6.5 Months of Van Life

May first marked six months of van life for Casey and I. Now what have we learned...
|  @caseydylla

Six months into van life and we have a few tricks up our sleeve. We’re house-sitting for a friend this week, and with views of the Elk mountains to inspire, I wrapped up this post on van life and what challenges we have found and overcome in the last six and a half months.

5 Point Film Festival Van Life Rally; Photo by Rachel Mayoral

5 Point Film Festival Van Life Rally; Photo by Rachel Mayoral

Life in a van is certainly not for everyone. For some of us though, it presents a creative opportunity to explore an alternative and minimalist lifestyle firsthand. It may be misunderstood by some people, and it certainly doesn’t fit into the playbook of life that is prevalent in a lot of society, (you know..high school, college, marriage, house, family) but I was never one to play by those rules, or any rules really. Life is one great adventure, and it has so much potential to be interesting and passionate and filled with experience every day; we just have to do what makes us feel alive.

Challenge is a good way to feel alive. Growth, experience, wisdom, play, cognitive problem solving..all pros of a positive challenge. Living in a van brings some interesting and fun challenges to the table. i.e. spacial issues, storage, money-saving techniques, eating deliciously and nutritiously, personal hygiene without your own bathroom, the release of “stuff.” Common sense is needed a lot of the time. It’s really just a fun way to live a little differently and find other methods of doing the ordinary tasks that take up some of our time. Living in a van full time will challenge and change you, mostly mixing up our views on societal norms and how we own our time.

One of the keys to living the van life successfully is being transparent, by not becoming “that girl/guy that lives in their van.” Thoughtful consideration should go into where you park your van. If you are constantly getting warnings and tickets and otherwise drawing attention to yourself, congratulations, you are that girl/guy that lives in their van. On the same token, if you don’t take care of yourself and you look like a homeless bum all the time, chances are that is what people will be inclined to think when they see you. Like I said, common sense. Transparency, if you will, is a good way to assure that you are not burdening or bothering anyone while living in your little home on wheels.

Back to our vanniversary…

It’s wild how many places the van has taken us in the last six months, while simultaneously seeming like it was just yesterday that we moved in. A lot has changed in our tiny home and in my perspectives on everyday life. A common question I get asked is, what was the most difficult part of the transition from a house into a van? Well, there are a few points that come to mind. Let’s see if I can answer that question and share our version of the minimalist van life that we have grown to love so much. Enjoy the numerous photos..I’m kind of obsessed with our van.

After giving it some thought, I think that the most difficult thing to get used to are spacial differences, especially if you are sharing your small space with someone else. Not only do all of your things need to fit in a somewhat orderly, tetris-like way, so they’re not rolling around everywhere when you drive..

..but the placement of your body all of the sudden becomes something you must be more aware of. All movement requires more conscious thought as to where the best position might be within the small space we call our living/dining/bath/kitchen room; it’s kind of like a dance.

It flips the table on perspective and forces us to rethink how we expend our mental energy and whether or not trivial annoyances such as “you’re in my bubble” are really worth caring about. Plus, it’s a proven fact that human touch works wonders for the mind and body so get used to the close contact. Perhaps by releasing the need to let certain things bother us, we free up more of our energy to be focused on other, more important things…like our dreams. (Case in point: I started this blog after moving into the van. Check that off the list of dreams realized.)

Confession: yes, there have been times that got a little tense, although not many, but they can easily be avoided. Closer friends and family always want to know what we do when we really want some alone time because inevitably there will be times where you wish you had the whole van to yourself (which a lot of people do have, but we are a couple, so we share). It all sort of comes down to remembering the simple fact that we created this situation for ourselves. It was what we wanted, so we have to live with some of the consequences..like rarely having your own space. It’s funny to me that as this post sat on my computer as a draft, Casey and I had our first discussion on this issue during a shorter trip we were just on. Taking time for yourself is absolutely necessary, even if you don’t live in a van. Find activities that are just for you, little escapes for the mind. For me it’s usually a hike, and Casey skateboards so I do get alone time when he hits the park. Seeking healthy ways to deal with frustration is probably something all of us could work on, myself included. But again, remembering that this was the situation we chose to be in can be a helpful and grounding thought.

Months ago I wrote up a bit on the van life and how we make it work for us. Since then a lot has changed, but I still think that one of the most important aspects of living in a van and enjoying it is making your space a home.

For me, creating a comfortable and cozy home has always been my thing, but I have found this to be even more important when living in a small space. If it is not a place that you want to spend time in, you will not last long. It needs to be your home, where you look forward to returning to, not dread getting stuck in if it rains.

Which brings me to my next point: what to do when it rains all day, another common question I get asked, especially when it’s raining all day. If you have mastered the ‘I don’t mind’ attitude about your new spacial differences while creating the most comfortable, bangin’ little bungalow, then a rainy day should not be an issue. But, if you find you have grown tired of your hundred or so square feet, hopefully you live in an area that has good cafes, bars, a library or a gym because you will most likely be spending time at them. I’ll be honest, it took a little while until we started to regularly hang out in the van for more than a half hour, but after a month we were so used to calling it home that I now look forward to spending time in it.

Now that this is getting long, just a few other quick points worth mentioning. The longer you live in a small space (I can imagine this happens whether you’re in a van, a cabin, a shipping container, etc) the easier it gets to get rid of “stuff.” Although you may not be able to whittle it down to only owning things that fit in your van right away, with time you will realize just how burdensome and unnecessary excess shit can be, and you will end up taking it all to the thrift store.

Also, one of the most asked questions always has to do with not having a bathroom of our own. This is resolved in so many ways. If your town has a gym or rec center, bam you’ve got a shower and you get to work out. If you’re lucky enough to have hot springs, or vapor caves in our case, get a pass and you have access to showers and a nice bathroom. When you’re on the road, make use of gyms’ free trial day pass if they offer it or pay maybe $10 for a shower at a rest stop or less at a hostel. And when you don’t have time or money for any of these, just use some all-natural cleansing wipes on your body and a plastic tub to wash your face. No one ever said van life was glamorous.

Last but not least, eating well on the road. Nutrition should never be sacrificed for any reason. I have always enjoyed cooking my own meals and understand the importance of fresh food, as well as how much money can be saved by cooking at home. There are plenty of different set-ups available for cooking in campers and vans. For us, we have a two-burner Coleman stove (not installed inside), a small Weber propane grill, and a one-burner canister camp stove that I use multiple times a day. We live on a budget, but a few things we always have on hand are organic chicken, tons of organic vegetables and fruit, quinoa and other quick-cook grains, soup, tortillas for quesadillas and burritos, hummus, yogurt and granola, eggs for breakfast tacos, and home-made granola bars..and green salsa, always have to have the green salsa.

If you’re preparing to live in a van or are currently doing so, I hope this was helpful. If you’re not, I hope you enjoyed reading it all the same. Van life certainly has its challenges, but when you’re home has taken you all over the west to 15 national parks and 11 monuments (so far), numerous hot springs, state parks, skateparks, and bodies of water..it’s kind of, sort of completely worth it.