8 Hidden Challenges of Van Life You Might Not Expect

Check this out! I’ll share some of the worst things about living a van life that you might not expect.

The van life movement, with its promise of freedom, adventure, and simplicity, has captured the imagination of many. It’s easy to get swept up in the picturesque images and tales of life on the road. However, the reality comes with its own set of challenges that aren’t always talked about.

Embarking on my own van life journey, I was prepared for some bumps along the way, aware that the glossy images on social media don’t tell the whole story. Yet, there were still aspects that caught me off guard once I fully embraced this mobile way of living.

Check out the 8 hardest parts about van life nobody tells you about.

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more info.

1. Finding Reliable Mechanics

Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly

It’s challenging to find good mechanics when you’re constantly on the move. You will need maintenance or repairs in unfamiliar places, and not all mechanics are experienced with your specific camper van. Even if you have a new van still under warranty at a dealership, you’ll often find some places are booked out for months, and then when they can see you, they may need to order parts that are on backorder. 

Another huge caveat of getting mechanical repairs is where you will stay while your (literal) home is being repaired. The budget needed for an Airbnb or hotel can easily surpass the cost of the actual repairs to your rig. 

2. Perpetual Dirtiness

Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly

Regardless of how often you clean and maintain your van, the reality is that van life often means you’re perpetually dirty. Dust, dirt, and the great outdoors find their way inside your living space. Every single square inch of your living space.

You’ll need to be prepared for the continual battle against grime and embrace a more relaxed attitude toward cleanliness. This is especially true if you plan to travel with pets. 

Laundry services can be few and far between. You’ll learn to wear certain articles of clothing multiple times, and you might start hand-washing undergarments and socks between trips to the laundromat. 

3. Cell Service Can Suck

Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly

Having full bars of cell service doesn’t always translate to good service when living on the road. Remote or mountainous areas often have no signal at all, and some places that show “full bars” on your phone actually have data speeds so slow you can’t do anything more than send a text message with it. 

There are few things more frustrating than finding a perfect spot to park, checking your phone, having full bars of cell service, and later finding out that the quality of service does not meet your needs. A cellular signal booster can help make poor signal usable. I use a Weboost signal booster on my van, and it’s saved the day on multiple occasions. 

Now that Starlink has become a resource to nomads, that opens many more doors for locations we can stay at while remaining connected. But Starlink is not without its challenges. It is expensive, takes a lot of power to run (around 100AH per day!), and needs a clear view of the northern sky. So, if you’re in the dense forests in the Pacific Northwest, Starlink won’t be much help to you. 

4. Privacy and Human Behavior

Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly

It’s disheartening to see how inconsiderate or messy people can be at campgrounds or rest stops when they think no one is looking. Littering, loud music, or even public displays of affection can disrupt your peaceful day and serve as a reminder that not everyone shares your respect for nature and shared spaces.

Many people who aren’t full-time travelers don’t quite seem to understand Leave No Trace principles or lack basic respect for space on public land. I’m still shocked by how often I pull into a camp spot on public land and find garbage, broken glass, bullet casings, toilet paper, and even human feces nearby. 

Over the past three years I have been traveling, I’ve seen many once-pristine locations turn into dumping grounds as the popularity of boondocking has grown. Apps like iOverlander that are a resource to us are also detrimental to some of our public lands, leading to inexperienced people in our favorite locations who don’t choose to leave them better than they found them.

5. Short Winter Days

Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly

Short winter days can be particularly challenging for van lifers. With limited daylight hours, you have less time to explore, work on your van, or charge solar power systems. Staying warm can also be more energy-consuming, requiring efficient insulation and heating systems.

Even when it stays 70 degrees in the desert in December, the short days are especially challenging for me. I’m not likely to go out after dark when I’m boondocking in the middle of nowhere, and I often have work that has to be completed during daylight hours. 

6. Time-Consuming Chores

Photo Credit: @vantastic_marco

Van life means that simple tasks take longer to accomplish. Everything seems to take longer. Daily chores like cooking, cleaning, or finding a suitable parking spot can be extremely time-consuming. What might be a quick task in a traditional home can turn into a lengthy process, impacting your daily routine.

7. Pet Health Challenges

Photo Credit: Sierra Eberly

Keeping pets healthy while living in a van is absolutely achievable, but it can be challenging. Limited space, exposure to various environments, and the need to find pet-friendly locations for exercise and bathroom breaks all require extra effort and planning. Ensuring your pets receive proper nutrition and veterinary care on the road is also crucial.

I feed my dog a raw diet, and that adds another level of planning and resources needed while traveling. If you have a dog with behavioral challenges (like mine), having a consistent routine and keeping up with training requires a level of planning an commitment that is not easy to maintain. 

There are many people out on public lands that allow their dogs to run free without having reliable recall. I’ve had literal packs of dogs show up in my camp, with owners walking by without any concern, telling me “their dogs are friendly” as my dog is reacting to the chaos. This can cause a considerable amount of anxiety and make it hard to relax. 

8. The Dating Pool

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

The dating pool in the van life community is surprisingly small. Meeting like-minded individuals who share your passion for this lifestyle can be challenging, and forming meaningful connections while constantly on the move can be even more so. Additionally, potential partners may have differing priorities or expectations about the van life experience.

If you do find someone compatible on an emotional and interest-based level, their travel plans may be different. Do they like to move as often (or as little) as you do? Will you caravan together all the time or part ways for weeks here and there for separate adventures? Maybe you decide to start traveling together in the same rig to save money… will you be compatible in such a small space with zero privacy? 

These are all things I’ve heard friends talk about over the years. I personally have been enjoying staying single and just having my dog to worry about. 🙂

12 Ridiculously Overpriced Camper Vans And Trucks

Photo Credit: Hymer

With over 16 million posts tagged #vanlife on Instagram, it’s no wonder the van life trend has now become mainstream. But it’s not just Millennials and Zoomers self-converting old vans posting on the platform. 

More and more people are hoping to hit the road and go on a long off-grid adventure, but they don’t want to give up the luxuries they have at home. So manufacturers are responding by producing rigs that can travel anywhere while resembling a 5-star hotel room inside.

Here are the most expensive camper vans and trucks we could find on the market.

Van Life 101: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing and Living in a Campervan

campervan parked on the campground
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

Have you dreamed of living in a van and waking up in stunning locations? With the increasing popularity among people diving into van life and sharing their experiences on social media, it is tempting to think of van life as an escape from corporate living into a dream world where everything is perfect.

However, if you talk to a van lifer who has lived, traveled, and worked in their van for any extended period, you will quickly learn that there are lows, too. Here is our ultimate guide to getting started with van life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Similar Posts