Skip to Content

Living In A Van Full-Time | What It’s Really Like

You might be scrolling Instagram or watching glamorous Youtube videos of what vanlife is like. And you don’t ever really see behind the scenes of true vanlife. This post is not meant to glorify vanlife, but truly show you what it’s really like living in a van full-time.

Jake and Em wondering what it's really like living in a van

This post is definitely not meant to sway you away from the vanlife lifestyle, but introduce some of the practical day-to-day struggles vanlifers go through. And while vanlife can definitely be a cheap way to live, it can also become expensive if you’re not willing to give up some of the comforts of a home. And generally, the more money you put into a campervan conversion, the more comfortably you can live. But even some vanlife challenges can’t be solved no matter how much money you are willing to throw at them.

Jake and I really do enjoy vanlife, but there are definitely times where we wish we just had a traditional house. Our van plus conversion, costed about 18k and we are happy with the level of comfort that it gives us. So here are some examples of full-time vanlife problems and how you might choose to address them.

This post may contain affiliate links. Disclosure policy.

Where Do We Go To The Bathroom

Jake sitting in the van on the bathroom toilet reading a magazine

The main question we get when we say we live in a campervan is where do you go to the bathroom. And that is a great question. There are all different methods of how to go to the bathroom in a campervan.

But we have a cassette toilet in the van for going # 1 only (You can go #2 in them, but it gets gross).  It’s basically a self-contained plastic toilet that allows you to carry the black water and empty into a regular toilet or RV waste dump.  For #2 we either find a public restroom, dig a 6 inch hole at least 200 feet away from a water/trails/campsites, or go in a bag and sprinkle on some Poo Poo Powder. So, there are plenty of times, when you gotta go, but you just gotta hold it, and well, that can be troubling.

I will definitely say this is the part that gets very old after living in a campervan for many months to years. In my opinion, the best option is to get a composting toilet, but they are pricey and even come with their own set of inconveniences. 

Composting toilets require you to buy a composting medium and you still have to manually empty out the contents.  But a composting toilet just doesn’t fit in our van anywhere with our current build. So if you are reading this before building out your camper van, I would HIGHLY suggest forking up the money and buying yourself one of these. Check out our post: Top 5 Best Composting Toilets On The Market

For more information about how we go to the bathroom in the van, check out our post: How We Go To The Bathroom In Our Camper Van

How Do We Shower In The Van

Emily showering outside our van with a solar shower

Another popular question in vanlife is how do we shower? And really for most vanlifers, you learn to live with fewer showers, because we don’t have an endless supply of water like a traditional house.

There are a whole slew of things to help stay fresh on the road. Jake and I have a solar shower bag that we use outside (Check out our Review). But ideally, you want it to be warm and sunny outside when using it, which can be a challenge in the winter time. I’d say majority of the time, I have goosebumps when we take an outdoor shower… (So for all you ladies shaving those legs, say goodbye to smooth legs).

Or another popular solution is to get a gym membership and shower there.  Planet Fitness seems to be the most common among vanlifers.  They have tons of locations nationwide and a low monthly subscription.

Additionally, we use A LOT of hygiene wipes (our favorite brand is Good Wipes) to stay fresh traveling on the road. Or I use our kitchen sink often to at least wash my hair. Otherwise I just put my hair in a braid and wear a headband to cover up how greasy it is.  Jake has had a shaved head since before Vanlife so he doesn’t even know the struggle.

Be prepared for your hygiene to take a little bit of a hit while living in a van. Also, check out our post, How To Find Showers On The Road for additional solutions.

When you see all those cute vanlife pictures or youtube videos, most vanlifers probably took a shower specifically for that. (We are guilty of this too, but hey, we still want to look our best!) And most other times are living a little grimier.

If you are interested in a portable shower, check out our post: Best Portable Shower For Vanlife & Camping

Finding Vanlife Internet

Since you’ve probably noticed by landing on this blog post, Jake and I NEED the internet to make a living to keep this blog up and running. So one of the biggest challenges of living in a van is finding internet on the road.

The best solution for us to get vanlife internet is to use our cell phone as a mobile hotspot & to boost the cell-signal with our Weboost (Check out our Weboost Review). But sometimes when you are out in remote areas, internet just still doesn’t exist. (For the best Portable Wifi Devices, check out our post: How To Get Vanlife Internet)

Or when we need to sync data to the cloud or upload to Youtube we need to find somewhere with fast upload speeds. Which can be a serious challenge in vanlife (especially during a pandemic). We often find libraries or coffee shops to be the most reliable spot for faster internet speeds, but many places only care about their download speeds and completely ignore upload speeds.  So while you may be able to stream a video fine, uploading GB’s of photos will take days.

For more ways to get internet on the road, check out our post: How To Get Wifi & Internet On The Road

Vanlife Mechanical Issues

Our Ford E-350 Van getting it's tire rotated

Another thing that’s hard to account for when living in a van is mechanical issues. They usually just pop up when you least expect it and then you need to adapt to the situation. The biggest challenge to mechanical issues, is the campervan is your home. You obviously pray that the mechanical issue can be resolved in just a day so you can sit in their waiting room and get your home back later that day. But sometimes they need more than a day or a part takes a day or so to come in. So what do you do if that is the case?

Sometimes auto body shops will allow you to stay in your campervan overnight if you have a bathroom in your vehicle. But sometimes it might require you to get a hotel room. So we suggest having a “rainy day fund” for unexpected issues that might come up with your campervan.

Finding Campsites & Parking On The Road

Finding campsites & parking is not always as easy as putting the address into your GPS, and showing up to park for the evening. Sometimes the spot is taken by other campers or a new sign pops up that says no overnight camping. So finding a campsites can sometimes take hours. Or if you plan to stay at campgrounds, it often times takes advanced planning to book a campsite in advance. Like sometimes up to 6 months in advance.

Also, oftentimes most vanlifers don’t even know where they are going to camp that evening. So if you are a big planner, this part of living in a van can cause some stress. But for the most part, things resolve themselves and you will find a spot to park overnight. Our best suggestion is to try to find a campsite before dark, because it is always harder when the sun goes down. It’s annoying when you are exhausted and just want to sleep, but are still searching for a place that you are allowed or comfortable to park at overnight.

The best websites and apps to use for finding campsites are iOverlander, Sekr (aka: The Vanlife App,, & campendium

Also, check out our post: How To Find Free Overnight Parking In Vanlife

Cooking In A Campervan

First, when building out your campervan you need to decide how you are going to cook in the van. Do you want a propane stove, electric cooktop, or maybe upgrade to an oven? 

Most people choose a propane double burner, but you will need to plan proper campervan ventilation or cook with the doors open to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Also, we have a vent fan right above our propane stovetop to make sure all the moisture escapes the van properly to avoid growing mold. (Mold growth is a common issue in vanlife if you don’t properly vent your campervan). 

Jake and I use the little green canisters, which can feel pretty wasteful because they can’t be refilled. If you are planning your van build out while reading this, we suggest trying to add a larger propane tank either in a floor-vented airtight container or externally on your campervan. 

Electric Cooktop

If you do decide on an electric cooktop, you will need a larger electrical set-up. Because turning electricity into heat will use A LOT of your power. So for campervan owners, electric cook tops are usually not the cheaper route, because you will need to invest a lot more money into your electrical setup.

Stove/Oven Combo

Or if you go for the stove/oven combo then you will need to be prepared to use much more propane. But you also get to live the most “normal” lifestyle! But do note that when it is hot out, using your oven will heat up your campervan in no time. 

Ultimately, it is great to cook in your campervan and can save you a ton of money versus eating out. And honestly, we like cooking, but doing dishes is by far the worst part.  We have only 10 gallons of water storage, and no hot water heater.  So we basically do our dishes with just a trickle of room-temp water, and it makes it slow and tedious.

Also, check out our post: Best Camp Stoves For Campervans

How To Deal With Bugs/Pests When Living In A Van

Bugs are one of the most annoying things in both life and vanlife. I think they are really here just to annoy humans.  Maybe not, but either way, I prefer to keep them outside of the van.

There are a few different ways we try to keep bugs out of our campervan. We custom made some bug nets to go on our side doors and back doors so we can open the doors to get a breeze but not have bugs constantly flying through. 

Or of course there are some products that you can use to help keep the bugs away, but we prefer not to use bug spray because as listed above, we don’t shower as often and can’t wash that off our skin. But if you like that route, check out our post: Best Insect Repellents For Camping & Vanlife

We also have a pop-up bug net for times we want to sit outside the van but bugs are annoying us. This has been especially great when it’s super hot in the van and having a breeze run through simply isn’t enough to keep you cool.

Mice/Pack Rats & Wood Rats

Packrats or Woodrats can be another problem. We definitely didn’t know this was a thing when we first started vanlife, but living in a van in the desert can be a problem. Packrats love to make little nests in your campervan or under the hood of your vehicle because its warm and dark.  They collect things to make their nests and will potentially chew on wires. A common solution is to keep the hood of your van propped open at night to let moonlight in. Otherwise, more drastic action can be taken with light/noise emitters.

In the southwestern US they are a common problem and can do thousands of dollar of damage when they chew through electrical wires. Or rodents might come to check out the delicious food you have inside. 

After having a mouse encounter in the Alabama Hills in California, we quickly learned why some people have their campervan hoods open during the night. We had a mouse join us in the van and was climbing all around the kitchen. We set up a beer box trap with peanut butter and luckily caught it to let it free back outside, but it took up a decent chunk of our night to catch him.

Limited Water Supply

Like mentioned above a couple different times, you don’t have an endless supply of water when living off-grid as a full-time vanlifer. We only carry about 10 gallons of water with us, so we really can only go off-grid from a few days unless we plan ahead and bring extra water. But this is a tedious chore in vanlife because you often have to fill-up every 3-4 days. 

Not to mention, when you shower you use water, dishes, brushing your teeth, and well, staying hydrated, etc. So I’d say the lack of water gets quite annoying after a while. Some people do have larger water tanks built inside their van, but it does take up quite a bit more space which means less storage overall. Plus they are very hard to clean.

So our best suggestion is to get a water filter, and try and fill up your water wherever you can. If you visit National Parks often, then their visitor center usually has a freshwater spigot. 

Sun Exposure & Rain While Living In A Van

When living in a van full-time you get way more exposure to the outside elements. And sometimes in the hot summer months, it can get way too hot to comfortably sit in the camper van. So you need a way to protect yourself from the elements. One thing we love is the MoonShade which is an awning for your campervan (For $30 Off, use coupon code: TwoRoamingSouls).  

It’s the most affordable awning solution we have found.  It’s super easy to set up right outside your doors and hope for a little bit of a breeze to keep you cooler or protect you from the rain.  The shade from the Moonshade also keeps the van cooler by protecting one side from direct sunlight.

Temperature Control While Living In A Van

A campervan in snow needs good winter tires.

Unless you are going for a more luxurious (expensive) build, most vanlifers don’t have a heater or air conditioner in their campervan. So whatever temperature it is outside, better either put on some layers or make sure you have an awning or fans to stay cool. We haven’t found this to be too difficult, especially because we travel to warmer places in the winter and cooler places in the summer.

But the thing you need to be most aware of is freezing items in your campervan during a cold front. If the temperature is dropping below 32 degrees at night for multiple hours, you need to be careful of certain things.  We have to empty our sink water lines so that our water pump and water filter don’t break from the expansion of frozen water.  The other thing we watch out for is our computers or other electronics getting damaged by the cold.

There are times when a snowstorm will roll through in the middle of June (personal experience) and you aren’t prepared to freeze your butt off. Or temperatures in the area happen to be above average and you can’t stay cool. The best thing about living in a campervan is you can move your home. Check the weather that surrounds the area. Maybe if you drive South for a few hours the weather is much more manageable. We’ve had to alter our plans so we can keep the van temperate.

Tips & Tricks To Help Moisture Control Living In A Van

There are tons of tips and tricks to help temperature control in your campervan. For the winter, wear tons of layers. Make a cup of tea to keep your core warm. Hang out indoors at places with heat such as a library or coffee shop. We’ve also purchased a personal space heater, and for much colder nights, run the Mr. Buddy Little Heater. There are tons of great options to help you stay warm if a cold front temporarily roles through. Check out our post: How To Stay Warm In Winter Vanlife Without A Heater

And of course in summer when the weather gets too hot, hang out near lakes or swimming holes. Or consider buying a MoonShade for an easy to set up awning. 

Living In A Van With 2 People

Jake and Em looking at eachother in the door of the campervan telling each other what it's like living in a van

I’d say one of the hardest parts about vanlife with 2 people is the lack of personal space and autonomy. Jake and I just happen to be weird humans that don’t need too much “alone time” and are fine just plopping on some headphones and that’s enough “personal space” for us. But that is not always the case with some couples.

Living with a partner in vanlife does require some patience and being prepared to be in each others way, way too often. You will become way closer, because you really are doing everything together. The bedroom is also the living room, is also the kitchen, is also the bathroom, you get the idea. We have resorted to just asking each other for privacy when we need it, basically just close your eyes or step outside the van for a minute. But for us it’s a worthy trade-off to have so much freedom to travel! 

There are still plenty of ways to get personal time in vanlife if that is something that is important to you. Maybe go on a daily walk alone so you can clear your head. Or sit in different places at the library so you don’t have any distractions. Another idea is to have a sheet/curtain that can separate 2 sections in your van, so it feels like you are in two separate rooms. If personal space is important to you, then I’m sure you can find a way to make it work!

The other main issue is that we are sharing one vehicle, that’s also our house. This makes it hard to have different jobs, hobbies, etc. Besides this blog we have typically worked service industry jobs like restaurants. It’s very difficult for us to work different jobs because we have only have one vehicle/home. We have been able to make it work if the jobs are within close proximity to each other. But if we have different schedules then that poses other challenges.

Planning Where To Go

Jake using a phone app that is helping him with vanlife

Another challenge you have after living in a campervan for over a year is where to travel. Like mentioned above, Jake and I don’t have a heater or air conditioner. So we travel to warmer places in the winter (like Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, California, etc) and cooler places in the summer (up north or any mountain ranges). But after you live in a campervan for a while, you’ve already seen many of these places. And we don’t really have a desire to make it to every state. We are tempted to go south to Mexico for warmth in winter and new adventures, but we think that it will be hard to work remotely on our blog.

So we are running into issue of where else to travel in vanlife. Don’t get me wrong, there is still TONS to see, but most of the places we want to see have such a short warm season. We prefer mountains, but warm weather in the mountains is just so short, and like we said, we don’t have a heater. There’s a lot more we want to do in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Canada, and Alaska, but unless we are willing to freeze our butts off, it’s hard to get to it all in the short summer season.

So overall, we tend to have trouble finding where to go to work remotely. We luckily can be flexible with out schedule since we are our own bosses. If you have a remote job with a more strict schedule then it requires you to always prioritize have internet even if it’s not convenient.  For example parking/camping closer to civilization, or driving into town daily to get internet. to Many places only allow 14 consecutive days, so you need to find a new place to stay often. But for new vanlifers, you usually are in the “honeymoon” stage so the possibilities are endless.

Keeping The Van Clean

Living in such a small space is both a perk and nightmare. Just placing a few items on the counter can make it look dirty, or wearing your shoes in the can dirty up the floor. But the space is much smaller than a traditional home, so it is way easier and faster to clean up. To help keep our tiny home on wheels clean we always do our dishes right after cooking, try to sweep out the van every other day and keep the van as clutter free as possible. 

One of the best things about having a home that moves often is you HAVE TO put things away before driving otherwise they will break or fall. So basically it requires that you tidy up your house every time you want to drive somewhere. Jake wrote a whole post about the best latches for keeping drawers and cabinets closed when you’re driving. So keeping your campervan clean is not quite as hard as cleaning a whole house! Yah, so that’s one perk to a smaller living space!

How To Make Vanlife More Comfortable

When living in such a tiny home, we have found some ways to make things a little bit more comfortable. Such as having a vacuum sealed water bottle to keep cold water. Or having non-stick pans so cleaning is a breeze. There are little things that make living in such a tiny space much better overall. 

15 Things that make vanlife more comfortable Pinterest Pin

And we felt so passionately about making vanlife more comfortable, so we wrote a post about it. Check out our post: 15 Things That Make Vanlife More Comfortable

Establishing Residency Living In A Van

One of the biggest challenges about living in a van is having a “home” base to establish residency. There are a few ways that make it easier for vanlifers to establish residency. For Jake and I, we have a virtual mailbox that we use for our health insurance, car registration, registering to vote, filing taxes, etc. But choosing where to establish your residency is a whole nother debacle. 

To make things easier for us, we decided to stay in the state we lived in for 4+ years. That way we didn’t have to change our drivers licenses, health insurance carrier, etc. And we lived in the mountains of Colorado, so we just switched to a virtual mailbox is the mountains to keep things similar, and it’s cheaper car insurance than a city.

The downside to that is we still pay taxes because we live in Colorado where they have state tax. But we go back to Colorado annually, so it’s great for us to regroup, go to any doctors appointments, vote, renew vehicle registration, etc. 

But if you want to change your residency to a state that doesn’t have income tax such as Texas, South Dakota, Florida, etc. then you might have to do a little extra work. Some states have certain rules you must follow to legally become a resident. Such as living in the state for a small duration of time, or need to have your car inspected annually. So look into the state you prefer to become a resident and see if you need to travel back annually or not. 

Getting Mail On The Road

Getting mail on the road is actually one of our biggest struggles for us. There are easy ways to get mail such as general delivery, amazon lockers or virtual mailboxes. But from running a blog, we often work with brands, and it’s hard to get everything lined up properly with our travel plans. Most of the time, we try to plan in advance and get general delivery to a place that we know we will be at in a week or so. But things often get delayed or it’s hard to know which company certain products are being delivered by. 

For example, if you want general delivery for a product and you give a USPS address and it’s being shipped via FedEx, the product will be returned to sender because the 2 companies do not work together. So getting mail on the road can be a bit of a headache. And we basically miss out on all of the “mailed to your door” services that have become popular in the modern era.

Our best advice is if you have family or friends nearby to ask them if you can use their address and have things sent to their location. Or honestly, try to buy things in person if possible!

We wrote a whole post about how to get mail on the road, so check it out: How To Get Mail On The Road

Getting Insurance Living In A Van

Insurance is yet another problem you deal with living in a van. Whether it be car insurance or health insurance, it’s hard to find a plan that is both affordable and works with this lifestyle. 

Car Insurance:

For example, when searching for car insurance, it was hard to find a plan that would cover everything inside our van because we self-converted. Therefore, it was going to cost almost $250 per month for a low-end plan that covered accidents/collisions but there was still a grey area of whether it would cover our belongings in the van. Which was just too much to pay for a gamble. 

So we decided to just go with a well-covered car insurance plan in case of an accident which only costs us around $1,000 per year instead of $3,000 per year. And instead, we have created our own rainy-day fund.  And we try our best to bring our important belongings with us when we might be leaving our van in less safe areas.

Update: We have since switched over to Roamly, which we have found to be the best insurance to cover DIY camper van conversions.

Health Insurance:

Because Jake’s and my “physical address” is in Colorado we can use Connect For Health Colorado to get affordable health care. But the issue is, that we need to be in Colorado in order to be “in-network”. 

Therefore when we are traveling in any other states besides Colorado, we are entering into “out of network” territory. So if an emergency arises, we might be stuck with a large medical bill. 

So health insurance can be a tricky thing in vanlife. When looking for health care plans, try to find one that can cover out-of-network costs. Or potentially look into annual travel insurance plans.

Allianz is a travel insurance company. They have annual plans that can cover emergencies when you are out of state. Check into their annual plans here.

Takeaway: Living In A Van Full-time | What It’s Really Like

While we talked about some negatives or drawbacks of living in a van, it’s still been such a positive experience for us. We just get comfortable adapting to new situations and have a positive outlook. And personally, you are going to have positives and negatives to both living in a van or a traditional home. And for our budget and love for the outdoors, we love this lifestyle. You might experience some big changes when moving into such a small space, but the freedom you have to explore is something we wouldn’t trade. 

While we definitely get annoyed with some parts of living in a van, I am so willing to put up with the small annoyances to live the lifestyle I love! I hope this helps share what it’s really like to live in a campervan full-time. 

Help Us Share The Pins For Living In A Van On Pinterest

How Much Did Our DIY Camper Van Conversion Cost - tworoamingsouls

Monday 10th of April 2023

[…] used pine which is usually not recommended because it is soft and can dent easily, but we were living in a van, so we knew it was […]

6 Gift Ideas For Travel Bloggers - tworoamingsouls

Tuesday 4th of April 2023

[…] Travel bloggers can be very tricky to shop for because they likely have put a premium on travel experiences instead of material things. They often live minimally to help them afford flights or live nomadic in a campervan or RV.  […]

How To Make Easy Stovetop Pizza - tworoamingsouls

Monday 3rd of April 2023

[…] those of you that don’t know, Jake and I live out of a camper van full-time. When building out our van, we had a predicament of whether to buy the Camp Chef Propane Oven or […]