The First Month of Van Life

We have officially lived the van life for over a month now.  What did we learn? What did we do?  What went wrong? How do we like it?  What’s next?

Living in a Van: Month One in Review

We drove over 5,000 miles in our first month on the road.  While we don’t anticipate doing this on a regular basis, it was a good way to get in the groove of living in a van, living on the road again, and working from the road.  We drove from Oklahoma to Ottawa, Canada, then from Ottawa to Salt Lake City.  The following is a recap of the things we learned in that time.

Driving the Van

The biggest reason we decided to move into a van from our RV before was that it is more maneuverable.  And that is totally true still and has been one of the biggest things we appreciate about the van.  Being more maneuverable and able to get into any parking lot has changed the way we travel.  It makes going to the grocery store or getting gas just a normal event, not a huge production.  We can also shower more often, because it’s easier to get into gym parking lots.  I’m sure everyone can appreciate that!

Additionally, I can drive the van.  I actually never drove the motorhome when we had it.  I just didn’t feel comfortable driving such a large vehicle while pulling a car.  I probably should’ve learned how, but the need was just never strong enough to outweigh my fear of side-swiping something.  So with the van, I can drive and Nate can rest or, more likely, work.  We often switch off driving with the other works so that we can get our work done before we arrive at a campsite.  Then we can enjoy the campsite together!

Failures of the Van Life

Okay, let’s talk about the bad for a minute.  There’s not too much here, but a few things to note.  The biggest thing is that we have been battling a loss of turbo power for a few months now, and we still can’t figure it out.  We are hoping that it gets worse soon so we can find it to fix it!

The plumbing is the number one most annoying thing about our build.  Ever notice that we didn’t make a tutorial on the plumbing?  That’s because we are not happy with it.  We kind of threw it together last minute, so we knew it wasn’t going to be perfect.  The pump is loud and the grey water is in an awful spot.  We’ll probably end up updating it this fall or winter.

The Bathroom…

Contrary to popular belief, our composting toilet actually doesn’t stink.  Honestly, most people don’t even realize we have it when they look in the van, till we open the cabinet with it in there.  We use it sparingly and keep it clean, but composting toilets are great for small spaces like this.

If you are curious, this is the exact compositing toilet that we have, and the same one we had in the RV:  http://amzn.to/2w57yXT

Dogs in the Van Life

The dogs are getting used to the van pretty well.  Sparta (the Bichon) loves it and hasn’t had any issues with it.  He’s always been a good little traveler.  Pyros (the Doberman) is still getting used to the movement, but she’s coming around.  She has her own little cubby with her bed and is starting to realize that it’s the safest place for her while driving.

When we go on hikes (or the grocery store, or anywhere) that don’t allow dogs, they stay in the van.  The two MaxxAir Fans that we have installed replace all the air in the van within 20 seconds, meaning that the air temperature outside is the same inside, with a little shade and a breeze from the other fans.  So, it’s often even nicer feeling inside the van than it is on hikes anyway!  We take Pyros on hikes with us when we can, but Sparta is more comfortable hanging out in the van, people watching or napping.

Living with dogs in a van also means cleaning the van OFTEN! We sweep at least twice a day, usually three times to keep up with shedding and dirt they track in.  But it definitely keeps us on top of cleaning, which is good in such a small space regardless. 

How Much Does it Cost to Live in a Van?

Our first month was a tough one to compare to, but I’ll give the numbers anyway.  We drove over 5,000 miles, which made our gas bill skyrocket.  We also spent two weeks with friends in Ottawa, which meant less moving about but also more vacation-like living (i.e. beers and restaurants often, paying for events, etc.). 

  • Fuel: $748.14 (OUCH!)
  • Grocery Stores: $498.32
  • Restaurants: $291.25
  • Gym Memberships: $18.94
  • Insurance: $212.72
  • Mail Service: $31.55
  • Repairs/Maintenance: $30.40
  • Phone: $338.45 (Nate got a new phone this month, so there are activation fees and other misc fees in there)
  • Sporting Goods: $168.78
  • Misc Personal: $155.75

Total: $2,494.34

Obviously this wasn’t our most frugal of months, but it still isn’t awful.  For comparison, we were averaging about $2,500 per month in the RV, so even for a spendy month, it’s right in line with that. There are definitely expenses that we can cut down on in the future (fuel, restaurants, phone bill), and we made some pricey purchases.  But in all, I’m happy with the first month and now we know that living in a van can be much more cost effective than living in an RV.

First Month of Van Life

Overall, our first month was a success.  It was a great learning experience for both of us (or all four of us), and we have gotten a lot closer to having a “groove” in the van.  Who knows where next month will take us?  Be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with us!