finding a shading parking spot could save you some sweat, though this will keep you busy as the sun is constantly moving. You’ll need to juggle a bit of sun though, as the heat will keep your fridge running harder. Finding a nice mix between shade and solar power can become a challenge.
Wind can sometimes be the most annoying in a van. The constant swaying inside your little box of a home can quickly bring on seasickness. And trust me there’s nothing worse than being sick in a camper and releasing your guts in a porta potty!
10. Lack of Stability
Van life can become a little bit lonely while on the road. You may not be able to keep a community around you and making friends can be difficult when you are constantly moving around.
Things like keeping a regular gym routine become tricky as you may not always be close to a gym centre. Attending weekly classes are most convenient online, meaning you miss the face-to-face connection. You might miss family gatherings or friends’ milestones when you are miles away.
How badly this will affect you depends on how rigid you are with routines and how far your road may go. Change can easily become the only consistent thing when you go away from a fixed home.
Van Life in General
If you’re still considering this lifestyle then you may be up for the challenge. If you have lived this way before then I’m sure you can relate to these 10 reasons why Van’s life sucks. Although these are realities of van life, there are so many reasons to love living on the road living on the road. You will have the chance to see new places, meet new places and experience things that are only possible this way. While on the road there is the freedom to choose and a chance to explore.
If you enjoyed reading this post, then you may be interested in checking our blog pages. We have covered a range of topics about Van Life, Van Build, Van Travel, and our Van Buddies, where we share our experiences from living in a campervan for the past two years. You can follow us on Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date with our latest posts and to take a closer look into our daily lives.