Pre-Van Life Prep: 5 Things to Make Transitioning to Van Life Easier

After opting not to renew our lease, and thus set ourselves a pretty hard and fast move-in date (V-day, as called it), we started to take steps that would ultimately make the drive into vanlife less dramatic.

Try reducing your living space.

If you’ve never lived in an extremely small space before, or don’t have any experience in trying out vanlife before jumping all the way in, it’s worth trying reducing your living space to see how it goes before you’re stuck in a tiny 50 square foot van.

Your ability to do this depends on what your current living situation is like. Maybe you’re living in a studio apartment that doesn’t really have much reduction room. 

For us, our one bedroom house of about 750 square feet was already pretty small, especially when you factored in the fact that we used our living room as lumber and tool storage because our shed leaked like crazy during spring thaw.

However, if you’re downsizing from a larger house or apartment, try “cutting out” certain spaces.  Maybe you have three bedrooms.  Move anything you need from two of them and ban yourself from using them.  Keep doing that until you see what it’s like to live in cramped quarters.

Some vanlife couples have gone so extreme as to tape off a small square in their living room and literally lived only in that square for a few weeks.

These yeasts are especially useful for couples who maybe haven’t had the experience of constantly bumping elbows.  Chris and I once spent a month living out of a Toyota Camry, so suffice it to say, if we didn’t kill each other then, we surely weren’t in our luxuriously high roof van.

Stop using appliances you won’t have. 

Even if you have a bomb van electric system like us, you simply won’t be able to run high powered appliances. As such, get used to cooking and living with what you will have before you have no choice. This means no toaster, no high powered blender, no oven, and no microwave

The microwave is particularly tough for the modern age, considering so many of our meals are only cookable through microwaves. In some weird twist of fate, ours luckily shorted out permanently in a 7.2 earthquake we experienced in Anchorage. The decision to stop using it six months before vanlife was  essentially made for us!

The biggest challenge was stopping using the dishwasher. I grew up without a dish washer and hand drying dishes while my mother washed lingers still as my most hated childhood chore. Color me ecstatic when I moved into a place that had a dishwasher. Alas, going back to my roots was inevitable. 

Not only did we start hand washing everything, but washing it immediately after we were done. We knew we couldn’t let dirty dishes pile up in the van so we would need to suck it up and wash things right away.

Slowly start to shower less. 

Showering is such a chore anyway! Okay, is that just me? This one was actually very easy for me. I’ve never been the type of person who just enjoys showers. I’m very efficient and purposeful about my short showers. Get in, get clean, get out. None of that thirty minute existential contemplation shit.

So for me, trying to shower less for vanlife was the excuse to be the dirty hippie I always have been deep down inside. 

Plus, the less you shower, the less you need to shower. At least in terms of how greasy your hair looks. Traditional shampoos are filled with so many chemicals that dehydrate your scalp and strip it of its natural oils that you scalp starts to overproduce oil to compensate. It’s big beauty’s way of artificially creating  the demand. 

First, switching to natural shampoo helps correct and balance your scalp’s oil production. I switched form bottled shampoo to natural sulfate-free zero-waste shampoo bar by The Yellow Bird and my hair is loving them. Plus the combo of the bar form and the less frequent washing means you’ll spend way less money on shampoo.

Our beautiful baby Giovanni, fresh out of the van building process.

But even if you don’t do this, just showering less and less over time will also help your scalp balance itself. If you shower every day, start switching to every other day, then maybe every three days. After living in the van, I can now go about six days before my hair looks in need of a wash (but full disclosure, I do wash my body more often, even if it’s just in a creek!)

Wear fewer clothes and wear them more frequently between washes.

Unless you want to have a hefty monthly laundry bill (or really like spending time at laundromats), you won’t want to have to do laundry that often. Plus, with a limited van wardrobe, that may require you to wear things other than jeans more than once between washes (gasp!).

Obviously, this depends on your lifestyle. We spend a lot of time outdoors where it doesn’t really matter if we’re wearing the same sweaty pants for the fifth day in a row. No one but the mountains and rocks to see that fashion faux pas! When we still held regular jobs, we obviously had to keep our work uniforms clean and up to snuff.

Make the transition into limited laundry easier by starting before you live in the van. Try to get another wear out of something than usual (this also remarkably preserves the life of the garment). The smell test is a totally valid meter. 

Also start paring down your wardrobe. Even if you’re not done minimizing your wardrobe, just experiment with wearing less. This might actually help you figure out what to get rid of, too!We’ll get into a much more detailed post on minimizing for vanlife soon, so stay tuned.

Get over your fear of public restrooms. 

Let’s be honest, no one likes public restrooms. I myself was a hoverer and holder of poops for years. Public restrooms are the worst. Unless you live in a van. Then they’re the best thing since craft beer. 

For vanlifers, public restrooms are a necessity and they’re often the difference between feeling human and stealth squatting behind a parked car. And for you ladies out there: trust me, public restrooms beat even the widest mouth pee bottles.

We even have a portable Dometic RV toilet in our van and still we look for opportunities to use public resources. Don’t get us wrong; we love this toilet. Especially in urban settings, it allows us to go to the bathroom privately in our own home. That said, every time we use the toilet means the more frequently we have to dump it, which is not a pleasant process. Public restrooms take the heat off our everyday chores. I celebrate any time I get the urge to poop in public because it means I won’t have to manually shake the turd out my toilet later.

Imagine how dependent you’ll be if you don’t plan on having a camper van toilet.

So before you move into a van, make peace with the public pot. Find camaraderie in the communal commode. Instead of holding it until you get home, go in public. Fear not about stinking up the stall at work. The more shameless you can be about your bathroom habits (and let’s face, we should all be! Producing waste is something everyone does!!) the easier your transition into vanlife will be.

We’ve been living in our van for 2 months now, and we’re starting to get a pretty good handle on it. We’ll be doing another post soon regarding the transition into vanlife and some of the things we’ve learned so far. In the mean time, please reach out (Link) or comment with any questions you might have, whether you live in a van, about to move in, or are just thinking about it!