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Van Life With A Partner: 12 Tips To Survive & Thrive In A Camper Van

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It’s no secret that living the van life as a couple poses several unique challenges. And if you’ve followed some of van life’s biggest influencers, you’ll know that maintaining a van life relationship is no guarantee.

It’s hard work to stay together in with less than 5 square meters of living space.

In this post we share our 12 tips, from 3+ years of experience, to help give your relationship the best chance of survival throughout your van life adventure!

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

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    1. Do A Practice Run

    Before committing to full time van life with your partner, it’s a good idea to test your travel chemistry by taking a trip abroad. Traveling, especially if it’s internationally, is a great way to test your relationship because it forces you two learn how to problem solve together.

    Where will you visit? Where will you eat? How will you deal with challenges like being together 24/7?

    Many of these adversities are very similar to what you’ll experience during van life.

    Will you work through all these different adversities? Or do you and your partner prove to be a good team?

    2. Keep Calm…And Learn How To Breathe

    As liberating as van life can be, living in a camper van can be claustrophobic, foster anxiety, and breed tension. Even some of the smallest things that your partner does can set you off and make you want to make snarky remarks, or worse, get into a screaming match.

    So, tip #2 for how to deal with van life as a couple is to learn how to control your emotions. Doing so will help you make more effective communication decisions with your partner without undermining the relationship.

    In my case, when I become bothered by something and I can feel my blood beginning to rush, I’ve learned to simply take a deep breath and exhale. My goal is to let that initial wave of negative emotion subside before talking with my partner about what is bothering me.

    Breathing helps me to cut off the peak of my irritation to think clearly and objectively. It also allows me to think about how best to raise the subject with my partner in a constructive and healthy manner.

    3. Learn To Communicate Openly & Honestly

    Once you’ve had your deep breath, you’re ready to communicate constructively with your partner.

    At this point, you should be open about how you feel. Talk about what you didn’t like or the specific thing that made you feel annoyed.

    It’s important to discuss how both of you can resolve the situation together in the future.

    Don’t be embarrassed by how you feel. And don’t worry about angering your partner when voicing your thoughts. They should also learn to listen constructively and appreciate your candor.

    One of the worst things you can do is to bottle up your emotions and try to sweep them away. In the long run, bad emotions have a way of rising suddenly to the surface. And this is especially true when living in a small space, like in a camper van.

    4. Learn To Compromise & Be Flexible

    Throughout van life, you will learn all your partner’s habits; the good AND the bad. But realistically, you can’t change every one of their bad habits. You’ll have to learn to live with some of them.

    That’s why as important as communication is, learning when to compromise is just at crucial.

    For example, it used to drive me bonkers that Eric would always hang his wet toothbrush off the edge of the sink to dry. I used to always get on him for that. But I later realized that this small issue wasn’t worth the strain that it put on our relationship.

    So, I learned to pick my battles and let that particular bad habit go.

    5. Learn To Apologize & Forgive

    Our last communication tip is for both sides to learn how to apologize, forgive, and let go.

    When we’re accused of doing something bad or wrong, we tend to deny it or downplay it. Or worse, we might try to flip the argument around and accuse the other person of their own bad habits.

    But if you’re on the receiving end of (hopefully) constructive criticism, it’s important to learn how to own the mistake, understand that it bothers your partner, and apologize. And once you’ve apologized, move on from it and carry on with van life.

    It isn’t healthy for your and your partner’s soul to stretch the fight to the next day.

    6. Sharing Is Caring

    Yes, van life can be full of big, exciting moments. But it’s just as important to learn how to share all of life’s little enjoyments with your partner as well.

    This can include pointing out an amazing mountain view while on the road, sharing a funny story you saw online, or even sharing your food when eating out.

    In the morning, we even share a single large cup of coffee during breakfast. It’s much more economical and there’s less dishes to do. 

    Van life is an experience. And you’re choosing to do it with a partner so that you can share the experience together. So, make a proactive effort to share every bit of the adventure together, no matter how small or insignificant you might find it.

    7. Show Love & Gratitude

    Love, intimacy, and affection between a couple oftentimes become neglected during van life. This can be for several reasons:

    • Physical exhaustion after a long day
    • Reduced cleanliness & personal hygiene
    • Increased tension in relationship

    Van life sometimes makes you forget just how incredible and amazing it is to have someone you love with you by your side.

    But romanticism isn’t dead.

    Although your relationship may not be as romantic as it used to be before van life, don’t forget to show a little bit of love and gratitude to your partner daily.

    Remember to tell them how incredible they are. How much you value them. Even small things like saying good morning with a kiss goes a long way to preserving a relationship during van life.

    And finally, learn to acknowledge when your partner does or says something nice. Reward their effort with kindness and affection in return!

    8. Motivate & Encourage Each Other

    There are few things better at strengthening a bond between two people than when a couple works to motivate and encourage each other through adversity.

    Van life is all about trying new things and struggling but ultimately learning from new experiences.

    Some examples include:

    • Learning how to cook in a van,
    • Searching for new daily campsites
    • Meeting new friends & strangers
    • Finding work online

    In fact, one of the toughest aspects of van life is that every day is a challenge. It’s easy to feel down and be hard on yourself.

    So when you see your partner feeling down, try to be that positive light for them. You can become the sunshine that brings them back from the shade and getting them back on their feet.

    And that can really help to strengthen the relationship between a van life couple.

    9. Alone Time Is OK!

    Sometimes van life can make you feel so claustrophobic that you just want to get outside the van and be alone for a while.

    And that’s OK!

    Before van life, we were always separated. We had our own work, did our own grocery shopping, and even had our own apartments. But van life took all that independence away and crammed both of our lives together, effectively 24/7.

    So, it’s perfectly normal to need our own alone time and want to do separate activities occasionally. In fact, it’s a healthy feeling to have. You should care and love yourself as much as you love your partner.

    Top Tip: Plan a dinner date with your partner but spend the entire day separated. Maybe one of you can spend the day at a café while the other is taking care of daily errands. By the time you meet up for dinner you two might look forward to being back together and end up enjoying the night out.

    10. Help Each Other – Balance the Workload

    Van life still requires a lot of daily chores and maintenance.

    • Floors still need sweeping
    • Food still needs to be cooked
    • Laundry still needs to be done
    • Fridge still needs emptying & cleaning

    And while we tend to delegate certain chores to one partner or another, it’s important to be considerate towards each other’s daily workload.

    For example, if your partner spent all day doing vehicle maintenance and feeling exhausted, you can help prepare the meal, even if it wasn’t technically your responsibility that day.

    Working together to complete daily chores but also helping each other out to balance the workload helps to make van life easier and less stressful at the end of each day.

    11. Get Used To Being Uncomfortably CLOSE To Your Partner

    We’re not just talking about physical proximity here.

    Living in a small camper van 24/7 means that there really isn’t any privacy to be had. You really must be ready to share all parts of your lives with your significant other.

    This includes going to the bathroom, farting, burping, and exuding weird body odors. It’ll be the least sexy part of your relationship.

    But even in the darkest moments just remember that this is the person you love and chose to take part in this epic journey with.

    Remember tip #5 and to learn forgive your partner’s foulest farts!

    12. Be Social & Make Friends!

    If you don’t make the effort, you might find traveling full time in a van with your partner can be isolating and lonely. Since you’re always picking up and moving on, it can be difficult to make true friends.

    And while we all know that your partner is your best friend in the world, it can be healthy to get out of your comfort zone and talk to other human beings once in a while!

    Give it a try.

    Hanging out with new people, even if it’s just for the day, can give you positive energy, inspiration, and help to bring up your mood.

    So, talk to those new people at your campsite or look online for van life meetups in your area. Spending time with other people can help improve your relationship with your partner.

    Conclusion

    Living in a van with another person takes some getting used to. And it isn’t easy!

    But by learning to be communicative, considerate, and respectful, you can have a relationship that thrives during van life. This lifestyle can be the biggest challenge in your relationship but also can be the biggest accomplishment and can make the bond with your partner stronger and more robust.

    If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to see them in the comments section below.

    Happy traveling!

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