LAST MONTH I BOUGHT A WHITE, 1993 DODGE ONE-TON VAN so I could live the proverbial “van life.” After a week on the road spent mostly in coffee shops but with some surfing thrown in for good measure, I quickly found that while living in a van does allow for exceptional freedom, it’s not without its challenges.
Here are a few of them:
Where you park your van each night is massively important, because this new spot, for the next 8 hours, becomes your temporary address. I like to look for a nice residential area and then try to park one road off the main street in a moderately well-lit area, usually around a few other cars.
I prefer a decently-lit area to a dark area because I feel like it provides some measure of security, and I like to park around other cars because while that 1993 Dodge Cargo Van looks strikingly like a kidnapper van when lurking alone on a corner, it looks decidedly less threatening wedged between two Toyota Priuses under the warm glow of a street lamp. Once you do park, wait for a time when no one’s around to put your curtains up, and then do it quickly and minimize ins and outs of the van so that people don’t realize they have a vagrant living on their street.
If you’re living the van life, there’s a decent chance you work online, which means you need access to good internet. Which means you end up spending 80% of your waking hours in the very places you started living van life to avoid, like Starbucks. However, Starbucks has reliable internet and you can buy a juice box and hang out for six hours without getting kicked out or feeling like you’re imposing, which can’t always be said for that kitchy, fresh-roasted single origin two-table coffee shop down the road. When living the van life coffee shops are your best friend, though this might just be mostly because of the bathrooms.
Van life was a LOT more expensive than I thought it would be. This was because I drove a lot. And because I took some ferries. If you can drive to the coast or the desert or a national park and shack up in the same spot for a week and never move, then van life won’t be that expensive. But if you want the wheels your dream boat is resting on to actually turn, you’re going to have to shell out some cash, especially since most vans aren’t exactly fuel efficient.
4. Personal Hygiene
Personal hygiene will suffer. Go surfing.
This probably isn’t an issue for most people, but in Parksville, BC I managed to lock myself out of the car twice in a span of about three hours. The first time, some good-Samaritan Canadian teenagers helped me fish them out of the ignition by attaching our two car antennas together with a piece of wire in the shape of a hook on the end. Afterward I went to McDonald’s to “celebrate,” and then found a nice spot to park my car and eat/wait for an appropriate time to go to sleep. After getting out of the car to throw the McDonald’s trash away I realized I had locked myself out of the car again, and this time there was no one around to help. So I jogged to the Starbucks where I had been working and used Skype to call my insurance company in the US, and they had a towing/locksmith service out to my car within 20 minutes.
The moral of the story? Pay that extra dollar a month on your insurance for roadside assistance. The other morals? Do as little driving as possible, have good curtains, and cultivate a relationship with your local barista.
Happy van life.