VANLIFE |The Pros and Cons

VANLIFE |The Pros and Cons
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Guest Post by Jon Gaffney

It’s been almost exactly one year since we turned in our notices at our respective office jobs in Boston. We didn’t own a van yet, had never lived together, nor worked remotely consistently. Things have changed a lot in a year. We’re writing this article from Bridger-Teton National Forest and watching the light paint the still snow capped Grand. Our life on the road has met many of our expectations, but it’s been by no means easy. We’ve learned this year that the challenges of life follow no matter your living situation. The #vanlife is no exception, it has pros and cons, much like the 9-5 in the Northeast.



Flexibility - One of our goals was to increase our flexibility and it’s largely been the case. We can go where we’d like, largely when we want. Given that we drive our apartment with us wherever we go, housing is rarely an issue. We’ve visited friends and family in cities that we’d never fly to see and spent more time with them than a normal vacation day allotment would allow. We work from anywhere there is decent Verizon service. We take impromptu hikes and don’t book campsites in advance. It has truly opened up so many options that it can be overwhelming at times deciding where to go.

Simplicity – Living in a van has forced us to simplify across the board. There’s not space for things to be complex. Our wardrobe fits our daily needs and aims to be versatile. Our cooking setup is minimal consisting of a two burner stove, a skillet, and a pot for boiling water. As a result our meals are equally simple and straightforward. When we over complicate, our living situation becomes claustrophobic and forces us to re-simplify.

Cost* – Overall living in a van can be cost effective. If you move slow, cook your own food, and live simply it’s certainly cheaper than most cities. That said it earns an asterisk because it’s not actually cheap and it’s certainly not free. Additionally while the cost of living is less than a city, so are the opportunities for income. So it’s somewhat relative.

Inspiration – New people, new places, and new experiences. There’s no end to those three things while living on the road. All of them trade off providing inspiration when you need it. Rarely does life feel stale or repetitive.

Relationship - Living in a van and thus on the go with another person provides a crucible for a relationship. Decisions have to be made quickly and problems resolved. When your total living space is 60 square feet you learn to work together and work things out quickly. Having only lived together during the two month van build out prior to leaving on our trip, we had our concerns, but it’s brought us closer than ever before.

Appreciation –  This relates back to simplicity in that stripping your life to the basics gives you an incredible appreciation for things we used to take for granted. A meal we don’t have to cook, a couch to lounge on when it’s nasty out, and a hot shower seem luxurious to us and are highly valued when we get access to them.



Cost* – The other side of cost. It’s not cheap living in a van. Fuel is expensive and the country is much vaster than it looks when plotting a route in your atlas. Breakdowns and accidents happen, often at the worst times. Buying the van and the buildout add up. It’s like rent, repackaged. Health insurance, school loans, and cell phone bills still remain.

Space – 60 square feet is not a lot when you’re living in it. Respectively we each have around 30 square feet that’s “ours” and at times it’s just not enough. Some gear never finds its right place and is constantly underfoot or being shuffled from place to place within the van.

The Grind – Just like living in one place, living in a van has a daily grind that wears on you. Finding a safe place to park and sleep is a nightly challenge and one that’s left us meandering around or seeking out a Walmart late at night. Getting a shower when we want it often involves research and shower flip flops. Mornings bring a scramble to locate a bathroom. These are the realities of vanlife.

Amenities - No shower, no laundry, and no dishwasher. We expected the lack of showers and laundry, but the dishes we completely overlooked. None of it’s a deal breaker, but they’re certainly a downside.

Community – While you certainly make some fast friends along the road, you’re no longer immersed in a community of friends you see consistently. You miss your best friends and family. Homesickness comes and goes, creeping in at the low moments.

Everyone’s pros and cons list will vary and the formula to determine which column outweighs the other. It’s an equation we regularly consult to make sure we’re still doing what makes us happy. As we close in on eight months of #vanlife the pros have outweighed the cons and it’s been one hell of a trip. Now to plan the next one…

To see a little more from Jon and Gale, watch the episode about their travels in our “En Route” series HERE.




  1. ramon ramos 3 years ago

    I admire both of you for taking your dream(s) to reality. Prior to my discontent with society as a whole, I plan to attempt this adventure. I am 66 this coming November and giving lots of thought about venturing out into the ‘the wild, wild country is still out there’ God Bless you both and enjoy to the fullest your impressive adventure.

  2. Max 3 years ago

    The wife and I did this over a decade ago. As for places to park, we found that most park areas allow for parking in the day but not at night. You can travel in the evening and night and park for free and sleep in the mornings till afternoon. Nearly all of these places have restrooms and many have showers. As for dishes, we used paper plates, cups and bowls and threw them away afterward. Only kept a couple pans and utensils for cooking along with a small grill and hotplate. Of course you have to plan your travel route by season so it’s not too cold or hot and no need for air conditioning or heat. We got very good at it and learned a lot of “learned from experience only” tips and tricks.

  3. Brian 3 years ago

    Did I see you guys wandering South on Rt. 302 in North Windham, Maine? Hope you enjoyed your visit to Maine, there are some wonderful places to explore. I live just yards from Sebago Lake, but spent the day at Reid State Park, just Southeast of Bath, on the beach, very cold salt water, nice way to spend a day. Next time you’re in the area, give me a shout, could steam up a pot of lobster in a minute (more like 20), good stuff. Travel safely. Brian

  4. AunJelle 2 years ago

    I am a high school student going to graduate next year. I know I want to attend college, but haven’t yet decided on a school. I’ve been doing some serious thinking and praying about living in a van during college and maybe after, and it seems like a good idea. Already, after just casually mentioning living in a van to my parents, I was met with distaste and almost disgust in their reactions. I think they were thinking about the connotations of living in a van, the common I-have-hit-rock-bottom connotations. Do you have any advice to or suggestions for me to talk to my parents about helping me out? (I mean emotional support and possibly financial if I need it, which I know I will) I’ll need them to be okay with me living in a van.

    • CH 1 year ago

      @AunJelle, might want to look at some more ‘living it now’ real world blogs/sites, first thought was Interstellar Orchard as I recall her family were at least a bit against the idea until they saw the detailed homework she’d done re those first few steps. Might also check the videos on and EnigmaticNomadics for interviews with those on road. Unimportant (I think) whether you do something of this sort now or not, there’s obviously a pull and you never know when that seed might blossom. Am an old soul myself, and aware the most ‘crazy’ steps I took (in other’s and family’s eyes, not mine) led to some of the most precious episodes of my life.

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