There is plenty of people living this way, and in almost every article it is so much idealized. Most people don’t realize its negatives. Everyone knows it has some minuses like everything, but do they really know what this can be about? For certain, it is more comfortable life than when you are hiking.
I am not considering RV and those full houses on wheels. I am considering just a basic living in a car, which was originally never meant to be lived in. Even though you will make it suitable for living.
You won’t usually meet those as a vanlifer, but you can’t be one of those super sensitive, easily offended people. Especially supersensitive is a problem – when it comes to hygiene and disgusting things – because those are our everyday life.
Nowadays is modern to wash almost three times a day (body) and disinfect everything. If you are afraid of germs and diseases from a “poor” hygiene, this life is not for you. Running water is a luxury with this lifestyle. At the other hand, good hygiene is necessary and can be accomplished in a little different ways than most people think.
Also, I don’t take any responsibility for your acts. Especially if you misuse anything written here. Don’t cause harm to the nature, yourself or anyone else!
If you can’t live without every day’s shower, especially hot shower, then never try to live in a van.
In reality, if you don’t have shower in a van you will have a shower realistically like twice or once a week. If you need to wash more (as girls usually need), there is a lot of things you can do.
I am using a bottle with aquarium/medical hose which can be used upside down to easily wash anywhere and not to spill water everywhere.
Second thing to use is washcloth and a pot (or anything else) with very warm water. Also spray for plants and washcloth can be used.
Hair washing is a little bit more complicated. I prefer natural water bodies for washing my hair, but in winter usually a sink at gas station or bucket with warm water will do its trick.
What helps a lot is to go as much natural as you can. It means no excessive use of soap or no soap. Also, not using any shampoo helps a lot because washing hair with just a water is simple and easy.
For shaving just use soap if needed.
If you don’t have one, you can have a big trouble. We don’t have one…yet. I have to say it makes things complicated – especially in the city. Then you must plan more carefully where to park.
In case of emergency it is quite easy for men go to pee somewhere close to the bushes and it is somehow acceptable even when they pee just on the street. (That is so unfair…)
When girls are doing this, they are in big trouble. Girls need female urination device. Or – as disgusting it may seem – emergency bucket in a car which you just wash after use.
We are using both. Nature and a bucket. Especially in night time is bucket “must have”. We use it for all “trash” water which is then disposed on a rest place’s toilets or in a nature (if there is nothing harmful!) and it is never poured in the water, only on the ground on places where it shouldn’t do any harm. Also, we don’t pour this water in any sensitive ecosystems or on protected plants (which I don’t have problem to recognise).
If there is need to go on a toilet for a longer and smellier time, then we prefer gas stations, restaurants or any places we are currently stopping at. In nature it is much easier. Just take a shovel and go find a suitable place, make a hole and that’s it.
With snow it is faster digging, but you need to take also a bag for all the used toilet paper – it will not have enough time to decompose when snow will be melting and it really won’t be looking nice.
Never leave toilet paper on a ground! It take months untill it will be decomposed and it is not pleasant to see it. Please, use your brain before doing anything what could be potentially harmful for nature (or yourself).
I am not talking about manicure, hair or make-up. I want to write about topic which is often heavily taboo. Topic which is considered disgusting, yet it is a normal and natural topic. It is period. This little thing can complicate life a lot – like cramps, nausea, diarrhea, fever and plenty of other issues – sometimes mild, sometimes terrible.
But how to make your life easier during your days? There is many possible solutions. If you take into account hygiene troubles, there is basically only one solution. Menstrual cup. This little thing is making my life easier for about three years. It is great solution when traveling and you can’t wash regularly. However, it is necessary to properly disinfect – with boiling water or disinfection.
What also help to be clean? Again, washcloth and bottle with aquarium hose. You can buy even specially designed intim showers. In emergency cases also wetwipes can help, but those are usually filled with harmful chemicals and will not decompose.
I want to encourage ladies with problematic periods. I am not a girl with easy days. Normally it is a hell for me – I can’t survive without painkillers, toilet nearby and I bleed a lot. It can be complicated, but it can be handled.
Yes, this is also important to keep in your mind. If you are living in a van, you are considered homeless. In cities it can be risky to park always on a same place. Especially if you are walking around your car a lot and you are gaining attention. And you can be robbed.
In this is advantageous to have a van which doesn’t look like a caravan (or at least not expensive one). For this we chose a van without windows. Bye bye natural light… No, it was also because of other reasons. We are probably in a group of rare people who want to live in a van above the polar circle whole year round. It means:
- very cold in the winters – through windows a lot of heat escapes
- very dark winters – it doesn’t matter if you have windows
- very light summers (without nights) – without windows we can have a good long sleep
- in cities you are much more unnoticed – no one sees inside
- if we want to observe what is outside we can sit in driver’s cabin (with a huge window)
What else might be a trouble? All the equipment in the cargo space. In some countries it can be illegal to have this inside and when you have technical control, you might have a problem.
Also, in some countries it is forbidden to sleep in your car. Technically it is illegal even in Czech Republic. Most probably no one will ever be causing you any trouble, if you will not be making any trouble and go unnoticed. Also, don’t sleep in the city – if you want to, be careful where you park (some places are just full of not nice people) and don’t attract too much attention.
This is a pain in the ass for us. Buying older car usually has plenty of troubles. We had a bad luck when choosing our car and cost for the repair was the same as the price itself (maybe even higher). It needed new engine – and it was just a beginning. Moreover, it wasn’t that old car – just the previous owner wasn’t caring.
With older cars, you can start repairing and you will never end. At the other hand, it is still cheaper than reconstruction of a house, or building a house. And with all the costs (including fuel) it is per year often cheaper than a rent.
You will look weird when you stop at a gas station and you will wash all your clothes in the sink in a restroom. Do it only with small amounts of clothing or stop at truck stops where no one cares and truckers also do it.
In some cities is a chance to find public laundry.
In the nature you can wash it using a water from river or pond and then pour it on the ground, but only if you won’t use any detergent! Sometimes is just water enough. And don’t wash your clothes in sources for drinking water or in national parks. That would be just rude and heavily unecological.
In cities it is great to use public laundry rooms, they are usually a bit expensive for regular washing, but if you have a lot of very dirty clothes, it is best solution.
You can also use Airbnb for one night and wash yourself and your clothes. Couchsurfing is also vital possibility and just ask if you can wash your clothes at someone’s place.
It might be slightly problematic if weather is not helping. Wet days are what you don’t want. During rainy days it won’t get dry, but during humid days it won’t get dry either. We have trouble with second mentioned. It is not a big deal to dry clothes outside in freezing days or just cloudy days. But we normally have humidity above 70% (usually 80+, in winter often 90%) and in these conditions it won’t get dry.
Our solution is quite simple. Wash clothes in smaller amount in humid and wet days and put all clothes in the cabin. When not driving, it goes anywhere. It is much warmer and drier there. In two days it is perfectly dry. I was drying this way even completely wet blanket.
If you are driving through cities and often stop at gas stations, it is not a big deal. You usually can’t take 20 l tank with you to the restrooms. You have to ask if you can. And even if you can, it won’t fit in the sink (it has solutions). It is easier to stop at truck parking places – they often have a place where you can easily refill. Or at caravan camps.
In the nature it can be bigger trouble. In the Lapland it is not. Water is nearly everywhere and most of it is drinkable. In the winter you just need axe and cut through ice. Otherwise easy.
In the restrooms is fine to take even few litres with you, if you have small 0,5l bottles – it doesn’t look that bad.
If you are crazy like us, you will definitely need well insulated car and some heating. We didn’t solved it yet. Our car has only basic insulation which makes 2-5°C difference in not heated car compared to the outside. Normally no problem. During winter above polar circle it is a big issue.
Now we have improvised solution. Normal small indoor heater and cable through door put in a socket. Not best, but it works just well. When outside is -10°C, inside is about +20°C on a half heat settings.
So far, we tested it until -20°C and we had inside up to +30°C. We lived in car only in the autumn and spring. During the harsh winter it would be risky with current insulation, as the winter temperatures dropped to -47°C (day temperature).
Now it will be tested during summer at Nordkapp which is very windy place.
It is important to have a good place to sleep and keep yourself warm. We often have quite cold in our car, which is from -5°C to +15°C (when travelling), when with electricity, it is usually +10°C to 19°C. So we have four sleeping bags and three blankets (two sleeping bags are normally just for hiking and one blanket is my dog’s blanket).
And what we are sleeping on? Currently two hiking mats, and some sheep’s skins. It is fine so far.
When it is cold it is just like sleeping in a tent, just much more comfy. And with a cat and dog heating under blanket.
Cooking and washing dishes
This is the only thing which needs a lot of improvement. We had so far just a classic gas cooker and all cooking was incredibly slow. In temperatures around zero it took more than 30 minutes to boil liter of water so we skipped cooking all food and ended just with cooking water for breakfast.
Most of our food was a lot of eating at gas stations (after a week it is a bit too much) and can food. There is nothing bad about can food if chosen with care. Also, most of our dinners consist of bread with something, but that is what we eat normally.
After few weeks of this diet I have decided we definitely need better cooking solution. My father told us few possible solutions and I have chose a gasoline cooker. We still need to try it properly. Tested only few times – at first it was very bad. We had unstable fire 30 cm high and backburn. Second attempt was better – anyway, it took at least 10 minutes before fire became stable and cooker started to work properly.
There is another problem why we don’t want to cook much – washing dishes. It takes water and in freezing conditions no one wants to do it. Usually small amount of boiling hot water is perfectly enough to wash nearly anything.
Isn’t it why most people do this activity? Well yes. But it has also plenty of downsides.
Like driving 500 km (and more) in one day and not seeing much because we are lazy to stop and go for a walk, or because we both hate driving in cities.
Travelling for us is a bit of side effect of working abroad. We need to get there somehow. First year we tried airplane and living only in accommodation from our employer. After some very bad experiences it was certain, this is not the way. Plus, I need a computer for my work and also, I love wool and I have about 5 kg of raw wool. It is very hard for both of us to travel just with backpack. And we have a cat and dog…
But about our “car journey” maybe in different article.
Some people say, it is great way how to test your relationship – if you can survive in a small place with someone else. For me it is “Ah, finally we have OUR home where we can be all alone.” I am still used to student’s life where living with three more people in one room was normal and in one flat was up to 12 people. After some time you will start to hate your flatmates.
Also, we are those people, who do not need much other people around them. I prefer to be alone most of the time or be in the nature. So, it can be challenging for normal human beings who didn’t tested their relationship yet, as we did those 4 years before we’ve got our car.
What to say…erm…write at the end? If you really want to do it, then you will find your way.
For the others; remember, #vanlife is not only about those nicely arranged pictures and beautiful landscape. It is still same life, it just has different priorities.
By the way, I also do like those nicely arranged pictures which look like from some lifestyle magazine, but who doesn’t?