6 Months of Van Life: The Highs and Lows

6 Months of Van Life: The highs and lows, Our van conversion, pros and cons of van life, the truth about van life, what van life is really like, what we'd change about our van conversion, van life challenges, van conversion mistakes, best things about van life, honest van life, van life couple

Almost exactly 13 months ago we announced that we bought a van and exactly 6 months ago we finished our van conversion and officially hit the road. And wow, what a crazy amazing 6 months it has been! 

We decided to pursue van life for one main reason: to have the freedom to explore new places whenever we wanted, meet new people, and experience new cultures.

During our 3 years living in Seattle, we probably spent 20% of our weekends at home. The others were spent road tripping around Washington, Oregon, and Canada. And while we loved our weekend adventures, we wanted the flexibility to adventure any day of the week. So we bought a van!

And while our 7 month van conversion was full of stress and tears, it was absolutely worth it. The last 6 months have been filled with epic sunrises and sunsets, fun hikes, city adventures, new friendships, and so many incredible memories. But they have also been filled with a lot of hard work, challenges, and many less glamorous experiences, like all of the nights sleeping in parking lots.

Ever since we hit the road, we have been writing down our thoughts about our van and van life on a note on our phones with the intention of sharing it all on our 6 month van-aversary.

While we aren’t van life pros, we have quite a few miles under our belt and are excited to share some stats from the road, the things we love about our conversion, the things we would change, and what the future will look like. 

Whether you’re about to embark on van life and can use some of our mistakes as lessons, or are just curious what it has really been like, we hope you enjoy a little glimpse in our journey so far!

6 Month Stats

Since hitting the road, we have loved keeping track of different stats for our monthly email newsletters. It’s a fun way for us to look back each month and reflect on everywhere we went and the lengths it took to get us there. 

Here are the three big stats we have been tracking since hitting the road. In hindsight we should’ve kept track of the number of cups of coffee and tacos consumed, but maybe we can start that for the next 6 months! 🙂

States we have been to: 18, which is crazy! 
Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina

We count the state if we spent more than a couple hours in the state. 

National Parks we have been to: 8 (our total is now 25!)
Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Great Sand Dunes, Petrified Forest, White Sand, Carlsbad Caverns, Everglades, Congaree

Miles we have driven
This one is a bit tough to answer because some of the miles on the van were from driving around town to pick up supplies during the build, as well as for day to day tasks now that we are in the van, like finding gyms, laundromats, and running errands.

At this moment, we have about 28,000 miles on the van. We have been trying to keep track of our mileage monthly, mostly just by putting in our major destinations on Google Maps, so it doesn’t include the day to day tasks as much. Based on those estimates, here’s a monthly breakdown of our mileage:

  • September 2019: 5,600+
  • October 2019: 2,864+
  • November 2019: 1,327+
  • December 2019: 1,661+
  • January 2019: 2,934+
  • February 2019: 1,700+

That only adds up to about 16,100 miles, so clearly we aren’t the most accurate at keeping track, but hopefully it still gives you a decent idea of how much we have driven and which months have been bigger months for us!

We started our van journey by going really fast in a short period of time. We had commitments across the country and had to book it a bit to make it to all of them. And while it was fun, we did get a bit burnt out. Driving every day was exhausting and also prevented us from having a real routine.

So after a couple months we tried to move a bit slower. And for us “slow” is probably still fast by most people’s standards, but we love having a fast paced lifestyle and seeing as much as we can.

We have found that our sweet spot is about a week in every city. It gives us the weekdays to get a lay of the land while working and then the weekends to get out and have fun. It really depends on the place though. Some places we could stay much longer and some we’re ready to move on in a couple days, but a week is about the average.

Our favorite stops (so far)

When we reflect back on the places we have been so far, there are a few that stick out the most:

Snowy Range Scenic Byway (Wyoming)

Our first big destination on the road was Southern Wyoming, specifically the Laramie area. This started out as a stop just to break up our drive, but it has had an everlasting impact on our journey.

During our time in the Laramie area, we visited the Snowy Range Scenic Byway. We watched the sunrise at Lake Marie (oh my gosh…STUNNING!) and then hiked up to Medicine Bow Peak (very tough!). The scenery was breathtaking and it was the perfect first adventure in the van.

If you haven’t been to this part of the US…go! It’s not too far from Colorado and is extremely underrated. 

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)

Maybe we loved Wyoming so much because it was the first place we really visited in the van, but it truly has been the biggest highlight of our van adventures so far.

After spending time near Laramie, we spent about a week in Jackson and Grand Teton National Park and then a weekend in Yellowstone National Park. Between the small town vibe in Jackson, endless beauty of the Tetons, and crazy nature at Yellowstone, it was definitely one of the top destinations we have been to in the US. 

We slept every night with a view of the Tetons out our window…absolutely magical! And although we had some big issues with our wiring in the van (more on that later), we couldn’t have been happier. 

The Enchantments

Although we lived in Washington for three years, we never had the chance to hike The Enchantments, a gorgeous mountainous area near Leavenworth, until we hit the road.

We spent three days and two nights backpacking around the Enchantments with friends and it was a blast! While the weather wasn’t ideal during part of the trip and we didn’t do the entire thing like we planned, the scenery was stunning and it was amazing to finally knock the hike off our bucket list!

Lake Tahoe (California/Nevada)

Lake Tahoe was a pivotal destination in our early van life. We visited in October, just a month and a half after hitting the road, and if you listened to us on the How Do You Deal With podcast, you may have heard us mention how I (Kathryn) started sobbing while there.

Here’s what happened. We had been moving real fast, just got our pup Kona back from training and were adjusting to our new life with her, and were working crazy hours between my corporate job and Adventures of A+K work. 

We spent a fun morning exploring Lake Tahoe while trying to vlog, and the stress, exhaustion, and burn out hit me all at once. And I couldn’t stop crying. I used to not be a crier, but van building changed that lol, and here I was in a crazy beautiful place, sobbing uncontrollably. That’s not why we decided to do this. 

So what did we do? We decided to take a month off from Adventures of A+K. We wrote blogs when we felt like it, but deleted Instagram off our phones, and didn’t film anything. We love this blog so much, but juggling a full time corporate job and working 40+ hours a week on the blog is exhausting.

That month off was so good for us. We were able to take leisurely walks everyday, work on Kona’s training, and really get to enjoy the place we were at. While we were bummed to not share more from Tahoe (we did write a guide though!), it was much needed.

Despite it not being the happiest place we visited at times, it forced us to really rethink why we were doing this, how to balance life better, and gave us some much needed time as a family. And for that, we will forever be thankful for Lake Tahoe. Plus, it’s beautiful there!

There is one common theme among all of our favorite spots so far: MOUNTAINS! We have learned we definitely prefer mountains over anything else, so we’re excited to visit more mountainous places soon!

Things we love about van life

Van life

We absolutely LOVE van life! Even though it is filled with some challenges, which we will cover more later, we want to make it very clear that we absolutely love this lifestyle. Even on the days we are frustrated, stressed, etc, we have never once wanted to leave the van and go back to a “normal” life.

Van life has forced us to get outside of our comfort zone, become more resourceful, and be adaptable. We have had our plans change countless times and learning how to roll with the punches and appreciate change has been a great life lesson for us.

When trying to think of what we specifically love about van life, it was hard because there is so much we love about it and we can’t really put it into words. So here’s our attempt at trying!

Freedom!
The reason we left a more stable life for van life was for freedom and it’s by far our favorite part! While we have a loose itinerary of where we want to visit, things change all of the time and our route is definitely not solid.

We love being able to visit so many new places on a daily or weekly basis. We can spend the week in St. Petersburg and then the weekend in Atlanta if we want to, drive across the country over a few days if we decide we would rather visit somewhere else, and escape bad weather with just a drive.

While we don’t have complete freedom of our time, having freedom of location is a great feeling and we’re so excited to visit so many new places the rest of this year!

It truly feels like home
Van life just feels right. From the second we moved into the van, it felt like home. Maybe that’s due to the fact that we spent 7 months building it with our own hands (plus my dad’s!), but we have never once felt uncomfortable or out of place in the van.

Even though it is small, we have everything we need and hardly ever feel annoyed by the small space. Whenever we visit family and friends, we warn them that we will likely sleep in our van instead of in their house. To some, that may seem weird, but for us, we are fortunate to bring our own bed and all of our belongings with us everywhere we go, and there is nothing better than sleeping in your own bed and having the comfort of your own home.

Van life has made us closer
Living in a tiny space with your spouse may not be for everyone, but we love it! We spend every waking moment together and are strangely never sick of each other. 

We may bicker a tiny bit more since hitting the road (we are spending 24/7 together after all!), and certain aspects of life have become more stressful, but we have become more of a team, have improved our communication even more, have so many weird inside jokes now, and have way too much fun exploring new places together.

Things we love about our van conversion 

When building our van, we tried to research thoroughly, think of everything we needed for our lifestyle, and pick a layout that would give us enough space. But there was always a bit of fear that we would regret some of the van building choices we made.

We are very happy to report that we are still in love with our van conversion! While there are a few things we would change, for the most part, we are extremely happy with the choices we made. Especially:

The Shower + Bathroom
Y’all, taking a hot shower in a VAN is SO COOL! Every time we shower in the van, we squeal about how wild it is to have hot water (like REALLY hot…I burned myself once) and a shower in our van. 

To be honest, we don’t use the shower that much since we have been near a Planet Fitness a lot lately, but we are so glad we put a shower in the van anyways. Showering at the gym feels like showering at a stranger’s house and while it’s nice to not use a ton of our water daily, we still prefer showering in the van when we can. Even if they are 1-2 minute long showers. 🙂

We also love having an enclosed bathroom. While this was mostly because of the shower and needing to contain the water, it’s really nice to have some privacy in the bathroom. 

Our Convertible Table + Bed Combo
We got quite a few comments on our van tour about our convertible table + bed combo. Some people said that we’d get sick of it and regret not just having a permanent bed. While we tried to not let those comments get to us, it did make us worry a bit.

But after 6 months, there has never been a day that we have regretted the decision to have a convertible table + bed combo. We love having a larger table to work at during the day and eat dinner at. It only takes a couple minutes to switch from the table to the bed and get our bed ready to sleep in. And while there may be days that the bed stays in bed mode out of laziness, we love having the flexibility to choose bed mode or table mode. 

We have tons of storage
When living in a small space, clutter can make it feel even smaller, so having enough storage was very important to us.

Even after living in the van for 6 months and accumulating a few more belongings, we still have quite a bit of storage space left. And if we organized what we currently have in our cabinets, we could probably have even more room.

Things we would change about our van conversion

Although we love our van so much, there are a couple things that we would possibly change if we could go back in time. If anyone is reading this and is converting their own van, we’d highly suggest doing these two things:

More ventilation and fans
We have a Maxxair fan above the entryway of the van and a t-vent window in the sliding door, which are both very helpful to create airflow and deal with shower steam and food smells, but we really wish we put a fan and/or a t-vent window by the bed.

While we try to chase good weather, there are some nights where we’d love a little extra ventilation while we sleep. We do have a small fan we can plug into the wall, which helps a ton, but does take more power. 

Inverter Remote
When we were building the van, we saw that some people had an inverter remote (like this!) At the time, we didn’t understand why we would need to turn the inverter on and off. We figured it would stay on 24/7, unless we were leaving the van for a long period of time.

However, after living in the van and realizing how much power the inverter takes just by being turned on (even without using it), it would be much easier to have the remote to turn it on and off easily. 

We currently have to lift up the bench or go outside, open the back doors, and open the back bench door to turn it on and off, which is a hassle either way. 

Having the remote run up to the rest of our control panel would make life a lot easier! We are hopeful one day we can add this and would recommend that anyone building a van gets the remote. 

Van Life Products we love

Van life

Beyond the actual conversion and layout, there are a handful of products we are especially loving since hitting the road! 

Trash can
This may seem weird, but we LOVE our trash can. We had seen so many vans with little trash cans, but with knowing how much we cook, we knew that we’d be emptying it multiple times a day.

We bought a trash can + recycling bin combo that slides out from the kitchen cabinet and it has been the best! We empty it every 3-4 days, which is especially great if we are more off the grid and don’t have an easy place to throw it away. And we love getting to recycle too!

Electric Fly Swatter
Another weird item we love is our electric fly swatter. You know those epic van life photos where the doors are all open near some beautiful backdrop? Yeah, those are the moments we live for! But what they don’t tell you is how many flies and bugs enter the van when you do that haha. Even sometimes with a bug net.

Our electric fly swatter has murdered many flies in the van. And while we wish we could say we felt bad as we electrocuted them, it’s pretty dang fun to use it. We promise we aren’t horrible people!

Car Laptop Charger
Adam typically does all of the driving while I work in the passenger seat and this car laptop charger saves us constantly from dead phones and laptops while we drive. It also helps us not use our other power in the van!

This is a great item to have whether you live in a van or just take a lot of road trips and need to work in the passenger seat.

DC to DC Battery Charger
We almost didn’t add a DC to DC battery charger, which means that our batteries are charged by our alternator while we drive, but we are SO glad we did!

While our solar panels work well, there are days we run low on power, so being able to charge our batteries while we drive has saved us many times from running out of power.

Compost Toilet
There are a couple toilet options in the van world, but we are very glad we went with a Natureshead. It’s an expensive upfront cost, but it costs $0 to own. Unlike cassette toilets or RV toilets with a black tank, which you have to pay to dump at dump stations (typically $10), we can dump 100% for free. 

Our liquids container can be dumped into any restroom (we pick park restrooms and port o potties typically because it does smell when you dump it) and our solids container can be dumped into a trash bag and thrown into a dumpster legally.

While we dump our liquids container every 2-3 days depending on how much we use it, we only dump the compost around every 3-4 weeks, which is really nice!

Van Life Apps that we love 

There are a few apps and websites that we rely on every day to find places to park at night. We have tried many apps and while we sometimes use more than these, these tend to have the most reviews and best information.

Campendium: Both their app and website are our go-to to find BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land and free campsites. We discovered some great spots in Central Florida this way! 

RVParky: This is a new favorite of ours. If you want to know which Cracker Barrels and Walmarts allow overnight parking, this app is the best! 

Freecampsites.net: They don’t have an app (that we are aware of), but they have one of the largest collections of free campsites.

Another resource that has helped us quite a few times is Boondockers Welcome. How it works is that anyone with extra space to host an RV or van for the night can become a host and offer their space to you for a night or two. As a guest, you pay a yearly fee ($50/year) and then you can request to stay on someone’s property.

We have used it a couple times now and it has helped us a lot in places where there weren’t many free options close to town. Harvest Hosts is another website that people like to use, which is basically the same concept, but you stay at farms, wineries, breweries, or golf courses. It’s free, but you’re expected to buy something from the business. We haven’t tried it yet, but likely will soon! 

The biggest challenges of van life

Van life challenges

We really do not have many complaints about van life. It’s definitely not easy, but neither is living in an apartment or house sometimes. The difference is, with van life, these challenges can sometimes be a bit harder to adjust to and there are a few extra challenges that don’t really exist in a more stationary living environment.

Daily chores can be hard
Daily chores, like doing the dishes, are quite a bit harder in the van. We try to not run our hot water heater unless we are showering since it takes a ton of power, and doing dishes with cold water, while also trying to conserve water and not get food down the drain, can be a bit tough. 

We will say, laundry is pretty easy though. Finding laundromats isn’t hard and some have wifi so you can work easily while doing laundry!

Managing power can be tricky at first
One of the biggest adjustments of van life was power management. In an apartment or house, you can plug into the wall outlets freely, use hot water without really thinking about it, and cook for as long as you want. 

In a van, things are a lot different. We have 300aH lithium ion batteries, 400 watts of solar, and a DC to DC battery charger, but we still run low on power more than we’d like. 

During our first weeks in the van we discovered that we had messed up the wiring in the van. We discovered this when our hot water heater wouldn’t turn on at all, despite having enough power, and when our batteries were dying super fast and their alarms were going off at 2 AM. We had to drive around a very dark Jackson, WY for an hour at 2 AM to charge them enough to go back to sleep in silence haha. It wasn’t funny in the moment, but now we get a good laugh out of the experience!

We ended up driving back to Texas to fix it and things have worked a lot better since, but even with the correct wiring, we still have days we are low on power and have to use a camping stove instead of our induction stove top and run our phone batteries low. 

We have learned how to manage things a lot better though and it’s definitely making us more aware of our energy consumption!

Finding water is difficult sometimes
Out of all of our chores, finding potable water to fill up our freshwater tanks is typically the hardest. On the West Coast, we found water more often, but since heading East, it has been a bit of a struggle.

We typically will find free water at gas stations or rest stops, but if we are in a bind, we will ask an RV park if we can fill up. Sometimes they don’t charge us, which is awesome, but if we do pay it’s typically around $10. 

Sleeping in parking lots isn’t very glamorous
Similar to the water debacle, finding free places to sleep at night can be a challenge, especially on the East Coast. 

On the West Coast, there is a ton of BLM land and free campgrounds relatively close to cities. However, on the East Coast, we have found very few. Part of our reason why we chose a van over an RV was that we were fully self contained and off-grid and wouldn’t need to rely on paid campgrounds, which get expensive very fast.

Since being East, we have stayed at a ton of Cracker Barrels and a handful of Walmarts. It’s not glamorous and we typically fall asleep to the noise of cars driving nearby, but it gets the job done.

We will say, we are very excited to go West so we can sleep out in nature again. We chose this life to be outdoors more, not so we could sleep in parking lots, but we are grateful that we are still able to park for free most nights.

Kona’s crate is in the way
When we built the van, we intended for Kona to lay on her bed while we drove and have her crate stored in our closet (we even built a custom spot for the crate to be stored!). However, after Kona’s training, she is now required to be in a crate much more than we thought. She loves her crate, but we definitely don’t.

Her crate is currently set up in our entryway of the van, which means that we are constantly climbing over it when getting in around the cab and sliding door area. To be honest, it really stresses us out and is the only thing that makes the van feel super small.

We are trying to work on other crate-like options for her that won’t take up any additional space. It hasn’t worked yet, but we know it will!

Routine and balance are crucial
When you’re nomadic and can call a different place “home” every day, having a routine is hard. The biggest challenge we have with van life is finding a routine and balance. 

There are a few things we try to prioritize: eating healthy (despite what our vlogs show), working out, and having fun. Since hitting the road, all three have been hard at times. 

During the week, we try to eat as healthy as we can, but we find ourselves going to the grocery store more often and somehow pints of ice cream keep ending up in our cart! And they get magically eaten in one sitting! It’s weird! 😉 

Before van life, we worked out 5-6 days a week and hiked a ton. Lately, we’re lucky if we even go to the gym 1 day a week or hike twice a month. As of this week we are trying to be dedicated to the gym again and have gone 2 days in a row, so things are looking up! We try to workout first thing in the morning to get it out of the way and that helps us a lot.

As for having fun, while may look like we are having fun 24/7, the reality is, we have “fun” once, maybeeee twice a week. Our weekends are fun, but our weekdays are exhausting and full of tons of hard work. We work 15 hours a day between all of our jobs, typically without any breaks, and it has caused us to get super burnt out.

We have started to try to do one fun thing a day, even if it’s just a 10 minute walk at the park with Kona. We’re hopeful if we can balance fun and work better during the week, we will feel a little bit less stressed out.

What’s next for us

Van map

We always get asked, “how long do you plan to do this for?” and the answer is: we have no idea! At this point, we have no plans to stop anytime soon. We absolutely love traveling full time, even with the hard work and challenges that come along with it.

In the short term, we plan to spend the next couple months continuing up the East Coast, spending time with friends, and visiting new cities. We have a planned route, but things change constantly, so who knows!

At the end of May, we will be going to Peru for two weeks with Fernweh Backpackers (SO pumped!) and then will be heading West for the rest of the summer, which we are beyond excited for. We love the West Coast, especially the Pacific Northwest, and cannot wait to revisit our old stomping grounds and discover new places.

A big priority for us in the future is to do more international travel. We chose van life because it was the best long-term and more permanent situation for our life with Kona, but we are really craving visiting different cultures. We hope to find a way to spend 3 months out of the year (3, 1 month long trips) abroad. It’s not feasible right now, but it’s the goal we are working towards! 

Over 4,600 words later, that about sums up our first 6 months of van life! We are beyond thankful to live this life of adventure, experience new places every day, and for everyone who has supported us and encouraged us along the way. Thank you! 

If you have any questions about our life on the road so far, please let us know by commenting below or sending us an email at hello@adventuresofaplusk.com. We’re always happy to help!

6 Months of Van Life: The highs and lows, Our van conversion, pros and cons of van life, the truth about van life, what van life is really like, what we'd change about our van conversion, van life challenges, van conversion mistakes, best things about van life, honest van life, van life couple

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