My Vanlife Fails (so far)

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My Vanlife Fails (so far)

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So far my blog has mostly featured positive aspects of living in a van. I think it’s time to share some not-so-great parts about living in a tiny van. Here are my biggest fails thus far and I’m sure there are many more to come.

I got very sick

As I mentioned in my Van Hygiene 101 post, my first week in the van I got very ill. I remember getting sick in a Walmart parking lot and quickly realizing this wasn’t going to work. My plastic bags and portable toilet were not going to cut it. Sometimes you need a real bathroom. I didn’t have any friends in the area yet, so I decided my best bet was to get a hotel room for the night. However, the closest hotel was a mile away and everytime I tried to start driving I would get sick again. Naturally I cried for about 5 minutes and then stopped feeling sorry for myself. I called the three numbers of people I “knew” in town but weren’t really quite friends with yet. No one answered at first and then my 3rd and last attempt answered! “Hey I know it’s about 12:00 a.m. and we’re not really good friends yet, but I am super sick and live in my van. I am trying to go to a hotel room but I can’t stop getting sick to drive there, can you please give me a ride?” All I have to say is thank you for very nice people, and thank you for driving 10 miles to drive me 1.5 miles down the street.

I haven’t experienced this while living in the van since that very first week. I think it wouldn’t be as bad if I were in a camp spot as opposed to a parking lot, but if I were to get that sick again I would probably opt to get some type of hotel room or stay with a friend. It really did suck but it was only one time and I am not sure what caused it. It wasn’t an inconvenience enough for me to not want to live in Vanny anymore.

Alaska Winter Doesn’t Like Vanny

It only took 3 people and a plow to get out this day

I tend to always have these plans about where I am going to travel and it works out about half the time. I was planning on coming back to the lower 48 for winter but life happened and I found my self stuck in Alaska for the winter. As you may imagine it gets kinda cold in Alaska. My little space heater stopped cutting it around late October. After being offered a job in Anchorage for 7 months I decided I needed to rent a room for the winter months. Luckily, things fell into place as a friend of a friend was looking to rent out a furnished room. It was reasonably priced, furnished and they allowed me to rent for just the winter months. I’m glad I didn’t try to wing it in the winter. With my reflectix insulation (which is essentially useless in cold weather), big  windows, frigid temperatures and minimal daylight, it would have been very difficult to live comfortably and be productive at work everyday. I am trying to avoid winter this year so I can stay in my van all year (#nowinter2018), but we’ll see how it goes.

Alaska Winter REALLY Doesn’t like Vanny

The job I got offered in Anchorage was home health. This means I drive around to people’s houses all day. Turns out Anchorage doesn’t plow anything less than 4 inches of snow, especially residential areas. My 4 cylinder/front wheel drive was useless in any more than 2 inches of snow. I think I got stuck at least once a week, it was REALLY annoying. It was a real love/hate relationship with snow this past winter. I’m happy I randomly bought this emergency shovel , because I found myself shoveling by the side of the road way too often this winter. If I could do it again I would definitely get snow tires. I had all weather tires, but studded tires seem to do much better. During the 1st really cold day (-20) Vanny wouldn’t start. I tried jumping it with my own auxiliary battery which I thought was a genius idea, but sadly it did not work. I turned to google which told me the battery might need to be replaced. So, I took the battery out (the FREEZING temperature outside made this way easier- not), placed the battery in my lap and took a cab to Autozone. They tested the battery and told me it looked like it was the original battery, it did not have enough power to start, especially being minus 20 degrees outside. After getting a new battery, I never had an issue again. So winter was a little rough on Vanny and I. On a positive note, I do feel like I am an EXCELLENT winter driver now lol :).

I was scared

After more than a year of van life, there have been only two occasions where I felt genuinely scared sleeping in my van. One time was legit, the other time was kind of my own fault. The first time was in Canada. I had stopped in a town on the Alaska Canadian Highway to get some food. I had not had service for about 2 days and I was trying to find wifi to let my family know where I was. I was parked outside the library, texting my family while standing outside my van. A group of guys came up to me and started asking me about the van. This was not out of the ordinary; a lot of people were curious about Vanny on my drive up here. At first it was friendly but then they started getting slightly inappropriate and I got that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I am not sure if they had ill intentions or not but I knew I didn’t want to talk to them anymore. This is why I keep bear spray and a taser within reach at all times. My instinct was to let them know they shouldn’t mess with me so I said, “Are you guys really curious about the van, or are you just being assholes?” I know not the best line but that was what I came up with at the time. A fellow traveler who I had met along the road happened to come out of the library. He instantly looked at the situation and said, ” You guys aren’t messing with her, right?” and they laughed and giggled to themselves saying, “Oh, we were just talking to her,” and then they rode their bikes away. I was able to drive away, and I think I would have been fine but I am glad my 6’2” friend was able to step in and help end whatever was or was not happening. Looking back I think they were just teenagers who thought they were funny, but you never know, and I for sure wasn’t going to sleep in that town.

The next time I was “scared,” is a little more comical. My friend from work invited me out for a drink after work. We went to a local brewery and this was the time when people were doing that freaky “dress up as a clown and stand in your yard” thing. I had a few beers and then decided to not drive anywhere and just sleep in the van in the parking lot (yay vanlife). So I was watching a movie on my computer and then COULD NOT stop thinking about these clowns. I kept imagining opening my curtain and seeing a clown it was seriously freaking me out. I called a few friends panicked, they laughed and told me I was drunk. I spent the next hour paranoid and trying to watch a “happy” movie to stop thinking about clowns. Eventually I was able to go to sleep and couldn’t help but giggle at myself in the morning.

Besides those two incidents I have not felt “scared” sleeping in my van. I trust my instincts and if a place to sleep doesn’t feel right, I don’t sleep there. That is a nice thing about van life, you can just drive your home somewhere else if you don’t feel safe. I have to say that this summer I tried something a little different. I put an ad on craigslist to see if someone would let me park on their land and I offered to pay a small monthly fee. This has worked out a lot better than stealth camping. I feel safer and I don’t have to hide. It will be my plan to try to continue this way if possible in new locations. That peace of mind is definitely worth the cost, and it’s still much more inexpensive than renting a place or a campground.

For those who are curious, here are the items that help me safe from 4 and 2 legged creatures.

Bear spray

Taser Flashlight

Related Posts:

Why I decided to Live in a Van

Van Hygeine 101

What tiny living fails have you experienced?

13 Comments on “My Vanlife Fails (so far)”

  1. Have you tried vanlife in a city yet? I’m about to take a travel contract in Philadelphia (where it is “illegal” to sleep in your car) and am a bit apprehensive about staying in the van.

    1. Hi Matthew! I ran into a similar issue in Anchorage. It’s not nearly as populated and crowded as philly, but they are very few places where you could get away with stealth camping and be in a safe area. There are campsites in and close to the city but they are just as much as rent would be. I randomly put an add on craigslist and offered to pay someone to let my park on their land. Suprisingly many people responded. So I am paying $150/mo to park on someones property and it works out very well. I dont have to hide and it makes it easier to cook and get ready for work not trying to hide. I think stealth caming is really difficult when your in an area for a long time such as taking 3 month contracts. If you are working for a facility/hospital they may let you park in the parking lot if its not very crowded, I was able to do this at my last job. I hope this helps, I am still figuring this out and am curious how it will go in the lower 48. Let me know how you do in Philadelphia! Thanks for Reading. 🙂

    1. Hey Sarah!

      Yes, it did suck! Luckily nothing quite like that happened again, hoping it stays that way :).

  2. Oh I SO understand your story of getting sick. I got insane food poisoning (at least I think that’s what it was) when we were parked in the middle of the woods soooo far from any civilization. Luckily I had my partner to help take care of me as much as he could. But like you said, our little camper bathroom just wasn’t going to cut it, so I had to tough it out in the freezing cold woods that night.

    1. Hey Brittany!

      Thanks for reading. I’m sorry to hear that, that sounds like a rough night for sure. Van life is hard for me when I’m sick its hard to deal without the convenience of indoor plumbing. When people ask me what the worst part of van life is it’s always what happens when I get ill because there usually isn’t much warning! However, there are definitely more upsides that make it all balance out! Love your site, maybe we’ll cross paths someday!


  3. Pingback: How Vanlife Is Helping Me Conquer $172,000 of Debt

  4. Hey!

    So as a gorl you are vaning alone? How is it going and how do you make money on the road?

    I have been day dreaming aboit a van life again (as i did it for a year about 4 years ago and i was just the happiest i could be, but was with a partner at the time) now alone im not so confident to go do it but still have the huge bug to go! Any tips?

    1. Hi Martine, I make money as a traveling Occupational Therapist. I am alone most of the time sometimes my partner will stay with me a few nights at a time as he is available, I think it’s totally doable you have to trust your gut and be confident :).

  5. Hey! I can totally relate to your vanlifefails! My biggest fear is illness; so sorry you experienced that one. I have a prius v that I take long roadtrips with my two kids (3-6 weeks at a time). We sleep in the prius at night, sometimes in campgrounds and sometimes other safelooking places. A few things have worked for me: black posterboard (dollar store) cut to the size/shape of each window. The combination of my tinted windows and the black posterboard makes the car look empty from the outside. I have a black curtain that hangs right behind the driver seat so you could walk past the car in the dark and never suspect anyone was inside. I always set up the bed and get the kids to sleep in a different location than where we actually park for the night so we don’t draw attention to ourselves.

    The more stealth the car looks, the better. Then you can park any quiet place. I don’t have any gear on the outside of my car, and we pack really light. I always have bear spray and hunting knife, but as long as I pick a good spot for the night I feel safe. Usually, I can park in a suburban neighborhood subdivision on the street without anyone noticing. We also have parked at nursing homes/assisted living, 24/7 urgent care clinics, 24/7 vet clinics, dentist/medical offices, churches (not on sat nights). I park with a tree or taller building directly to the east of the car so my kids will sleep in the next morning.

    I dont think my prius (or me!) could handle Alaskan winter! But, it is handy that the hybrid battery and the regular battery charge eachother. I can leave very low heat or low cool/fan on all night with almost no gas usage. Made the desert in January (20degrees!) very comfortable and keeps us from getting sweaty/condensation in the warmer/humid areas. If anyone out there is thinking about vanlife as a single person or single parent, I would really encourage you to consider a hybrid. No one ever thinks someone is sleeping in a prius. Super stealth! And you can’t beat the gas mileage!

    Whatever vehicle you have access to and whatever direction you go, just pick a date and try it out. Your own vanlifefails will help you know what to tweak! 🙂 May your journeys take you to amazing places!

    “Travel is never a matter of money, but of courage” Paulo Coehlo

    1. So true, I think you can’t really know what works best and what doesn’t work best until you get out there and try it!

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