While we love #Vanlife... the ups the downs the good and the bad, there are certainly some things that we wish we knew before going all in.
Before getting to our actual list of 7 things that we WISH we knew BEFORE starting vanlife...here are a few honorable mentions...
Are you a light sleeper? Thankfully, Viv and I both are extremely deep sleepers. It doesn't take much time to fall asleep and stay asleep for us (I can see you rolling your eyes). Because of that, when we have to park in a parking lot, or a truck stop for the night, it's not too bad! But if you need the environment to be consistent every night for sleep, you may want to think about the noise that you can't escape when sleeping in a van.
HOW TO BREAK UP YOUR DAY.
While much of this life offers the freedom to blend traditional "work" and "rest" times, it also adds to the blending of the way you interact with who you are traveling with. If you're like me, you have one mindset when you work, and one when you play...and one when you're trying to be a good husband...and one when you're trying to fix something...etc.
Well in vanlife, we have had to create time in our day regularly to work or build in regular check-in times as husband and wife. Things we didn't have to do in our old way of life. If you're considering vanlife, think about how you will stay connected with your person when you spend every moment together.
Ok onto our list.
1. PARKING IS HARD
At first we thought it was going to be easy. Today, if you wanted to, you can pull up dozens of apps on your phone to find a free place to park. It probably wouldn't take much time. That is until the area you want to be in doesn't have any pins on the map, or the last person to suggest a location, suggested it in 2002. Ultimately, parking is one of those things that is easy enough to get used to, but it becomes a daily item to think about, organize, and implement. Not to mention, that you also need to actually get to where you decided you were going to park, which means putting in a driving plan to get there, usually before dark.
Anyway, it's something we wish we knew more about before hitting the road.
Two of our most used strategies to find parking are:
2. GREY WATER IS GROSS
Probably the two most frequent questions we get asked when on the road are related to where we sleep and where we go to the bathroom. Thankfully, Viv and I are relatively easy going and have found a way to exclusively use public restrooms. In fact, you won't see a toilet in our van tour video that we made last year (however, we have purchased a cassette toilet for emergencies). Even though we don't have to deal with black water regularly, we DO have to deal with Grey water.
In our build, we went with a relatively simple method of grey water for our van. It's a 5 gallon tank under the sink. But that means that removing it, and dumping it by hand is done a couple times per week...and I'll tell you...it's still gross. Toothpaste, coffee grounds, old food, milk, yeah you get the idea. Finding the right place to dump also often takes some time (or money if you're using a gas station) and then you just need to suck it up and dump.
Just something to think about.
3. CLEANING TAKES TIME
It's winter. Theres mud. Gryff has four paws. The first place any of our feet are going when in the van is immediately our living room, and kitchen, and bedroom (and for Gryff - usually our bed).
Things can go from orderly, clean and organized, to chaotic, dirty, and uncomfortable very quickly as we try to put wet boots somewhere and dry Gryff off, or put a cover on the bed to keep dirt out of our sheets. Needless to say, there is an effort that goes into cleaning that we never knew before vanlife.
Things like, every dish has to be washed and put away after every meal, because if you don't they will slide around and possibly break while we drive.
If you haven't thought of the cleaning yet...now you have!
Also, you've seen inside a van. You know that there are all sorts of places that dust and dirt can build up. Buy yourself a good battery powered vacuum and get in a good habit of using it regularly.
Finally, showers. You want to shower in the van? It takes time to set up, power to heat the water (about half of our batteries) and then time to break it all down after...not to mention the kitchen is preoccupied while the one person showers. Want to know our tip? Get a Planet Fitness membership! We pay $20/month for Viv to have unlimited access with any guest...I'm the guest every day! We've been starting our day off with a quick workout, and a shower that we don't have to think about. But in line with this topic...it all takes time.
Viv and I are very social people. Some of that is fantastic when on the road. We love meeting new people, creating new friendships, hearing new stories, and bonding with people who we would have never met in our old lives. But we are also deeply connected people! Our closest friends, our small group, and our families are, for the most part, still around Denver, CO. That is why we build our schedule to make it back to Denver regularly to see them, refresh, and reconnect. There is a lot of life that is lived in 8 weeks and we have found that 8-10 weeks is a good threshold to keep in mind when traveling before considering a trip home.
One of the benefits of our travels has been to be able to attend all types of churches while in different cities. Attending those churches to film testimonies--yes, but also just to attend. It has been amazing to worship in different ways and observe how other churches care for their communities. That being said, we do feel the pressure that not being connected members of a local church puts on you for your own spiritual development and have had to find ways to still be "poured into." This looks like listening to sermons while driving, attending churches with our friends from other states. Offering to serve and help when there, etc.
5. SERVICE SUCKS
We have T-Mobile. It's honestly really good. We've been able to facetime friends and family from some cool (cliffside in Nova Scotia) and not-so-cool (Walmart parking lot in Kansas) places. However, there are still surprisingly many places that have no service at all. While this is fun to "unplug" for a few days, we also rely on tech for many of our daily tasks like directions, looking up parking, and most notably - work. Now, up to this point, there hasn't been so many days where we have had zero service that we would look for additional service providers...That being said though, we work completely online and a day without internet is typically a day we can't get too much work done.
But the goal is to plan for that. If there is a work project that needs to be completed, spend a day at a Starbucks and go camping after the project is completed. Or save tasks that don't need internet (like writing this blog, or editing footage) for the days when you don't have it.
6. EVERYTHING TAKES LONGER
Want to make a cup of coffee? Want to take a shower? Want to make toast? Need to go to the bathroom? Planning. Time. Energy. Communication. Everything that you do throughout the day in the van with someone else takes a few of these. You need to communicate what you want and when, so your person can be out of the way. Always cleaning and putting things away immediately takes time.
There are many other examples, but I think you get the idea!
7. NOT AS CHEAP AS YOU THINK
Finally, this is the biggest for us. While there is no mortgage or rent payment...there is a van payment, RV insurance and a slew of other travel insurances that we purchased before hitting the road.
When you're in a new city every week or so, you want to try the food of that area! It's easy to get carried away spending money going out.
Gas has been rising throughout the country the last few months and we have felt every single penny. By far, gas is the largest item item in our budget.
Here are some items that aren't on your budget that are on ours:
Repairs, parking, campsites, laundry, coffee, boosted cell or mifi, tolls, oil changes, etc. you get the point.
OK. I feel like I've complained too much while writing this, but the idea is that there are things that we just wish we knew ahead of time! We LOVE #VANLIFE. It has offered more freedom and opportunity in our lives than we have ever had and it's allowed us to see the whole country while working, playing and living life! We have so much in store coming soon and we can't wait to see you in person.
If you haven't yet, take a look at our video exploring the things we wish we knew a little futher!
John (& Viv)