Amazing Things We Never Expected of Van Life


A few weeks ago I wrote about the stresses that naturally come with van life and living on the road. Things like unknown noises, if we are in danger of getting in an accident, the safety of our belongings and the pup were all on that list. But what I didn’t speak about were the benefits and amazing, wonderful surprises we’ve encountered along the way in our short while living in the van. These are some, but not all, of the amazing things we’ve been able to experience because we chose to let go of our apartment life and live on the road in a van:

The lightness that comes from having everything you own fit into 125 sq ft

When we chose to embark on this journey, one of the first things we did before we even had the van in our possession was to sell almost everything we owned. It was a huge endeavor because even though we had moved almost annually for the last 5 years of our lives, we had still collected a lot of stuff. We were in a 2 bedroom apartment (900sq ft) and we sold all of our furniture except a hand-me-down rocking chair and our bed frame, which we only kept because it broke down and stored very compactly. We kept a good amount of kitchen items for our future home, but all of our books, decor items, chairs, kitchen island, weight set (this one really broke my heart), desks, and other stuff went. We sold or donated all of it. We paired down our clothing, go rid of anything we didn’t use very often and stuff we knew we wouldn’t use in the van.

The only things we kept were items that we could confidently answer ‘yes’ to on this question: “Will I still want this and find value in it after it is in storage for 3+ years?” Things that we couldn’t answer yes for, we got rid of, things we felt a maybe for but could buy down the road, we got rid of. Now all of our belongings fit in a 5ft x 5ft storage unit and the van (which only amounts to a total of about 125 sq ft, including the cargo box on the van). Knowing how little we own was a scary thought at first, but it was also freeing. For the first time, we weren’t weighted down by stuff. We didn’t feel tied to any one place now because of our belongings. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders and something we talk about often is that if we wanted to settle down somewhere, we could move everything to that new place in one trip in the van.

Waking up and not remembering where you are

It’s a weird thing to wake up and not remember where you are. It’s a feeling I’ve only had a handful of times before being in the van when I’ve traveled somewhere and the first morning in that new place I have to remind myself where I am. But in the van, it happens at least once a month. When you get to take your bed and the four walls you sleep within with you everywhere, you wake up looking at the same thing. Until you move the curtains, that is. It’s somewhat disorienting but also incredibly exciting to wake up and be surprised by the beautiful scenery around you. I will never get tired of asking myself where I am when I’m half asleep still trying to wake up and then remembering as I look around at the view outside our windows.


The simplicity of the lifestyle (you can come and go wherever)

Even though there are a lot of little and routines that come with the van, life overall is fairly simple. You have a very defined set of needs that are for the most part easy to meet.

Water. Check.

Food. Check.

Cell Signal. Check.

We’re good.

You get used to all of the routines that come with van life and you sort of sink into them until they become no big deal. Checking that the drawers are locked before driving somewhere becomes a habit and life becomes so much more simple. Maybe it’s because we set our own course now by getting to decide our next destination, our place of residence for the week, or maybe it’s because we have become so much more laid back, but life has a sweet simplicity to it that I hope to carry with us even into a home someday.


The community

I have never met a more inclusive and welcoming group of people in my life. First of all, most people who go into van life are fairly mellow and oftentimes cheerful people to begin with. Secondly, van lifers tend to be greeted with a touch of hostility when it comes to the legality of living in your car, so anyone friendly is a welcome find. Thirdly, people tend to be living less on a schedule and are more open to changes in their path and day. And fourthly, a good amount of the time van lifers tend to live in some form of solitude (being out in BLM land for a week straight with no one to talk to but your partner or furry friend can get lonely) and are generally open to and welcome someone new to talk to and learn about. Plus, van lifers are typically very social and friendly even on social media so even if you don’t know them in person, you can have a good chat with fellow van dwellers.


Trying out new cities for our future forever home

Ben and I have very little attachment to the Pacific Northwest. We like Portland and we have family in the area, but we don’t feel a calling to settle down in Portland. Because of this, we’ve talked frequently about what cities we might want to settle down in and many of those cities are all around the country (Austin, Minneapolis, Portland, ME to name a few). Living in Portland and flying to all of these places to know if that’s where we’d want to live is not only expensive but it’s hard to get a good look at what the town has to offer and what living there would actually be like. Being in the van allows us to check out the city a little more, get a feel for the general vibe, what kinds of grocery stores they have, what the recreational activities are, etc. We can get a more accurate assessment of a city by living there in the van than staying in an Airbnb or hotel for a week would provide. And who knows, maybe Portland is the place for us, but at least in the meantime, we get to try on other cities for size to determine that for ourselves.

Seeing Arrow become more relaxed and confident (off leash training)

This has been an exciting thing for us. We got Arrow almost 5 years ago from the Oregon Humane Society and he came with a rap sheet. Arrow had been picked up off the streets of Sacramento, transferred to Portland after not being adopted soon enough, adopted by a family with a kid and another dog, then returned by that same family to the humane society. It was a rough past. And he was dog reactive (barking, lunging, and all around going crazy at the sight or sound of another dog). Since we got Arrow, he has relaxed and grown into a new furry friend each year. And these changes have been great and so rewarding but slow.

However, in the past 4 months of van life, Arrow has changed into yet another version of himself. One that is significantly more confident and secure in who he is and his place in life and more relaxed because he knows where we are at almost all times of the day. He has even become such an amazing companion that we have been able to off-leash train him a bit on BLM land (something we never even considered a remote possibility when we got him or even a year ago). We can’t wait to see how he grows and changes during our time in the van, who knows, maybe he’ll frequently be a free-range dog, or maybe he’ll stay the same and that’s perfectly great too. Bottom line is, he is happier than ever and we are having more fun with him as he gains new freedoms.

All the new exciting things we get to see (landscapes and views, towns, attractions, etc)

I would be remiss in talking about all the amazing things of van life if I didn’t mention all the new landscapes and scenery we get to experience and be in awe of. Though this is not a surprise, it is a definite bonus that we looked forward to during the entire build. We have seen so many new landscapes and skylines that we didn’t even know we wanted to see since being in the van. And even views that we had already seen are even more beautiful because we now have the time to appreciate them. I have never been more in awe of all the different forms and varieties that are defined under the single word beautiful until van life.

I wanted to balance out the stresses and struggles of van life with the beauty and amazing things we’ve experienced. Van life is not just good or bad, fun or miserable. It’s a balance of both that for us leans to the side of good and fun. But that might not be the case for everyone. I personally think that van life is something that everyone should experience, even just for a little while, but I recognize that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. However, for us, it’s been more than we could have ever hoped for.