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The Truth about Living in a Van: Pros and Cons

The Truth about Living in a Van: Pros and Cons

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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 didn’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:

Thinking about renting a van or camper for your next holiday? Check out Motorhome Republic for all of the prices and styles available in your area. Also, be sure to check out our campervan rental guide for tips and extra discounts!

Problems with Living in a Van

Living in a van might seem fun, and it is, but there are some problems with it too. Here are some problems with living in a van that you might want to consider:

The Stigma

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 in 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.

our van we lived in, the truth about living in a van
Our finished van!


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 own 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!

some of the truths about living in a van long term
Sunsets by the water!

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 was 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.

the truth about living in a van and using a portable toilet
Our toilet wasn’t the most ideal!

*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!

Reasons to Live in a Van

So if the problems with living in a van didn’t scare you off, then you’ll be ready to reap the rewards. There are some great reasons to live in a van. Below are some of the things I enjoyed the most about van life. The best part of freedom camping (camping with a self-contained vehicle) is that it gives you the option to pick from thousands of places to camp for free!

Saving Money

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 $2.83 a liter (as of March 2022) in New Zealand!

Related Read: Can’t afford to travel for longer than a few days at a time? Consider going on a working holiday!


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 from a shower every 3 or so days. On top of that, all our electricity came from our car’s 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!

campervan drives down a scenic road in New Zealand
Ready to hit the road!

Other Important Things to Consider before Living in a Van

No Privacy

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 at. 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 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.


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!

Related Read: The truth about living in a hostel and why I still love them.

Living in a van
Days spent camped right near the beach under a shady tree!

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 are also a little bit more difficult.

One thing I learned pretty quickly was that you must have patience when living in a van!

The cool thing however is that you could build your own campervan conversion which will allow you to add your own customizations, DIY storage solutions, and any other important aspects you would want in your campervan.

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.

camping at beautiful places in New Zealand while living in a van
we sure camped at some beautiful places!

Van Life is all about Exploring

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!

And…creating memories

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.

Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand

Bailey takes a selfie with a JUCY campervan
Ready to hit the road!
Bailey stands infront of a JUCY campervan in New Zealand
JUCY is another favorite!

The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)

You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.

You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!

JUCY is our personal favorite campervan rental company in NZ. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suit your budget and travel style.

We’ve actually secured an exclusive discount code for our readers with JUCY. Just click here to browse their availability and use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off! What a good deal!

You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.

Star RV is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer larger motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates.

Star RV has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental! Note, this code is only valid for bookings made before June 21, 2024 with travel dates before Dec 21, 2024. Click here to browse availability, prices, and book with our discount code!

Thanks for reading!

Dan adn Bailey in Milford Sound
Thanks for reading!

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 need a push or want to learn how to get started with van life in New Zealand here are some of our most helpful resources on campervans:

Tips to rent a cheap campervan in New Zealand

Things to know about campervan rentals in Queenstown

Guide to renting a campervan in New Zealand

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Saturday 9th of March 2024

Great to read about the pros and cons, honest opinion, thanks for sharing it.


Saturday 23rd of July 2022

Can't attach an image. My van is the same model, looks so similar. Great way to camp!!!


Tuesday 19th of March 2019

Being a member at planet fitness you can shower anytime

Destinationless Travel

Tuesday 19th of March 2019

That's a great tip! Gym memberships are a great way to get to shower for free - thanks! Cheers, Bailey