9 Downsides of Van Life

Sweeping dirty van floor

Traveling in a camper van has its rewards but it can also have its downsides. There are some things that absolutely suck about living in a van! Even if you only travel in it for short periods of time, you’ll find these same pain points along your journey.

One might assume that living and traveling in a van is nothing but pure bliss with all the attention from social media and online videos. However, waking up in a picturesque place with everything staged for the perfect picture often requires a lot of miserable times to achieve. It’s not pure bliss every moment of every day and there are some adjustments to make in order to find happiness in the lifestyle.

Van life pictures don’t tell the whole story!

I don’t want to put anyone off to this lifestyle but there are some things that you should know if you are considering a van for yourself. There is always bad that always comes with the good. If you have tunnel vision and only focus on the good, you will probably be disappointed once you hit the road.

In this article, I’d like to point out a few things that often suck about van life or camping in a small camper in general. These are points that aren’t often discussed and may be trivial to some. Nevertheless, they are points that you may want to add to your list of negatives if you have a desire to pursue van life.

This is not to scare you away but only to help you plan better for your journey so you can better navigate the downsides of the lifestyle.

1. Everything Takes Longer

No matter what you do, it’s likely to take twice the amount of time that it normally would. Whether you are washing dishes, cooking meals, changing clothes, cleaning up, or making your bed, you can expect it to take longer than it would in a larger home environment.

I have found through my own experience that assuming things will take twice the amount of time is a good rule of thumb.

Of course, your results will vary but I have found this to be true for me as I have traveled around. Cooking is something that stands out the most. Because of such a small space, it’s not always possible to break everything out and set it on the counter as I would in my home. I have to do one thing at a time and in the end, it takes much longer to cook a full-fledged meal than it would if I weren’t in this mobile living situation.

If you are converting your own van or purchasing one, pay extra close attention to the layout. Make sure you can perform some of the main tasks efficiently rather than having a setup that takes forever to get things done.

2. It Gets Crowded With Two People

If you are going to camp in a van with another person or even travel for a small amount of time, you had better get along well with them. The limited space will have you bumping into each other constantly. There is a huge difference when I travel alone versus when I travel with my wife.

Alone, the space is plenty big and I can go about my business doing things the way I want. However, once she is present, it becomes quite a challenge to perform regular functions without getting in each other’s way. This can often lead to frustration.

Just know that you’ll get close and personal with whoever is in your van with you. You will want to make sure you have a great relationship and understanding with the other person you are traveling with. If you are fortunate enough to have a beloved pet traveling with you, the living space will become even more crowded.

This is all to be expected in such a small living space but you might not realize just how crowded it can get until you experience it.

3. It’s a Constant Battle to Keep It Clean and Organized

One would think that such a small space would be easy to keep clean. However, once you start coming in and out of the living space and actually using it, you’ll find that it can become a constant battle of keeping the living space clean and neat. If you are a neat freak as I am, you will be constantly at work trying to keep things put up out of the way.

Even when you build a van with plenty of cabinets and areas to accommodate clutter, it can still be a challenge to keep it clean and things put up in their respective places. Not only this but an unbelievable amount of dirt and debris gets tracked in every time you leave and reenter the van. It’s amazing to see how this builds up and you will find yourself sweeping the floor on a regular basis.

Whether it’s dust, gravel, twigs, or who knows what else, it will find its way onto your van floor.

4. Nearly Everything is a Hassle

I find that nearly everything I do in my van tends to be a hassle. It’s not that van life in and of itself is a hassle. The lifestyle and the freedom offered are amazing. However, I often find myself not doing certain things just because of the hassle involved. For example, I sometimes choose to cook a smaller meal than I want just because it’s so inconvenient to get a bunch of pots and pans out and then do dishes afterward.

Taking a shower or cleaning yourself up, filling water, dumping your toilet (if you have one), figuring out what to do with the trash, and the list goes on and on. Little things like this are really noticeable when out on the road.

5. Rain or Inclement Weather Makes Everything Worse

When rain or other bad weather situations are involved, the whole van life experience is made worse. Rain can put a damper on the fun experience of a van and even worse if you have a dog that needs to go outside often. When it’s raining outside, you may need to close all windows and vents making it a hot, humid mess inside the van.

When it’s raining, you’ll track mud and water into your van. You may be forced to sit inside your van with the windows and vents closed. The whole experience becomes worse so whatever sucked before, will suck even more with rain.

If you are in the snow, the same can be said. You’ll track snow, water, and mud into your van and it will create a mess that you’ll constantly have to clean.

6. Trash Constantly Builds Up

Trash gathers more quickly than you can imagine! Paper towels, cans, and other throwaway items will clutter your living space constantly. I am always amazed at how much trash builds up when I am on the road. Even when you cook all your own meals and try to be as mindful as possible, you will still find your trashcan becoming full way too quickly.

The main culprit for me is paper towels. I end up filling my trash can with them because they are so handy. My paper towel holder is over my sink and it’s easy to tear off a towel anytime I need to wipe something up. Food wrappers, cans, and bottles make up the rest of my trash. It seems like you are always having to look for a place to dump the trash. If you aren’t in a location where you can easily dispose of it, it will have to be stored in your van until you find a place.

Although not as wasteful as we are in our homes, the trash is right in front of you and more noticeable. As it builds up, it becomes more of a problem because there is no way to get away from it in a small living space. It will start to smell and take up space faster than you may realize. No matter how much you try to save on waste, it’s a constant battle to keep it dumped and clean at all times.

7. The Toilet Situation Sucks

Many vans don’t even have a toilet feature and many have a small portable toilet as I do. Many commercially available Class B RVs have wet baths with a cassette toilet built-in. Some may also have a composting toilet which is a great option if you have room and the budget for it.

However, no matter what type of toilet you have, you are in a small van. If you need privacy to use the toilet, the other person will need to leave to make it more private. This isn’t always possible and can definitely be a problem if you are traveling with another person. Both people may need their privacy and each person will need to leave as the other does their “dirty work.” This will be made worse when the weather is bad.

If you don’t have a toilet, you will have to drive around and find public toilets or dig a hole in the woods if you are boondocking. I can’t imagine not having at least a portable toilet in my van but many make do without one and only utilize public options.

All of these toilet options for vans are more challenging than what you will find in larger RVs that have bathrooms with dedicated waste holding tanks. This allows you to be further removed from the process and makes it more convenient.

8. Opening and Closing the Van Side Door Is Not Ideal

One thing I never really thought about when building my van is how bad the side door is on a Ram Promaster. It takes some muscle to slide the door and close it. I’ve greased and oiled the track many times but it still needs a lot of power to close it. I often dread having to close it when I’m in an area where others are camping.

Closing camper van sliding door

This will not be a problem if you have a fancier van with an auto-closing door. However, just be aware that a sliding door that has to be slammed shut can be quite loud. It often makes you feel like you are doing something wrong during quiet hours at a campground. Each time I slam the door, it seems to echo throughout the campground and I often get looks.

9. You’ll Feel Dirty and Nasty Most Of the Time

Between the lack of showering facilities and the often hot and humid living space and just the overall filth factor of being out and about, you’ll feel dirty most of the time. If social media posts and videos had a smell feature, you may be put off by the lifestyle. While people often look as though everything is just perfect, they are probably filthy from not having showered for days.

This isn’t always the case and if you have a shower in your van, you will be able to feel a sense of cleanliness at least some of the time. I have a shower in my van but since I’m often in water conservation mode, I tend to use it less than I’d like. It’s always nice to get to a place that has showers so you can take a long, hot shower.

Bottom Line

This is not an exhaustive list and is only some things I have noticed on my trips that I didn’t consider when first building my van. However, as I have traveled more and more, these are the same issues that come up again and again and make my trips a little less than ideal.

Not that any of these are deal-breakers, or even unexpected when you really think about it. It’s just that when you are in the market for a van or converting your own van, these tend to be things that are not on your mind and wouldn’t be unless you have been out in a van and experienced the lifestyle yourself.

If you are excited to convert a van, just keep in mind that some things aren’t going to be ideal and you’ll have to adapt and overcome. Expectations are likely the biggest thing here to consider. You should expect a little bit of give and take with this lifestyle.

Even though you’ll have an awesome little living space with many conveniences, it’s different than the space you have in a standard home. You’ll have to make some sacrifices, be patient and understanding if you expect to get the most out of your van.

Otherwise, van life is a super enjoyable lifestyle that can get you off the beaten path. It can give you the freedom to go anywhere you wish. The small size of the van gives it a leg up on other means of RVing and does have benefits in that regard. However, the small size also has these negative features as well.

Dan Collins

I consider myself an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel and go to places that most people don't get a chance to go. I want to see it all and live life to the fullest while I'm alive. My camper van is helping me to do just that. I write about my experiences to help inspire others to do the same.

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