It’s finally happening! We’ve been wanting to do the whole vanlife thing for quite a while, but it has taken some time to wrap our heads around everything that needed to be done! Spoiler alert: a LOT. Houses, jobs, stuff, lots of physical stuff. But before getting to all the big stuff, there are a lot of little things you can do that can help when you’re preparing for vanlife.
Let’s dive in!
Preparing for vanlife
Sounds pretty simple right? And downsizing doesn’t actually have to start big. The key is to start small, and gradually work your way up. You’ll get to the giving up your house eventually, but begin by not replacing things you run out of and don’t actually need. Fancy curl cream for your hair? (Guilty) Do you really need it? Plant died? Finished your book? How many bath towels do you have and is your kitchen full of pans you’re not using anyway?
Getting to the bigger things means making decisions. What are you going to do with your bicycle, bring it or ditch it? Furniture, cars, all things that you can’t take. Keep in mind that while it’s technically not downsizing, a storage unit could be an option as well. We for example rented a small one for a few years and only put stuff in it we think we will need at some point in the future, are still good and expensive to replace. Think a kingsize bed and some sentimental stuff. All else we gave away, threw away or sold.
Start thinking about the clothes you want to bring. There is really no point in transferring the entire contents of your closets into your van. There won’t be much space and you won’t wear nearly as much as when you’re home in daily life. Typically, we’ve found 2/3 of each item, except underwear and socks to be enough. Think about the seasons you’ll be traveling in and how long you’ll be traveling for. Naturally you’ll pack bulkier for winter, but if you get to do laundry once every week to 10 days you won’t run short.
Traveling in winter
Speaking of winter; if you do plan to travel during winter, whether you’re van living fulltime or not; having a plan is crucial. How well equipped is your van? How is the heating situation? How much gas or propane can you hold and how many blankets have you got? Being cold sucks big time. And while some vans are better insulated than others, there is still stuff you can do to get a little more comfortable, but thinking ahead can save you big time. Know your propane usage, get a little heater than runs on diesel, buy insulation shields for your windows, prep your rubbers so you doors don’t freeze shut and you can even buy a sleeping bag suit!
This might not something that would immediately come to mind, but knowing what’s out there and evaluating what’s important to you goes a long way. In a lot of places around the world, you can find free camping spots, but without amenities like water and power. If you’re self contained, you could do this for a few nights in a row without needing a campsite to hook up. There are plenty of apps to help you find good, safe spots. Being out in the wild (or parking lots!) doesn’t appeal to you? Campsites could be the way to go, and they vary from simple, small spots to full blown campings.
Neither one is better or worse, whatever you’re comfortable with works! We don’t like to book ahead much and try to do a few nights to a week of ‘free camping’ followed by a few nights at a campsite. In Europe, we love the Park4Night app!
Is vanlife for you?
Honestly, this could be the most important thing to think about when you’re preparing for vanlife! All the vans you come across look cute and boho, there’s so much freedom, sun’s always out… In reality, while all those things aren’t necessarily untrue, it also takes a bit of sacrifice. Can you deal with living in a small space 24/7? The cold and rainy days? No showers for a while, stressing about where to sleep, the smells and not having a homebase? And if you’re traveling with someone else, multiply that by 2.
In exchange for that, you will get the freedom and the sunshine by just leaving rainy places! But is our van cute? Nope, it’s a beast. But it’s also our house and gets the job done. We’ll get used to the smells… and will get back to you when we’ve been in the cold and rain for some time!