Things I’ve Learned About Van Life #1:
Own more than one towel. A towel comes in handy for all sorts of things, and when you do get an opportunity to take a shower, you want a relatively clean one, not the nasty thing you used to wipe off your grimy feet last night before climbing into bed.
Have a separate hand towel for kitchen and food preparation stuff and for after using the “bathroom.” Even if it is the same sink. Just. Because.
Have a back up plan for ways to prepare food. My normal cooking is with a sun oven, but when it is cloudy several days in a row, PB&J and cereal get old very quickly. No-cook options like raw food become more appealing.
Parking in a well lit parking lot may feel safer, but the light streaming in all night long, even through closed eyelids, will fool your brain into thinking it is morning and keep you awake. Either find a way to block every crack of light, or wear an eye mask. I prefer a knitted cap pulled down over my eyes.
If a website, app, or review mentions that a campground is free, call ahead to confirm before driving out of your way. Information like that gets outdated very quickly.
When there is a handy opportunity to fill up water tanks/jugs, use it, even if you’re not running low. Areas vary greatly on how easy that will be, and it is not fun to spend lots of time searching for and not finding water when your tanks are very low.
Insulation works both ways. No matter how much or how good the insulation is, van temperature will eventually equalize with outside temperature. In a freezing night, that means that by the early hours of the morning it will be just as cold as outside and will hold onto that cold when the morning starts warming up outside. After a freezing night, going outside in the morning could actually be warmer.
I am so glad I sprang for the fan with the rain hood. Many times it has started raining unexpectedly while I was away from the van or asleep in the middle of the night. Even when the vent is open, I don’t have to worry, it has never gotten wet inside (Okay, it did once, a little, but the rain was nearly horizontal and just happened to line up with the vent holes.)
I am learning to be less bothered by some discomforts. Our culture has an obsession with comfort, but expecting everything to be comfortable all the time is, I think, spiritually damaging and in practice leads to complacency or anger.
It is possible to lose things even in such a small, well-ordered space. Too often I have put something down to free up a hand, and then turn right back to where I think I put it and can’t find it.
I’ve been storing my extra blankets on my bed, laid out in full under the mattress. That way they take up virtually no space and provide a tiny bit of extra cush to the mattress.
When the van is parked on a slope, arranging things so that I sleep with my feet slightly higher than my head does wonders for my circulation and I wake refreshed. However, it does no favors for menstrual cycles, during which things need to flow in a downward direction. Sleeping with the head slightly higher than the feet marginally shortens my menstrual cycles.
Moving food, especially condiments, into smaller bottles as you use up the contents is a great way to save space in a small fridge, but don’t confuse your bottle of lemon juice with your bottle of similarly colored oil vinaigrette and pour large amounts of the wrong one on your salad. Pure lemon juice is a bit too tangy as a dressing.
Always park facing your escape route. Sure, you’re tired after a long day and just want to settle in for the evening, and most likely there will be no problem with that whatsoever. But if there is a problem, if it’s the middle of the night and you’re freaked out or the adrenaline is pumping, you don’t want to have to back out of there and deal with anything or anyone who might be an obstacle, while thinking with your instinctual lizard brain instead of your rational prefrontal cortex.
Keep a set of keys securely on you whenever you leave the van, even if you just step out for a quick minute. If you lock yourself out of the van in the middle of nowhere, or the middle of the night, any kind of rescue or help will be difficult and probably very expensive to come by. Especially if your phone is now locked inside the van. And while you’re waiting, it will probably rain. Just because.
Fiberglass has a cool sounding name, but it is still fibers of actual glass, and little bits of it can burrow in the skin like hundreds of tiny splinters. So if you see a tip on YouTube about how to keep cool in the summer, and decide to try out spraying a fiberglass AC filter with water to put over your fan for simple evaporative cooling, don’t look at the filter and think, ‘this is too thick, the air will have a hard time going through, so maybe I could pull the layers apart and make it thinner.’
And for the love of all things you value about your skin, do not, under any circumstances, absolutely ever, perform this operation on your bed, even if that is where the vent is and it is your primary workspace for most other projects. Forgo convenience and do this ill advised project somewhere where you will not be sleeping in shards of tiny glass. Better yet, forgo this project in its entirety and leave the thing intact.
Now go throw away that piece and vow never to alter another one again.
And no matter what you do next, don’t make lunch. No matter how many times you washed your hands and how much you shook out all of the bedding in the Home Depot parking lot, and how much you vacuumed at the car wash down the street, it won’t have been enough. Those dust-sized shards of glass have already gotten everywhere.
Just face it, you’ll be living with this one for a while.
Do not eat half a watermelon in one sitting when your pee bucket is already nearly full and you won’t be able to empty it until the next day.
Pour slowly and carefully when emptying a pee bucket into a toilet so as to avoid backsplash on you, and extra laundry. This is especially important when pouring it into a porta potty, as any backsplash will involve the urine and fecal matter of many persons.