So, you’re nearing the finish of your build, you’ve stocked up on travel equipment, and you’re just about ready to hit the road. You feel excited to take on the world, but no matter how much you double-check your lists to make sure you have what you need, you feel like you’re still missing out on information about the lifestyle itself.
Ever wonder about those parts of vanlife that nobody really mentions? We’ve got you covered. Here are the top five lessons we learned from our first week on the road.
1. The van will get messy – fast.
No matter how hard you try to prevent it. With such a small area of living space, it can be nearly impossible to keep it clean.
A handful of things out of place can make the entire space feel disheveled. It’s important to try your best to clean up after yourself. You’ll have a lot to worry about during your first few weeks, and you don’t want a messy space to add to your stress.
We ended up buying a few storage containers to save room, keep things more organized, and pack away things we didn’t need direct access to (like extra toiletries and out-of-season clothing). You can help keep your van clean by checking the back for any stray items before you start driving!
With that, there is nothing that compares to the feeling of taking a turn and hearing a loud crash in the living area. Especially as you’re getting acclimated to all of the van life rules and regulations, you’re very likely going to forget about small items left on the counter.
Even if you’re sure that you prepped everything for driving, do one more double-check to make sure you didn’t miss any stray mugs, or even worse, expensive devices. Check that the cabinets are locked, the windows and fans are shut, and everything is secure. It will save you from a lot of worry, and it will help you be mindful of keeping a neat space.
2. Things are going to break.
With the constant movement of your vehicle, things are going to become displaced, and some parts of your build might even break. A handle might fall off, a drawer might collapse, or maybe the van itself will break down. Please, don’t panic! That does NOT mean that your build isn’t good, or that your van is in bad shape; it’s just another natural part of van life.
In fact, some people have even celebrated the first broken part of their build or their first breakdown! Think of it as your initiation into van life. Being a Vanlifer is all about strengthening your resilience and playing the cards you’re dealt, no matter how hard they are. You are always going to be figuring out how to adjust your build and take care of your van, and it will get much easier as you go along.
3. Be aware of bridge heights.
There are going to be highways and roads that have a maximum vehicle height that’s much lower than the size of your vehicle. However, there will also be signs that warn you of these bridge heights, so pay attention to them! In some cases, you’ll have to take a completely different route than the one you were on, so it can be helpful to use the RV LIFE App that will have a van-safe route to your destination. Even if it adds two hours to your drive, that’s better than being stuck on a highway you can’t drive on!
4. Always check the weather.
Especially in the winter, there could be severe weather conditions that can cause many issues for you. The last thing you want to do is drive right into a tornado (unfortunately speaking from personal experience).
Be aware of the weather where you are and where you’re traveling to so you can be sure to avoid any dangerous driving conditions, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms, and even bad thunderstorms. You never want to risk yourself or your van driving in bad weather conditions, so it’s good to keep an eye on the weather and be prepared to have a backup plan to stay out of danger.
5. Don’t stay where you’re not comfortable.
Sometimes you can’t show up to your primitive boondocking site until after dark, and after twenty minutes of driving through the dark and eerie forest with no service, you begin to have second thoughts – or maybe you’re stealth camping in a city that seems a little too dangerous for your liking. Never put yourself in a situation where you might feel that something is off, even if you feel like you’re overthinking it. Always trust your gut and be aware of your surroundings. If you don’t feel safe in your camping spot, you can always find a better place to stay for the night.
For us, Cracker Barrels are almost always a guaranteed safe overnight spot, and there are a ton of them throughout the country. They have specific RV spots and are typically very well-lit with security cameras. They have always been an easy solution for when we get to a campsite too late, and there has always been one close by! We are also sure to check campground reviews of every place that we want to park to make sure that it’s a safe location.
All of these lessons are ones that you are going to naturally become aware of as you venture on your van life journey. I only hope that I could save a little of your trouble! The first few weeks on the road are the most fruitful, and all of the best lessons are learned through experience. Once you start adventuring, you’ll know the ins and outs of van life in no time!
For more lessons on van life, check out this video from The Newby’s:
See also: How (And Why) We Became Vanlifers