The Truth about Living in a Van: Pros and Cons
Living in a van seems like a glamorous, stress-free way to live. And while that can be true at times, it isn’t always. This blog reveals the truth about living in a van in case you are considering to try van-life for yourself one day!
The Truth about Living in a Van
I lived in a van in New Zealand for almost four months. It was an incredible way to travel around New Zealand but it hasn’t come without its challenges. So many people see the gorgeous #vanlife photos and think living in a van is all about sunsets, cooking outside, and swimming in the ocean.
But what you don’t see is the mosquitos, hot and sweaty nights, as well as the constant struggles of living in such a small space!.
In case you ever considered living in a van for yourself, you’ll want to read this blog first as I reveal the truth about living in a van. These are the pros and cons as well as just general things to be aware of when it comes to van-life:
The first thing to address about living in a van is the old stigma that is still somewhat attached to it. Nowadays (for younger travelers) living in a van is more representative of being free and living a minimalist lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean everybody thinks that way. “Living in a van down by the river” is a common quote used to describe becoming a failure at life.
When living in a van expect some people not to overly understand your choices. Some people will automatically assume you are poor or have no other option. Little do they know that this isn’t the case. But, that stigma is still there and you need to be prepared to be judged at least a little bit.
One of the biggest problems with living in van full-time is showering. In a van, it is likely that you will not have a shower. Some vans do have portable showers, but not all (and these are not the most convenient to use.)
While I was traveling in New Zealand in my van it felt like I was always looking for my next shower.
In some areas, showers were easy to find, but in others, it was more difficult. Wet wipes became a staple in our van and we often just “showered” in lakes or at beach showers.
The other option for showering when living in a van is going to aquatic centers or public swimming pools. Here you can pay a few dollars to go for a swim and use the shower facilities. We preferred this option, but unfortunately, aquatic centers weren’t always nearby or open.
You can also stay in holiday parks or paid campsites with showers. For us, we didn’t do this very often because, in New Zealand, holiday parks are very expensive. That being said, about once a week we did opt for a holiday park to properly have a nice long shower as well as plug the van in to charge up the batteries!
It is possible to find showers while living in a van but it is never an ideal shower and oftentimes you won’t be able to shower every single day. This is just one simple fact about van-life and one you must be prepared for if you want to do it for yourself!
The toilet and finding a bathroom
But besides showers, there is the whole toilet issue! Our van had a small portable toilet but we NEVER used it! These small chemical toilets are a hassle to use and most people only carry them for self-contained certification or in case of an extreme emergency. This means that you must always find public toilets!
To be honest, in New Zealand finding public toilets was easy. It felt as if every park, tourist attraction, and shop had one available for use. That being said, they weren’t always the cleanest and I’m sure not all countries have as many toilets so easily accessible.
The only issue I had with finding a bathroom if finding one to use overnight. When we parked the van for the night to camp, often there wasn’t a toilet around. This was super inconvenient and meant driving to a public toilet just before bed and then again immediately after waking up. Sometimes we did find camp spots near public toilets but it wasn’t always the case.
If you want to have a flushing toilet in your van, consider getting a motorhome instead. For more information, check out our blog all about renting a campervan in New Zealand!
*Tip: If you are living in a van in Australia or New Zealand, download the app called “Campermate“. This app will show public toilet and sower locations including aquatic centers and paid campsites!
When you live in a van your costs are minimal. No rent and no electricity or water bills. Your main cost will be fuel (gas) and food. It is a very cheap way to live or travel! For those on a budget, van-life is perfect!
In fact, while I lived in my van I spent around $30 to $40 NZD a day between both Dan and me.
Our two main expenses were food and gas. To spend this little we spent at least 3 nights in each place in order to save on fuel and ate in-season vegetables with almost no meat. This is very cheap especially considering unleaded fuel is around $2.20 – $2.50 a liter in New Zealand!
In this day and age, the idea of living a minimalistic lifestyle is glamourized. Similar to the trend of “tiny houses”, when you live in a van you are living very minimally. You reduce the amount of “things” you need, the energy you use, and stuff you buy simply because you don’t space for it!
By not buying unnecessary things and living in such a small space is definitely a great way to simplify your life and reduce your environmental impact.
In fact, we would only fill a 25L rubbish bin about every 10 days and use around 50 liters of water a week – aside for a shower every 3 or so days. On top of that, all our electricity came from our cars second battery and we would only fill our van with gas every two weeks.
Our energy consumption was extremely low and that was something we were always really proud about and one of the big reasons we loved living in our van!
Living in a van is different than living in a tiny home though because no matter how hard you try, a van is not a house. It is always in a public space and you can’t comfortably stand up, move around, watch TV, or just dance around the kitchen in your underwear!
While you can park in isolated places, you still could be in the public eye and that gets annoying pretty quickly.
Always being on the move
It is also hard not having a base to just go back and relax to. This sounds ridiculous especially to travelers who are used to being on the move from hostel to hostel, but living in a van is different. There is something annoying about not having a place to just go back and relax in. In the summer, the van is often too hot to have an afternoon lay down.
It also takes a bit of planning and work being always on the move and finding places to park. Many places have restrictions on where you can camp in a van which means you need to know these laws and find the right places to stay. Some places have restrictions on how long you can stay in one area which forces you to keep moving.
While I was living in my van, it felt like Google Maps was always open and I was always be searching for where we could set up for a night. To be honest, it gets draining after a bit of time.
If you are planning on renting a self-contained vehicle for your NZ holiday, consider booking with the company Mad Campers, they are a local company offering affordable one and two-person self-contained vehicles. If you use our discount code, DEST5, you’ll get 5% off your campervan rental!
Living in a van can be a social experience much like living in a hostel. You can meet other travelers at camp spots and tourist attractions. Share stories and check out each other’s vans! In New Zealand, lots of people travel around in vans so there are plenty of opportunities to meet others and socialize.
However in places where very few other people are traveling the same way it can become isolating for very social people!
More space than a backpack
People often ask me “how do you fit all of your stuff in a van?” For me, it was an easy answer because the truth is, because I am a full-time traveler, I normally live out of a backpack so the van is a huge space upgrade!
I also love the fact that no matter where I go I have everything I own with me. If I feel like I need a snack, we have a shelf full of food, if I need to change into warmer clothes my whole wardrobe is right there. Everything I could ever need is with me which comes in really handy!
Tiny Space Challenges
Having everything in your van makes maneuvering around the van a little bit tough. Normally simple tasks such as washing the dishes prove to be more of a struggle in a small space. Getting changed, finding things, and cooking is also a little bit more difficult.
One thing I learned pretty quickly was that you must have patience when living in a van!
Living in a van as a couple
Dan and I lived in our van as a couple together. Now, I have to admit, if you think traveling as a couple is tough then you should try living in a van – it is a whole other level!
Living in a van tests your patience and often has you getting frustrated or tired and taking it out on your partner. Be sure if you plan on living in a van with your partner that you are prepared for the challenges. Take a deep breath, communicate, and remember why you wanted to live in a van to start with.
Living in a van is the ultimate way to explore. You can go wherever you want whenever you want! Having a home on wheels creates this freedom. There are no limits on where you can go and there is no timeline.
Explore as much and as far as you want! To me, this was the biggest pro to living in a van!
Living in a van is not always easy. But even in the tough times, you are making memories. One day, you will look back on your time in the van and remember the wonderful things you saw, but you will also remember the challenges and be proud of traveling and living in such a unique way! At the end of the day it is an incredible experience and one you will always remember.
For me, van-life was an incredible way to travel and it taught me a lot about myself. In my opinion the pros far outway the cons, however that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. If you are considering embarking on a campervan journey, I would advise you to go for it – it may be a challenge but you won’t regret it!
If you want more information, check out all of our blogs about vanlife! And, if you traveling in New Zealand be sure to check out our blogs about creating an NZ road trip itinerary, the best places to go on the South Island, the best beaches in the North Island, and more!
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June 15, 2019