Leading up to our departure I thought a lot about what was going to be the biggest surprise of van life. Will sleeping in a car scare me? Will we spend days in one place or bop around to a different spot every night? Will I miss hair dryers? I don’t actually blow dry my hair but hey, maybe it brought me some unknown comfort. These are the top ten things that answer my early ponderings. (Oh, and uh, sorry about the terrible van pun…that’s the best I got.)
1. You cannot do anything in a hurry.This is probably the biggest one- something I hadn’t really thought of. Luke and I have the luxury of not being in a rush. While he does work 9am to 5pm Monday through Thursday and is always available for his team on the weekends if necessary, we’re free to roam. We realized pretty quickly that everything in the van takes a few minutes longer than what we’re used to. Converting the couch to a bed involves about four or five steps and while you could rush this into a sixty-second process, it destroys the simplicity of it- the work that must be done to climb in bed and rest for the day. Sure you can throw open your closet (bench), grab a couple of clothing items and run out the door but I’ll be damned if you don’t knock your head against the wood and swear under your breath. Slow down. Fold your clothes neatly, scrub the dishes clean using minimal water, wait for your partner to finish getting their clothing out before crowding the space. Basically, we’ve found that you gotta look time in the face and tell it to step off.
2. You can wear whatever you want.
This is my Bitmoji. She’s never worn pants. I’ve been purchasing leotards as my primary t-shirt materials since early 2006 and I’ve never had the luxury of going pantsless. Until now. There is a freedom that comes with living in a van that makes you throw up your hands and think welp, this is what I’m doin’ today world whether you like it or not.
3. You are always cleaning.
Let it be known, I am a Virgo and what is the primary stereotype of these dear maidens? Our propensity for organization and cleanliness, of course. For me, this means that one does not simply “tidy”. One must rummage through surplus radioactive materials to be spritzed on a freshly plucked moist towelette and rub it over every inch of our interior dwelling. ie, in order for the van not to become a complete and total disaster zone (which happens basically after every meal or teeth brushing), I am always sweeping, pinching crumbs and fluffing pillows. Luke keeps giving me the eye and I can’t tell if it’s one of love and adoration (oh why thank you, my love, for keeping our private sanctuary a presentable domicile) or annoyance (really? That poppy seed was ruining the mood, huh?). One may never know.
4. Trader Joe’s is a f**king queen.
Disclaimer: I’m not one for cooking. Throw in a small prep space along with the absence of an oven and I’m pretty hesitant to crank the burner. Walking the aisles of Trader Joe’s gives me minor reprieve from this meal anxiety by basically doing the work for you. Oh you want rotisserie chicken? I got rotisserie chicken and all you gotta do is heat it up, baby girl. Here, pour yourself a glass of wine and relax. Bless you, TJ.
5. You are suddenly very approachable to strangers.
One of the things we’ve been most excited to do on this journey is to visit friends and family who live throughout the States. It can be hard getting out to see everyone we’d like to without completely breaking the bank. An unexpected delight of this whole thing has been hearing from strangers, particularly those a bit older than us who have fond memories from their own lives on the road to share. Before we even took off from Merced we parked for a few hours outside of a local hardware store to fix a fallen shelf (helllooooo new sliding locks) and was met by a kind gentleman in his sixties who was thrilled to not only share some advice on our present hardware failure but on the road as well. We’ve been met with warm souls from all over who catch a glimpse of the van interior and want to hear all about our travels. (PS- I just love Stranger Things and am using this bullet point to show off the faces of this wonderful cast.)
6. It actually doesn’t feel claustrophobic.
Our Brooklyn apartment was a hearty 450 sqft (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA….but it’s true) so even though we traded this in for about 1/7th the square footage of our previous home, we were already familiar with close living quarters. I’ve been surprised to find that I’m not barreling through our screen doors to drink in the exterior fresh air and rejoin the land of the living. Yes, we lost the room to practice yoga and break dance (I mean, we didn’t actually do these things though it was nice knowing the option was there…) but we gained the outside world. Leaving our doors open to the elements has a similar effect of placing mirrors behind the bar of a restaurant- it gives the perception of doubling the size. Plus, as mentioned in number 10, we’re definitely in the honeymoon stage where we just adore this little Hobbit hole we’ve found ourselves in.
7. I’m not eating myself into a stupor.
You know when you go camping with a group of friends where everyone brings a repulsive amount of snack materials so you end up sitting by the fire and hoovering two bags of popcorn, three Hershey’s bars, half a carton of hummus and your friend’s unattended half-eaten sandwich? Totally, totally, me neither… I can’t speak for anyone else but long car drives and camping trips give me the munchies. I’ve been trying to keep healthy grub on hand over the last few weeks so that when the urge to occupy my time with eating overtakes me, I will still be able to get myself into a vertical position. Well, the beauty of our drive and the pure contentment of living with my husband in a tiny house has meant I don’t feel the need to fill time with anything- including overindulgent snacking. Last week when camping out at Olympic National Park, just lying around looking at the trees fulfills the soul in a way that makes time stand still- there are no needs, no itches to be doing something else, it’s a pleasure to just be.
8. Silence is golden. (Anybody else?)
(As I’m typing these I’m coming up with a new reVANlation that I think many of these are all really getting at: for us, van life was a great idea. It’s provided us a calm we didn’t know we needed, or maybe we did, a calm we knew we needed but didn’t know we’d take to so well.) We haven’t felt the need to fill the silence. We’ve spent many hours in the car without a podcast, without music, without conversation- just thinking and looking and thinking. We climb back into the living room when parked and it’ll take us hours before we realize music might be a nice addition to the beauty around us. (If you’ve been watching our Insta stories, the variety of music is pretty far reaching…and sometimes hilarious. I’ve grown fond of country and particularly like to crank “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”. Hey, we all have our things.)
9. “Everything has a place, everything in it’s place.”
When it came to designing the layout for the van, Luke’s biggest headache was about storage space. As you can tell from the photos, I’d say we have a bit less of it than the average full-time vanlifer. In order to keep our sanity/ refrain from spousal murder, we’ve found that the moment you are no longer using an item- be it fork, sweater, cushion- like ET, it must return home. Failure to comply with these van regulations results in a home that starts to resemble a scene from a [drastically overlooked] Disney Channel original, Don’t Look Under the Bed.
10. You live in your own private club house.
I don’t think we were prepared for how much it would remind us of our childhood. It’s been a relatively common place thing for one of us to turn to the other and say something close to, “I love our tree house” or “This is a great fort”. It feels sneaky- like you’re getting away with something you’re not supposed to plus it’s filled with a big fluffy comforter. Little Willa, you would lose your s**t.
If there are any other van lifers out there, what was most surprising to YOU when you first began your journey??? Send us a message or find us on Instagram to let us know!