7 Tips We Learned From Our First Weeks of Van Life

van life tips

Simply put, van life is the lifestyle of living in a vehicle full-time or part-time. We wanted to share our van life tips because changing our lifestyle brought so many benefits to our lives, including:

  • Increased physical activity due to more time spent outdoors
  • Feeling lighter from a simpler, minimalist way of life (& having fewer items)
  • The ability to explore more of the world around us
  • And, financial freedom

That’s not to say that changes don’t come without challenges, though. Life threw quite a few at us while we were on the road, including a broken torque converter in the middle of Salt Lake City summer; getting the van stuck not once, but four different times (in sand x2, mud, and gravel); a broken heater in the middle of Colorado winter; and having the most amount of bug bites I’ve ever had in my life at once, just to name a few things.

Completely changing your lifestyle is not an easy task, but it was worth it. We learned many lessons over our two years of full-time van life, and I’m sure we’ll have many more to learn when we build van 2.0. But, in the meantime, here are a few van life tips from our first weeks on the road.

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Van Life Tips

1. Downsize the number of items you have. Then, downsize it again. And, again. If you think you’ve downsized enough, take another look.

Before we left Michigan to start our van life journey in December 2020, we sold all of our furniture, got rid of at least half of the clothes we owned, and donated a lot of items. We probably re-evaluated what we were bringing with us in the van a good 5-6 times, but we still didn’t downsize enough and ran out of storage room when packing up the van. This meant we needed to move items around in the van to clear space, which was quite a hassle.

Our tip? Make sure everything you have has a set storage space, or get rid of it. Owning fewer items is just a part of van life. I would suggest having about two weeks worth of clothing, plus a few other essential clothing items such as one set of dressier clothes, a winter coat, a blazer, and a rain jacket. You’re likely going to have to do the laundry about every two weeks anyway, so you don’t need to have many more clothing items than that.

van life tips water bottles

The Camelbak water bottles we have been using every day

2. Take advantage of filtered, running water any time you can.

Not having access to filtered, running water consistently means we have to purchase it through the water dispensing stations at stores such as Walmart. We have three 5-gallon water cans and a big 6-gallon jug with a spout that we use to hold our water. This usually lasts us about a week.

We also bought durable, mid-to-large sized CamelBak water bottles. Shayne got a 50 oz bottle and I got a 32 oz bottle. By filling up our water bottles every time we were at Planet Fitness or a library, it allowed us to save a bit of money on the water we would have had to purchase at a store. So, take advantage of free, filtered running water any time you see it! Onto the next van life tip.

3. Have an internet access plan (and maybe a backup plan, too) if you will be relying on it for work.

Because we knew we were going to be working on the road a lot during van life, we upgraded our Verizon phone hotspot plan to 75 GB between the two of us per month. This worked out great, until one time we got to a camping spot we expected to have signal at but didn’t.

That’s why we invested in a weBoost. It was well worth it, and it boosts our cellphone signal (for all network providers) even when we’re in the middle of nowhere, sometimes taking us from zero bars to three bars. If you’re planning on working on the road, we highly recommend getting a weBoost to help with reliable internet access. Otherwise, you’ll have to plan accordingly and will likely be more reliant on coffee shops or other public places for internet access.

4. Know that it’s ok to have a slow pace during your travels.

Even if you’re seeing the most beautiful places on your travels and have it all mapped out, remember that traveling can take a lot of energy out of you. It’s important to pace yourself and take time to rest, even if there are a lot of stops you want to fit in!

Shayne and I found we would often get burnt out if we were hopping from spot to spot and not staying longer than a few days. Looking back, we wish we would have switched camping spots closer to every 1.5-2 weeks so that we could have enjoyed our time in each spot a little bit more. Packing and unpacking camp takes a bit of work!

5. Critical van life tip: having tools on hand is very important.

Because you’re living out of a vehicle that goes over all types of terrain, it’s important to have tools on hand in case something in your van breaks or you get stuck. Over our two-year span in the van, we got stuck four different times. Once in gravel on a backroad in Arizona; once in mud when a camping spot wasn’t quite as dry as we thought in New Mexico; once on the beach in Texas; and once in the desert in California. Here are just a few of the tools we would recommend you keep in your van:

  • Metal shovel (great for digging out stuck tires)
  • A couple of scrap pieces of wood (can also help with tires gaining traction if you are stuck)
  • Flashlight
  • Screwdriver set
  • Duct Tape
  • Gorilla Glue
  • Small sewing kit
  • Pair of scissors
  • Jumper cables

Onto the next van life tip!

van life tips camping spot

Our camping spot near Goblin Valley State Park in Utah where we had five days of extreme wind.

6. Van will be unpredictable, so just go with the flow and solve problems as they come up.

Camping spot doesn’t have signal like you thought it would? Just go with it. Dealing with day five of extreme winds outside in the Utah desert? It is what it is. The only time we can get into a national park due to limited access is at 6 AM the next morning? Ok, let’s go with it.

Van life is a little unpredictable. Weather, inaccurate information, and other factors can throw off your plan in an instance. So, it’s important to go with the flow and solve problems as they arise. Some of our craziest van adventures have happened because something unpredictable happened, we adapted, and went with it (rather than being frustrated).

7. Be grateful for little things.

Last but not least, it’s important to keep perspective and be grateful for the little things in life. Van life can be a grand adventure. But being appreciative of the small things that happen during your day makes it all the more wonderful. Check out our #LittleThings Photo Gallery for some captured moments we were grateful for while on the road.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading about the van life tips we learned during our first weeks on the road! You can check out some other van life tips by reading through our FAQs.

– Vanessa



Digital nomad. Website developer. Photographer. Designer. Lover of hiking, camping, dubstep, yoga, and reading.