If you’re thinking about simplifying your life and find yourself imagining leaving it all (well, most of it) (well, the stuff you definitely don’t need) (OK, maybe some of that can come too) behind, you may be considering the concept of #vanlife. You know, you pack your necessities and yourselves into a van and you hit the road, with only the essentials. No distractions of everyday life. Just you, the sunrise, your laptop and your bike or your running shoes.
Good news/bad news: You do get that sunrise in said van. But as for simplicity? Prepare to spend a lot more time on the things that normally take minutes at home, and if you want to work or train or do literally anything that isn’t just living your best #vanlife, prepare to spend more time and compromise more things to make that happen.
Don’t get me wrong—we’ve had a great trip thus far in our van. But whenever I think of the simplicity narrative that surrounds the whole #vanlife vibe, I want to laugh. Just to give a few illustrations:
At home: A carpet on the floor and great wifi so I can stream my cheesy show and do my morning core + yoga straight out of bed.
In the van: Resetting my yoga mat trying to find a dry, level spot on the ground every morning. No good wifi.
At home: A sink that drains itself as you wash dishes
In the van: A sink that needs to be emptied as you do the dishes
At home: It’s raining and chilly, so after training, a long hot shower and a warm afternoon working at a desk are in order
In the van: Post-rainy workout, a chilled day of shivering in the van trying to get work done in a slightly too small space for two people and a wet dog
At home: Peter goes on his ride, I go on my run, zero discussion.
In the van: We stagger our starts to not leave DW by himself since it’s both hot and he barks if he hears another dog while he’s alone in the van, which means I’m running a chunk of my runs with him in a dog jogger, while Peter leaves earlier or later than he normally would so that we’re only both out for an hour or so.
At home: Wifi. Unlimited. Electronic charging capabilities, also unlimited.
In the van: Hotspots. Limited. Technically, they’re unlimited, but if you’ve ever tried to do a normal day of working as a podcaster/blogger/journalist via a hotspot, you know it can be maddening how slow it can get. We’ve also had to pay for a few upgrades in the last week as we realized how limited our plans really were for full-time use. And plugging in computers, phones, etc. throughout the day? Somehow much more difficult in a van setup.
At home: Normal meal prep.
In the van: Everything takes longer if you’re trying to make a normal meal—I did a lovely one pot pasta casserole-ish thing that would have taken maybe 15 minutes to make at home. In the van, it took over an hour. And that’s not counting the 3-4x longer it takes to do cleanup.
Now, some of this can be blamed on our very chill van setup that didn’t involve adding intense plumbing or cabinetry. But even if we had an in-van sink, for instance, the greywater would need to be emptied most days—so van setup isn’t really the issue. It’s more that trying to do anything other than #vanlife, like training or working, isn’t quite as dialed. I’m sure some of this starts to simplify eventually, but at the moment? I’d say our days are nicer because we’re outside, but much more complicated! (I also chatted with a new-to-vanlife family at the RV park the other day, and they’re already feeling the same vibes of ‘yep, this is way more complicated than our small house way.’)
Again—this isn’t to say any of this is a bad thing, necessarily. But if one is looking for simplicity, I think the better answer is downsizing to the minimum footprint you need/can afford house-wise, cutting expenses so you don’t need to work as much, focusing less on the new and shiny bike and more on your training and fitness, and dialing in your routines.
There are plenty of ways that being in the van has been fantastic: The aforementioned sunrise, the constant vitamin D exposure being outside all day, the temperate days where we are both working at the picnic table, access to great trails… It’s been great.
And there are a couple of ways it does simplify things, for sure. But some of these aren’t even for the better, necessarily… at least, not in the long term.
- Less extras to add at night—we’re in bed much earlier thanks to the simple fact that it’s dark and chilly at night, and our bed is very cozy.
- We don’t have our community of friends or family to hang out with. This is nice because we get to spend time together after so much time with our families over the holidays, but in the long term, we both miss our communities after a couple of weeks.
- More time just chatting and hanging out with each other and DW, because with slightly limited wifi, I’m less inclined to scroll.
- Less food diversity, since we’re trying to limit our grocery drives. At home, we can easily run or ride to the grocery store in minutes! This is a pro and a con because it does mean we’re saving $$ on food and not wasting anything, plus my access to treats is limited to what’s in stock, but it’s still frustrating when you just want kale but aren’t going to drive to pick up a bag.
OK, fine, there is one complication that I’m OK with—I love running with DW in the Dogger. Sue me.
All this to say—if you’re scrolling Instagram dreaming of a less complicated existence, moving into a van won’t get you there. Or at least, it won’t automatically guarantee it.