10 Worst Things About Van Life That No One Tells You About

Worst Things About Van Life

The concept of van living has gained a large amount of popularity over the last few years.  People are trading in their one-bedroom apartments for a life on the road in converted utility vehicles.  It’s Jack Kerouac’s dream transplanted to the 21st century. There are many allures to the van life; the freedom of waking up wherever you like, the sights and experiences that lie just around the corner, and the money that you’ll save by being your own landlord.  Well, unfortunately, while there are perks to this nomadic lifestyle, it is not always so simple, or comfortable. Let’s remove a couple Instagram filters and get down to the worst things about van life.

1. Lack of Space

Claustrophobic need not apply.  No matter what kind of van you are living in, your living conditions are going to be crammed.  A funny quirk about living in a van is that you may be parked under an endless expanse of sky, but your living quarters will be condensed into a tin can.  There are ways to alleviate this problem, such as stow-away beds, and hanging kitchenware rather than keeping it in space-consuming cupboards, but these methods will only likely add add a couple square feet.

2. The Bathroom Situation

There are many different products out there on the market that will make this task a little easier, but the fact remains; you will be storing and disposing of human waste without the aid of running water.  This means you will be in close quarters with foul odors and responsible for some pretty nasty cleaning duties. No matter what product you decide on, it won’t be much more than a glorified bucket. Sure, there might be some added conveniences and bells and whistles (such as airtight waste storage, and easy to remove components for faster cleaning), but at the end of the day, it’s still a messy job.  Furthermore, getting rid of your waste must be done in a legal and environmentally-conscious way.

3. Water is a Precious Commodity in a Van

This is one of the trickiest things about being off the grid.  Water plays a huge role in our lives and it is easy to forget that, because we take it for granted when we have unlimited access to it.  When living in a van, chances are you will not have access to running water, so you will be relying on a refillable water tank. Using a finite supply of water puts a strain most aspects of our life, be it cleaning, cooking, hydration or personal hygiene.  This means you will have to be alright with a quick shower maybe only once a week, and not having dishes entirely sparkling clean.

(Related: How To Conserve Water While Living In A Van: 16 Practical Tips)

4. Finding a Free and Safe Place To Park

While it may seem like finding a place to rest for the night is as easy as pulling off the highway to a small clearing, it’s usually a lot more difficult.  Firstly, there are limited spots that you are legally allowed to park. So if you don’t want to get hassled by police, or park rangers and potentially incur a hefty parking violation, you may need to be a bit more stealthy about where you set up camp.  In urban environments, Walmarts are a haven for transients. They offer free, short-term parking for vehicles, but they are far less prominent the further you get from towns.

You will most likely be deciding between private, or state owned property. Furthermore, your van is your home and safety should always be a huge concern.  Break-ins are common, and you must be ever-vigilant (even while catching some much needed shut-eye) towards the risks inherent of staying in an unsecured spot.

5. Winter Sucks

Remember what we said about the complications of living in the confined space of van?  Well, that increases ten-fold when you’re essentially trapped in it due to the conditions, and no season brings harsher conditions than winter.  Cold, rain, and snow limit your ability to be outside your van for any period of time, so you best be comfortable in your small mobile living space.  Additionally, vans don’t circulate air like a regular house, so things can get pretty ripe inside.

Always keep a good eye on the condition of your battery, as cold conditions will have you running your heating system much more than usual.  Also, winter brings about bad driving conditions which make travel times longer and many places either hazardous to get to, or completely inaccessible. Always practice the utmost caution in any conditions.

6. Hot Weather Sucks

Cold and wet weather suck in a van, but guess what?  Hot weather is no day at the beach either! Van’s don’t circulate air like a regular house does, and that lack of cross breeze means that during the heat of the summer you will be living in something resembling a sauna.  Anyone who has taken a long road trip can tell you that the sun beaming in through the windows and heating up your metal exterior absolutely saps the energy from you. Now add a stove into the equation. I’m getting sweaty just talking about it!

7. Social Stigma

Normal as it might seem to you, you’re still going to be the person living in a “van down by the river” to most people.  This means that while you might be swiping right on some dating app, they might not be doing the same with you. Let’s face it, no matter how good of a person you are, there is a strong (and well merited) social stigma about meeting a stranger in their van.  Ask anyone who has ever lived in their van, this is going to put a serious damper on your social life.

8. You Are One Breakdown Away From Being Homeless

When it comes right down to it, there isn’t much between you and the people out there in the cold.  By living in a van, you are severely limiting the security surrounding your livelihood. If you rent, or own a property, things can go wrong, but they won’t necessarily put you out on the streets.  For example, if your fridge breaks, you get it fixed or replaced and maybe get take-out a few more times than you would hope. If your radiator fails on your van, you’re crippled until it gets fixed.  And, who knows, you may encounter a problem that sends your van to the junkyard. Be prepared for the worst, and be confident you can make that sacrifice.

(Related: How To Prepare For And What To Do If Your Van Breaks Down)

9. Friends? What Friends?

This goes hand in hand with the previous part about dating.  Chances are that if you have a hard time having your friends over as it is, it’s going to increase significantly if you make your home in a van.  If they don’t think you’re wacky for living in your van, the fact remains it’s hard to make a comfortable environment for entertaining guests. Even one to a van is a

claustrophobic lifestyle, now add a few more.  Your friends will be checking their watches before too long.

10. City Noise

You won’t get much respite from the noise of the city, if that’s where you choose to spend the majority of your time.  Traffic, pedestrians, street work, drunks and more add to a nonstop cacophony that make even the deepest sleepers agitated through the night.  If you want an example of how loud it can get, take a walk through town with your iPhone sound recorder on. Take a listen to it once you get back home, and compare the intensity of ambient noise.  Is it something you can see yourself living with?

From these points you should see that living in a van isn’t as simple as just “going mobile.”  It’s a serious upheaval and reformation of one’s lifestyle. As you shed the four walls around you, you’ll find yourself losing a lot more than just a fixed address.  But, if the loneliness and hardships are things you can overcome, you have the key to the highway.


This should be a fairly good rundown of some of the complications facing anyone attempting to live in their van.  While there are far more, these are the most immediate ones that may cause you to take that on-ramp to the highway back to civilization.  It’s never a life completely free of hassle, or aggravation, but if your personality is suited to it and you have the drive to press on through the hard times, the pros will significantly outweigh the cons.

Mariska Lee

Mariska is a recovering attorney who gave up her professional job to discover new perspectives of life while traveling in a 2009 Ford Transit. She has been living the van life for 3 years and has not looked back since.

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