We are 100% excited if you’ve fallen in love with vans but we also owe you an explanation of the potential pitfalls! Here we explore the Vanlife dealbreakers that help you figure out if you’ve been hoodwinked by fairytales on social media!
Are you and vanlife compatible?
If you are deciding on whether or not to begin your Vanlife journey, take this quiz to see your compatibility
The sense of freedom and adventure that social media depicts in so many van photos but at the expense of other luxuries. As a previous post of van layout design explains The plan that dictates all of the van conversion – the layout!, sacrifices will have to be made when you live in a tiny space!
Hygiene & Tiny Spaces
So what are the sacrifices we are talking about? An entire house cannot fit into a van. The living necessities can fit in a van but they will be much more limited, like how long you can shower for (because of limited water tank capacity). Limited showers often mean skipping a day (or more) for any hygiene buffs out there. Most vans will NOT have a bathroom and if they do, it will likely just be a toilet. That toilet will not be your typical plumbed and flushing toilet either! So at some point the contents will have to be dumped by you! The contents will vary based on the toilet installed, some are much more smelly than others.
The other luxuries you may miss are having much floorspace (if any at all) and being able to stand up. If standing to cook dinner, get changed and stretch out is important to you – this might be a dealbreaker or at least mean buying a bigger size van.
An unexpected part of vanlife is how much the weather dictates your lifestyle. Fixed houses cope with temperature fluctuations better with the additions of heating, cooling, washers, dryers, unlimited electricity and water. Heating and cooling are luxuries in vans since the effective options are expensive. Most vans will install a couple of fans, windows and keep blankets and a hot water bottle to even out the extremes. Many vans rely on the sun to power devices, lights, fridges or even cook (induction for example). In summer this isn’t much of a concern but when a cup of tea is the difference between your fridge staying on or not, reality sinks in quick of how much energy you use and need. Knowing you will get saturated by going out in the rain will often persuade you to confinement in your van. If it rains a whole week, would you want to stay in the van all that time?
Whilst considering confinement in rainy weather, let’s also consider that you might be sharing the van with another companion. Can you survive in a tiny space with them for a week? It’s not worth the lifestyle change, if it is going to break up a relationship that brings you so much happiness! Even if your companion is a pet like a dog or cat – consider their needs. Many national parks (in Australia at least) do not allow dogs in (to protect against spreading weed seeds, damaging native habitat and more). So they will need safe arrangements if you are visiting pet excluded areas. If your pet stays inside your van – their smells will also stay inside your van! As well as their fur and feathers!
Fur and feathers brings us to our next point, mess! Like any living space, vans get messy. They get messy faster and more regularly than most spaces too. Not just because they are small and there are less places for the mess to be hidden but also because the lifestyle of being outdoors a lot, opens it up to mess coming inside. Mess will get everywhere, on floors, benches, draws, cupboards (especially if a bump opens your cereal box) and beds too (just think about those white, sandy beaches). Van doors and windows don’t typically come with fly wire screens installed either, so all those beautiful lakes, rivers and forests mean the flying bugs will be very attracted to your well lit space!
A home on wheels is just that – it is a vehicle. Vehicles require maintenance and without it, will break down. If your van breaks down, this can complicate replenishing supplies like water, food, gas, electricity etc. It can also be deadly if weather conditions are extreme and you are unprepared. Not to mention the fact of where do you stay if it will be a while for a mechanic to resolve the issues? Even just the fact that a van with solar panels may need to stay in an undercover workshop risks running leisure batteries flat, turning your fridge off and food spoiling.
Vanlife is not exempt from the law
If you do manage to keep your van running, you can still run into trouble with the law. Penalties mean not only fines but even your home being towed. The law may come after you not just for speeding or driving while on your phone but also when pulling up for the night. Sadly a minority of van dwellers ruin things for the majority of responsible people and many councils have outlawed places you can park up. Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia is a very good example and the “no camping” signs are across the region with hefty penalties if you do risk parking by such signs overnight. “Stealth vans” have attempted to outsmart these signs by removing any appearances that a van is a camper but it is best to respect rules and know you can sleep soundly for the night in a less picturesque but legal park. So don’t always expect that picture perfect campground on the road!
Flexible backyards are borrowed backyards
The problem with ever-changing campgrounds and backyards is that you cannot just start building a veggie patch in a national park! Nor can you put up a fence to contain your curious pooch when away from the van. While community gardens do exist for people without access to gardening, they are not consistently in every town. Many people have had varied success with raising plants in vans. For the most part – it isn’t a lot of food-producing plants but rather tough battlers like the ever-popular, ‘Devil’s Ivy’. Even if you succeed in growing a van plant it’s not unlikely to be confiscated at a state border if you’re headed in the unlucky direction. Vans are one occasion where you really can’t be criticised for having a fake plant! That being said sharing your backyard with the wild can be an opportunity to see and live with exotic animals and plants like in A beginner’s guide to Wild Australia.
Burnout, Boredom and Cut off
When considering picture perfect places, van life should not just be to bump up your social media status. Chasing breathtaking spots can very quickly spiral into an exhausting expedition that has you hiking and driving for lengths, that will have you burning out fast. Between all those remarkable places can be massive drives (especially the more remote spots – like Uluru). Remote also means little or no access to reception so you can’t be face timing mum the whole way along. Driving is not always through spectacular scenery either, so if sitting still for hours on your bum is enough to turn you off, go no further!
If any of the above questions and realities raise concerns and churns your stomach to go without – you should highly reconsider venturing into Vanlife. We don’t want to see you stuck on the side of the road, upset over spoiled milk or hit with a whopper fine just because instagram didn’t show you that part. This is also to raise awareness to be armed for tackling any of the above situations arising and that you are under no delusions what life in a van entails. Not realising the truths can be life threatening (because of the remote places you may venture). This is why we feel a responsibility to get the reality out to people after a sea change like vanlife.
If you have made it this far and think you can survive the obstacle course of potential problems, good on you! We truly hope the positives still outweigh any negatives and we see you out on the road soon!