Living and travelling the world in a van while climbing at some of the most famous destinations across the globe…what could possible be better?
Having this freedom and opportunity is a massive privilege, and that’s something I never let myself forget. But vanlife, like any other form of travel, doesn’t come without its own difficulties. It may be a dream come true, but it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies, just like any other form of travel.
The reality is, travel can be lonely, travel can be disorientating, travel can make you feel insecure and confused about the future. People rarely write about it, but like any other reality, travelling is bittersweet.
To keep it a bit more real, here are a few things about vanlife that haven’t been so rosy:
Lack of personal space
I guess this is a pretty obvious one, but a van is quite a cramped environment, and going from sharing a relatively spacious flat to sharing a vehicle takes some getting used to, no matter how well you get on with the person you’re doing this with.
Mechanical troubles can be devastating!
When you live in our vehicle, any mechanical faults threaten your entire lifestyle: you have nowhere to live, no way to get anywhere, and you have to spend your meagre savings on fixing it.
We learnt this the hard way when we ended up having to replace the gearbox and clutch just a few days into our trip, which cost us €4,000; a large proportion of our savings, with no regular income at the time.
Shitty weather means being stuck in the van
Vanlife is great when you can spend all your time frolicking outdoors, but whenever it rains, or god forbid snows, you’re confined to the van. And then it suddenly feels much smaller than it does on a sunny day.
We got snowed in twice while out travelling, despite trying to avoid this as hard as we could – and one time it was so bad we couldn’t drive out of the car park for two days. With no heating, no way to get to the shops to buy some hard liquor and not even much of a chance to walk around in the ankle-deep snow, it got pretty miserable.
It can get pretty cold!
This isn’t so bad at night, because you can hide under a thick duvet, but on cold days it can get pretty chilly inside the van. We don’t have heating, so when it gets really cold our only way of heating the place is by turning on the stove. There’s only so long you can do that for, and often on a cold day you end up having to wrap yourself up in layers and crawl under the blanket!
It’s hard to park in cities
I thought we would visit a lot more cities on our travels around Europe, having a list of favourites I wanted to re-visit and some that I still haven’t been to. But we’ve barely been to any! It’s expensive to park and hard to drive around in a big vehicle, plus the threat of a break-in is higher with higher crime rates. The only big city we ventured into was Berlin, and in the end we got stuck in a car park, boxed in by smaller cars and unable to move for 24 hours!
Driving long distances can get mega expensive
More so than in a car, since vans eat up a lot more fuel and you spend more money on tolls being a larger vehicle, which can be sky high in some European destinations (Italy, France). It cost us over €100 in tolls alone to cross France using highways on our way from the UK to Spain, and another €200 or so in diesel.
And, as it turns out, Europe is far larger than it looks on the map! So the magical freedom of vanlife is somewhat restricted by budgets.
Then why do we do it?
None of these downsides can erase the fact that living the way we do allows us the freedom to do what we love – travel and climb all year round – without being attached to an office job or a permanent home, with a mortgage and bills.
Living like this is also far cheaper than living in a city, even with all the costs that I mentioned factored in. Our main expense is fuel, a replacement for rent of sorts, so by staying put in one location we can drastically reduce our spending when money gets tight.
Like every adventure, living in a van includes its fair share of suffering, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!