Inside the Van
After spending time with family and fiends over the holidays and answering questions after they got a peek in our little home, I was prompted to write a bit about success in small spaces and how we make the van life work for us. What do you do in the evenings? How do you wash your dishes? How do you make your coffee? Don’t you get cold at night? Where does everything go without rolling around everywhere? These are a few of the questions I answer here as well as some other tips and tricks we’ve come up with to make living on the road not only comfortable, but a damn good time.
In my opinion, the most important part about living in a van and loving it is making your space a home, whatever size you have to work with. Bring your comforts into this space and learn to adjust them to fit the needs of your situation. Taking into account the simple things such as what surrounds you, how clean and organized everything is, how secure things are for when you are on the road, all make a world of beneficial difference. The ambiance or feng shui is very important; you want it to be a place that you look forward to returning to, not dread getting stuck in if it rains. We have hung tapestries, mementos and photos that keep us happy and relaxed.
Bungee cords and a knack for tetris are essential in keeping things in place. Mini bungees are amazing; they help hold so many things. This is more of a sanity issue as I would lose it if everything slid around and fell over every time we moved. We are both good at fitting things in like a puzzle to minimize movement when we drive. With time, certain things get moved so the puzzle is still complete, but often-used items are in front and lesser-used ones in the back.
This is especially true in the back where we store our gear. Since we moved into warmer climates we were able to rearrange the back of the van, putting away winter clothes and bringing forward the grill, camp chairs, and other warm weather items for easy access.
Bringing in homey touches such as candles, plants, a fruit basket, a bathroom 'vanity’, speakers for tunes, curtains, etc. help keep things convenient and comfortable, the two modern concepts you forgo when choosing to move into a van. I am constantly buying little trinkets on the road like dream catchers and Himalayan salt crystals and books that we have around.
Creating easy accessibility and self-sufficiency in other areas of life is important, especially when it can save money. Take morning caffeine as an example. As a coffee roaster I enjoy and look forward to a fresh ground, single-serving, pour-over of my own beans. Thanks to Hario I have all of my coffee essentials, and I vacuum-sealed a good amount of my beans for this trip. So I can make myself a super delicious cup of joe anytime I want, whether that’s first thing in the morning or in the middle of a stretch of driving. This is one of my favorite parts of van life, having everything we need right behind us.
Casey enjoys his caffeine a different way, so he keeps stocked on yerba maté drinks and we found Oregon Chai powdered mix so it’s easy to make a hot chai. Hot beverages may sound frivolous, but when you can have these simple comforts in your home whenever you want it makes a big difference. Chilly mornings or rainy days always call for a warm mug to wrap your hands around, and we don’t skimp on accessibility to good tea, maté, coffee, or chai.
Making smart decisions about where to store things makes our lives much easier, especially in the kitchen. Having spices, oils, utensils and pans, things that I use daily right in front of me (like in a real kitchen), allows me to flow better when I’m cooking and doesn’t make it a hassle or frustration to make meals.
A super comfortable, cozy and warm bed is absolutely necessary; it can get cold at night wherever you are. We began this trip in Colorado in single-digit weather, so plenty of blankets and pillows were a must. We have a 30° bag over us with down comforters, sheets, and other blankets if needed (a 40° bag under us for padding or extra warmth). it doesn’t feel like home if you can’t feel your toes at night.
What do you guys do in the evenings? A valid question..it is winter right now, and regardless of climate the days are shorter. We have many ways of staying busy though and occupying ourselves after dark. You can find us reading and writing a lot, playing rummy, sorting photos in my case, doing Sudoko, exchanging back rubs (of course!), watching something on the computer, stretching, having a campfire, conversing, route-planning, or just relaxing.
This question also brings to light a lesson that van life reinforces, and that lesson is patience. A lot of ordinary, mundane tasks of the real world take a little longer in a tiny home. Take washing dishes as a great example. In a house, hot water comes right out of a faucet like magic. Hot. Cold. Mix them together and you have warm. If you’re lucky, you have a dishwashing machine that does it all for you. In our case, hot water is a commodity and it comes from heating water on a burner. If you want warm water you mix the boiling water with the cold. Magic. We have two plastic tubs that we pull out for dishes, one for washing and one for rinsing. This task takes up the whole countertop, so we are conscious of the dishes we use daily so we only have to do dishes about once a week. I wash and rinse, and Casey dries and puts away. It may take longer than loading the dishwasher, but it requires us to slow down, focus on the task at hand, and converse with each other.
I wash my face every night, and this also requires pulling out a tub and heating water. Although it may take a little longer, it is always worth the refreshing wash before bed. I have always been somewhat of a product junkie, and I don’t sacrifice too much on the road. I have my basket of toiletries and my little bathroom “vanity” corner where I can take care of my face like I always have.
Speaking of water..where do we get it and where do we put it? We have a seven-gallon, BPA free water jug so we go seven gallons at a time. I thought it would be more difficult to find water fill-ups, but since we left we have never had a problem. Almost every grocery store or pharmacy has a filtered water station outside, and some health food stores offer it inside. It varies from 15¢ to 25¢ per gallon, usually with a 5-gallon discount price. We have a Brita filter that we use to keep water bottles full.
The notorious van life question, where do you shower? We are not fortunate enough to have a shower in our van, although from what I’ve heard they are usually made for tiny people so we’re okay with that. If you shower every single day, this may be more of an issue, but some may argue that a daily shower dries out your skin anyway. We average two showers a week, although if we hike a lot or if it’s hot outside we find one when necessary. This is also not as hard as I originally thought it would be. Easiest option: go to a Pilot travel station if you’re on the road and pay anywhere from $10 to $15 for a shower or hit up a local gym and get a day pass, which is sometimes free for first timers, or they’ll have a couples’ day pass also for $10 to $15. Other showers can come from hot springs resorts, campgrounds, or friends’ houses (always in exchange for beer or bud). It’s really not that hard to stay clean if you’re normally a clean person. I’m not just going to turn into a dirty rag because I choose to live in a van
And then the silly questions like, are you and Casey enjoying yourselves in that little space? Or, are you still getting along okay? Or, are you two having fun in the van? To these I laugh and answer, fuck yea! We love each other, and we love life on the road! Of course it comes with challenges, but all of life comes with challenges. You learn, grow and find creative ways to improve and evolve your life every day. Yes, we live in a closet if you want to compare spacial measurements, but I don’t judge my quality of life by how many cartwheels and jumping jacks I can do inside. We respect each others’ space and spend a lot more time outside, which is what we all need more of anyway. We are having the time of our lives exploring just one corner of the huge country we live in. We don’t have time to waste worrying about our living arrangement, as long as the wheels keep on turning. Living with so little means that everything we have with us is essential to how we spend our time..it is a mutual relationship, belongings and lifestyle. There is no need for this relationship to be out of balance.