Ever dreamed of living on the open road, travelling wherever the world takes you and getting out in nature? If so, van life might be for you. Van life has become a popular lifestyle choice for many people, as many make the switch to van life rather than a traditional home. But it’s not all dreamy nights over a campfire and watching the sunset, social media has definitely over-fantasised van life and what it’s actually like.
That’s not to say van life isn’t a great option for some people, we’ve been on the road 6 months now and it’s the best decision we’ve ever made. We just think it’s important to share the reality of what life on the road is actually like. While van life has it’s benefits it also comes with it’s own set of challenges. In this blog post we’ll explore both the pros and cons of van life so you can decide if this lifestyle is right for you.
The Pros of Van Life:
You Always Have Everything with You
One of the most underrated pros of van life is the convenience of always having everything with you. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something at home or having to go back for it because everything you own is driven around with you. This can provide a sense of security and peace of mind, knowing that you have everything you need at all times.
Depending on what setup you have in your van another added benefit here could be that you always have a toilet nearby. Having a toilet in our van has been extremely convenient as we don’t have to worry about being near a toilet wherever we go.
You’re Not Bound to One Place
One of the most obvious benefits of van life is that you’re not bound to one place. Van life allows you to break free from the confines of a traditional home and a fixed location, where you can’t just pick up your house and move it wherever you like. With van life your home is on wheels so you can move to new places as often as you like. This gives you the opportunity to explore the world, experience different cultures and meet new people.
This has been one of our favourite pros of van life as we enjoy the comforts of our home but are able to bring it around with us as we explore more of this beautiful country (Australia). If we don’t like a spot or feel like we need to go someone else for some reason (such as poor weather, bad neighbours, feeling unsafe or even just feeling bored and wanting to see somewhere new) it’s easy for us to move on.
You Can Have a Lower Cost of Living
Van life can be a more affordable option than renting or owning a traditional home as you save money on rent or mortgage payments and the cost of living can be lower as well. The amount you spend however will depend on how you travel and live, your van setup and the location you’re in.
As frugal travellers who have an off grid setup that we bought outright we have found van life to be very affordable. Before embarking on this adventure we expected to spend around $2500 a month, our first 3 months of van life however we spent a total of $3947.22 which is significantly less than our predicted amount. If you’d like more detail on this we did put together a YouTube video on our full costs breakdown over these 3 months and summarised our time in WA, you can watch that here if you’re interested.
You Can Be Closer to Nature
One of the pros of van life is that living in a van can provide a deeper connection to nature. This depends on where you’re parking up of course but unlike living in a house or apartment you have the ability to park up at ‘off-the-beaten-path’ spots amongst a variety of diverse landscapes and wildlife. You can wake up to breathtaking views and the sound of bird calls, spend your days exploring the outdoors and fall asleep under the stars. Feeling more connected to the natural world helps you live a more mindful and peaceful existence.
In the last 6 months of travelling in a van around Australia we have seen more of this country and more wildlife than we had ever seen in the last 15+ years living in Australia.
Increased Awareness of Resource Usage
Van life fosters a heightened awareness of what you use and consume on a daily basis. Living in a limited space with limited resources makes you more mindful of your water usage, energy consumption and waste generation. Being more conscious and mindful of this, you develop habits to be more efficient and sustainable.
Our first trip in the van was quite an adjustment as we went through all of our water in 3 days, now that we’re more mindful of our water usage we can go about 3 weeks with the water in our tanks.
You’ll Live a Minimalist Lifestyle
When you live in a van it’s almost impossible to own unnecessary items, limited by space, you have to be more intentional about what you bring with you. This can lead to a more minimalist lifestyle, as you have to focus on the essentials and get rid of the unnecessary clutter.
Many consider this minimalistic approach a pro of van life due to the many benefits of minimalism; reduced stress, more money (due to buying less and selling unnecessary clutter), increased productivity and focus, less cleaning and tidying and increased happiness. For us, it was a refreshing change to sell and donate majority of the items we previously owned, keeping only the essentials.
The Cons of Van Life:
Lack of Space
One of the biggest challenges of van life (and probably the most obvious) is the lack of space. The amount of space you have available will depend on the setup you have but as a whole, no matter your setup, van life gives you significantly less space than living in a traditional home would. You’ll have to be creative with your storage solutions and will have to sacrifice some luxuries in order to make everything fit.
If you live with someone else (friends, a partner or your family) this lack of space can also make it challenging to find privacy and personal space.
Risk of Breaking Down, Needing Repairs or Getting in an Accident
Another con of van life is that your van is at risk of breaking down, needing repairs or getting in an accident, just like any other vehicle. Even the safest drivers cannot completely eliminate the risk of accidents or mechanical issues.
This can be a major disruption and inconvenience if your van is your home. If your van does need repairs or if you get into an accident you’ll be without your home while it’s repaired and will need to organise temporary housing and transportation. It can also be costly and time-consuming, and can disrupt your plans if unexpected issues arise. Depending on where you are when the problem occurs, it can be difficult to find a mechanic or parts for your vehicle, particularly if you’re in a remote location.
Living on the road can be exciting, but it can also be isolating and lonely, especially if you’re travelling solo and are far away from family and friends. Being away from family, friends and familiar surroundings for long periods can make you feel homesick, missing those who are important to you and the comforts of home.
You may also miss out on significant life events back home, such as weddings, the arrival of newborns and family celebrations. Despite the distance, it’s important to stay connected with loved ones and find ways to create a sense of home while on the move.
Adding onto our last point about homesickness, living in a van can be isolating, especially if you’re constantly on the move. It can be challenging to make new friends and maintain relationships and the lack of a permanent community can be difficult for some people. Even if you’re an outgoing and social person, it can be difficult to make new friends while living in a van.
You really have to ‘put yourself out there’ to meet new people and make new friends. Then, even if you do make a new friend you’ll likely have different travel schedules that mean you won’t have many opportunities to cross paths again.
After being on the road for 6 months we’ve found that majority of people stick to themselves, particularly at remote campsites and rest stops. Most of our interactions with people while on the road have been during the day at busy campsites, caravan parks or at dump points.
Lots of Planning and Forward Thinking
Living in a van requires a lot of planning and forward thinking. You’ll need to plan your routes, find safe and legal places to park and think ahead about things like shop, water top up and dump point locations. This can be challenging and time-consuming, especially if you’re traveling in unfamiliar areas.
Planning ahead, being organised and preparing for travel to new locations is critical to ensure a smooth and enjoyable van life experience. Van life is a lot less ‘go with the flow’ than it’s presented as online.
Depending on the size of your van and the area you’re in, finding a place to park can be a challenge. This goes for both finding a place to park during the day and finding a place to park at night. There are two things to keep in mind; the larger your setup the harder it will be and the closer you are to the city the harder it will be.
After 6 months of travelling around Australia we’ve found that rural towns typically have ‘long vehicle’ parking and are easier to park in during the day, they also don’t charge for parking. The closer you get to the main cities the more difficult and expensive it becomes due to ticketed parking, a lack of long vehicle parking, narrower streets and increased busyness. If we’re exploring a city we book a caravan park close to the city so we can leave our van there and explore the city on foot, this is significantly easier than having to worry about where we can park.
When looking at finding a place to park for the night the same rule holds true, being close to the main cities makes it increasingly difficult. Typically there are significantly more free campsites in rural areas, while in contrast it’s almost impossible to find a free spot to park for the night close to the city.
It’s important to plan ahead and research potential camping and parking spots before heading to a location and being aware of local parking laws and regulations. The more prepared and aware you are the easier it is to find a good spot to park for the day or spend the night.
Living in a small space that is exposed to the ‘outdoors’ often means that you’ll need to be constantly cleaning up after yourself. Sweeping or vacuuming will become a daily task, especially if you’re in and out of your van frequently, as you’ll constantly be bringing in mud, dirt, sand or dust from the outdoors. While this wouldn’t be as noticeable in a traditional house, the small space makes it significantly more noticeable and means you’ll need to stay on top of it often to keep your van clean.
Besides general cleaning we also feel like we’re constantly doing dishes, especially as we had become used to owning a dishwasher and pretty much never hand-washed dishes prior to van life. The transition to hand-washing every single dish we use was very noticeable as it became a time consuming daily task.
Costly to Have a Comfortable Setup
While van life is often presented as an affordable way of living it’s important to note that having a comfortable setup can be expensive. Majority of van builds shown online that people aspire to have cost upwards of $100 000. The more ‘comforts’ you have in your van the more costly it will be. A small campervan setup with just a bed and no amenities will be significantly cheaper and more affordable than a decked out motorhome with a full bathroom, heater, air conditioner and kitchen.
Unless you’re going to be putting a lot of money into your van you’ll likely have to sacrifice some comforts to suit your budget. Sacrificing some of these amenities means you’ll have to; deal with uncomfortable temperatures at times, rely on public restrooms and showers and adjust your way of living to what you have available.
I also just want to note here that building a van fit out is extremely difficult. While shown pretty frequently online as something fun and easy to do it’s a stressful, expensive and time consuming process that requires you to ‘be everything’; a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician, an interior designer and more.
Lack of Routine
Van life can be unpredictable, which may not be ideal for those who thrive on routine and structure. No matter how much you plan van life has a lot of unknowns which can disrupt your daily routine. Maybe you’ll rock up to your campsite for the night and it won’t have any free spots or you’ll pick up an unwanted pet (pest) that you need to evict. Expect disruptions and always have a back up plan.
An unexpected pro of this van life con is that it improves your flexibility, ability to adapt and problem solving. Prior to van life we were hardcore planners who would plan every detail of our lives, the lack of routine has improved our ability to be flexible in our plans and to adapt to what is available when a problem arises.
Living in a van can make it difficult to maintain ‘good hygiene’, especially if you don’t have access to a shower or bathroom facilities. It can be hard to find shower and bathroom facilities on the road as they can be few and far between depending on where you are. It’s also hard to find ones that are clean and comfortable to use.
Thankfully we do have shower and bathroom facilities in our van build which we stick to but as we are conscious of our water usage we don’t shower as often as we used to. Baby wipes have become our ‘new best friend’ to keep us feeling fresh on the days we don’t shower.
Additionally, since you’re constantly on the move, it can be challenging to find reliable and convenient places to do laundry or clean up. We started off hand washing and air drying all of our laundry but staying on top of it long term is unrealistic for many reasons such as; staying at rest areas where it’s not appropriate to do laundry, being at short term campsites that don’t allow you to have washing lines up, poor weather or being in dusty or sandy locations where all of the clothes would immediately get filthy again if hung outside.
We’ve since shifted to using laundromats more frequently but it’s hard to find good quality laundromats that efficiently clean and dry your clothes. We’ve seen laundromats that are filthy and others that have reviews of people’s clothes getting ripped and damaged. We’ve also been to many where the dryers basically do nothing and after spending a bunch of money on multiple drying rounds we still end up with wet laundry.
Lack of Direction
One unexpected con of van life, particularly if (like us) you quit your jobs to start this lifestyle, is that you may feel a lack of direction in life. This is seemingly common with a lot of van lifers who suddenly have a lot of free time and have no idea what to do with themselves outside of the time they spend exploring and going on adventures.
If you’re going to embark on van life we’d recommend having a remote job or a hobby that you can spend time on to give you a sense of purpose and direction. Going into van life we decided to create YouTube videos and blog posts to document our journey and keep us busy which has worked well in giving us purpose and direction.
Exposure to Bugs and Pests
Living in a van, depending on where you’re parked up, can put you at a higher risk of encountering pests such as insects, rodents, reptiles and other wildlife. While we knew we’d encounter bugs during our journey we never thought we’d have issues with rodents, until we did. We found a mouse in our van during our time in South Australia and it was chaos (we did actually document the process in a YouTube video if you’re interested in watching). Besides feeling gross about a mouse being in our van and disrupting our comfort, we then had to spend effort and resources to address and mitigate the issue while also freaking out about the mouse potentially damaging our wiring.
Dealing with pests can be challenging and requires you to take extra precautions to keep them out your van. With van life this becomes part of your daily life, as you’re constantly working to keep pests out of your van. These creatures are all great at finding their way into confined spaces, small openings and open windows/doors. Overtime you’ll take on new strategies to keep insects such as mosquitoes, flies and spiders out of your van, rodents such as mice and rats out of your van and any other wildlife you may encounter.
Safety and Security
Living in a van can present safety and security challenges. Since you’re constantly on the move, you may not always be familiar with the area you’re in, which can make it difficult to assess potential safety risks. Depending on your location you may be more vulnerable to theft or break-ins. It’s important to take precautions and stay aware of your surroundings to ensure your safety and security while living in a van.
Thankfully, 6 months into our van life journey there hasn’t been a time that we felt unsafe or worried about our security. However we still plan accordingly and try to research the safety of an area as much as possible before staying there.
Van life has a lot of pros, offering a sense of freedom, cost-effectiveness, minimalism, connection to nature and more. However, it also comes with challenges such as limited space, lack of routine, social isolation, inconvenience and more. Whether van life is right for you will depend on your personal circumstances; your preferences, your lifestyle and your priorities.
For us, making the decision to sell our house and convert a van is the best decision we have ever made. We’ve been extremely happy with the lifestyle and the impact it has had on our lives. We hope this post on the pros and cons of van life has helped you decide whether this lifestyle is a fit for you.
Watch Our Honest Thoughts on Van Life 3 Months in
If you’re interested you can watch our honest thoughts on van life 3 months into our van life journey. We ran through everything; peeing/pooping, showering, sleeping, cooking, campsites, general van life routines, struggles, lifestyle, costs, anything we’d change with the van and whether we enjoyed van life and wanted to continue.