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The Unglamorous Aspects of Van Life (And How to Prepare for Them)

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

Scroll through Instagram and you’ll get the impression that van life is an endless procession of sun, smiles and stunning views, and it’s true that life on the road features all that and more. It’s also true that campervan ownership involves a lot of stuff that isn’t particularly Instagram-worthy.

In this article we’re going to take a look at the realities of van life – the stuff that no one talks about, but that forms a key part of the experience. Some of the items on the list below won’t sound particularly appetizing, but at Drifter we believe that it’s better to go into campervan ownership with your eyes open, rather than regretting your choice two days into your first trip.

What does a future van lifer need to know about life on the road?

Read on to find out.

1. It gets cold at night

Campervans don’t have the insulation or efficient heaters that your home does. The cold can leak in through windows, walls and unsealed gaps, making night times uncomfortable for those who travel in colder areas and don’t come prepared.

The solution is simple: prepare your van and pack according to the conditions. The best approach is to pretend that you’re spending the night outside, and pack sleeping bags that are rated to the overnight temperatures that you’ll be exposed to.

2. You’ll need to empty your toilet

Campervan toilets aren’t plumbed like those in your home, and therefore need to be emptied from time to time. How it is emptied will depend on the type of toilet – portable, cassette, composting – which you can read about in detail here.

3. Finding an overnight park can be hard

It’s often said that you can make a home anywhere you’d like when you’re in a campervan owner, but that’s not 100% true. Where you can park will depend on the rules of the local government, and some are quite strict, excluding overnight stays in national parks, public spaces, shopping center car parks and even the roadside.

It’s critical that you plan ahead, finding a legal, safe and ideally dedicated place to hunker down each night.

4. There’s work as well as play

Cooking dinner, doing the dishes, making the bed, maintaining the engine, cleaning your vehicle inside and out – while a campervan might be compact, there are plenty of chores to keep you busy. Be aware the more luxurious features you pack into your van, the more chores you’ll probably need to do. Toilets, showers, fancy electronics, plumbing and waste systems all require maintenance and upkeep, so the simple life can have its perks.

5. You might struggle to connect

Speaking of the simple life, uploading those all-important Instagram snaps may only be possible every few days, as cell service can get patchy beyond the city limits, where most van lifers spend their time. An internet-free day can quickly reveal how reliant most of us now are on the World Wide Web, whether for work, entertainment or life admin.

If you want to maximize your internet access, do your research on the companies that offer the best cell coverage in the areas you’ll be exploring, and sign up for a data-heavy plan. Modern smartphones can act as WiFi hotspots, delivering internet to your laptop or any other device. If you know you need the internet at certain points in your trip, check for service black spots.

6. There are more positives than negatives!

Sure, Instagrammers don’t tend to talk about the points above, but that’s not to say any of these considerations are deal breakers. As long as you’re aware of the less glamorous elements of a life on the road, you can prepare for them and minimize their impact.

You can then enjoy the endless plus sides of van life: the freedom, the simplicity, the people, the adventure, the beauty and the enjoyment – all the things that do make it onto your Instagram feed!

Looking for some help in creating the best camper van experience possible?

The team at Drifter are ready to help!

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