10 Things You Learn Living in A Van

Our longest Van trip yet just ended and we were in Betty for 17 days straight.  Sounds awful to some but I found it truly amazing.  If you had told me two years ago that I would be driving cross country in a van for vacation, I would have laughed in your face. But, I have changed a lot in the last two years. I’ve become more confident and adventurous. I’ve fallen even more in love with the great outdoors and have fully accepted myself (most days). So while the person I was two years ago would have never jumped in a rusty old van with this cute guy I met on Bumble, that’s okay. The person I am today is more than happy to be a dirtbag darling for a couple of weeks with my equally (if not more) adventurous & hippy boyfriend if it means exploring the outdoors and getting out of the city.


This trip even left us wondering if this is something we could do full time for a little while.  All of our trips have been planned around (mostly) my graduate school program and Chris work schedule.  Our trips are a great reprieve from day to day life and are refreshing and exhausting at the same time. We are always trying to fit in as much adventure and activities much as we can in the 2-3 weeks that we have and hurry back to Boston for our commitments.  Believe me, I know 2-3 weeks off isn’t bad for vacation. But spending a little bit longer out in the van and meeting other Van lifers along the way got us thinking.  Could we do this full time for a year? Should we?


I still have graduate school and job opportunities in Boston and Chris has a great freelancing job in Boston so we will be here for a bit but, this trip got us thinking. Thinking about how we can create a slower but equally as successful and exciting lifestyle that we both crave.


Let’s be real for a second, living in a 60 square feet (if that) space with another person isn’t always easy.  There is shuffling and frustrations. There is packing and unpacking. You definitely learn a lot: about yourself, your relationship, small spaces, necessities, etc. So I’ve compiled a short list of some of the things I learned from our most recent trip.



10 Things I’ve Learned living in Our Van….


With your significant other

1.     If you are angry about something you better talk about it or get over it:


Chris and I don’t fight often and even when we do fight it’s more of a disagreement than an all out fight.  While I count us lucky, I do think a lot of it has to do with the whole jumping in a van with each other after only dating for 8 months. You can’t hold grudges when you live in such a small space. You can’t pout in the corner or pretend to ignore your significant other. You can’t just walk out in the middle of nowhere, Kansas and decide that you don’t want to discuss this anymore. So instead, you talk it out.  You let spill what is bothering you and talk for a bit or get an “I’m Sorry.” You get really good at admitting “I’m cranky” or “I’m hangry” or “I’m really freaking tired so I’m acting like a bitch.” You own up to your own frustrations and recognize when you need to apologize.  Your communication skills improve and you really don’t fight because sheer honesty always makes things easier.


2.     Nothing is too weird anymore, well except maybe that one thing

When you live in a van with your significant other, you get to know each other real well. Like I said before, Chris and I had only been 8 months when we decided to jump in a Van together in the middle of winter. Our first trip as a couple and our first road trip in Betty. We broke through quite a few barriers in our first van trip.  We had to go more than a few days without showering while still sleeping in a small area.  We had to fit all of our clothes in a small space and we had to live in an even smaller space.  We are both weird but 2 weeks in a van together 24/7 and all your weird comes out—seriously there is no way to hide it. Especially when you have been driving for 10 hours straight, shit gets weird.  What is it that Dr. Seuss said?

“ We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours. We Join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

Dr. Seuss

That’s what van life with your significant other is all about In my opinion. Embracing your weirdness, embracing someone’s else’s weirdness and having a ton of fun along the way. Because after a week (maybe two), nothing is too weird, well almost nothing.



About yourself:

3.     Slowing Down Never Felt so Good.

I say it more than I would like: I’m busy, life has gotten in the way, I feel like I have been moving nonstop for the past X weeks/months/days,. In the van, you have no choice but to slow down.  Life is at a different speed. It’s beautiful and wonderful and shockingly different than our day to day life in the city.  Chris put it so eloquently in one of our last Instagram posts:


“I often have to remind myself to slow down. Since we are only in Betty part time, that means that the rest of our time is spent living in our apartment in the city. The city is unrelenting, the pressures of life increase with each passing day and you get sucked into always thinking about what is next. We forget that we only get one chance at every day. There is no reset, no undo, no mulligan. Too often the things that we should enjoy pass us by because we are too busy to stop. But we have to learn to stop. Life is short, and we should enjoy the little things that make us happy. ”Written by Chris on @twoifbyvan


4.     You really don’t need all that shit you have at home

We can only fit so much in our little Betty and that is probably for the best. I am a notorious overpacker.  Serious bag lady over here.  The shocking part about our first trip is that Chris packed more than I did! (to be fair he overpacked jackets and we were sharing jackets but still).  Living in Betty has taught me to downsize and that I have so much shit that I don’t actually need day to day. When you live in a van, the more stuff you bring along, the more tiem you spend shuffling hear and clothes around instaed of exploring.  The more shit (for lack of a better word) in the van, the less space you have to cook, eat and sleep. The less space you have to live.  And in Betty we would rather live than bring that extra 2 pairs of shoes. (Thankfully, I’ve never been a die hard shoe gal).



5.     Wow, I Waste a Lot of Water at home

We don’t have running water or a kitchen or bathroom in Betty. For our purposes now, we didn’t feel like we needed it and we didn’t want to make that investment.  If (when?) we live in the van full time, this is definitely a purchase we would reconsider.  But for now, doing the dishes is a big plastic bowl, small dish rag, Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap and a splash of water here and there.  The amount of water I use the dishes in Betty is probably the amount of water used to wash one dish in a sink in Boston.  It’s insane and wasteful how much water is used in day to day activities like dish washing.  Part of the reason we use such little water on the road is we usually have a limited amount of water with us in the van (especially in the winter time) and the other part is we quickly realized we don’t need that much water to clean dishes.  At the end of our trips, we do always bring in our dishes to cycle through the dishwasher to get them extra clean before storing the for some time.  Just to be safe and extra squeaky clean while in storage.


6.     Why are I still using paper towels?

I am so over paper towels.  They are wasteful, don’t last long and make so much garbage.  On our first road trip, we bought 10 mini towels for 10 bucks at Walmart and it was the best investment yet.  They are thin but surprisingly absorbant.  Instead of wiping everything up with paper towels, we use our little dish towels. We use them for everything from drying dishes, to cleaning up spills to cleaning dishes.  Yes, the towels get disgusting. Yes, they definitely need a wash after a couple of uses. But we carry so many small ones and they don’t take a long time to dry. We still carry paper towels with us for random odds and ends but don’t end up using them much.  A little more environmentally friendly I hope and a lot less garbage.


7..     You Clean every day, three-a day, but it only takes you 10 minutes


In order to know where everything is in the van and in order to be able to walk around, you clean the van a lot.  In this past trip, I think I cleaned and organized the van before and/or after each meal. I definitely cleaned every morning after we woke up and every night before bed.  Each cleaning round took me 5- 10 minutes tops.  MY usual routine in the morning would be to refold clean clothes, make the bed, put away dirty clothes and create some space for us to walk around and make breakfast. I would store our layers on the bed and tidy up the floor so we can have some space to roam.  At night, I usually put our clothes away, organize the dishes from dinner and lay our backpacks on the floor to air out and to make space to sleep.  Cleaning doesn’t feel nearly as tedious when it takes you 10 minutes.  I think if we were in the van for a long period of time we would need to do a bigger, deeper clean right around 3 weeks—which is exactly what we did when we got home. 10 minutes a day, three times a day ain’t bad though.


8.     Always Bring Extra

We had quite a few mechanical issues this trip. We learned the hard way more than once to always have extras along the way. While this seems contradictory to my you don’t need all that shit you have at home point, it’s slightly different.  Always bring extra of the important stuff. The stuff that can save your butt or just make your life easier when you are in the middle of the mountains, desert, forest at 10 pm with no service. (Not that we have any experience with this….) So here are some things to pack extra of:

- transmission belts, transmission oil, anything mechanical related that might be a little rusty or ready to go

- socks, underwear

- water, non perishable snacks

These are just a couple of things we have found most useful and it is different for each person, couple and more importantly van.




9.     Your Workouts don’t need to be perfect and all intensive  to be effective

I am definitely a workout junkie (It is my career after all) and I truly love working out.  I used to be very compulsive about having to workout every day or I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the day and enjoy what I was eating/drinking. While I don’t have this compulsion anymore, I do still enjoy working out everyday.  When I am in Boston, I have a very similar workout routine week to week.  I usually take a yoga class, a leg day, arm day, rock climb, some cardio on the bike/stairmaster and a HIIT class. I mix it up week to week but overall, similar routines.  On the raod, my workout routine was flipped upside down.  The first three days we are driving 24/7 so my “workouts” are walking around rest stop parking lots and 10 squats and 10 pushups at each rest stop. (girls gotta keep moving) Our week in Yellowstone we hiked over 100 miles over the course of 5 days.  None of this was typical for my routine but that’s okay.  My body needed a break from my “normal” routine and so did my mind.  I spent our weeks on the road recovering and learning to love my body in different ways.  It was glorious AND I felt good.


10.     Sitting still for hours does suck but it’s totally worth it

The worst part about our trips is the first 3-4 and last 3-4 days are spent driving, driving and more driving.  The downfall of living in Boston and only going out on the road a couple of times a year is we have to drive 2,000-3,000 miles to get to our destinations on each end. In the future, we hope to live closer to our adventures or to have more time to adventure so we can make more stops along the way and don’t have to drive for 12 hours in one day.  Regardless of what happens, we do currently spend a lot of time sitting and driving. Yes at times it sucks but boy is it worth the views.


Our Golden Rule:

When in Doubt, Cut it out.

This is a tongue in cheek throwback to our time building out Betty. She was quite rusty, a little old and not well maintained by her last owner. So we learned pretty quickly that if something wasn’t coming out nicely, grab the angle grinder and cut. It. Out. 

Angle grinder= life saver



As we continue to spend time in Betty exploring the US, I am sure there will be many more lessons to be learned.  If we ever head out on the road for an extended period of time, I’m sure we will learn even more.  With two trips under our belt, I think we almost have all the kinks worked out.  We left this trip with only a short list of things to buy or bring for our next trip. As we continue to adventure, we will continue to grow, learn and share our stories.


Adventure on.

Adventure on.

Kerry McGinn1 Comment