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Van Life Challenges & Realities | the trials and tribulations

Look, #vanlife is poppin right now [circa: pandemic life chapter]. We're deep into pandemiliving and the people are migrating into wheeled homes like white flight. The allure is visceral, with attractive youngins taking to the minimalist lifestyle, propping up next to places like photogenic hot springs to gorgeous Yellowstone Ntl. Park. Furry friends and even the occasional oddity like a pet snake, tick the seemingly dope lifestyle up a serious notch.

6 photos of van life on instagram
#vanlife on Instagram

But if you look closely, or even hell, try it out for a week yourself with outfitters like Outdoorsy, you may find yourself craving the conveniences you tell yourself you can do without. Let's get real for a hot minute, one doesn't dive into van life for easy living ... at first. Myriad reasons attract people to the lifestyle, think: homelessness, gluttony for introspection [like me], the crave for adventure, testing oneself, and so on and so on.

I don't care who or how perennially organized and anal you are, there is no amount of research that is adequate enough to give you a true idea of the undertaking before you commence. At nearly five months in, I'm likening it to the culture shock curve; except me and my man, somehow, expertly managed to skip the honeymoon phase. Of course. Hoping that'll be a parting gift.

The list of things that need to be done to keep up with your depreciating and oft dysfunctioning vehicle home, is never ending. The van life challenges and realities in being cooped up with another human; it can sometimes feel mentally, emotionally, and physically draining and possibly even limiting [you may remember the Petito Laundrie case, RIP to both]. Traveling through the main streets of America, for us, has been disheartening and depressing with all the shuttered mom&pop shops, endless streams of For Hire signs and entire cities just feeling devoid of that midday joy on a busy street [looking at you Milwaukee].

So, to draw a clearer picture, because this is what I'd wished I'd seen in my research, the below is a list of shit that has hit the fan since beginning van life in May 2021.

  • STRESSED | Moved out within week, sold two cars, sold and donated 75% belongings

  • NO MECHANIC SKILL | Oil change gone bad and thus acquired new sound. We decide, it can't be that bad

  • HEALTH | Strep throat. LOL at first time strep during a pandemic, but I mean anything goes these days

  • MIXED JOY | Visited 3 friends in succession. Possibly, too quickly in succession as I soon questioned my sanity and if I was capable of holding a conversation anymore [pandemiBlues]

  • OH RIGHT, WORK! | I continued working my full time remote job as though making this big transition with someone else was not a situation whatsoever. It was a big deal, I could barely keep my hair on

  • OH AND, NEW JOB! | My man procured a job in the field as a commercial surveyor, where we'd have two weeks of in-person training in Detroit. I was under the impression we'd work together, but with him doing 90% and me doing 10%; thus I could keep my remote job and all would be as ideal as I'd meticulously planned. Watch Spirit GUFFAW when you chose to plan my dudes. Because even though I took off one week of remote job as 'vacation', we were on our feet for easily 20k step daily along with a shocking #midwest heatwave, and having no routine whatsoever. Oh, and, it was definitely not 90/10 workload :)

  • FORD | Received a notification for a recall for Moby [Ford Transit 350 Turbo Diesel]; perfect timing never

  • REMOTE JOB | Gave my months' notice after choosing to work with my boyfriend, outdoors and not hovered over a laptop for a while

  • RELATIONSHIP | DICEY! Wow, I dare you to work a job with your significant other everyday and also have nearly no time apart, then talk to me! I'd say, 5/7 days in a week we are in tune and grooving. But, two humans in an itty bitty space = frequent yikes. Closing doors to separate rooms has never felt so luxurious

  • HUMIDITY | The midwest is extremely deceptive. 'The Great Lakes' is very LOL when you're on the wrong side of the lake. AKA the humid side. We have no windows in the van and we parked on location of the surveys, so we couldn't open our back door and be so obvious with our living. All three of our fans blew out from constant usage. All three fan companies were having massive supply chain issues and were at least two months behind

  • COMPOSTING TOILET | Is wonderful when humidity isn't involved. I will leave it there

  • MICRODECISIONS | Are constant. Can we park here? Should we dump urine now? Can we legally dump grey water here? Is there good cell service there? Should we try to shower now or wait until after post-work-rush-hour? Oh shit, it's a holiday everything is closed. Should we just get a hotel? Should we go to the ER? What's that smell? Do you think it's serious?

  • HOTEL | Yea, we did that. A few too many times just to get some AC in the unforgiving summer heat. Inevitably, we applied to TrustedHousesitters and now we're hoping to average one of these monthly.

Me, holding a dog on my lap on the porch of a housesit
Pet sitting at its finest | Minneapolis

  • HEALTH | Bae incurred some GI trouble, as is not uncommon in this lifestyle. Going to two ER's and an urgent wasn't nice on the wallet and also ... wasn't all that helpful. HIGH HIGH stress levels at this time, as well as my own guilt and shame for forcing him to do this lifestyle and making him continue [he will say this is not true, but I mean ... I was raised Catholic so it's a default]

  • COOKING | On an induction stovetop, when one is a carnivore and the other is vegetarian... just more stress and inconvenience

  • SMELLS | You must follow your nose and tend toward relying on your gut. Not only are our two flooded lead acid batteries corroding and giving off fumes, but I found black mold with two possible termites and rotted wood. All these things take top priority and must be tended to asap; goodbye to any other plans you may have possibly toiled over

  • BACK TO FORD | Finally figured out that sound ... a busted turbo boost at a cool $2200

It's amazing how quickly things change and above all, truly the number one lesson I've learned thus far, is to take each day as it comes. I can't bear to plan too far into the future because I can't guarantee that this day will be routine where I can just wake up, do some cool shit, eat a few times, hopefully find a little joy in the day and get back home to relax, all on time. True relaxation doesn't come every day now, and my second biggie lesson is being grateful for the little things like, finding pleasure in relaxation.

It's not all bad, but more importantly, it ain't all peaches and cream! If you're considering or embarking on van / rv / skoolie / etc living, lessen your expectations and remain wide open to opportunity.

Opportunities include learning from failure, building yourself back up after mishaps, and blown tires for the hell of it. If you want to find out what stuff you're made of, give this lifestyle a try.


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