Whether or not you’ve gone through the build process or just purchased your RV for life on the road, there can be a lot of unknowns for new van lifers. You may be asking yourself questions like “What if this goes wrong?” or “What should I expect on the road?”.
I remember over a year ago being in those shoes and being anxious. It was a combination of being excited and terrified of the challenges that were inevitably going to come as a new van lifer.
One year later and I’m here to tell you that full-time travel in a bus never becomes a “walk in the park“. Of course, we’ve both adapted to the lifestyle and the issues that come along with it. David and I have been through it all – bus breakdowns, almost a breakup, a broken trailer, several broken cars, and so much more.
While we both love this lifestyle and wouldn’t trade it for the world, it does take a lot of work to stay positive and motivated. It’s not just about the pretty pictures you see on Instagram, it’s about the ability to overcome obstacles while also embracing all of the rewards that come with bus and van life.
Before leaving, I wish there were a few things that I would’ve asked or known. I’m hoping these tips for new van lifers will help to ease some of your concerns about life on the road.
Is it necessary to take a trial run in my rig before leaving part or full-time as new van lifers?
This is something that I would highly recommend if you have the time for it. We never did short trips or took the bus for many test runs before leaving. As a result, most of our incidents happened within the first few months of travel.
If we had just taken a few more test runs to figure out what mechanical repairs the bus needed, we probably would’ve avoided a lot of stress that came down the road (…literally).
In addition, test drives and short trips are perfect for figuring out what needs to be improved in your build. Depending on how much you prepared, you can expect objects flying everywhere, drawers opening, and maybe your knife block flying off the countertop. It’s important to observe what works and doesn’t work on your build ahead of time so you can fix those issues. Later down the line, you’ll thank me when you don’t have things flying across your rig!
Do I really need to have a contingency fund for emergencies?
YES – 100%! Creating a contingency fund for rainy days will reduce your stress later. I hate to be the bearer of bad news – but, things will go wrong and new van lifers will make mistakes. But, it’s okay – mistakes are just lessons. Chances are, once you do it once you won’t be doing it again.
David and I always keep about $3,000 on board as an emergency backup fund. We’ve had some hefty repairs on both our bus and car and that fund has certainly saved us the headache. Making money on the road can be another tough route, which is why it’s so important to have some extra funds for when things go wrong!
Where am I going to find parking? Is it as easy as everyone makes it look?
We asked this question to ourselves time and time again before leaving on our bus life journey. However, we just didn’t prepare enough or do the research. I remember us crossing the border of Canada and looking at each other like, “Now what? Where are we going to find parking? We can’t afford an RV park or campsite every night”. And, this was true – we didn’t have the budget for that!
Don’t worry – there are tons of tips, pointers, and resources that I can now offer to ease your mind a bit about finding camping and parking sites throughout the United States and Canada. No, it’s not going to be as easy as all of those gorgeous Instagram and YouTube shots make it look. But, if you use enough of the apps and get familiar with BLM and National Forest lands, you’ll quickly figure it out.
Check out the article: How to Find Free Camping Near Me
How often can I shower?
The answer to this will be directly dependent on what you have onboard your rig. If you’re someone that really doesn’t want to live without a shower every other night, you’re going to need to prepare to have more water on board. You may also want to consider staying at RV or campsites that have water hookups.
But, what if you don’t have the budget? Don’t worry – you’ll still get plenty of showers if that’s important to you. Planet Fitness (before the pandemic) was a fantastic option for getting showers. You’d pay a basic gym membership (ours is around $20/month for the both of us) which includes access to Planet Fitness gyms and showers throughout the United States.
We’ve also found ourselves bathing in lakes, rivers, streams, hot springs, etc. if we’re in desperate need or low on water! Many campsites and RV parks will also offer showers for a small fee.
Is driving a rig for new van lifers easy? Is there a learning curve?
As with anything new, there will be a learning curve. Most vans are easier to maneuver while a bus may take longer to get used to driving. We always recommend for new van lifers to take small trips with their rig to get used to it. Sometimes, the size can be intimidating and so can air brakes if your rig has it! Just take it slow and gain confidence.
What is it REALLY like living with a significant other nearly 24/7 as van lifers?
Living with another person in such a tiny space was a challenge for us for about 6 months. It was difficult adapting to each other’s habits, especially when we were both used to living pretty independently from each other.
Our biggest suggestion for preventing arguments is to give each other space. Take time for yourselves and learn to appreciate even the small things about your partner! In addition, take the time to hear each other out. So many of our arguments could be avoided if one of us just kept quiet for a few more seconds.
Are people going to start looking at me funny?
It really depends on what rig you’re driving the street with. Of course, a school bus driving down the street with a roof deck is going to stick a lot more than a van built for stealth camping.
To answer this question: YES, people may look at you funny! But, with every person that may not agree with your lifestyle, there will be tons of amazing people that do. It’s important to not pay attention to those that judge you. Rather, make meaningful connections with some of the amazing people within this nomadic community!