A few months ago, I left my job to travel the world in a camper van with my partner.
This lifestyle comes with pros and cons, and I miss having a real kitchen and immediate access to showers.
There are plenty of benefits to living in a camper van, though, like the beautiful sunsets, access to secluded areas, and ability to save money on accommodations.
After a few years of saving, I left my full-time job to travel around the world in a camper van with my partner.
We’ve been traveling around New Zealand for a few months, and life’s very different than it was when I lived at home. Some parts of my new lifestyle have changed for the better and others have been tough to deal with.
Here are some of the best and worst parts of van life.
I love having the time and inclination to read every single day – and I can do so in front of some incredible views.
Without the distraction of our devices — we often lose cell service at remote campsites — and, frankly, nothing else to do, my partner and I have found ourselves reading as much as we did as children.
With my e-reader, my whole bookshelf is space-efficient and comes with a handy nightlight for reading when it’s dark out.
And with lots of downtime and time spent as a passenger on the road, I’ve been steadily chipping away at my ever-growing list of must-read books since moving into my van.
I get to see amazing sunsets, stars, and sunrises all of the time.
Since a lot of overnight camper-van parking spots are nestled in a mountain range or right along a beach, we get to see incredible stars almost every night.
Without the light pollution from nearby cities, even the Milky Way is completely visible most nights.
And, because our van is lovably imperfect with its ill-fitting blackout curtains, we often wake up when the sun rises.
Getting such incredible views of the sky around the clock is an excellent way to appreciate all that happens to make our little van life possible.
I only really have to spend money on food and gas.
Fortunately, our wallets aren’t constantly bleeding from having to pay for accommodation, transportation, and expensive meals from restaurants.
This means we can save our cash for a taxi after a long thru-hike, some delicious single-source coffee, or something more pricey like a helicopter tour over a glacier (which is still on my to-do list).
Although the van itself was an investment, we plan to sell our asset when we’re ready to leave New Zealand. This means our only sunk costs are food, gas, and any tourist attractions we choose to visit.
Our van gives us access to locations that a lot of tourists aren’t able to reach.
Because of New Zealand’s extensive freedom-camping program, we can bring our van to some super remote locations that aren’t open to regular campers.
With a self-contained vehicle, we can go deeper into nature because we have a toilet, sink, and trash can in our van. This means we can truly leave no trace.
Some of the most mind-blowing nights are ones we’ve spent parked in a volcanic desert or lulled to sleep by the tide coming in on a rocky coastal beach.
There’s no schedule. Like, ever.
Van life is kind of like one long Sunday afternoon. We can do what we want, when we want to.
Ultimately, we end up moving locations pretty much every day, but we get to choose when, where, and how fast on a whim.
Although we’ve determined that keeping some sort of routine is important, we go about life with no strings attached.
On the other hand, we have no choice but to keep moving.
In New Zealand, most freedom-camping lots we’ve been to have a limit of two consecutive nights per month.
This means that, whether we like it or not, we have to move on every few days.
This is usually a great way to ensure we’re making the most of our time here, but it can be frustrating if we’re really enjoying a location or simply aren’t in the headspace to move on.
That said, the perspective I’ve gained from a lifestyle that doesn’t allow the time or space for laying around watching Netflix for a few days is invaluable.
If we fight, we fight.
Even if you’re in a romantic relationship with your van-life partner, quarters can be quite tight. And when interpersonal conflicts happen in a van, there simply isn’t somewhere else to go.
This is often a con, but it has a silver lining. Being stuck together has been a great way for my partner and me to recognize the ways that we’d usually avoid talking about a conflict.
It also forces us to be more meditative and introspective because we have to be more creative about how to make space.
Back home, taking space might look like spending a few nights apart. In the van, it looks like taking a hike alone or spending a day writing in a cafe while my partner does something else.
Ultimately, it makes us really appreciate our alone time, which helps us appreciate our together time.
Showers are hard to come by.
As a former makeup aficionado and lover of long, hot showers, this is the hardest part of van life for me.
Although the environmentalist in me is happy that I’ve worked myself down to a shower every three to five days, it’s tough to live a normal life when you know you won’t be able to take a shower later.
This means I won’t do a particularly sweaty yoga class until I know when my next shower will be, and that impacts mental and physical health whether I like it or not.
Biodegradable body wipes and sponge baths out of the back of the van hold us over until we can find a gym, public pool, beach shower, or friend to donate or sell a shower to us — but these will surely never be as comfortable as relaxing in my apartment’s bathtub for an hour after a hard day.
The kitchen looks very different and has limited storage space.
Someone who has the money to ball out on a van with solar panels and high-power inverters might be able to make a van kitchen look more like an apartment setup.
But we simply don’t have that capital, so we make it work by using a medium-sized cooler, a camp stove, and our hand-pump sink.
This is a pretty common setup for a van the size of ours, and it honestly isn’t that bad — but I never thought about how much food I store in my fridge until I didn’t have one.
Sauces, chopped veggies, and meat also need to be kept below a certain temperature for food-safety reasons, and it’s really tough to keep a cooler that cold, especially in the summer heat.
We’ve made it work by adding rock salt to our ice bags, cooking meat the day we buy it, and making sure to store our cooler out of direct sunlight.
Electronic comforts are few and far between.
It’s been tough losing the assurance of cell service, internet access, and electricity to charge all of my devices.
Although I had unbridled cell service back in the US, I’ve found that New Zealand has much more stringent data limits.
In my experience, the data in New Zealand is much more expensive and is often a lot slower.
Back home, if I didn’t have WiFi to check my email I’d just set up a hotspot from my phone.
On the road, if I want to set up a hotspot (which I still sometimes do because I’m only human), it seriously drains on my phone and laptop battery, which I must consider because I don’t have a swath of outlets to charge them with.
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