Reina Mystique

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7 Common Mistakes Beginning Van Lifers Make

7 Common Mistakes Beginning Van Lifers Make

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. And then I’ll probably say it again LOL, “Everyone should experience van life!” Whether for 2 weeks, or a month, or 5 years, everyone should abandon life as they know it and live freely at least once in their life.

When my family and I left on our vanlife adVANture we planned for one whole year leading up to our departure from conventional life. I researched so exhaustively online, in books, and talking with other van lifers that I thought we had a pretty good plan of action. Despite our extensive planning we still made some mistakes along the way. I’m thankful none of our mistakes were deadly, but some of them were uncomfortable.

Below is my list of the top seven mistakes I found vanlifers, (including myself)  make when they set out for their first major excursion. Avoid these 7 things and your van life experience will be that much more enjoyable.

Bird’s eye view inside our van house. Our foldable bed is a couch during the day to save space.

Bird’s eye view inside our van house. Our foldable bed is a couch during the day to save space.

1) Parking on a hill or slanted road - This was something I found a TON of van lifers experienced the hard way. You pull into a new town late at night. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself so you find the safest, most quiet neighborhood you can to boondock for the night, turn off the headlights and fall quickly to sleep. Two hours into your rest you wake up completely uncomfortable because you realize you are parked on a slant.

We knew from research not to park on hills, but one night we parked on a street that tilted ever so slightly towards the curb. We were tired from driving and adVANturing all day. We noticed the slant when we parked, but thought nothing of it. It was just a tiny little slant. Well all night one of us, (myself, my hubby, my son, or the dog) was waking up to reposition, which would then wake someone else up. It was awful and made for a lousy restless night. No matter what. Avoid hills and slanted roads at all cost!

2) Buying seafood blend dog food - Ok so this one is a little more targeted for people with dogs. We have an older dog. She was 11 years old when we started van life and we normally feed her dog food with seafood because it help with her joint health. After 3 or 4 bags of seafood recipe dog food on the road our van was starting to smell a little too fishy. We quickly switched to poultry blend and the smell went away. Easy fix. Also, fun note...Big dogs means big bags of dog food, but we learned to buy smaller bags of food more often because the heat can make the food go rancid, and that’s a whole other problem.

3) Not putting up curtains - We did not put curtains up in our van. Not a big deal to me because I have a slightly voyeuristic personality, but if you prefer to dress in private, or you know whatever else you like to do in private you’ll need curtains. If you have deeply tinted windows you won’t need the curtains closed during the day, but as soon as it’s dark out and you turn on the lights inside your van, the public will get more than an eyeful of everything inside your domicile. If you park under a streetlight or in a park where there are overhead lights the public will also be able to see in. We saw the inside of a lot of van houses on the road. Lastly if you sleep without curtains you’re windows are more likely to gather condensation. Condensation on the windows is a tell-tell sign that someone is asleep inside of a vehicle. It’s better to install curtains and have the option to open and close them as the need arises.

4) Not having an emergency bathroom situation - If you are traveling in a van, your van probably did not come with a built in bathroom. Of course you can add one, but a bathroom won’t come standard. If you’re in an RV or camper your bathroom may not be functional . Either way you need to have an emergency bathroom option available in your van house. There are going to be times when you wake up in a residential neighborhood. You can’t just open up your van doors and pee into the gutter in front of someone’s house. Or maybe you’ve parked a little too far from the nearest grocery store and you can’t make it in time. A good option is to have a 5-gallon “home depot” style bucket with a lid. Line the bucket with a garbage bag. Put in a good amount of kitty litter and store it somewhere accessible in case of emergencies. A good rule of thumb is to only use your emergency for number ones. And although it’s wasteful, I would recommend changing your bucket after each use, or at the end of each day. Unless you don’t mind traveling with pee.  

Our emergency bucket for when we can’t get to a restroom. Safely stowed away. It’s next to our pantry which is kinda gross but I lysol it after every use.

Our emergency bucket for when we can’t get to a restroom. Safely stowed away. It’s next to our pantry which is kinda gross but I lysol it after every use.

5) Packing too much - I like to park my van in a park’s parking lot. Send my hubby on a walk with the boy and the dog, and then find peace in cleaning out the van. We purged everything non-essential in our life one year before we left for van life. This was our way of practicing minimalism before we really started the van life. It was one of the best preparations we did. I find myself constantly having people want to look inside our van, especially when I’m cleaning it. Which is every other day. They are always impressed with the amount of space we have in our living area. We packed only the essentials. With 3 people and a dog it was important for us to have our space for decompression and to keep the mind clear. Things like a foldable bed, overhead storage, and under seat storage are crucial. I’ve been in countless van dwellings that have a ridiculous amount of knickknacks, too many clothes, unnecessary technology, a library of books, etc. If you’re urban boondocking like me and my family, you’ll pretty much always be by a real city. Unless you’re hiking or something. You’ll have plenty of access to libraries, laundromats, grocery stores and so on. Only pack what you need. One major selling point of van life is freedom. Freedom of time, freedom for adVANture, and freedom from stuff.

6) Buying more food than you need - I don’t think it’s necessary to have a full on fridge in your van house, but having a 3 or 5 day cooler (or a Yeti if your budget allows) is nice if you like to eat fresh fruits and veggies, and for keeping probiotics cold. We have a Coleman 3-day cooler. During the first 2 weeks of van life we kept buying and throwing away food because we couldn’t figure out a rhythm for buying and using our groceries. After sometime we learned that buying food for just a couple of days at a time works way better for our needs. We go grocery shopping every couple of days. It’s become something of a hobby to wander around grocery stores or box chains like Meijer and Walmart after a long day, or early in the morning on a slow day. We don’t keep much non-perishable/snack food on hand either because of storage. It’s also fun to be spontaneous and try food that’s popular or in season for where you find yourself on any given day, and if you have to worry about wasting the food you have on hand, you can’t do this.

7) Deferring maintenance - If you use your car to drive to work everyday, or if your car is just a leisure car you can ignore a knocking sway bar, or a slipping transmission for a decent amount of time before it has to get taken care of. But, when your van/car is your home it is 100% imperative that you take care of all maintenance and repair issues as soon as you detect a problem. This goes for small things like windshield wipers all the way up to the big issues. The bigger the job the higher the odds that you’ll have to leave your van house at the shop for longer. While some mechanics will work with your situation if you explain to them that you’re van lifing and need your van back each night because it’s where you sleep, but some mechanics are not so understanding. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have to get your van fixed and pay for hotels. That’s double the expense. Get your van checked out often, and whenever possible take it to a mechanic in a city where you know someone who can give you a solid reference.

The appeal of vanlife is the free spirited, “I’m just here for the ride,” attitude of the lifestyle. While there are plenty of days when you’ll find this to be true, there are still plenty of mistakes to be made along the way to creating the perfect van life adVANture. The only way to find out what works for you is to get out there and do it. If this blog was helpful to you please feel free to share it with someone else who might find it useful. If there’s something I left out comment below. #thisisvanlifebaby

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