10 reasons why people quit full time van life

If social media is to be believed, van life is all about waking up to a new beach view every morning on a gloriously sunny day without a care in the world. Unfortunately social media plays a big part in why so many full-time van lifers quit the lifestyle as they quickly learn that the realities are not what is presented by the vast majority online.

In this blog post we will explore 10 common reasons why people quit full-time van life. These are important points to consider if you are thinking about becoming a full-time van lifer yourself.

1. Fooled by social media

A blonde haired woman lies on a bed in a camper van looking out the rear doors at a lake surrounded by hills on an idyllic summer day

Social media, as anyone who has used it for a decade or two will know, should be taken with a huge amount of salt.

I recently saw a statistic that suggests the typical Instagrammer will take 12 – 15 selfies to post 1 image on the platform.

Pretty much everything you see on social media is very carefully curated. And this is also true for van life. The vast majority of van life related content you will find on social media presents a life of freedom, waking up in a new stunning location every day, hanging out the back of a van in costumes, having a BBQ on a beach or rolling hills or mountains as a backdrop.

The problem is that the majority of people in the ‘van life’ community are part timers. They head off in their vans for weekends and holiday breaks. As anyone will know, holidays are very different to reality. When we go on holiday we account for a certain amount of time. We pack for that duration. We budget how much we are happy to spend in that amount of time. We may have a list of things we want to do in that time if we are visiting a new country or area.

When you are living van life full time its a completely different ball game. You travel with pretty much EVERYTHING you own. You’re not simply packing for a weekend, or a week or two of holiday and travel. You’re packing your van with your life.

Social media therefore can give a very biased and incorrect insight into the reality of full time van life. So if you do use social media as a source of inspiration or to get an idea of what full time van life is really like, make sure the people you’re getting that inspiration or information from are actually full time van lifers and not simply weekend or holiday warriors.

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2. Don’t truly understand the costs of van life

Whilst van life can be significantly cheaper than being a home owner or renter, there are still costs involved and these costs will be impacted by the life you choose to life in your van.

Typically the two biggest costs of van life are accommodation and/or fuel.

By accommodation I mean places to park. Some van lifers opt to wild park exclusively. If this is your plan its important to consider what sort of van you have. It is harder to stealth park a motorhome for example than a van that from the outside just looks like a van (ie, it doesn’t have loads of windows, solar panels on the roof etc).

Therefore, many van lifers that I’ve met or have come across on social media that wild park, especially so in more populated areas, have vans that from the outside look very plain. Obviously, if you opt to wild park on a regular or exclusive basis, you will save significantly on accommodation costs. However, this is often offset by the need to travel on a regular basis and the fuel costs associated with that.

Some van lifers, especially those that are of an older generation prefer to not have to deal with the stress and concerns of wild or stealth parking and will opt to stay on campsites. There are various options when it comes to campsites. In the UK you can typically stay on any one campsite for 28 consecutive days. You then have to depart the site for 48 hours after which you can return for a further 28 days. For those who like to move around, this is often the preferred option. They park up on a campsite and use that as a base to explore the surrounding area.

Others opt to get a seasonal pitch. These are pitches that some campsites set aside for long-term occupation. This can range from 8 months – 12 months depending on the site and the pitches available. Many campsites in the UK close over the Winter periods due to it being so wet and the pitches becoming soaked and muddy often resulting in vans getting stuck. Seasonal pitches vary in price from around £1500 – £2500 depending on the duration (8, 10 or 12 months) and whether electric is included.

Other typical costs to bear in mind are: (I’ve created a separate blog post about van life costs which you can read here)

  • Fuel – the more regularly you travel the more this will be of course
  • Insurance/s – vehicle insurance, breakdown cover, personal life insurance, travel insurance etc
  • Mobile / Wifi – its likely you are going to have at least 1 mobile phone and SIM either on contract or PAYG. Some, like myself actually have two SIMS, one for my phone and one for my vans Wifi Router
  • Subscriptions – for example, Netflix, Audable etc
  • Food
  • Vehicle road tax
  • Vehicle maintenance – MOT, servicing and repairs

3. Basic things are complicated

Many things that I took for granted as a home owner have become significantly more complicated or at least take some planning as a full time van lifer.

Everything from where to get fresh water to doing your laundry becomes far more time consuming and something you have to plan for.

When you’re in a home and you want water, you walk to the nearest of several taps in the house and solve your problem within seconds.

When you are in a home and you need your clothing, bedding etc cleaned, you separate the whites from the colours and throw a load in the washing machine and crack on with your day.

When you live in a van these things that you pay zero thought to as a home dweller suddenly become activities in their own right. If you wild park then finding fresh water is something you always have to consider. Many garages have taps in their forecourts so its not always an issue.

Finding laundries in the UK is becoming increasingly more interesting as more and more laundromats seem to be closing. There is a company that acts as a franchise where anyone can purchase their washing and drying machines and place them on property assuming they have a right to do so. The company, Revolution, has several washers and dryers around the UK and Europe. You may even have seen some in supermarket parking lots etc. Check out their website to find laundry units near you!

Van life reality: A man does his laundry in a laundromat

Other things to consider when living full time van life are:

  • Hygiene – unless you have a shower in your van then you will have to consider how and where you are going to bath/shower. Many van lifers have gym memberships for the sole purpose of using the showers!
  • No 1s and 2s – if you have a toilet in your van then great, your concern will be where to empty it. If you don’t then again you will need to schedule regular trips to restaurants, supermarkets or a woodland area.
  • Doctors and Dentists – you’re unlikely to be registered with a GP or dentist if you have no fixed address. Admittedly, seeing a GP is far easier than seeing an NHS dentist in the UK. Most GP surgeries will see you if you register with them temporarily. There are also several walk in clinics around the UK. Dentists are a different matter. Finding NHS dentists in the UK at the moment is tricky even for home dwellers so the chances are if you need to see a dentist you will be paying private fees.
  • Breakdowns – what will you do if your vehicle breaks down and needs to be with a garage for a few days or worse, weeks? Make sure you have a backup plan in mind.

Check out my post of the Top 25 apps for van lifers and campers which will aid in some of these challenges

4. Van life Income

If you are lucky enough to have a job where your employer allows you to work fully remote then this will not be an issue for you and that is the ideal situation. Obviously being full time employed comes with the benefit of having a regular income but the downside of having to work 9-5:30pm 5 days a week and ensuring you have a good WiFi signal at all times.

A woman in a camper van sits and works out her budget

If you are self-employed and have established your business then again you should not have any issue continuing to provide your services to your clients once you hit the road assuming the service you provide can be provided remotely.

Many van lifers I have met work in the trade, so plumbers, bricklayers, plasterers etc and will take on occasional work to keep their tummies full and the gas in the van to keep moving. The benefit of van life is that you can afford to earn far less than you would need to as a homeowner, or work less hours a week or months of the year to get by on.

Many van lifers, including myself will take on campsite work. Whilst this work typically only pays minimum wage, you do get a free pitch, electric, access to laundry machines etc so its a good way to save some money.

Others I have met in person or online are creatives that earn money through producing digital or physical goods that they either sell online or at markets, or both.

Others yet earn money by busking on the street.

What is important here is to know how you are going to earn a living. The first step being to work out what your monthly expenses are likely to be and how much you want to save if your motivation from undertaking van life is to save.

5. Vehicle Maintenance

A motorhome broken down on a remote road during a storm

Like living in a home, living in your vehicle will inevitably come with issues. Whether its a water leak, a gas leak, an appliance failing or worse, your vehicle breaking down, the longer you live in your vehicle, and the more miles you undertake in it, the more likely you are to experience issues.

So my best advice on this one is to plan for the worst case scenario. What will you do if your van has a catastrophic break down? For example the engine blows up? Do you have sufficient savings to replace the van or at least the engine? Where will you stay whilst the van is being repaired?

At the time of writing this post I have been on the road in my van for 29 months. In that time I have had to replace the cam-belt, replace the alternator, replace 2 leisure batteries, 2 x services, put new leaf springs on and have some welding work done on the wheel arches.

So try to have a nest egg for a rainy day because you have to assume that at some point your van is going to cost you money, and if you ask any full time van lifer that has been on the road for longer than a year or two, they will tell you that you’re constantly spending money on the van.

Many van lifers have quit the lifestyle simply due to the a catastrophic failure of their vehicle, theft or accident.

6. Lifestyle changes during van life

You would be foolish to think life in a van is going to be much like living in a home.

When you live in a home you get to know the people in your community. You get to know your neighbours, you make friends in the community.

Unless you are fortunate enough to be living in a van in the area you’re originally from (which for most would defeat the point of van life) then you are going to find that you do not have a ‘tribe’ or community. You will be spending a lot of your time alone (or if you’re a couple/family, with each other).

During conversations with other full time van lifers, and my own personal experience so far, you will find that many people who you considered to be friends when you were a home dweller suddenly no longer remain in contact. In the 29 months that I’ve been travelling now, there are only a handful of people who have continued to stay in touch with me. It seems that by living on the road, I don’t really have much to offer many who would regularly attend my home for social gatherings, parties, BBQs etc. So be prepared for this.

Many van lifers that quit the lifestyle say that loneliness and a lack of belonging is what finally drove them to return to a more conventional lifestyle.

As a solo van lifer myself, I can attest to the fact that it can and does get lonely at times on the road. As I run my own business and am taking a lot of photographs and videos, most of my time is spent exploring, editing images and video, working on client projects and putting efforts into marketing my businesses. I therefore simply don’t have the time during the day to feel lonely or miss having someone around.

But in the evenings and when I’m out exploring new areas or places, then I do often wish that I had someone to share the experience with or have a chat with in the evenings, this is especially true during the winter months where a lot of time is spent in the van due to adverse weather and the fact that its pitch black outdoors by 4pm!

So if you’re considering van life, be sure you’re the type of person that is comfortable in your own company if you are going solo. If you are a couple or family, consider how you will deal with the confined space and being together 24/7 without friends and family readily available to help out or to have a time out with.

7. Difficulties finding park ups

A Mercedes Sprinter camper van parked in a woodland area overlooking a lake at sunrise.

Many of the van lifers on social media are not in the UK. So the first thing I will say to any UK based people who are considering van life is to check out those living the lifestyle in the UK. Obviously, if you’re in the US then similarly, find folks living van life in the US etc.

From what I’ve seen from following people in other countries, park ups are far easier than here in the UK.

In the US for instance, its possible to park overnight in many of the larger supermarkets. One that I see come up time and time again is Walmart. In the UK, most supermarket parking have cameras and only allow for 2-3 hours of parking at a time. The US is also far larger than the UK and whilst the popular is some 5 times that of the UK, the US still has a lot of uninhabited space where its easy to wild park and not be disturbed by anyone. In the UK, even in the Scottish Highlands, there aren’t many places where you can consider yourself to be ‘truly remote’.

If you are happy to keep moving, then finding a park up for a night won’t be too much of any issue because not many people are going to pay too much attention to a van parked up somewhere for a night. Stay for a couple or more nights and you may well start bringing attention to yourself.

Having to constantly make daily decisions and searches for a place to park can take its toll over several months or years. And several van lifers cite parking difficulties as being the reason they decided to give up on van life.

Whilst on its own, finding parking may not seem like a big deal, when you then combine it with finding water, place to empty your toilet or find a toilet, shower etc, the constant micro decisions that dictate your daily life do become overbearing.

Obviously, if you have opted to stay on campsites, whether for short periods or on a seasonal pitch, then this will not be a stress for you.

Again, social media has a lot to answer for here because the vast majority of content you will see is of people wild parking on the edge of a lake, in a forest or on the coast. But they are only there for a night or two before moving on or going home. When you are undertaking van life permanently or long-term then finding park ups really can become an unpleasant daily chore and stress.

8. No goals or purpose when undertaking van life

Many people who give up van life are those who undertook the lifestyle because it looked glamourous. The thought of constant travel, waking up in a new location every morning and having absolute freedom is the lure.

But sadly, many don’t have a goal or a purpose as to why they are undertaking van life, and without this purpose, the items listed above can quickly become too much to bear.

So if you are considering van life, ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’

Are you looking to save money? If that is your main motivation then plan accordingly. As mentioned previously, the biggest costs in van life are accommodation and fuel costs. So if your motivation is to save, then you probably want to avoid using campsites (or get a seasonal pitch for as cheap as possible) and not drive hundreds of miles per day.

Are you looking to travel? If this is your goal then ask yourself how you plan to fund travelling long-term? Are you employed full-time? If so, bear in mind you will still be working 5 days a week making ‘travel’ only really possible on weekends.

Are you looking for more freedom? If you’re simply looking for a lifestyle where you are not tied to one place, can earn less money and are happy to do so then great. But what is your motivation?

For me personally, my goal and purpose is to photograph as much of the world as I possibly can afford to. That is what keeps me motivated when I have tough times. I realise that 29 months into my adventure, I’ve not even scratched the surface of what is to be seen in the UK, let alone the rest of the world. My motivation isn’t about saving money, I have no saving target in mind. I work when I need to to fund my travels.

This genuinely is an important point for anyone considering van life. Know why you are doing it. Set yourself a goal or purpose because I promise you it is this goal or purpose that will help you deal with all the challenges that the lifestyle will present.

9. Lack of belonging

As discussed in point 6, being constantly on the move can lead to feeling like you don’t belong anywhere. You won’t have that community of friends, family, neighbours etc.

I typically tend to stay on a campsite for 1 – 3 weeks at a time. I have met many people who have seasonal pitches on some of these sites with whom I have gotten on really well with. Then at the end of my time on that site, its a case of saying goodbye and starting all over again in the new location.

As I write this, it is Christmas eve (2023) and I face my second consecutive Christmas Day on my own. This is my 3rd Christmas on the road, the first I spent with my sister and her family. I am aware that there are many van lifers in a similar position as I see many arranging to meet up in various places around the UK so as not to be alone on Christmas day.

Most home dwellers will take part in some sort of activity within their community, this may be volunteering with a local charity, participating in team sports, joining a fitness club etc. All these activities provide a sense of belonging within a community.

When you’re on the road moving around, there is no such sense of belonging, and if you are a solo van lifer this can get especially difficult to deal with.

10. Space

A family sitting around a table in a camper van

Whilst space shouldn’t come as a surprise to you when you purchase or convert your van, as you will be very aware of it having viewed or built it, over time the confines can become unbearable.

I travel solo with my dog, who occupies part of the space under the table in the ‘dining room’ area of my motorhome. So he mostly out of the way, however, even when he is in the passage it causes a traffic jam. So if you’re travelling as a couple or family, just be mindful that you all literally always be under each others feet!

When you live full time in a van you also have the issue of having to carry everything you own with you. So storage space can really be an issue. Again, very different if you are a weekend or holiday camper because you simply pack for that period of time. A full time van lifer has to have both their summer and winter clothing on board and everything they may need, tools, replacement parts for the van, electronics and everything else they require in their life.

Counter space is a premium and you will soon get into the habit of packing things away after you’ve used them because leaving two plates out on the counter will make the van look a mess!

So whilst space may not be an issue initially in the first few months or year, eventually it will start to take its toll for some.

Final thoughts

So there you have it. The 10 most common reasons why full time van lifers quit the lifestyle after a year or two.

It seems, from those who I’ve followed, that if you can make it past year 2, it starts to become easier as you’ve likely dealt with every situation listed above and if it hasn’t broken you within the first two years, you sort of build up a tolerance to it.

I now cannot sleep in a house. I find it very odd indeed. I do occasional pet sitting as I travel around. On many occasions the home owner has said to me that I can take Shaka into the room with me and that we should stay in the house whilst they are away.

We did stay in a house for 3 days in the Summer when I really struggled to keep the temperature in the van down and in concern for Shaka we moved into the van until my air conditioner arrived. Both he and I were very uncomfortable! Our van is our home now and we prefer to sleep in it no matter what Mother Nature is throwing at us.

This post is not designed to put anyone off the lifestyle but simply to provide some food for thought for those considering the lifestyle. There are van lifers out there who will claim that none of the above has affected them, and that’s great. There are some people who aren’t very social and prefer to be on their own. Others, like myself are far more sociable people and may struggle with loneliness from time to time.

Ultimately, the more you’re prepared for what van life will throw at you, the easier it will be for you to deal with the issues when they arise.

Anything you’d like to know?

Do you have specific questions about van life I can try address for you? Please do comment below and I’ll do my best to create a post or YouTube video (or both) to answer your question 😊

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