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