Cons of van life

Social media plays a big part in showing us how great it is to live the #van life. (I am also guilty of perpetuating this). But what are the downsides? What does social media not tell us?

I have built and lived in four different vans over a period of five  years (and in between lived abroad). So if you are considering van life I think it's only fair you should know about the downsides.

The cons or downsides of van life are simple and yet feel so big. The main reasons  people quit van life is due to the  constant challenges such as staying clean, the toilet dilemma and where to park.   

There is a lot more that you don't even think about until the honeymoon period has worn off.  The emotional side, working, receiving post and other people's perception of you.

In this article:

But first, in case you don't knowWhat is van life ?

Put simply, van life is sleeping, eating, cooking and everything else in your vehicle. 

The cons       

 We have broken this down into three sections 

The psychological

The stigma and perception of a nomadic lifestyle may seem inconsequential or even petty and to some people it is but if you want to stay under the radar or even uber stealthy it is worth considering keeping things low key. 

This may seem obvious but we have seen and met other vanlifers hanging out their laundry in a public place and playing loud music, (put simply)  if you don't want to get moved on then try not to draw attention to yourself.

Something that surprised me was my own family's view of me, like I am now a drop outs of society and that I am going to be jobless and living off the state.

Funny story: I had parked in an industrial estate miles from any residential homes on a weeknight. I got a knock at the door. It was a business owner saying I shouldn't be parked there, claiming I had taken the parking spaces that his staff normally use (no parking restrictions were displayed). But when I opened the door and came out wearing a jacket and shirt, his attitude and volume changed dramatically. 

It just goes to show how you present yourself can affect a person's behavior towards you.

Van Life Isn’t Free. D’oh. There are many costs relating to van life such as buying the vehicle, insurance, road tax, maintenance and diesel just to name a few. But a big chunk of your hard earned money goes on eating out and doing tourist activities. Keeping control of your budget is an essential part of ensuring sustainability in this lifestyle because it is so easy to get caught up in the moment, then when you walk away from the cash machine next time you feel deflated and sad.

Unless you are blessed with an understanding employer that lets you work remotely, finding a job on the road can be limiting and adds to unwanted stress.

The physical. 

Living in a small space is very challenging especially if it's new to you (let's face it unless you have just got out of prison).

The secret to living in a small space is organisation and reducing the stuff you have, so if you have not used it in the last two weeks you probably don't need it (except for off season clothes and footwear).

Another aspect is feeling cramped, so it is super important to get out everyday, even if it is raining (that's one reason why some van lifers have dogs).

Privacy when sleeping or getting change from the public is not that big of a deal, generally speaking nobody cares what you're doing inside your vehicle, but blackout blinds or covers are an essential evening routine.

Couples living in shared vehicles have an extra challenge to face, the privacy and space dilemma.

Housework or just cleaning out your van can be a hassle. You need to find a quiet spot, drag loads of stuff out and get on your hands and knees to get all the sand, dust and food out before the smell invites creatures in. Also it's great for your mental health. 

The toilet! For many this is a deal breaker, it can take time to adapt to the toilet and shower situation in a van everybody thinks it will smell. Depending on the toilet and how regularly you empty it any smells can be limited to zero (especially if you install an extractor fan in the area).

Who would've thought taking a shower would be a luxury and a highlight of the day? Don't be surprised but there are a plethora of options for showering, including gyms, swimming pools, campsites and even building one in your van.

I got really worried when in Belgium one winter because the taps had been turned off to avoid freezing at the Aire I visited. I browsed the internet and came across "Find a". To my surprise there were two springs of fresh natural flowing water just a few miles from whereI was parked. (I also met Instagram sensation @Bemoreactive.kengilbert) and also some other locals collecting free water.

There is nothing more scary than knowing your toilet is getting very full, so finding a place to empty it becomes your number one priority.

Local public toilets, aires, campsites and at a pinch McDonalds (if you can find a disabled toilet it makes it a little easier, I would put the bottom half of the cassette in a large bag and cover it with an old towel).

Extreme temperatures I generally avoid. These situations can make things miserable, getting dressed, washing and even sleeping are easier in moderate temperatures, I always ensure I have at least two sources of heat just in case one fails, likewise having a roof vent and big door or windows to open can make life a breeze. (See what I did there? A breeze!).

The emotional

If you are an introvert then this life seems perfect, However I am not an introvert, like a moth to a light bulb I am energized by meeting like minded people. When I am isolated loneliness creeps in and the same goes for lots of van life people This is exacerbated by being on the move, it is hard to make any meaningful connection with people. This is why when I arrive at a new location where there are other van lifers I will go out and introduce myself on the endless search for like minded people in the hope we will laugh, share stories and become friends. This rejuvenates my faith in humanity.

Not feeling rooted, home sickness  as well as the thought of my van breaking down miles from anywhere with no signal sometimes raises its ugly head. Although over time this diminishes and I realize I only have these feelings when I'm feeling down and I need to refocus on my goals and recognise my achievements.

Final thoughts

It is easy to get caught up in the hype, the truth is, it's hard and like everything else in life. If it was easy everybody would do it.

The million dollar question to ask yourself.

Is this lifestyle worth the compromise and struggle compared to my current life?

Personally I love it. The freedom,views, people and the financial savings.


Can you park anywhere? No, depending on parking restrictions and local bylaws parking in urban areas can be difficult and in the more rural areas offer sweeter pickings, but do your due diligence, (homework) be respectful and responsible.

Can you live in your van indefinitely? Theoretically yes, I have met many older travelers, that being said one day you may be too frail to drive and lose your privilege to drive.

Is it cheap to live in a van? Yes, compared to renting in Europe when you compare apples to apples. In Asia I find it slightly cheaper to live (not in a van but an apartment) if I am prudent.

Can you do it full time? Yes you can and many people do for a variety of reasons like; paying off student debt, the desire to travel a country, political situations and even as a long term lifestyle choice. For most the compromise and daily struggles far outweigh the drowning cost of mortgage or rent and all the associated financial commitments that go along with the creature comforts of bricks and mortar.

Some people even embrace the challenges of living in a small space and have a mindset or ideology of minimalism and a carbon neutral footprint. 

Related Topics,

Is it safe? Perspective from a lone woman traveler. 

How to live in a van and travel.

Where to park?

Do you have to be a hippy?

Further resources.

books, videos, articles.