What to Consider When You’re Considering Vanlife

Ditching conventionality and rent payments for freedom and a space of your own, it’s the obvious right choice. Vanlife gives young people, any people, the chance to gain equity without settling down and buying a home. Living in a van, though, isn’t as carefree as social media portrays it to be. Jake and I absolutely love it, but I know this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Here’s an honest list of factors to consider before jumping in.  


Living in a van is like having a really small studio apartment, no separation of space, less privacy. We cook right next to where we sleep. Our fridge sits next to our laundry. Especially when sharing the space with a partner, tiny living can get a little claustrophobic. 

The beauty of living in a van is, as the cliche goes, “We have the smallest house, the biggest backyard.” Because we are travelling and camping a lot, we spend a lot of time outside making the van feel less crowded. You can go hiking or hammocking or to the mall if you are feeling too trapped. 

Jake and I also offset the small space as much as possible. When we were planning, we wanted a table where both of us could sit down comfortably. We love having meals, playing games, and working at the table together. We also planned the use of pretty much every square inch of space, so there’s storage for everything. 

For us, and the other van lifers that I have seen online, cleanliness is essential. My mother can attest that I am not the neatest person, but living in the van has quickly taught me to pick up after myself. I always put my extra shoes away. We stay on top of the dishes. We make the bed each morning. There is no escape from the mess, so you eventually learn to clean if you are feeling too cooped up. All in all, yes, it’s a small space. But it’s how you use the space that counts. 

Utilities and Comfort

I pee outside…like pretty much every day. A van isn’t going to have plumbing, so you have to consider how comfortable you are with unconventional methods of going. During the build, Jake and I opted out of a toilet. We did not want to deal with the hassle, the space consumption, and the smell. We are both comfortable going in public restrooms and outside; we have to be. Forgoing a toilet has led to a few close calls. Like spending the night in a parking lot in Philadelphia where we couldn’t find a nearby bathroom to save our lives. Long story short, I was sprinting to a Starbucks three blocks away and hurriedly bought a tall coffee to get the bathroom code. 

There are so many options if you want a toilet, so if it’s a priority, make it one. You basically can choose between a composting toilet or a chemical one. Composters can get a little pricey, but you can actually build your own!  

And that’s just the bathroom. Living in a van means you do not take for granted your basic needs, like running water. We have upgraded our plumbing system a few times now. We have a twenty-five gallon fresh water tank with the same size grey water. This system allows us to not think about getting fresh water (or dumping grey water) for a long time, usually at least a week unless we are showering with it. Our shower, however, is an outdoor shower, so that also doesn’t come easy! We have a Planet Fitness membership that we use in cities if we want a warm shower. 

Electricity is another factor that magically appears in endless supply in a house, but not so much in a van. I gave up styling my hair in order to save power. A hair dryer takes a lot of energy, so when we were counting up our amp hours to decide how big of a battery to buy, I ditched the styling tools and opted for a smaller battery. I miss curling my hair, especially when we are going out to eat or when I want to look cute. DISCLAIMER: I am definitely not saying you can’t use a curling iron in your van, but you’ll have to think about stuff like that for your power consumption.


Ah, yes, finally: money. It runs the world, and sadly, we cannot escape it. Life on the road isn’t free, so be sure to have savings or a job that can buy you food and gas, among other things. If not, we met a couple who stopped for a few months in northern Michigan and got bartending jobs together. They saved what they could to travel for a few months before getting another job in a new place. There are options to living on the road; it depends on your priorities career-wise. Don’t think you can’t do something just because you do not have all the answers right now. 

Okay, so these are my disclaimers. Living in a van requires consideration of aspects of life that a lot of us take for granted, but for us and so many others, it is worth it.