7 Things I Learned From a Week of #VanLife

I am all about that #vanlife. I practically grew up in a van, and I’ve been considering getting one when the lease on my car is up. While I wouldn’t live in it, I definitely want to take more road trips, and it would make all the camping trips more convenient and—of course—comfortable.

In the spirit of research, I partnered with JUCY vans on a recent road trip from San Francisco to Vancouver, BC. to see if I’m really ready to commit.

MORE: The Full West Coast Road Trip Report

JUCY vans come equipped with pretty much everything you need except a toilet/shower. The middle row of seats folds down to make a bed, which was completely flat and we slept great every night. There’s plenty of storage, especially for two people, though this van can sleep four.

The back/trunk opens to the “kitchen,” where you’ve got a small sink with a hand pump water dispenser (the water tank can hold 5 gallons and it’s super easy to refill and empty the grey water); a small fridge; fuel and a stove, which is one burner, plus a second portable stove you can take out for picnics; storage compartment for the tea kettle, pot, pan, colander, plates, bowls, cups, mugs, silverware, etc.; and a drawer for random kitchen/camp supplies.

We opted for a few add-ons, so the kitchen came loaded with all these necessary supplies, as well as all bedding and pillows. There were a few things we upgraded for comfort along the way, like a non-stick copper pan, which we donated to the next people when we returned the vehicle.

The whole thing is brilliant, and I’m sold on the vanlife even harder now. But I did learn a lot in 10 days on the road.

1. Man, #vanlife is a lot of work

Sleeping in a van is a lot easier than a tent. Obviously there’s no tent or sleeping pad setup, but you still have to prepare the bed at night and put it away each morning.

Because space is limited, you need the sleeping area for other things during the day, so there’s a fair amount of transformation going on. On the food front, prepping, cooking, and cleaning takes planning and time. When you’re camping, that’s part of the routine, but on a road trip, you might need to start driving.

We divided the duties and had a good routine, but there did come a time when I suggested we skip breakfast because I didn’t want to do the dishes again, which means washing, drying and putting away—securing everything so it doesn’t move, shake or break—unlike camping when you either wash and let it air dry on the picnic table or don’t wash until you get home.

2. Minimize your stuff

It’s shocking how much stuff you need to survive. Hint: it’s much less than you think. We got by on pretty much the bare essentials and never needed or wanted for anything. The key here is to not overpack because then you’re just shuffling around bags of random shit you’re probably not using.

On that note, being organized is essential. You’re living in tight quarters, so everything needs to have a home. Don’t waste time unpacking the car looking for your Nalgene. Instead, always put it—and the lantern, butt wipes, phone chargers, etc.—in the same place.

MORE: Essential List of Camping Equipment

3. Money

Almost every campground we stayed at had showers, so I never really felt dirty the whole time (woo!), but we did get denied a shower one morning because we didn’t have quarters and the visitor center wasn’t open yet, so definitely have some spare quarters.

It’s a good idea to have extra cash, too, under the “you never know” rule. We got caught without any cash toward the end of the trip when we needed to pay for a campsite and fire wood, and the closet ATM was 30 miles south, the direction we just came from.

4. Music

It’s essential. Remember to download playlists in advance because you won’t always have service. Most importantly, make sure the vehicle has bluetooth, or the AUX cord works, or you have CDs if that’s your only option.

We knew the van wouldn’t have bluetooth so we brought an AUX cord, but the connection was poor and it didn’t work. We ended up using our portable speaker, but the sound wasn’t great and if the windows were down, it was hard to hear, so we drove in silence a lot of the time. Not ideal.

5. Maps

When you don’t have service and haven’t downloaded that portion on Google maps, a paper map will save you. Bring one. It’s actually one of the 10 essentials. And it’s fun to see what’s around you and follow along with your progress from day to day.

6. Method to the madness

The reason people love vanlife is the freedom to go wherever, whenever, but you probably do have an end in sight—a date and destination of where you need to be. How much you plan along the way is completely a personal preference, but I do suggest having at least a rough outline to avoid any major hiccups along the way.

7. Make the most of the memories

Remind yourself everyday to try and enjoy every moment. Of course you’re going to get frustrated at times. You’re going to get sick of using public toilets. You’re going to want a dishwasher. You might get lonely. You won’t know all of the challenges that lie ahead—physical and mental—but that’s part of the appeal. For me, the inconveniences of living in a van (at least for 10 days) are easily outweighed by the pleasures: the views, hikes, nature, simplicity… So try not to get hung up on the rest of it and savor these moments because the best thing about memories is making them.

MORE: Utah Road Trip Guide

 

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