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Surviving Van Life: The How To’s

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Utah chapter.

So you want to live in a van? Van life is a lifestyle that has become exponentially popular over time, and continues to grow every day, as van lifers can enjoy the freedoms of and get the most out of life. They typically spend time hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, and experiencing the simple joys that people who conform to society just don’t get to experience. This trendy lifestyle is all about waking up wherever you want, doing whatever you want, and moving on whenever you want. If you too have the dream of leaving the stressors of society, and experiencing life on your own terms, here is some advice and stories from real Vandwellers that may help you get started.


Brady “The Swamp Monster” Iverson is a free-spirited and adventurous guy who enjoys cooking, painting, and playing any instrument he can get his hands on. Lauren “The Chuckwalla” Gilmore is a down-to-earth and awesome gal who enjoys graphic design, yoga, is a skincare enthusiast, and an advocate for the environment. These two have been traveling America in their Ford E250 van (named Fat Mama June) for two straight months. They have seen some amazing things and some difficult times, and they have a lot of wisdom to impart on aspiring vandwellers.


What to expect when living in a van:

According to Brady, “There is no way to mentally prepare for the things you are going to see and do while you are planning to live in a van.” He said, “the entire time I was building the inside (of the van) I tried to imagine the national parks, forests, cities and the people, and none of it even came close to what we have experienced thus far.” Brady was also surprised with how little free time he actually has. He thought he would have plenty of time to “work on websites and photos and blog posts and whatnot,” but in reality, the days that they spend living in the van are usually very busy because “everything takes a bit longer than when (they) lived in a house.” There are numerous aspects to living in a van that has surprised Brady and Lauren. In fact, Lauren was shocked by how much she enjoys van life. Like many of us, she is an introverted homebody, and she thought “the chaos of life on the road would wreck me and I would quickly return to the home I know.” However, she has “learned to feel right at home in the van and inject some routine no matter” where she is. Both Brady and Lauren had trouble adjusting to time in the van, but now that they are over the first-month hump and have lost track of the days of the week, they never want to stop. Now they adore “waking up with the sun… and getting to see the world before it starts buzzing with activity.” Simply put, they both love “being outside and now they get to be outside all day every day.” It is hard to imagine what van life is going to be like for you, but if you love nature and enjoy the beautiful wonders of life, then with time, will fall in love with van life.


Challenges of living in a van:

“Everyone is used to waking up in the morning getting dressed, making breakfast, washing his/her face without really thinking about it, everything is very accessible,” but according to Lauren,  “in the van you have to relearn your whole routine, and suddenly those things require a lot more energy and preparation because you’re having to do gymnastics just to change your pants and try not to get in your partner’s way while they’re going through a similar struggle. Everything is hard inside the van.” Brady states that “You have to be very patient to live in a van, patient and regimented.” It is hard to get dressed, it is hard to keep both yourself and the van clean, and it can be hard to get enough social interaction. For Brady “it has been very difficult to learn to put things back when (he is) done with them because the consequences are just so dramatic.”  Social interactions can also be hard because “when each day you’re waking up around strangers, nobody knows you nobody cares about you and why should they? You don’t get talking unless you really make an effort. Like I said I’m an introvert so it’s hard for me to be confident (take ur pick) enough to put myself out there like that. It can be a lonely life if you let it.” If you try to tackle van life just know that there definitely are pros and cons to this lifestyle. Some things that you don’t even think about doing in a home can be extremely hard. This included everything from washing your face to showering, to finding a decent bathroom.


Advantages of living in a van:

The advantages of living in a van “revolve around the hardest things about living in a house.” Brady and Lauren pay no rent (just gas), have no utilities to pay or anything like that (they get their electricity from an alternator so it is basically free whenever they drive), and their house moves around, so they “get to wake up with a new (usually beautiful, sometimes Walmart) view every single day and there are endless options as to what we can do that day. We never get tired of where we live because we live everywhere.” They also have “ limitless opportunities regarding jobs, entertainment, etc.” Lauren said “just living in Utah full-time I would’ve never considered working out of state, but if you’re already all over the place anyway it’s like ‘heck why NOT go to Wyoming!’ You have a lot of momentum for bigger, seemingly riskier moves. That’s a huge advantage.” Living out of a van definitely has its challenges but Brady and Lauren would argue that the good definitely outweighs the bad.


How vanlife affects your relationships:

If you are trying to figure out if your significant other is “the one” or not, living in a van with them full time can be a very good test. Brady and Lauren have been engaged for a while now, and Brady argues that their “relationship has just grown stronger in the van. (They) have a lot of stupid jokes and do a lot of stupid things to keep (themselves) occupied.” Sometimes they worry (jokingly) that they will be too long gone and crazy for a normal society after they return from a long trip. Although they do get a little ‘hangry’ sometimes, they “have not had a single fight. (They) are better friends than ever and (they) just get better and better at communicating and spending time with one another every day.” Lauren states that “every day is a practice in patience, compromise, and communication. Which is really freakin sick. There’s also very limited privacy so we’ve crossed a lot of those weird boundaries. He’s watched me urinate into a bottle several times and still wants to bang me. That’s true love.” Lauren also has formed a better relationship with herself. She gets to “devote (her) time each day to whatever (she) wants to do” and this “leaves (her) feeling more joyful and fulfilled on a day-to-day basis.” Van life can be pretty isolating and challenging as far as social relationships go, but it can be a beneficial and revealing test for any relationship.


Advice from Chuck and Swampy (Lauren and Brady):

Lauren – “Make sure you can sit up in your bed!!! Your bed becomes your chair, table, changing room, etc. It’ll likely be the thing taking up the most space in your vehicle. It can be very easy to compromise comfort to get ever-so-valuable storage space, but I can confidently say there are already so many things that are uncomfortable about the lifestyle, you will regret giving up your physical comfort for materials. It is the one thing I am constantly wishing was different in our conversion. Plus if you’re having a bad day, bonking your head on the ceiling 1000x and being eternally hunched over will not make things any better. Trust, fam. Also, there’s a lot of buzz on social media regarding #vanlife and while I think it’s good to expose alternative lifestyles and provide insight, as it can help people connect and share their experiences. However, the IG lens can idealize and mutate the actual van life experience. You see people pouring ungodly amounts of money into beautiful but impractical conversions. You see gorgeous female models posed meticulously. You see #ad and think $$$$$$$$$$$ there’s money in it if you can get enough attention. That kind of thing can skew your expectations for your experience. The culture is not about excess. Actually, like the exact opposite. Don’t feel pressured to conform to THAT version. A lot of days it is hard, and dirty, and not glamorous, and that’s normal and that’s okay. If people are considering getting out there I just want them to consider their reasoning and when sharing online, sharing their authentic experience. Ugh idk I’m not trying to demonize social media I love it but like most things, it’s a wee bit flawed. So. Yeh. but anyway follow me @capt.sassy lmao.”


Brady – “I would say the best piece of advice I could give to an aspiring VANgabonder would be to not over plan your itinerary and to avoid freeways as much as possible. By over plan I mean it is probably healthy to do a bit of planning, one to two days in advance, but any more than that and your plan starts to take away from your journey. Living in a van is about exploring and discovering things and it’s important to stop and or turn at everything that sounds interesting. Avoid freeways for the same reason, they just whisk you away past every small town with the world’s biggest ball of yarn and the world’s best huckleberry pie and you miss it entirely because you didn’t drive down main street and look at all the signs, you took the freeway. I have found that the journey can be entirely as fun as the destination (or at least current destination goal, Yellowstone, Seattle, etc) if you let yourself get swept up in all the little things along the way and really experience how each different part of the country lives as much as you can. Some days in the van are hard. Sometimes you spend all day driving and then have to spend another hour finding a place to camp for the night, sometimes you get hungry and exhausted and impatient all at the same time, sometimes it’s hard to get breakfast and so you just forget about it until you are in a bad mood because you are hungry and you’ve been doing so much that you forgot you are hungry. It is unpredictable. But those days are balanced out really well by days that are just incredible in every sense of the word. Wake up early, photograph a sunrise over a placid lake in the mountains, make breakfast and eat it at a picnic table while the local bighorn sheep are eating the charcoal out of the campfire and the new growth on the spruce trees about 5 feet away, go kayaking for a couple hours, go on a hike to a waterfall, see a moose, eat some wild huckleberries, take a boat across the lake and then have a nap in the back of the van. A lot of days are hard, just as many if not more are perfect. It balances.”


Van life may not always be as glamorous as social media makes it seem, but the extraordinary experiences definitely outweigh the difficult ones. If you have a love for adventure and are free-spirited, consider van life. It can be a maturing, freeing, and phenomenal experience.

Follow Chuck and Swampy on Insta: @capt.sassy  and  @the_swampmonster

Photo credit: Brady Iverson and Lauren Gilmore


Ry Iverson is a transgender sociology alum of the University of Utah. He grew up in Apple Valley, California and moved to Utah to be closer to family. He enjoys listening to music, reading, cooking, drawing, traveling, and helping others. He enjoys writing about his favorite TV shows, cooking, LGBTQ experiences, and advice, and in his free time he can be found laying on the ground outside taking in the world. Enjoy Ry's articles and everything he has to offer!
Her Campus Utah Chapter Contributor