Living in a Van with My Partner: 8 Tips I Swear By

Interested in living in a van with your partner? I hope you can use these tips to help you find happiness with your partner on the road. Let’s dive in!

photo of a happy couple outside their campervan

Living in 100 square feet or less with another person presents unique challenges. It is difficult to transition into spending 24/7 together as you live and work in a cramped space.

Navigating life on the road together was one of my biggest hesitations going into van life. My husband, Tom, and I had seen other couples break up or get divorced after living together on the road, and I didn’t want that to happen to us.

We decided to go for it anyway, though, and have lived on the road together in our 2022 Sprinter Van 144” WB for nine months (with our 40 lb dog, Willow). Although there have been ups and downs on our van life journey as a couple, these are some tips that I swear by that help us make this lifestyle work.

I hope these tips will help you find happiness with your partner on the road. Let’s dive in!

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Communication is key

happy couple standing inside a white campervan with their dog
Photo Credit: Keith and Hannah @keithandhannahh

Although you may feel tempted to keep your thoughts to yourself, you can’t expect your partner to read your mind. It’s crucial to practice open and honest communication.

Discuss expectations, needs, and boundaries before (and during) your time on the road together. If something is important to you, voice it to your partner.

For example, one of your needs may be to shower at least every five days. Your partner, on the other hand, might have a requirement that they want to arrive at your campsite for the night before dark. While accommodating both of these might not always be possible, you should communicate with your partner that this is important to you so they can do their best to meet your needs.

Also, you both must communicate regularly about daily situations when living in close quarters. For example, if I’m doing the dishes but Tom needs to throw something away (our garbage can is underneath our sink), he needs to communicate this to me so I can finish the dish I’m on and move over.

Keith and Hannah (@keithandhannahh) live full-time on the road in a Sprinter van, too. In terms of communication, they recommend over-communicating as often as possible!

“The more you communicate up front, the quicker you can figure out what living in such a small space needs to look like for each of you to have your individual needs met and limit frustration. Over-communicate on sleep schedules, work schedules, privacy, daily logistics, etc.,” Hannah recommends.

Prioritize personal time

happy couple with their dog inside a campervan
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

It’s crucial to carve out personal time and space when you live with someone in a van. Tom and I often find ways to take turns doing things outside of the van so we can each have some alone time.

For example, Tom takes a daily walk at lunch while I tidy up the van. When we go into towns, I like to take some time to shop by myself while Tom stretches out in bed for a nap.

I also go on solo adventures like backpacking trips, and Tom likes to grab his camera to take photos or fly his drone. We maintain separate hobbies that we can enjoy independently.

When it comes to socializing, sometimes we meet up with other couples on the road, and other times we hang out with our individual friends. I have some solo female van life friends and enjoy meeting them for coffee on the road!

It’s important to support each other’s independence, especially when spending so much time together. Doing things separately sometimes (even for just 20 minutes a day) can help your partnership grow stronger.

Divide and conquer

happy couple standing inside their campervan with their dog
Photo Credit: Keith and Hannah @keithandhannahh

Each person must contribute equally when you live with someone (especially in a small space). I recommend dividing up daily and weekly chores and communicating what you and your partner must do.

When you’re both clear on your responsibilities, you avoid conflict and blame. It also prevents one person from feeling like they’re constantly doing all of the work while the other person does nothing.

Tom and I have a routine for cooking and cleaning. Tom cooks dinner each night, and I do all the cleanup and dishes.

We also have a routine for chores so one of us can always stay with our dog and the van. When we need to do laundry, I go inside to wash and dry all of our clothes. Tom goes grocery shopping and buys what we need for the week.

It’s also helpful to take turns driving so no one gets burnt out. I have a lot of anxiety around driving, so Tom takes on the bulk of this for us. But I try to be mindful of not being on my phone the entire time he drives and focus on being a good passenger by helping navigate, getting road trip snacks from our kitchenette, checking on our dog, and finding podcasts for us to listen to.

Hannah and Keith switch jobs as needed to help make each other’s lives easier.

“Even the hard days aren’t so bad when you’re doing it together,” Hannah says.

Embrace minimalism

couple embracing on top of a mountain overlooking the ocean
Photo Credit: Keith and Hannah @keithandhannahh

Having less stuff can also help your relationship on the road. When there is less clutter, you spend less time cleaning, organizing, and finding things.

I love knickknacks, clothes, and shoes, so embracing minimalism can be hard sometimes. However, I love the feeling of being able to find things quickly when I need them.

When Tom felt frustrated by the amount of stuff in our outdoor bin, I took time to go through it and declutter. I removed the items we hadn’t used since starting life on the road together.

I’ve found that minimizing gets easier the more you let go. Although I like clothes, I’ve found that I often reach for the same comfortable items every week and don’t need as many stylish options as I used to since we rarely go out in public!

We’ve also eliminated physical gifts in our relationship and don’t exchange presents on holidays or birthdays. Instead, we prioritize spending our money on new experiences during our travels. We also like to save up to spend a night in a hotel or Airbnb sometimes.

Stay organized

photo of a happy couple outside their campervan
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

There’s a common saying around organization among van lifers: “Everything has a place, and there is a place for everything.” If you make sure everything has a place, it saves a lot of headaches!

Organization comes naturally to me, and I like to keep things in the same spot so I can find them when needed. On the other hand, Tom struggles with this. He often picks things up and forgets where he sets them.

This absentmindedness has led to some moments of panic. For example, Tom forgot where he put his wallet the other day. I dug through our cabinets while Tom drove the van on a busy street, scrambling to figure out where he put it.

Eventually, he remembered the wallet was in his toiletry kit. He felt so relieved when I handed it to him!

Whether you live in a van or not, you’ve likely experienced panic and accusations with your partner about lost items. I often say, “I know I left this here, so where did you put it?” You can prevent these stressful moments, though.

It’s better to take an extra minute to put something away in the moment than spend 10 minutes trying to find it later.

Plan and budget together

photo of a happy couple with trees in the background
Photo Credit: Tom Zittergruen @nomadxtom and Kaylin Zittergruen @katekeepswild

Planning and budgeting in a van can be tricky as every day is different. Depending on your plans, how much you spend in a month can vary greatly.

We’ve camped in Joshua Tree for the past month. Everything is more expensive in California, including diesel, groceries, coffee shops, and restaurants. If we don’t pay close attention to what we spend, we could accidentally spend $500 each week.

To avoid financial strain, sit down together and plan how much you want to have saved in your bank account vs. how much you can realistically afford to spend each month on the road.

If you only want to spend no more than X amount as “fun money” on the road, I recommend taking out this amount in cash. When it runs out, you must wait for the next month.

When we first started van life, I wasn’t sure how I’d earn an income to make ends meet. We felt stressed about finances, which led to many arguments and tears. I know first-hand that it’s not fun to feel burdened by money on the road, so develop a collaborative plan and stick to it before it sours your travels.

Practice patience and flexibility

photo of a happy couple with a beautiful mountain in the background
Photo Credit: Keith and Hannah @keithandhannahh

When you live on the road, predicting what the day will bring is impossible.

You might decide that you’re going to knock out all of your chores in a day. But then you miss your exit, the laundromat is closed, and your hose leaks when you refill your water tank.

Or, you spend hours researching the perfect campsite. You show up to the spot and immediately get red flags and a bad gut feeling, causing you to need a quick plan B.

These challenges and uncertainties on the road are inevitable. Blaming your partner for things they can’t control (“I thought you said this spot was safe!”) doesn’t accomplish anything.

You have to roll with the punches and let things go quickly. As much as I love being right, I’ve learned I’d rather keep the peace than win an argument.

You’re on the same team, so work together!

Prioritize quality time

photo of a happy couple with their dog with a mountain in the background
Photo Credit: Keith and Hannah @keithandhannahh

You see your partner 24/7 in the van and may think that’s good enough. But if you are romantic partners, spending intentional quality time together is important, too.

Whether you’re playing board games, sipping drinks around the fire, or getting dressed up for a date night in town while you leave your van in the parking lot, you should prioritize your fun time together each week.

Tom and I don’t usually plan specific dates, but we both work our hours during the week to hang out and do whatever we feel on the weekends. Lately, that has included exploring the national park we’re camping near.

Shared adventures and experiences will strengthen your relationship. These are the moments you’ll remember one day when you’re no longer living in a van… not the hours you spent working or the time you argued about something unimportant.

Hannah and Keith have found that it’s also vital to take breaks away from the van together: “As much as you both may love your van and feel at home in it – having access to a bigger space for you both to spread out, have ‘unlimited’ hot water, electricity, laundry, or just a change in scenery can make all the difference in the sustainability of living this way.”

Is it worth it to live in a van with your partner?

couple with their dog sitting inside their campervan
Photo Credit: Keith and Hannah @keithandhannahh

Go into van life knowing that it will take work, you’ll get on each other’s nerves from time to time, and you’ll face unique challenges that you might not experience in a regular home environment.
Ultimately, the memories you create on the road together make it worth it. If you can learn how to develop systems and routines that work for both of you, split the tasks, and forgive and forget quickly, you’ll survive and thrive as a couple on the road!

Have you lived in a van with a partner before? I’d love to hear more about your stories and tips in the comments!

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