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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kayla Andersen's Facebook page for updates on van life.