The Realities of Living in a Van

This post will be dedicated to sharing what it is really like living in a van. I will try to be as honest as possible.

One of the most common concerns when living in a van with someone else revolves around the bathroom.

To start off, we pee in front of each other. There’s really no way around that. When we have to pee, we have a few choices depending on where we are and whats going on. We either…

  1. Pee outside.
  2. Pee inside, in a bucket with a lid or container.
  3. Go find a real bathroom.

Those are the only choices. When we choose to pee outside, we make sure to find a spot that is private and not next to anyone’s home or vehicle.

If it’s late at night, raining, or we are parking in a parking lot, than we will pee inside the van. We have a bucket with a lid that is in a self-contained space. When the pee bucket is full or starts to smell bad, then we find a pit toilet to dump the pee into. We spray down the bucket with some bleach and return the bucket to the van.

Not going to lie. It’s gross. I try to hold my breath when I use the bucket and light incense afterwards. This process isn’t demonstrated on #vanlife social media accounts for obvious reasons but it is in fact a reality of living in a van.

Another reality that we have come to terms with, is the fact that people living in their vehicles are stereotyped and judged negatively.

Just recently, we have noticed that there are people that don’t like the idea of vanlife. These folks tend to be locals and government officials typically from a high tourist area. For example, Squamish, British Columbia has been seeing an increase in van dwellers due to the proximity of outdoor recreation and great weather. From the look of it, this mountain town is in its “growing pain” stage. Meaning that there are a number of tourists arriving daily and there isn’t enough space for everyone.

Many locals have voiced their concerns about people living in vehicles believing that the issue stems from the tourists. But from what we have seen, most of the people living in their vehicles in BC tend to be locals themselves. In fact, we mainly saw BC license plates. Locals are living in their vehicles because of the high rent cost and low wages. We saw this scenario played out through the people we met in Squamish. But in reality, this problem can be seen anywhere as more and more people are moving into vans to seek a relief from their money woes. Obviously, there are tourists like us that make up the community as well.

The real issue stems from higher rent costs and low wages.

I don’t know what will solve the problem that Squamish is going through. The local government by-laws tend to just move the problem around (kick people off of forest roads) instead of actually addressing the real issue with the town and it’s people. Regardless, Squamish is another mountain town that has gotten very popular and nothing will really stop that. So in the end, there may be no solution. Locals may even have to accept that people enjoy their touristy town and are bringing money to the economy. Money that could be used to create more campgrounds. Just an idea.

Living in a van or vehicle means that things can still break down.

Living in a vehicle means exactly what it sounds like. Your home is your vehicle. You can’t ignore any problems in your vehicle because that could lead to breaking down on the side of the highway or even worst, in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. We try to prepare as best as we can. We carry two 5 gallon diesel canisters, extra fuel, extra water, spare tire, and a toolbox. We also take care of our van when basic maintenance is needed. Just recently we hit 70,000 miles in our van. This is a good time for us to check out our brakes and prepare to replace them.

The reality is that everyone already has to deal with fixing their vehicles. It’s an important part of owning a vehicle. We just have a house located inside so it’s extra important.

As a couple, personal time is limited.

We always hear remarks such as, “Don’t you get sick of each other?” and “How do you stay in such a small space together?” We learned quickly that communication would be the key to success when living in a small space. We love each other and enjoy spending time together. In fact, it’s rare for us to need to seek out alone time, as we share the same hobbies.

It honestly depends on your personal situation. Are you both working? Do you share the same hobbies? Do you need time for yourself?

Regardless of the answers, its not very hard to create a livable space for two people in a vehicle. Figuring out what you as an individual need and then what you need as a couple will help define your life together in a small space.

You will be dirtier than the average person.

There are plenty of days that a person can go without a shower. I used to not think so, as I used to shower every day, sometimes twice a day. But ever since I moved into a van and traveled the country. I learned that it’s okay to be a little dirty. As long as you follow a few rules, you can survive without a shower for weeks.

Rules for Staying Clean-ish While on the Road:

  1. Have baby wipes on hand for daily cleaning.
  2. Change underwear often.
  3. Boil water and take a sponge bath, if necessary.
  4. Make sure the feet are clean before getting in bed.
  5. Use a public bathroom to wash face and hands.
  6. Use a portable shower for quick rinses.

Now, following these rules won’t make you as clean as if you stood in a hot shower for a long time, but it will make you feel less dirty.


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