Ups and Downs of Van Life

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60 square feet is not a lot of space. This is true. A lot of people say to us “I don’t know how you do it,” and it gets me thinking. I remember standing up in a house and smelling Jessie’s freshly baked bread being pulled out of the oven. Though these things certainly are nice, they aren’t necessary. I always tell people who comment on the van “it’s bigger than a backpack and smaller than a house, what more do you need?” When it rains we close the doors, if the floor gets dusty we sweep it. We are quite comfortable.

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We’ve learned to take shifts. Jess will get dressed first as I patiently wait and then take my turn, or vise versa. We’ve rigged a tarp set-up to expand our living space by more than twice as much. We’ll open the ceiling vent at night and crack the back doors. A nice cool breeze flows through the van, especially on these cool, dry Colorado nights. It seems every night is in competition with the night before. Any breach in logistics is simply a missed opportunity.

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It’s funny how we have accepted different roles. We call it “being in the bitch seat,” when the van is moving. This means whoever is driving ultimately dictates the law. Get me water, grab me something to eat, etc.… This also applies to our camp set-up and take down. Jess usually positions herself on the floor of the van and hands things to me outside, I’m the runner, or person who does all the legwork. Don’t let her tell you differently. We divide and conquer quite well no matter where we go or where we are. In a camp situation we have our duties engrained. We have become efficient. I now know what Jess’ next move will be without even talking to her.

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There are a few downsides to living in a van. We can’t stand up in our Econoline, so we hit our heads a lot. If you want to access something quickly, forget about it. Take a deep breath and get ready to move three things before actually reaching what you want. Patience. The side step into our van is our “mudroom” as a friend once called it. It’s always a mess. We pile shoes, water bottles, and the French press there. Every time we open the door, we pick those items up. Organization is a must. A pair of pants or shoes out of place makes the van look cluttered and messy. I hate that. We’ll organize before driving anywhere but always forget to secure at least six items, so as you can imagine, by the time we park, the van is a mess. Two people shouldn’t share a drawer. I’ll let your imagination answer why. It seems we are always out of water and are searching for places to get more. Showers are irregular. I consider a jump in the river a shower. Jess does not. A washboard dirt road will make me crazy. Everything, and I mean everything, escapes from its designated home in the van.

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I’ve learned that space isn’t necessary when two people can move in sync with one another. Our schedule is ever-changing and our ability to adapt to change has grown strong. We are aware of each other. Living in a small space is just as much about learning about yourself as it is learning about the person you share your life with. There are many moments of bliss and, of course, moments when life seems hard. We frequently acknowledge when it’s time to spend some time apart. With each day’s challenges, though, all we can do is keep on keeping on!


Have any questions about vanlife? Ask away! We are more than willing to share our tips for living simply, our hard-learned lessons, and our favorite pieces of gear. Want to learn more about the van buildout itself? Check out our DIY tutorial and video!

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