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Kayla Andersen explains the mysteries of van life.EXPAND
Kayla Andersen explains the mysteries of van life.
Courtesy of Kayla Andersen

All the Mysteries of Van Life (Including the Bathroom), Explained

Van life offers a lot of excitement, simplicity, and a whole lot of mystery. Where I go to bed each night is a mystery, where I will get my morning cup of coffee is a mystery, and when exactly I will take my next shower is certainly mysterious. While the unknown is usually enjoyable, sometimes it turns into some of the hardest parts of living in a van.

Earlier this year I decided to ditch my Denver apartment and live in my van, Dr. Suess Van Gogh Andersen. I've been a fan of van life since I tried it for two years, between 2014 and 2016.

Two weeks into my most recent excursion, I have already learned so much and have been reminded of so many unique aspects of van life that I would like to share.

In my opinion, safe and smooth van living requires a clear conscience. While finding a nice parking space at the end of the night may be difficult, I always adhere to signage. If a parking lot has “No Overnight Parking” or “Hotel Guests Only” signs posted, I go elsewhere. There have been a few times where I do choose to park where I am not allowed, and I just don’t sleep as well. I feel worried all night, and I can’t relax. I truly believe that parking only where you are allowed will positively influence your quality of sleep — and your good karma overall.

I also listen to my gut 100 percent of the time during van life. There have been nights where I have parked in an okay-not-great spot and have gotten all snuggled into bed, only to have a sinking feeling in my gut. Only if I am completely exhausted and feel that driving tired is more harmful than staying in a certain spot will I stay somewhere that makes me uncomfortable.

Once I find a nice place to park and sleep for the night, I am always thoughtful about how I park Van Gogh. I always try to back in; since I sleep in the rear, I am always mindful of where the back door is. I really enjoy parking next to the end of a semi-truck’s bed, knowing that the driver of the semi will likely not go back there before heading out. I also try to find places to back into along a row of other cars that have also backed in. That way, nobody necessarily has any reason to go around the back before they drive out, and I can sleep peacefully and safely in Van Gogh. I also love corner spots next to dumpsters, and parking under a tree is my absolute favorite. Waking up in a van under a tree is just such a lovely experience!

I have yet to sleep in a Walmart parking lot during my van life 2.0. I don’t like how bright they are, and they always seem to be bustling, no matter the time of day. With that said, as a van-dweller, it is really wonderful to always have a backup place to park and sleep if I ever need one.

Now to address the elephant in the room regarding van life: Where does one go to the bathroom when they live in a Chrevrolet AstroVan? Not to be too frank, but I never poop in the van. I never have, I never will, and I never have even considered it! There are 24-hour gas stations, Walmarts and grocery stores nearly everywhere. If it is truly urgent enough to not be able to wait until a coffee shop in the morning or a laundromat mid-day, poop in an actual toilet, not in a van!

Peeing in the van, on the other hand, is no problem. I am an avid coffee drinker and love to hydrate. So I pee a lot. Nearly every night, I have to pee at some point. I knew this going into van life the first time and learned that my “go”-to was simply a 32-ounce cup and some toilet paper. I am talking any 32-ounce cup. I wouldn’t go smaller than that, because it would be so unfortunate for a pee cup to overflow in the van. Right now, I actually have one of those souvenir cups from the Pepsi Center. It’s great because it’s sturdy plastic, and I can use it over and over again without it disintegrating. Once I pee, I put the cup next to the sliding door and find a place to pour it out the next morning.

As for a shower, I have joined a $10-per-month gym near the restaurant where I work. I have a backpack prepared that has all of my shower needs. It also holds my blow dryer and makeup so that I can easily pop into the gym for a quick shower, to get ready, and then head off on my day clean and refreshed.

What about my apartment furniture? I have a ten-by-ten storage unit, which was really my launching pad for van life. While it houses furniture and large possessions, it is also an incredibly organized place where I can find things quickly when I need to. I set up a closet rod to hang all of my clothes, and I have bulk-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, face wash and laundry detergent so that I can easily refill the little travel-sized containers that I keep in the van. The storage unit is only open until 6 p.m., so I do have to plan ahead on what I may actually need in the van. I try to visit it once a week.

I've kept my living quarters relatively simple. I have a twin-sized bed with a fleece blanket, a comforter and two pillows. I will put warmer blankets in the van as the cold nights of winter creep in. I have two three-tiered plastic storage containers with drawers, which hold my clothes, games, camping supplies, medication, first-aid equipment and personal hygiene products. I use a small trash can to keep the van tidy and a little hamper for dirty clothes. I also keep a bundle of firewood, a hula hoop, an outdoor sleeping cot, and a yoga mat in the van, just in case. I have found that I don't need much more than that.

While some of the "mystery" of van life can become exhausting, I have been absolutely loving it. The rewards of getting to drink coffee in a different place each morning, seeing friends and family more often and spending time out in the sunshine have greatly outweighed any mental and physical discomfort of van life. On a recent morning, the first thing I saw when I awoke was my van plant soaking up the sun and my hula hoop resting against the side window. I was next to a beautiful tree, and the temperature in the van was just right. It was one of those moments where I thought, “I live in a van, and it’s pretty freaking awesome." It really was just perfect.

What are you interested in knowing about van life? Let us know in a comment or at editorial@westword.com. Follow Kayla Andersen's Facebook page for updates on van life.

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