The already popular vanlife lifestyle has literatelly exploded recently. Not surprisingly though, due to the situation we are in since the global pandemic started in spring 2020. DIY projects of converting vans and cars into camper vehicles, purchases of larger vans and motorhomes, as well as caravans, off-road and overland vehicles are on the rise while many of us believe this is the best way to travel considering the current overses travel restrictions. Spontaneously, independently and as free as it gets, travelling with vans of all sorts can also be significantly cheaper than plane travel. Since many of you are facing this new way of travel for the very first time this summer I think it´s a great time for sharing my thoughts on this topic. Is it all really as romantic as everyone says? Do all those Youtube couples and families really have such a great time spending weeks and months together in those tiny spaces of 5+ square meters? Are you sure that you and your partner will spend this kind of vacation without ending up fighting every day? Well, it’s really not that dramatic, but as usual – not every thing is for everyone. So, here are my 10 basic tips on how to survive vanlife as a couple. Of course, based on our own experience of our previous trips and excursions with LR Defender, which in 2019 we converted into a camper vehicle and used as our home on wheels for quite a few trips so far.
For starters, let me point out that most of us are well prepared since we´ve been practising social distancing and have spent a great deal of time together just with our partners living in a small space during the many lock downs in the past year. If you were able to survive this period without major relationship consequences then you´re already on a good way to enjoy the vanlife lifestyle. There also, you will be stuck together in a small space, spending most of the time with just one another while facing different challenges.
1. DO A TEST TRIP BEOFRE THE FIRST BIG ADVENTURE
The first golden rule is to first go on a test weekend trip. This goes for everyonje who is taking a trip with a van or camper vehicle for the very first time, as well as for everyone who have done some major renovations or arrangements on the vehicle. If possible, do it like a month in advance which will allow you enough time for possible adjustments if you will want to shange something. Because you only truly find out what works best while you are actually travelling and are on the way with the vehicle. With each vanlife trip, you’ll learn something new and adapt as you go. If you are not certain this is the right way to travel for you, I suggest renting a van, a motorhome or a roof top tent first and try it out. Sicne these kind of vehicles converting projects are not cheap you might not want to invest too much into it and then end up not liking it at all afterwards.
2. FIND COMMON ACTIVITIES
Of course, it is not necessary that you do everything together, but it is still practical to find certain common interests or activities that you can carry out together as partners while on a vanlife trip. Maybe it’s cycling, rock climbing, hiking, cooking and discovering local culinary delights, fishing, yoga, surfing or something else. It can also be blogging, making videos or creating a joint social media account. It’s nice to have some kind of common project where both of you work and spend time together. Based on this, it is sometimes also easier to plan your travel route and organize individual days along the way.
3. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
While you will of course spend most of your time together with your partners, it is important to sometimes take time just for you. There’s nothing wrong with going on a hike or spending a few hours on the beach all on your own while the other one take a cycling trip for example. My “me time” is often also early in the morning with coffee and a good book, when Charlie is still asleep. I also love relaxing on the beach even during the hottest hours of the day while he prefers to chill in a hammock somewhere in the shade. And that´s really okay. There is no need for you to be together non-stop. A little healthy distance is always good for a relationship.
4. FAIRLY DIVIDE CHORES
Needless to say, vanlife trips require a little more daily chores than, for example, vacationing in a hotel. We can draw some parallels with camping holidays and yet it feels like there´s more to do while travelling with your van. Of course, it also depends on how you travel, whether you do wild camping or stay in campsites, move to a new location every day or stay longer in one place, what equipment you have, and so on. But it’s just not fair that one person does everything while the other does nothing. This really isn’t a recipe for a successful vanlife adventure, so make sure to share the tasks as equally as you can. If one is cooking let the other wash the dishes and so on. Because there are quite a few daily chores you need to do on this kind of trip. To name just a few: cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes by hand, possible vehicle repairs, gathering wood for a campfire, tidying up the interior of the vehicle, daily setting up and folding the bed or rooftop tent, groceries shopping and more. And, of course, the whole organization and preparation for the trip, from packing all the necessary things to navigating while driving on the road, finding places to spend the night, exploring options for sightseing stops, coordinating finances and more.
5. MAKE COMPROMISES
This may indeed apply to all other types of travel, and also to everyday life at home, but I must mention it anyway. Accepting compromises while travelling and even before you actually leave home is really crucial. Because if the will of only one will always prevail, the other one will not have such an overall positive experience. It basically starts already at converting your vehicle, so a successful vanlife experience will require a lot of negotiation from the very beginning. Although our male partners are usually the ones with more manual skills, don´t let them do everything on their own and make sure to help and chip in your ideas and wishes. Also, don´t just be bossy, you can actually help as well so don´t be afraid to use a tool or at least a paint brush. Remodelling and converting a vehicle can be a fun joint project for the two of you. There´s one great rule you can follow while on the road – if one does not feel comfortable with any decision, make sure to first debate the pros and cons, and if you both don´t agree, then just go for plan B. Whether it’s driving on really bad and dangerous roads, sleeping in a suspicious location, night driving in countries where this is not recommended and similar. There is no point of doing it if both of you don´t feel comfortable enough. There can actually be quite a few such situations on a longer trip so be ready.
6. GOOD COMMUNICATION IS THE KEY
Logical continuation of the previous chapter – do not forget about good communication! This is also crucial for any relationship at home, but even more so when traveling. Among other things, successful communication is the key to a relaxed journey that will remain in our best memories. If you spend hours and hours sulking over the slightest dispute and don’t talk about it openly together, you usually won’t really solve anything. At home, you may be able to go out of the house and clear your thoughts, but this is more difficult while stuck together in a small vehicle. And of course you will quarrel here and there, or at least have some kind of disagreements, which are by the way completely normal, it is just wise to solve things on the spot and move on.
7. FORGET ABOUT PRIVACY
The eternal questions about hygiene and privacy on the road during vanlife travel with converted vehicles, especially those that do not have built-in bathrooms and toilets, are always an interesting topic. Unfortunately, I can’t make it sound any nice than it actually is, so I prefer to write as it is. Simply, forget about your privacy. This is of course easiest for those couples who have been together for a long time and are not ashamed of doing certain things in front of each other. Do you look like a complete mess in the morning and you would normally rush into the bathroom to fix some make up? Forget it. Hairy legs? Greasy hair? Stinky armpits? Sticky feet? Yeah, all of that happens too. Because on the road you often only have an improvised shower (of course with cold water) every couple of days. What about when you have to pee and go for the number two? Well, nature it is. The sooner you come to terms with similar situations the better. True, there is often a solution to every problem (portable toilets, cleaning wipes, dry shampoos, etc.) and with a little ingenuity you can really get far, but still, don’t think that the above-mentioned things won’t happen to you at one point.
8. BE TOLERANT
Is there anything that bothers you about your partner? Well, there sure is something and it’s no wonder. The problem is that maybe at home it is easier to survive a disturbing habit than in a small vehicle, where you live in a very small space and everything is even more obvious. You can certainly express yourself constructively, but still, allow room to tolerate certain habits. After all, habits can’t be changed in a quick moment, and you certainly have a few flaws and annoying habitts yourself so better get along with some of it.
9. FIND TIME FOR SPECIAL MOMENTS
Remember, even if most of the time you are in the middle of nowhere, not surrounded by restaurants and diverse infrastructure and you are not vacationing in a comfortable hotel, it does not mean that you can’t conjure up a bit of romance or special moments together. To be honest, for me personally, being in the middle of nowhere with the person you love is usually even better than in some touristic place or crowded city. Instead of going to the cinema, watch a movie on Netlix, instead of lunch, have a picnic on the beach or on a meadow, instead of a fancy dinner in a restaurant, just buy something better for the BBQ by the campfire, instead of an evening walk around the city take a good bottle of wine and climb up the vehicle roof to enjoy the silence and the starry sky. Don’t forget a couple of candles or a chain of lights, comfortable pillows and a blanket, and of course tasty food and drinks. And a mosquito spray. Of course, it won’t be like that every day, but here and there we can really try and take time for such moments. Besides, of course, it’s not a sin to indulge in a little more luxury here and there during a longer vanlife trip. I won’t lie – after days or weeks of wilderness, a hot shower, a hotel bed with fragrant sheets and dinner in a fancy restaurant are a real balm for the soul as well.
10. FIND COMPANY & MAKE NEW FRIENDS
Especially if you go on a trip for a long time, you will certainly be happy to have the company of some random passengers here and there. Usually, on these types of trips you will meet loads of like-minded travellers with whom it is very nice to exchange experiences in the evening with a cold beer and a camp fire. Perhaps you even end up continuing a part of the journey together. If you use certain apps when looking for places to spend the night, especially when travelling in high season, you will surely come across someone almost every night. We are also lucky that the community of Land Rover owners, especially Defenders like ours, is really something special, so when you meet someone, you are kind of instant friends, based solely on the fact that you´re driving the same type of cars.
Also, don’t forget to bring your good mood and leave your worries behind. Summer is just around the corner and I hope all of you who are new to the vanlife lifestyle make plenty of unforgettable journeys and memories. And don’t forget, every experience makes you richer and every journey which follows can only be better.