9 Lessons We Learned When Trying Out Van Life

Earlier this June, Berty and I went on a road trip down the Pacific Coast living in a van for 10 days.

Some highlights included exploring the Oregon Coast, Point Reyes National Seashore, exploring Yosemite National Park, and visiting the Painted Hills.

We worked with a new camper van company called Caravan Outfitter, which converts Nissan cargo vans into modern-day adventure vans. Perfect for a trip like ours!


Van life for us was busy.

If we weren’t taking photos, we were driving to our next destination.

We learned a lot about how we travel together and what life would be like if we really were living in a van. Overall it was a fantastic experience.

We came out on the other end with fun memories and great respect for people who live like this full time!

9 Lessons We Learned Living In A Van

1. We Didn’t Need As Many Items As We Thought

We’re proud to say we used most of the things we packed. However, there were a few items that we could have easily left at home.

We didn’t need things like our water sanitizing pen, hammock (we weren’t in any place for that long), or our extra utensils (one set was enough).

Our camping chairs were sorely unused because we weren’t in the same place long enough to hang out in them.

If you find yourself on a road trip, consider where you will be and pack accordingly. A trick I use is to pack everything we think we need and take away a least 5 items. If it’s a luxury, you most likely won’t use it.

Read More: 30 Necessary Essentials To Bring On A Road Trip

2. You Can See A LOT In A Short Amount Of Time

Just like one of the famous travel quotes by Augustine of Hippo says, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” and when you experience van life, you end up reading a LOT of pages on your journey!

With all your essentials already in the car 24/7, packing and repacking for each destination doesn’t exist. Some days we woke up, crawled into the front seat, and started driving.

It’s that easy to just go and experience it all. On the days we drove 500 miles (like when we rented a Westfalia in Alaska), it didn’t feel that long considering all the potential stops along the way.

In order to make the most out of all this driving time, we mapped out our Alaska road trip route and made sure to stop and see something every 50-100 miles.

These road trip apps were also a lifesaver in terms of money and time too!

Read More: How To See Yosemite in 24 Hours

3. You Can Never Have Too Much Water

It was essential to almost every part of our journey. We chose to buy a giant pack of water from Costco before the trip. Halfway through, we had already cleaned out our supply!

Staying hydrated during our trip helped us keep up our energy for long car rides and challenging hikes. We also used water for cooking our meals and cleaning our dishes.

Don’t pack the car without it!

To save on waste, next time we are going to buy a reusable and collapsible water container instead of individual bottles.

Read More: 12 Things To Keep In Your Car Emergency Kit

5-Gallon Portable Water Jug

4. Our JetBoil Was The MVP

We used our JetBoil for everything. If you are unfamiliar with a JetBoil, it’s essentially a rapid heating system used for camping, backpacking, and travelers.

We made morning coffee, cooked pasta, and cup-of-noodle dinners, and cleaned our dishes with it! If you are going to invest in any type of camping cookware or appliance, this should be the first thing on your list.

It’s easy to use and takes up little space in storage.

Want cooking ideas for on the road? We’ve got 10+ meal and snack ideas to share!

5. Sleeping In A Van Can Be Easy And Convenient

While you may not have all the luxuries of your regular bed, it’s pretty awesome waking up to new scenery every day.

The Caravan Free Bird model we used has a full-sized bed in the back, which was a perfect escape after long hiking days. It also came in handy on the nights we didn’t have a camping reservation or scheduled place to sleep.

We would find a quiet place in a safe part of town, park, lock up, sleep, and be on our way by 6 am.

It’s also extremely convenient if you want to catch the sunrise in a certain location. Berty and I would frequently wake up as early as 3 am, climb into the front seat, and be on the road by 3:15. Easy!

Camping On The Go? Here’s a Hack: Download an app called The Dyrt. It’s the largest campground finding all on the market! We use their pro membership, and now have access to offline browsing for campsites, a road trip planner, and BLM and national forest maps to find the best camping spots on the go. Try their pro membership free for 30-days when using our code MANDAGIES!

Read More: Car Camping 101: The Complete Guide To Sleeping In Your Car

6. We’re In Charge of Our Own Adventure

We had several planned stops during our road trip. However, towards the end, we left it open-ended.

We decided to tweak a few details here and there and ended up making a stop in a completely unplanned city.

A good thing about living in a van is that you can essentially park it anywhere and sleep for the night.

Because we were extremely mobile, all it took was a turn of the steering wheel for a whole new adventure.

Read More: 9 Things To Consider When Planning A Road Trip

7. We Saved Money Making Our Own Meals

Besides the few trips to In-N-Out (how could you not in California??), we made most of our food.

We went to Costco and got a huge case of muffins, popcorn, snacks, instant noodles, and water.

We also brought packages of ready-made tortellini and ravioli from Trader Joe’s. These were easy to prepare and boil with just water.

We had a mini fridge in our van, which helped us keep things like milk and eggs cold, too. Making our own meals not only saved us time but a lot of money!

We decided we would rather use our money to pay for experiences that eating at a restaurant. But that’s just our preference!

Read More: Easy Camping Meals To Make On The Road

8. Budget And Plan For Gas Expenses

We were lucky to be driving around a brand spanking new car, so maintenance wasn’t an issue for us. However, driving 5+ hours each day can really drive up your gas bill.

We recommend sitting down before your trip and writing out a realistic budget.

This means knowing how many days you’ll be gone, how far you will drive, and the average gas prices in your area. Budget a little extra for side trips!

Keep this money in an envelope or with a responsible riding companion. When you plan for this necessary expense beforehand, you’ll less likely be stranded with no money!

Read More: 10 Insanely Useful Road Trip Planner Tools + Apps

9. It’s Super Easy To Connect With Other Road Trippers

Along our route, we kept seeing the same group over and over again. Turns out, they were making a lot of the same stops as us! We quickly connected on Instagram and met up a few more times throughout the week.

Meeting them was really natural and easy because we understood each other’s nomadic lifestyle.

There was another encounter with a couple driving a van – we stopped on a Highway 1 pullout to eat dinner, and this couple was doing exactly the same thing!

Meeting others living in a van was easy because we could relate to the (although temporary, for us) nomadic lifestyle. If you love making new friends, van life is definitely for you!

Read More: 8 Vital Reasons To Travel With Your Friends

Have you ever experienced traveling/ living in a van? Where did you go? What lessons did you learn? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Feel inspired to take your own trip? Follow our Road Trip Board on Pinterest!


The Complete Oregon Coast Road Trip (All The Best Stops!)

30 Necessary Road Trip Essentials

Our Pacific Coast Road Trip Route

9 Questions To Ask When Planning A Road Trip

8 Steps For Planning A Flawless Weekend

11 Places To See On The Olympic Peninsula

The Essential 2017 PNW Bucket List


  1. I would love to see more photos of the inside of the van. This is a super intriguing way of traveling to me. We have two kids so not sure if this option would work well for us or not. Thanks for sharing all of this. Kelly

    1. Hi Kelly! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Check out CaravanOutfitter.com for more photos of the van. We worked on a campaign with them so new media should be coming soon to their website 🙂