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Biggest Van Life Mistakes

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Learn From Our Van Life Mistakes

Uprooting your life from a home filled with creature comforts to living in a campervan full time is a huge change. New life routines and lessons to learn. Making mistakes while on the road is natural as you begin to learn a new lifestyle. We’ve definitely made our fair share of van life mistakes in our 2+ years on the road.

In this article, we want to share with you some of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned while living full time in our DIY campervan.

Many van life mistakes can’t be avoided, they need to be experienced in order to fully grow and learn. But regardless, we hope you find our experiences helpful and useful for your own van life journey.

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Don't Sprint! Van Life Is A Marathon

Van Life Dos & Don'ts - Take A Break

When we first set off on our van life adventure, we wanted to drive everywhere and see everything! We would sleep for a night at some campground and jet off the next morning.

That was a huge mistake.

Six months later, we were exhausted! We burned ourselves out. And suddenly we weren’t so excited to see that next waterfall, or hike that next mountain, or visit that next museum.

And we spent more and more time simply scrolling on our smartphones, desperately needing mental breaks from van life.

We’ve learned from our mistake since then and treat our van life journey more like a marathon, instead of a sprint. Now when we like a place, we stay longer. We don’t pressure ourselves to “do” things and instead we’re more honest about what we really want to do that day.

Sometimes, that means sleeping in and napping in the middle of the day.

We think taking it slow is so important, we also wrote about it in our Van Life For Women guide.

Urban Stealth Camping Is Stressful

Overnight Camping In Mexico - Stealth Camping

When you have a campervan, there is this huge desire to camp for free. We felt it, too!

Why pay to camp when you can theoretically stealth camp anywhere you want sleep for free.

But after several late night knocks on our doors while trying to stealth camp in urban environments, we realized urban stealth camping is just not worth the hassle, the risks, and the stress.

If you’re in an urban environment, there are better ways to sleep for free:

  • Ask the local Walmart
  • Look for nearby truck stops
  • Check the iOverlander App for consistently safe overnight places

We actually believe a 100% stealth campervan is a bad idea. Read more to learn why.

Proper Van Maintenance = Happy Times

Campervan maintenance is boring. And the topic of van maintenance is even more dull. Who wants to worry about it? Or learn about it?

“Let’s just do it tomorrow.”

But accepting the van life lifestyle means we, begrudgingly, must learn just the basics of vehicle preventative maintenance. Responsibilities and skills include:

  • Keeping your tires properly inflated (LPT bring an air compressor)
  • Keep your chassis clean (especially after the beach and driving in snow)
  • Regular oil changes & tire rotations
  • Monitoring the state of charge of your vehicle’s starting battery

Van life is an amazing adventure, until there’s a problem with your vehicle (and home).

We talk more about basic vehicle preventative maintenance. Read that article here.

Mind Your Indoor Air Quality

Similar to van maintenance, making sure the inside of your campervan is clean and tidy is important.

But this also means being aware of the quality of the air inside your van. Specifically, the “Indoor Particulate Matter (PM)”.

Exposure to too high indoor PM can lead to resperatory problems, and eye, nose, and throat irritation.

To maintain cleaner air inside our van, we’re ALWAYS dedusting our pillows, blankets, cushions, and clothes. You’d be surprised just how much dust settles on these things!

We’re also always sweeping our floors and vacuuming around the edges with our handheld vacuum.

Proper dedusting also helps your van smell cleaner, so that’s a bonus of keeping your van clean!

Lastly, if we can help it, we always cook with our sliding doors open. When propane combusts, harmful biproducts, like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, are released into the air. In a small campervan interior space, it’s hard to get away from these pollutants. So we help these harmful pollutes escape with wide open doors and a strong ventilation fan.

Get More Tips: Van Life Hacks & Tips

Get A Van You Can Stand In

This is a big one that often gets ignored when people are buying their very first van.

If you are planning to live long term in your van, purchasing a vehicle that you can fully stand up in is crucial. Whether that is simply purchasing a high-top van or installing your own topper on a low roof van; comfortably standing up in your own ‘home’ is important.

Standing up makes it easier to move around, to cook, to clean, and generally to just live van life more comfortably.

We love our Ford Transit commercial van, and one of the reasons is that the Transit has an exceptionally tall interior height. For us, it’s made long term van life viable.

Underpowered Van Electrical Systems

One of the most common issues I see when we meet other van lifers are electricity supply problems. Batteries that are always running out of power, solar panels that are never able to fully recharge those batteries, and, ultimately, the inevitable dead battery headache.

“But why do these problems happen?”

The answer mostly stems from the fact that the battery banks and solar array sizes have not been properly sized. Too many campervans have undersized battery banks and solar panels. And it’s hard to over exaggerate just how pervasive undersized many campervan electrical systems are.

Not only are underpowered electrical systems and dead batteries a headache, especially when you’re on the road, it’s money down the drain to purchase new batteries.

Learn More: How To Properly Size Your Campervan’s Battery Bank

Final Thoughts: Biggest Van Life Mistakes

At the end of the day, we all make mistakes when journeying through our own unique van life adventures. And it’s impossible to NOT make mistakes or have regrets.

The best we can do is simply learn from our mistakes and those of others and continue to grow and get better at this lifestyle.

We hope you learned a bit from our own van life mistakes. If you feel that we left out any common mistakes, please let us know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

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