I’m no stranger to a gypsy-esq lifestyle. From living on ships, to hopping around subleases in New York City, I never seem to stay in one place for too long. Commitments like leases and owning furniture are shackles and chains. I have no interest in being a prisoner. Change is my constant. Sometimes it gets tedious. Most of the time it thrills me to no end.
New experiences never fail to teach me something new about the world and something new about myself. To quote Katie Askegaard, April 9th 2021 in “The Birthday Questions”:
Don’t be led by the fear of failure or the dream of success. Simply never accept complacency.
My comradery with change made the transition to van life easy. A moving home is the perfect vehicle for exploration and adventure. However, the lifestyle isn’t for everyone.
After 60 days on the road, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to get the most out of van life. Here are 5 things you need to be okay with to successfully live the lifestyle.
1.You have to be okay with being dirty.
If your van doesn’t have a shower, some days you will be forced to embrace the dirt and grime. Say goodbye to 7 step skin care systems, morning make up routines, and luxurious showers and hello to the more, shall we say, “natural” aesthetic.
Tips for finding a shower:
- Public pools: For AUD$4-$8 you can get in a swim followed by a shower. This was our go-to one-two punch for getting exercise and getting cleaned up.
- Beaches: Where there’s a beach, there will be some sort of shower. You’ll need to keep your swimmers (Aussie lingo for swimsuit) on and you can’t be self-conscious about whipping out your bar of soap.
- Public bathrooms: Surprisingly enough, some public bathrooms have showers. They are just as unpleasant as you might expect.
2.You have to be okay with public restrooms/ peeing in nature.
“How do you use the bathroom?” was the #1 question friends asked about van life. While some vans have a toilet/port-o-potty, ours did not. One great thing about Australia is that there are public restrooms galore. You can count on even the smallest towns having toilets, and there are plenty of rest stops along long highway stretches.
In some towns, these restrooms get locked at night and sometimes you are camped out in the middle of nowhere. This means you’ll need to relieve your bladder in the great outdoors. Men, you’ll be aye-okay. Ladies, limber up those hips and get comfortable with the art of the squat.
Fun Aussie fact: While Australia has stunning beaches, cool cities, and great natural wonders, there is also a whole lot of nothing. There were a few painfully long stretches of highway where looking out the window was no different than watching paint dry. Sprinkled about are “Driver Reviver” stations. On certain days and times, this spots offer free snacks and coffee to help you “survive the drive.”
3.You have to be okay with no phone service and being off the grid at times.
Often, we would have stretches of no phone service. No social media, no texts, no stock market updates. If you need to be connected, van life might not be for you.
4.You have to be okay with plans changing and being spontaneous.
Changing plans and being flexible is essential for getting the most out of van life. If you see an intriguing sign, follow it. If you get a cool tip from a local, take it. If you’re totally exhausted, just hang out for the day. If the weather is terrible, maybe don’t climb that mountain.
If you need a rigid itinerary and get flustered when things change, van life might not be for you.
5.You have to be good at open communication and willing to compromise.
Traveling in general can put strains on relationships. Traveling in a teeny tiny van has the potential to end in disaster if you don’t communicate and can’t compromise.
Both parties involved won’t always want to do the same thing. Being honest about what you think, effectively expressing said thoughts, and finding a middle ground is critical.
Personal Example: Jeremy and I never want to let each other down, and at the beginning, we were trying to accommodate wish lists that didn’t actually exist. Jeremy would think I really wanted to see a specific waterfall. I would think he’d be okay not stopping through a beach town. The result? Getting frustrated with each other. So we stopped, talked it through, and improved our communication to be more direct and straight to the point. “Never assume you know how someone feels” is an important lesson that rings true in van life.
If you can’t express how you feel and you’re unwilling to compromise, van life might not be for you.
Van life is a freeing and exciting way to explore the world. Itineraries aren’t constrained by hotel reservations and beds, allowing for unbridled spontaneity and adventure.
But freedom can be stressful.
All the options stemming off an open road can be overwhelming. Roughing it without basic amenities like toilets and a microwave can be unpleasant and exhausting. Compromise and communication after a long day and no sleep due to Queensland heat and humidity can cause tension.
But if you make friends with uncertainly, are comfortable without basic amenities, and embrace adventure with wide open arms, what are you waiting for? The adventure of a lifetime is calling your name!