Van Life Beginnings: A Personal Perspective
In recent years, van life has captured the imagination of adventurers and freedom-seekers alike, transforming from a niche lifestyle into a cultural phenomenon celebrated across social media and beyond. The allure of the open road, the simplicity of minimalist living, and the promise of endless exploration have drawn many into its fold, each with their own unique story.
For me, the leap into van life was both a continuation and a new chapter. Having lived full-time in an RV of various kinds since 2009, one might assume I was well-versed in the art of compact, mobile living. Yet, transitioning to a van was a journey laden with surprises and revelations. A van, with its confined space and unique demands, is a world apart from the relative spaciousness of a 35-foot RV. This shift brought with it a new set of challenges and learnings, reshaping my perspective on what it truly means to live tiny and on the road.
As I navigated this transition, there were numerous things I wish I knew before full-time van life — insights that would have eased my journey and perhaps can ease yours. This article aims to shed light on those lessons, offering a candid look at the realities of van life, beyond the glossy images and idyllic portrayals. Whether you’re a seasoned RVer contemplating a switch to van life, or a curious soul standing at the threshold of this lifestyle, these reflections are for you.
1. The Golden Value of Baby Wipes
Baby wipes are the best thing to happen to camping since avocado met toast, since peanut butter met chocolate, since Harry met Sally, well you catch my drift. In my opinion, the best brand is Kirkland from Costco. They have a tensile strength that is hard to explain. Regular baby wipes don’t allow for a back-and-forth motion for some reason, when you’re cleaning your armpits (TMI?) you kind of need to go both ways. This comes in handy for other important to keep clean areas believe me.
If there’s one item that I’ve come to regard as indispensable in my van life journey, it’s baby wipes. These unassuming little wipes are a van lifer’s best friend for numerous reasons, especially when it comes to maintaining hygiene and cleanliness in a compact living space.
Firstly, baby wipes are incredibly versatile for personal hygiene. There are days when a full shower just isn’t possible, especially when wild camping or traveling through remote areas with limited facilities. In these instances, baby wipes are a lifesaver for freshening up. They’re gentle on the skin, effective at removing dirt and sweat, and don’t require any rinsing – making them perfect for a quick, waterless clean-up.
Beyond personal hygiene, baby wipes also come in handy for a variety of cleaning tasks within the van. They’re great for wiping down surfaces, cleaning up spills, or even a quick refresh of your eating area. Their convenience is unparalleled – no need for a bucket of water or a bunch of cleaning supplies. Just pull out a wipe, and you’re set to tackle the mess.
Moreover, in an environment where every bit of water savings counts, baby wipes offer a water-conserving alternative to traditional washing. Whether you’re trying to extend your water supply while boondocking or simply looking to reduce your environmental footprint, using baby wipes can significantly cut down on your water usage.
In summary, the humble baby wipe is a cornerstone of van life. Its multifunctional uses, convenience, and ability to help conserve water make it a must-have in any van lifer’s arsenal. It’s one of those things I’m glad I knew before going full-time van life, and I can’t emphasize enough how much easier they’ve made my day-to-day life on the road.
2. Gym Memberships: A Shower and More
One of the clever hacks I discovered early in my full-time van life journey was the multifaceted benefits of a gym membership. In countries like Canada and the US, where chain gyms are prevalent, a national membership can be a real game-changer. These gyms not only offer the obvious advantage of keeping up with your fitness routine but also provide a reliable and clean place for showers – a luxury that can’t be overstated when you’re living in a van.
Having access to these facilities across a wide geographical area means that, no matter where your travels take you, you’re likely to find a place where you can work out and freshen up. This is particularly helpful in urban areas or during extensive travel days when other options might be scarce. Many of these gyms will even allow members to park over night. The important thing to remember here is not to abuse the priviledge. Setting up camp in a parking lot anywhere is how we are losing access to many previously frequented parking lots.
However, it’s important to note that this strategy has its limitations, especially when venturing into countries like Mexico, where such chain gyms are less common or might not have the same national coverage. In these cases, alternative strategies for maintaining hygiene and fitness become necessary. This might mean relying more on natural water sources for bathing or adjusting your fitness routine to outdoor activities like hiking or swimming.
Despite these limitations, the value of a gym membership in your van life toolkit cannot be understated. It’s a simple yet effective solution for some of the basic challenges of living on the road, and it’s a resource I’ve come to appreciate immensely in my travels across Canada and the US.
3. Embracing the Shewee: A Game-Changer for Female Van Lifers
As someone who has a full bathroom in my rig, the idea of using a Shewee or similar device initially seemed unnecessary. However, I quickly learned that it’s an absolute game-changer for staying off the grid longer, especially for female van lifers. The Shewee (just one brand of this type of device), a portable urination device designed for women, becomes not just a convenience but a practical tool for extended off-grid living. Here’s an amazon link to a collapsible version that I wish I had ordered instead.
One of the key aspects of van life, especially when you’re aiming to stay off the grid, is conserving resources, and water is at the top of that list. Even with a full bathroom, frequent use can deplete your water reserves rapidly. In situations where you want to minimize water usage, the Shewee allows for a hygienic and simple solution without having to rely on your onboard facilities.
Moreover, there are times and places where using your rig’s bathroom isn’t ideal. Whether you’re parked in a more public area where privacy is limited, or you’re trying to keep a low profile and avoid drawing attention with noises and lights, a Shewee offers a discreet alternative. It’s incredibly useful during nighttime or in densely populated areas where finding a public restroom might be challenging.
Beyond its practicality in urban settings, the Shewee shines in the great outdoors. When you’re exploring nature, especially in remote locations without facilities, it allows for a comfortable and environmentally friendly option. It eliminates the need for squatting in uncomfortable or exposed places, offering a dignified solution.
Incorporating a Shewee into your van life routine might take a bit of getting used to, but it quickly becomes a normal and essential part of the experience. It’s one of those “things I wish I knew before going full-time van life” – a simple tool that significantly enhances the flexibility and independence of living on the road. For any woman considering or living the van life, I’d recommend considering a Shewee as part of your essential kit.
4. Sound Machines: A Necessity for Thin-Walled Vans
Living in a van, you quickly become aware of how thin the walls are and how easily sound travels through them. Whether it’s the rustling of leaves, the chatter of wildlife, or the noise from nearby vehicles, these sounds can be both a charming part of the outdoor experience and a challenge when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. This is where a sound machine becomes an invaluable asset in the van life toolkit.
Initially, I used to rely on my phone to play white noise or soothing sounds to help me sleep. However, I soon realized that running these apps all night was a significant drain on my phone battery – not ideal when you need to conserve power for navigation, communication, and other essentials the next day. The solution? A dedicated sound machine. Here’s a quick amazon link to my recommendation.
A portable, battery-powered sound machine is a game-changer. It’s designed to run for extended periods without draining your main power sources. With a variety of sounds to choose from – be it white noise, nature sounds, or gentle music – these devices can significantly improve your sleep quality by masking unwanted external noise. This is especially useful in busy campgrounds or urban areas where you’re more likely to encounter disturbances.
Additionally, a sound machine can also be a part of your relaxation routine. After a long day of driving or exploring, winding down to the calming sounds can help transition your mind and body into a restful state, enhancing your overall well-being on the road. Here’s a link to the blog post I wrote about my sound machine.
Investing in a good quality sound machine is one of those “things I wish I knew before going full-time van life.” It’s a small addition to your van setup, but it makes a substantial difference in creating a peaceful and comfortable living environment, no matter where you park your home on wheels.
5. Navigating Parking Challenges: The Value of a Backup Camera
When I transitioned to full-time van life, one aspect that took some getting used to was the sheer size of the vehicle. A big van offers ample living space and comfort, but it also brings its own set of challenges, particularly when it comes to parking. Tight parking spots, narrow streets, and unseen obstacles can turn parking into a stressful experience. This is where a backup camera becomes not just a luxury, but a necessity.
Initially, I underestimated the difficulty of maneuvering a large van into parking spaces, especially in urban areas or crowded campgrounds. The rear view is often limited, and it’s easy to miss low barriers, rocks, or even small vehicles behind you. A backup camera significantly reduces this blind spot, providing a clear view of what’s behind your van. This makes parking safer and less nerve-wracking, allowing you to confidently navigate into tight spots without the fear of bumping into something.
A backup camera is an invaluable tool for solo travelers. Without someone to guide you from outside, reversing into an unknown area can be daunting. The camera gives you the autonomy to park in various situations without relying on external help. It’s also incredibly useful for aligning your van when hooking up to a trailer or positioning it in the perfect spot to maximize solar exposure. Quick Amazon link to top of the line system.
Installing a backup camera is a straightforward upgrade that pays off immensely in day-to-day van life. It’s one of those things I wish I knew before going full-time van life, as it not only eases the challenge of parking a large van but also enhances overall safety. Whether you’re a seasoned driver or new to handling a big vehicle, a backup camera is an essential tool that makes the van life journey smoother and more enjoyable.
6. Staying Connected Digitally: The Importance of Reliable Cell Service Alongside Starlink
In the age of digital nomadism, staying connected is crucial, especially for someone like me who relies on the internet for work and communication. When I equipped my van with Starlink, I thought I had all my connectivity needs covered. Starlink, with its high-speed satellite internet, seemed like the perfect solution for a life on the move. However, I quickly learned that it wasn’t a catch-all solution. The reality of needing a reliable cell phone plan with good roaming capabilities became apparent, and it’s one of those “things I wish I knew before going full-time van life.”
Starlink is undoubtedly revolutionary for remote internet access, but it has its limitations. There are still areas where satellite connectivity is weak or non-existent, and in these situations, a good cell phone plan becomes indispensable. I realized this the hard way when I found myself in locations where Starlink couldn’t maintain a stable connection, leaving me without any way to access the internet.
Switching to a cell phone provider with robust coverage and international roaming capabilities from the road turned out to be a hassle. Being in remote areas made it challenging to research providers, compare plans, and make the switch. This experience taught me the importance of having both Starlink and a reliable cell phone plan in tandem.
Having a cell phone with a plan that works well in various regions, including international destinations, is a godsend. It ensures that you’re always connected, whether it’s for navigating to your next destination, staying in touch with family and friends, handling emergencies, or keeping up with work. The combination of Starlink for high-speed internet and a cell phone for consistent coverage provides a comprehensive connectivity solution that is vital for the modern van lifer.
In summary, while Starlink is a fantastic tool for van lifers, it’s not a standalone solution for all connectivity needs. A solid cell phone plan with good roaming capabilities is equally important to ensure uninterrupted digital access, no matter where your journey takes you.
7. The Importance of Routine Maintenance
Embarking on an epic journey in a van is an adventure like no other, but it also comes with the responsibility of keeping your home-on-wheels in top shape. One critical lesson I’ve learned, and something I wish I knew before going full-time van life, is the absolute importance of routine maintenance. This became particularly evident to me when I faced the daunting situation of having to replace my brakes mid-journey.
The experience of needing significant repairs while on the road is a stark reminder of why regular vehicle check-ups are crucial. While my situation worked out well, it underscored the fact that dealing with major maintenance issues away from a trusted mechanic can be challenging and often more expensive. It’s not just about the inconvenience; it’s about safety and reliability.
Routine maintenance goes beyond oil changes and tire rotations. It involves a thorough check of critical systems like brakes, engine health, suspension, and electrical systems. Regular check-ups can identify potential issues before they turn into costly and dangerous problems, especially when you’re far from home or in remote areas.
Moreover, when living in a van, the vehicle isn’t just a mode of transportation; it’s your home. A breakdown doesn’t just mean a trip to the mechanic; it can mean being temporarily homeless or finding alternative accommodations, which can be both stressful and expensive.
If you have a trusted mechanic, scheduling regular check-ups before embarking on long stretches of travel is ideal. They can provide a comprehensive review of your van’s condition and perform any necessary preventative maintenance. This proactive approach not only gives you peace of mind but also ensures that your van remains reliable and safe throughout your journey.
In conclusion, never underestimate the value of routine maintenance in van life. It’s a critical aspect of ensuring your journey is not just enjoyable but also safe. Regular vehicle care might seem like a chore, but it’s a fundamental part of the lifestyle that can save you from unexpected troubles and expenses down the road.
8. Solar Power Essentials: Choosing the Right Setup
When I purchased my van, which came equipped with an onboard generator, I knew right away that I wanted to install solar panels. Solar power not only aligns with an eco-friendly lifestyle but also provides the freedom to live off-grid without the constant need for external power sources. However, in hindsight, one of the things I wish I knew before going full-time van life is the importance of selecting the right solar power setup to meet my needs. Here’s a quick amazon link to the complete package I purchased for my van.
Initially, I opted for a 100ah lithium battery, but over time, I realized that a 200ah lithium battery would have been a better choice. The capacity of your battery determines how much energy you can store, and how long you can sustain your off-grid lifestyle without needing a recharge. The 100ah lithium battery, while effective, often leaves me wishing for more storage capacity, especially during periods of lower sunlight or when I had higher energy demands.
Additionally, when it comes to solar panels, my advice is to install as many as you feasibly can. The more solar panels you have, the more energy you can capture and convert into electricity. This is particularly crucial if you rely heavily on electrical appliances or work equipment that require a lot of power. More panels mean more energy generation, which translates to less dependency on your generator and a lower environmental footprint. Here’s a link to my blog post bout solar for your rig.
The combination of a higher-capacity battery and ample solar panels can make a significant difference in your van life experience. It reduces the need for frequent generator use, which not only saves on fuel but also minimizes noise and emissions. Plus, there’s an undeniable satisfaction in harnessing the power of the sun to meet your daily needs.
9. Water Conservation Techniques
Water conservation is a cornerstone of sustainable van life, especially when boondocking in areas without easy access to water sources. Over the years, I’ve learned and adopted various techniques to ensure I use water as efficiently as possible. One important aspect I wish I knew before going full-time van life was the myriad of ways to conserve water on the road.
A key strategy I’ve embraced is using portable water filtration systems. These systems allow you to safely utilize natural water sources, reducing reliance on stored water for activities like cooking and drinking. There are several types of filtration systems available, each with its own advantages, which I’ve detailed in a separate blog post on my site. [Link to the blog post about different types of portable water filtration systems.]
Another practical tip I learned is using a bin that fits into the kitchen sink for washing dishes or collecting used water. This water can then be responsibly disposed of outside, rather than filling up the onboard grey water holding tanks. This practice not only extends the time between necessary tank emptying but also aligns with principles of Leave No Trace, akin to practices in tent camping. While some might find this controversial, it’s a common practice in tent camping to dispose of greywater in a way that minimizes environmental impact, and the same principles can be applied in van life. You can also use the water from the sink to flush your toilet if you have one.
It’s important to note that when disposing of greywater, one should always be mindful of the environment and local regulations. Using biodegradable soaps and ensuring the water is free of food particles or harmful substances is crucial to prevent any negative impact on the natural surroundings.
Water conservation in van life isn’t just about scarcity; it’s about respecting the environment and minimizing our footprint as we travel. Simple changes in how we use and dispose of water can make a significant difference in both our impact and the sustainability of our lifestyle.
10. The Necessity of a Portable Battery-Operated Fan
On my journey into van life, one item I overlooked initially, but soon realized its critical importance, was a portable battery-operated fan. This simple device has multiple benefits that make it a must-have for any van lifer, particularly when traveling through warmer climates. I’ve shared more about this in a detailed blog post on my site. [Link to the blog post about portable battery-powered fans.]
A portable fan is not just about comfort; it’s a practical solution for air circulation and temperature control inside the van. In many instances, especially during hot summer nights, I found myself wishing for a fan to keep the air moving and provide a bit of cooling. This need became more pronounced given the limitations of my van’s built-in ventilation system. Quick Amazon link to the fan of my choice.
While my van is equipped with a fantastic roof fan, I discovered that it’s somewhat taxing on my 100ah lithium battery to let it run all night. The fan, although efficient, can deplete the battery quicker than I’d like, which is a concern when I need to conserve power for other necessities. This is where a portable, battery-operated fan becomes invaluable. It provides the necessary airflow to stay comfortable without placing a significant drain on the van’s main power supply.
Additionally, a portable fan can double as a white noise machine, creating a soothing background hum that can help mask outside noises and aid in a more restful sleep. This dual function of providing both comfort and sound makes it an even more appealing addition to the van life setup.
In summary, a portable battery-operated fan is a versatile and energy-efficient tool that addresses several needs in van life. It’s a lesson I learned through experience, and one of those “things I wish I knew before going full-time van life.” Its inclusion in your van life gear can greatly enhance your comfort and overall experience, especially in warmer destinations.
11. The Versatility of a Combination Battery Jump Starter and Tire Inflator System
One invaluable tool in any van life arsenal is a combination battery jump starter and tire inflator system. This multi-purpose device has proven to be incredibly useful for a range of situations, making it one of the things I wish I knew before going full-time van life. Space is at such a premium inside the van anything that serves more than one purpose thus taking up half the space is a tick in two columns.
The primary function of this device, as a battery jump starter, provides a sense of security and independence on the road. There have been instances where my van’s battery drained unexpectedly, and having a portable jump starter meant I could easily get back on the road without needing to seek assistance from others. This is particularly crucial when camping in remote areas where help might not be readily available. Quick Amazon link to the system I would choose.
Additionally, the tire inflator feature is a lifesaver for maintaining proper tire pressure, which is essential for safe driving and fuel efficiency. Regular tire checks are a must in van life, and having an inflator on hand makes this routine maintenance task much easier. It eliminates the need to find a service station for air, allowing for convenient, on-the-spot tire maintenance wherever you are.
Beyond its primary functions, this combination device also comes in handy for recreational activities. For instance, it can be used to inflate paddle boards, making it a perfect addition for those who enjoy water sports. This versatility not only saves space by combining multiple tools into one but also adds to the overall enjoyment and possibilities of van life adventures.
In conclusion, investing in a combination battery jump starter and tire inflator system is a wise decision for anyone embarking on van life. Its multifunctionality covers essential safety aspects, routine maintenance, and even recreational needs, making it an indispensable tool for life on the road.
12. The Essential Portable Battery Pack
In the world of van life, having a reliable portable power source is not just a convenience; it’s a necessity. This is a lesson I’ve come to appreciate deeply, and it’s definitely one of the “things I wish I knew before going full-time van life.” A portable battery pack, such as the Jackery 500 which I currently use, has been a game-changer in how I manage my power needs.
The importance of a portable battery lies in its versatility. It provides a backup power source for those times when you’re away from your van, working outside, or in need of an additional energy supply. Whether it’s for charging laptops, cameras, or other essential devices, having this portable unit ensures that my work and leisure activities are never hindered by a lack of power.
One crucial aspect to consider when choosing a portable battery is the charging time. While my Jackery 500 has served me well, I plan to upgrade to a model that charges in about an hour before hitting the road again. The faster the battery can recharge, the more efficient and convenient it is, especially when relying on solar power or limited access to an electrical hookup. Check out my blog post about portable power banks here.
Even with a robust solar system installed in my van, I find myself frequently using my portable power pack. It’s incredibly useful for outdoor activities, providing a reliable power source without the need to run cables from the van. It also serves as a safeguard on cloudy days or in situations where my solar panels aren’t getting enough sunlight. Here’s a quick Amazon link to my choice for portable power banks.
In summary, a high-quality portable battery pack is an invaluable component of a well-equipped van life setup. It provides flexibility, enhances off-grid capabilities, and ensures that power is always available when and where you need it. Investing in a portable battery that charges quickly and meets your energy needs is a wise decision that enhances the overall experience of life on the road.
13. The Perfect Road Coffee Solution: The Jogo Coffee Straw
A vital part of my morning routine, and something I wish I had known about earlier in my van life journey, is a hassle-free and almost waste-free way to make coffee on the road. After trying various methods, I found the ideal solution in the Jogo Coffee Straw. This simple yet ingenious device has revolutionized my coffee-making experience while traveling, and I’ve shared more about it in a detailed review on my blog. [Link to the blog post about the Jogo Coffee Straw review.]
The Jogo Coffee Straw is a game-changer for several reasons. Firstly, it’s incredibly easy to use. You simply add coffee grounds directly to your cup, pour in hot water, and use the straw to both steep and drink the coffee. This method eliminates the need for a coffee maker or separate brewing equipment, saving valuable space and reducing cleanup time.
Secondly, the almost zero-waste aspect of the Jogo Coffee Straw aligns perfectly with the sustainable ethos of van life. There are no paper filters or plastic pods to dispose of, just coffee grounds that can be easily composted or responsibly discarded. This not only minimizes waste but also reduces our environmental footprint. Quick link to buy the Jogo straw.
The Jogo Coffee Straw is compact and portable, making it ideal for life on the road. Whether I’m inside the van or enjoying the great outdoors, I can always have a fresh cup of coffee without any fuss. It’s one of those small luxuries that makes a big difference in daily van life.
In conclusion, finding a simple and efficient way to enjoy coffee is a small but significant aspect of van life. The Jogo Coffee Straw meets this need beautifully, offering a tried and true method for a quick, delicious, and eco-friendly cup of coffee. It’s a must-have for any coffee-loving van lifer, and a discovery I’m excited to share with my readers.
In Retrospect: The Things I Wish I Knew Before Going Full-Time Van Life
Reflecting on the journey of full-time van life, there’s a wealth of knowledge and experiences that come together to shape this unique way of living. From theeach point offers a glimpse into the practicalities and joys of this lifestyle.
Starting with the indispensable utility of baby wipes for hygiene and quick clean-ups, to the convenience of a gym membership for showers and fitness, each element has played a significant role in enhancing my van life experience. The adoption of tools like the Shewee and the importance of a sound machine for peaceful sleep in a thin-walled van have been revelations in comfort and privacy. Navigating the challenges of parking a big van emphasized the necessity of a backup camera, while the combination of Starlink and a reliable cell phone plan taught me the importance of staying connected in all circumstances.
Regular vehicle maintenance emerged as a crucial aspect, especially after my experience with brake replacement. The installation of a more robust solar power system and the versatility of a combination battery jump starter and tire inflator system further highlighted the need for self-reliance and preparedness. The discovery of the benefits of a portable battery-operated fan for comfort and a portable battery pack for power flexibility revealed the importance of energy management.
Finally, the simplicity and sustainability of making coffee with the Jogo Coffee Straw added a delightful aspect to my daily routine, proving that small comforts can greatly enhance the overall experience.
These insights have not just shaped my van life; they’ve transformed it. They’ve taught me the value of adaptability, preparedness, and embracing new solutions. Van life is more than a lifestyle choice; it’s a continuous journey of learning and growth.
To those considering or embarking on this journey, approach van life with an open mind and readiness to adapt. Embrace the unexpected, be willing to learn, and you’ll find that the road less traveled offers not just challenges, but a wealth of unforgettable experiences. Remember, it’s not just about the destination but the journey!
Join the Conversation
As we reach the end of this exploration into the things I wish I knew before going full-time van life, I invite you to join the conversation. Your experiences, insights, and questions are what make this community so rich and diverse. Whether you’re a seasoned van lifer or just starting to consider this lifestyle, your stories and perspectives are invaluable.
Do you have tips or lessons from your own van life adventures? Are there challenges you’ve faced or ingenious solutions you’ve discovered? Please share them in the comments below. Let’s learn from each other and build a resource that helps everyone navigate this fascinating journey more smoothly.
If you’re curious to see where the road takes me next, or if you’re seeking more insights and stories about van life, I encourage you to follow my journey. Stay tuned for more updates, reviews, and tales from the road. Together, let’s embrace the spirit of adventure and the freedom that comes with van life.
Your thoughts, experiences, and questions are not just welcome; they’re a vital part of this journey. So, let’s keep the conversation going and continue to support each other in this unique and rewarding lifestyle.