Living on the road, like all things, gets easier with time. You learn lessons, get into a groove, find the right resources, and it simply becomes your “norm”.
But what does the beginning of the process, the diving into vanlife, actually look like? How does one make the move from living in a stationary location and working a 9-5 to residing in a home on wheels that is constantly moving? We’ve asked real, experienced vanlifers within the community to share their honest experiences of their first 30 days on the road. From stories to lessons to emotions, there is no shortage of growth in this choice. Hear what they had to say about the very start of their massive transition towards a life on the road.
Jayme and John of @Gnomad_Home
“A few words to describe our first 30 days on the road? Exciting. Nerve-wracking. Hilarious. Uncomfortable. We still laugh about our very first night on the road. We chose to camp out at a State Park in Missouri on our way west. Note that we didn’t have any experience with boondocking yet, so we chose to stay somewhere that was still a bit in our comfort zone. By the time we got to camp, we were so excited to get dinner ready. A storm had become rolling through, and we really enjoyed listening to the rain hit the roof as we prepared our dinner for the night.”
“We began cooking, and shortly after our smoke detector started going off. The loud beeping of a traditional smoke detector is PIERCINGLY loud when you are in such a small space! Not only did the sudden loudness make us jump in our seats, but it terrified our dogs! We weren’t entirely sure what was going on so we turned off the stove and jumped out of the van with the dogs, while the rain poured down around us (we didn’t have an awning yet).”
Day one — a great combination of exciting, nerve-wracking, hilarious and uncomfortable.
“The next 30 days continued in their own individually beautiful ways. We got our toes wet in boondocking. We camped out in the deserts of New Mexico – a terrain and environment we had never experienced before. And we even gained a respect for the new flexibility this lifestyle had gifted us when a family member had to spontaneously move across the country and we were able to pick up our lives and help them move. Our first 30 days on the road was a rollercoaster as it is for most people, but it was also some of the most important days of our adventure, really getting us primed and ready for what was ahead of us.”
Brie and Shawn of @ChasingTheWildGoose
“The crisp fall wind blew in my hair and the bright sun hit my face as we cruised down the highway, heading out of town in early October. We were actually on the road after months of working endlessly on our DIY van build. The weight lifted off our shoulders was immense. We were finally free and it felt incredible but also terrifying! We had no idea what we were doing and how we would make this work. Our first 30 days of van life were spent… figuring it out.”
“Learning that overnight parking on the east coast is not easy to find, that our solar wasn’t enough to support an induction stove and a dorm fridge, and that living in a small space with another human can make you feel a little crazy. There were SO many mishaps, including shorting out our solar from eating ramen at 3 AM and breaking my favorite coffee mug after experiencing east coast roads for the first time.”
Our plans changed almost daily.
“Instead of heading to the coast of North Carolina, we found ourselves devouring a cheesesteak in Philadelphia. We got to visit friends and experience their lives as locals, bar hop in Annapolis, wine taste in Connecticut, and spend Halloween in Salem. We got to work from the beach and see our dachshund run free on the sand, visit new places and learn that every day, we get to decide what kind of experience we want to have. The beginning to our van life journey was an absolute, beautiful mess and I wouldn’t change one single lesson we learned. I hope anyone else who is starting van life knows that the beginning can be very challenging. It may feel like you aren’t doing it right or it doesn’t look like Instagram. Know this: it is your journey and you are 100% doing it the right way.”
Katie of @SoWeBoughtaVan
“I’ve officially been living full-time on the road for over two years. When I think back to that first month on the road, even the weeks leading up to the date I moved into my van, I can’t help but smile. I will never forget how full of life I felt. I was overcome with emotion, feeling as though the world was my playground, just waiting for me to get out, explore, and experience all that it had to offer. Even to this day, two years later, that feeling is still holding on. Now, this isn’t to say that life on the road doesn’t also include chaos, frustration, and tears. Everything takes longer than you expect. Being sick in a small space is hard. Trying to find a place to park when you’re exhausted and it’s already dark outside is beyond brutal.”
“Even the first 20 minutes of driving on my very first day tested me when I forgot to latch a drawer and it came flying completely off the hinges and landed on the floor of my van. I took 20 minutes to feel really angry at myself, then just sat there being sad for a moment. But then I got up off the floor, assessed the situation, and fixed the problem. I figured out how to avoid the same mistake in the future. And this is still the same tactic that I use every time something stressful happens. The lessons I learned in those first 30 days have stuck with me over these past two years and will continue to shape how I live full-time on the road.”
Matt and Amanda of @Van.Project
“Our first month on the road was pretty interesting. Even though we weren’t entirely sure of its condition, my partner Amanda and I bought one-way plane tickets from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon to pick up the 1964 Clark Cortez RV that would become our home-on-wheels. Between overheating the drum brakes on the windy roads in Northern California, demo-ing and beginning our rebuild on the street outside our San Francisco Mission apartment, and having a solar panel blow off of the roof while driving to the Eastern Sierras, there was plenty of excitement in that first month.”
“It wasn’t all chaos though. Challenges aside, we were ecstatic to be free from the noise and commotion of the city, nothing but the open highways of the American West stretching out in every direction and urging us into the unknown. There was a lot of excitement that came with embracing this new lifestyle; like starting over, a fresh slate. Where would we go? What would our new story look like? Embracing the uncertainty was simultaneously scary and thrilling and now, over two years later, we’re still loving it!”
Lauren and Travis of @OurViewFinder
“Leaving community behind for the open road is likely the most overlooked compromise when starting vanlife. Sure, space is small and the living conditions are wildly different. But nothing hits you as hard as the sense of distance you create with loved ones and those you are closest with. We had so many friends and our families just minutes away when we lived in Rhode Island. Our favorite coffee shop, donut shop, beer hall and brewery. All of that was a thing of the past. No more Sunday night family dinners and Wednesday night sailing races. Vanlife was such an exciting idea for us, but we definitely learned how much we missed home in those first 30 days.”
“Then, the switch turned on. We were exploring and finding new favorite places all the time. That new brewery that seemed out of reach when we lived back east was now only a few hours away. A rollercoaster we always talked about was no longer a flight away, but en route in our cross country travels. And with all this adventure comes community. The vanlife community is incredible. I have never had access to such a friendly, accepting group of human beings. Lauren and I have met complete strangers at breweries that have welcomed us into their homes, and given us a shower and a safe place to put the van to recover from long road trips. We have made some of our best friends meeting other vanlifers, and we are happy to say that vanlife, even with its compromises, has been the best decision we have made.”
Sydney of @DivineOnTheRoad
“I think I cried every day for the first 30 days living on the road because I was so overwhelmed with emotion. The realization that I had made it happen and was actually doing this was such an intense feeling of relief, satisfaction, joy, and excitement for the future. I felt so at home in the van regardless of where I was parked and for the first time in my life, I knew without even the slightest bit of doubt that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do.”
“The first destinations I drove to were Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. I spent the day at Yellowstone and made it to the Grand Tetons right about sunset. One of my favorite memories is sitting in my van with the windows down, music on, facing the Tetons and watching the sun go down just sobbing. The idea that this was the start of a new life for me hit me so hard in that moment. The gratitude I felt looking at those mountains was something I’ll never forget. The first 30 days are the real test. You either love it or hate it. I think it’s safe to say I’ve never experienced a single minute of the ladder.”
Sam of @SamVanZam
“My first month on the road was hectic!! There was a whole lot of self-doubt, a fair amount of broken items in the van and now, a missing solar panel that flew off somewhere in the Redwoods. I was frequently wondering if this was something I could do long-term. Spoiler alert: it hasn’t always been sunshine and unicorns, but we definitely built this and are ready for long-term.”
Julien of @Go_Van_Com
“Back in 2015, I decided to go full-time in the van after a few years of exploring this lifestyle as a professional weekender. At the time, I was driving a 1989 GMC Vandura that was more like a rolling lounge than an adventure mobile. I wanted to skip the cold winter back home and decided to hit the road towards Mexico. After a few weeks, I was down there surfing and enjoying life to the fullest. Since that trip, I’ve never looked back towards a traditional life.”
“There are ups and downs though, for sure! I remember one time we decided to film on a dirt road somewhere in Texas. At some point, I could feel the van slipping on the side of the road. I tried to bring the car back to the center but the mud wouldn’t let me. There I was, stuck on a muddy road with no cell phone signal. I only had a little shovel but no proper tools, traction air, or anything helpful. So instead, I used branches, rocks, and a tarp I had. About one hour later I was out of there. I now carry proper tools ever since that day, just in case this ever happens again. In fact, it happened once more, but now I’m an expert at getting out of these situations!”