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10 Things to Get Used to if You Want to Live in a Van

There are a lot of things you have to get used to if you want to live on the road. Many everyday luxuries are not available in a van, forcing van lifers to get acclimated to more daily tasks and responsibilities. If you’re thinking about living in a van someday, it might be helpful to know some of these tasks beforehand!

Here are 10 things you should get used to if you want to live in a van.

1. Small Spaces & Less Privacy

As you might already suspect, living in a van means you have a lot less living space. While you’ll likely spend a good chunk of your time outside, it’s easy for some people to feel claustrophobic. Luckily, there are a bunch of ways to open up your space and make it feel more like home to avoid this.

If you’re living with a partner, you will also have a lot less privacy. You’re not really able to just go in a different room to distance yourselves. So, you’re going to have to get used to this constant company and figure out ways to maintain some privacy.

2. Dealing With Your Waste

A man at a dumping station located at a travel center working on dumping and cleaning his portable toilet.

When you live in a van, you have to get used to dumping your own waste. Long gone are the days when you can flush or pour things down the drain and not have to think about them again! Dumping is a pretty nasty job, but it’s necessary and a pretty constant chore.

Depending on how much you use your toilet and sink, you may have to dump as frequently as every few days. However, you can hold off on the task if you use public toilets and conserve what you have. This brings us to…

3. Conserving Water

Since you have much smaller water tanks in a camper van, you want to make sure that you aren’t using all of it too fast. Dumping and filling up water can be a timely task. It’s much easier to conserve the little water you have! You don’t want to run your sink while you wash dishes and use all of your water in two days.

Using only what you absolutely need can help your water last a while! My camper van only has a 6-gallon water tank, and we can often go as long as two weeks on it (not including drinking water).

4. Leaving No Trace

Van lifers spend most of their time in nature. So, it’s important to remember to never leave a trace and leave the land better than you found it. Van lifers have lost a ton of camping privileges in areas where people did not respect the land.

If you want to keep having access to some of the most beautiful spots, learn the rules of the land! Make sure you are following every guideline that the specific area sets out to protect the wildlife (and even yourself)!

5. Being Dirty

A girl stands on a roof deck of a camper van in sandals with dirt on her feet.

If any van lifer tells you they shower every day, they’re lying to you! If you decide to live in a van, you’ll have to get used to going without a shower for a few days. This could be because there aren’t any showers in the area, only paid showers, or you simply want to save water with your portable shower.

You can still maintain cleanliness and a frequent shower schedule, but almost certainly not every day. I once hiked 16 miles in the Grand Canyon and couldn’t shower for a few days because all showers in the area were closed! You can pack yourself some baby wipes and dry shampoo to help you get through it.

6. Rolling With the Punches

Making the switch to van life can be a grueling process. The solitude and new responsibilities will leave a lot of room for self-growth, which can be pretty tough for some people. There will also be a lot of bad days where it feels like everything is going wrong.

It’s important to remember that this is a normal experience. It doesn’t mean you aren’t fit for this lifestyle. You want to get used to rolling with any punches that are thrown at you in order to get through them. Be open to every experience, good and bad!

7. Maintenance & Mechanical Issues

Since you’ll likely be putting a lot of miles on your vehicle, it’s important to learn all of the maintenance rules. This includes when to get an oil change, swap your filters, rotate your tires, get an alignment, and more. You never want to miss an important maintenance update and risk putting bad wear and tear on your van. Online apps like RV LIFE Maintenance can be used for tracking your maintenance and even keeping track of your receipts.

It’s also inevitable that you will have mechanical issues when you live in a van, so that’s definitely something to get used to! I was only in my van for about a month before I discovered I needed new brakes and new struts! It can be helpful to learn the typical issues of your specific van so that you are more prepared for these when they occur.

8. Dealing with Weather

A man sitting in the driver's seat of a camper van with a blanket of ice and frost covering the front windshield.

Weather is a factor that always needs to be on van lifers’ minds. Not only does it play a major role in your day’s itinerary, but it can also significantly affect travel plans.

You have to get used to constantly checking the weather to make sure that you never put yourself in a dangerous situation. You don’t want to find yourself driving into a hurricane or getting stuck in a snowstorm without enough supplies!

9. Finding Places to Sleep

This is arguably one of the most stressful parts of van life. If you’re planning on traveling a lot, you will have to find a new place to sleep almost every single night. It gets easier with more experience and helpful apps, but it can be an exhausting task.

Also, safe sleeping spots are not always guaranteed. Many times, you’ll find yourself stealth camping and ending up in a parking lot or hidden back alleyway to crash for the night. You also want to have a backup plan in mind in case anything happens, like getting “the knock” from local police.

10. Trusting Your Gut

Van life brings you into areas that you have never been before and likely know nothing about. This could make people an easy target for theft or lead them to unsafe sleeping spots. So, it’s important to always trust your gut.

You will instinctively know if something is wrong, and you will quickly learn to identify that feeling. You might have no other reason for fear besides feeling like something is slightly off, and that is enough of a reason to leave! Trust your feelings and follow your gut to keep yourself safe.

It can be very helpful to get used to these things before you live in a van. Van living is such a demanding lifestyle that you’re going to have to adapt to it a lot. However, with enough experience, all of these tasks and methods will become second nature. With a head start on these tips, you’ll be just fine!

Looking for more van life tips? Check out our 10 essential tips for new van lifers!

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3 thoughts on “10 Things to Get Used to if You Want to Live in a Van”

  1. Good advice! Before going to sleep put everything in a secure place in case you have to drive away quickly. You don’t want to spill food, drinks, dishes etc. Keep slippers and sweatpants handy.
    5 year urban full timer. Also I rarely congregate with other RVs or Vans. Cleanliness goes a long way and it’s often possible to develop good relationships with neighbors, be they residential or commercial.

  2. Skip the baby wipes! Absolutely Horrendously, VIOLENTLY, Freakishly bad and wrong for our environment.

  3. Good point. Thanks for being a Vanlifers reader. We of course advocate for eco-friendly options for all travelers. There are a number of compostable and environmentally conscious baby wipe products on the market we would recommend over traditional plastic based. Such as Eco by Naty Unscented Baby Wipes – 100% Compostable and Plant-Based Wipes, Mum & You Biodegradable Compostable Vegan Registered Plastic Free Baby Wet Wipes with Recyclable Packaging, and Surviveware Biodegradable Wet Wipes, Face and Body Wipes for Post Workout and Camping(made from wood pulp and fully biodegrades within six months in nature).

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