5 Things I Wish I Had Known About Living the Van Life

Dee | Lady Bugout
by Dee | Lady Bugout

If you're considering living the van life, there are some things you might want to know beforehand. I am sharing five things I wish I'd known when I started. If you're wondering how to start van life, I hope this makes it easier for you.

1. How hard it is on your body

As someone who loves driving, especially in the United States, I think driving is calming. I usually don't mind long distances. That said, I did not realize how much driving long hours would take a toll on my body. Now I tend to get out and stretch when I see a rest area.

Walking around to stretch the body

Whether or not I have to go to the bathroom, I get out, walk around, and get up and move. 

Even if it's just stretching and bending over a little bit so that I can feel my legs again, moving your body every few hours is crucial.

2. How much I'd be dealing with waste

I wish I'd known how much I would be dealing with waste and mess. It's not just garbage; it is your human waste. You need to be able to be comfortable with that.

You will be carrying it around sometimes, depending on what you're doing for a few days before you can dump it at a site or get rid of the garbage. So you need to consider how comfortable you are with something like that. 

One valuable thing is having a waste bin with a dedicated space in your van that's out of the way. I also have compostable food waste bags for scraps that I will have from my food sources. I can keep bagging things and rolling them up, but it keeps bugs and smells down very efficiently. 

Compostable food waste bags

I have horse pellets and will bag things up in compostable bags to keep smells down. 

I will keep my urine and feces separate and dispose of this daily or whenever possible. If I am boondocking somewhere I cannot dispose of these; I will store them in a container. 

For your sanity and everybody else's, you will want to make sure you have a place for everything and can keep things tidy when you need a respite place. If you have a van that isn't carpeted but has wood or vinyl, you will want a broom or something you can sweep out.

I also have a little vacuum cleaner that is a USB rechargeable one, and it's nice because I can clean the little messes until I get to a gas station that has a vacuum or a place where I wash my car, and it has a vacuum. 

3. How much downtime there is

You may not have cell service or internet all the time, and you are not always in beautiful spots where there is something that you can do outdoors. You will have to figure out what you do in those times. 

I try to have some meaningful or mindful activities that I do every day. That can be anything from planning a run to a store or going somewhere I know I have to pick something up or drop something off. I also usually pick out a book or two I read on my iPhone, on Kindle, or as a physical book. 

Offline projects to work on

There are always things that I like to browse through and learn from, or projects I can do.

Another important thing is that I will do some self-care: a manicure, a pedicure, a facial mask for my hair, or something like that. If I am bored and don't know what to do, I can see what I can do to take care of myself a little bit more. 

4. How much prices and costs vary from place to place 

Plan for varying costs at different places and have a budget. This is crucial for managing your finances.

Fluctuating gas prices

I was not aware that would affect me so much in terms of gas prices and food costs. 

If you are unprepared to sleep at a Walmart or can't find free camping, you might have to stay at an Airbnb or pay for a hotel. You need to take all of those things into consideration.

I made a budget and planned for those types of contingencies beforehand. Even so, one month may look way different than another, depending on where I am and what I'm doing or have to do.

Another thing is to prioritize what I am willing or not to spend more on. I will make my own coffee every day rather than get coffee at a coffee shop every day. That way, I can spend more on organic food, and I will know that it is healthy, delicious, and nutritious.

5. How much I would miss modern conveniences

In a stationary home, you have a bathroom, unlimited water, and unlimited electricity. You don't have to think about those things every single day, every minute of the day. To manage the inconveniences a bit more, I have set up systems for myself that make all of those things easier. 

What to know about living the van life

I have a system for how I get and use power, I have a system for how I get and use water, and I have a system for how I manage going to the bathroom. 

I manage some of the stress of not being in a stationary environment by planning. 

One of the things that I do when I plan is where I will go and where I will sleep that night. I usually have a few contingencies if my first idea doesn't work out. That helps me lower the stress of dealing with that daily because I've already been planning it.

Living the van life

It can be overwhelming to figure out everything you need to know before living the van life. Hopefully, now that you know what I wish I'd known and what I do about them, it makes it a little less stressful for you.

Do you have plans to live the van life? Share yours in the comments below.

Join the conversation
3 of 8 comments
  • Susan G Susan G on Mar 20, 2023

    I didn't save enough for retirement, so van life is one of few options for when I retire!

    • Jlh73376400 Jlh73376400 on Mar 27, 2023

      I made the same mistake not factoring in the gross inflation!

  • Susan Susan on Oct 16, 2023

    Very inspirational. My old boyfriend and I (with dog) used to go camping for a week in the cabover camper. By about day 3 or 4 we would stay in a motel for a night to get cleaned up. I remember we had a 5 gallon chemical toilet. That thing got nasty. I think we had to drive a ways to find where we could pour it out.

    I have a friend who thought about getting a vintage trailer and traveling on her own but she was concerned about safety. Although you don't hear many stories about problems, as we all know, the world has gotten less safe. I think it might be a good idea to join a group and travel together. As far as lifestyle, I admire bugout's fortitude. It must get a little stressful at times, but I'm sure it is interesting too!