Why we don’t want to live permanently in a camper van
When I decided to buy a van and convert it into a camper, I was convinced that I will live in it full-time. Previously I lived in a car the size of a family van (Toyota Previa) for 3 months and somehow managed to get by. Therefore, living in a campervan equipped with a proper kitchen, a shower, and hot water seemed to be pure luxury. Especially while having the possibility to live on the beach, be close to nature, pay no rent and enjoy freedom…
Sounds perfect, right? So why we don’t live permanently in a camper van, even though it has everything? There are several good reasons.
What will you find in this article?
1. Not enough space for two people in L2H2
When I bought my Citroen Jumper L2H2 I assumed that I would be travelling in it alone through Europe. Compactness was my priority because it was supposed to be my only car. I had to be able to move around different places comfortably. L2H2 seemed to be perfect, as it fits in a standard parking space.
What I hadn’t anticipated was that before I even picked up my camper van, I would meet my future boyfriend who would join me on my travels. This is where the story gets very romantic but also very cramped.
The table takes the whole space
We both work remotely, and since we bought our new router we mostly can work from the van – even with Fabian’s two monitors. But! When we slide the big table out from under the bed, the desk fills all the free space in the middle of the car. As a result, it is impossible to move in the van. You can’t pee, and you can’t prepare breakfast without disturbing the other person.
Of course, this is a problem that can be solved by sticking to the same working hours. However, this requires constant compromises, which limit the ability to focus and be efficient while working. Ideally, there should be two separate workspaces that don’t block the main space in the van – and this is our goal for the next conversion.
Size of the interior
The space inside an L2H2 Citroen Jumper with a separation wall is simply too small for us. Fabian, who is 195 cm tall, can’t properly stand in the van. To feel comfortable inside, he would need an H3 car. Moreover, the bed, which is 120×198 cm, is a tiny little bit too small. He fits into the bed, but a few centimetres are missing to sleep straight on the back. An ideal solution would be to make an extension at least on one side of the van. We will definitely do that in the future.
2. And if it rains?
Generally speaking, it’s very nice to live in a van when the weather is nice. You can keep the doors or windows open and spend a lot of time outside. You can dry your wetsuit and hair in the sun in just an hour. But when it’s cloudy and windy, or it’s raining for a few days in a row, it’s not so nice anymore – and that’s how winters, for example in Portugal, can look like.
You sit in the van all day, your wetsuit doesn’t dry for a week, and there’s no place inside to hang your wet jacket. We definitely prefer to choose days or weeks when the weather is nice, and then we enjoy the van life to the fullest.
3. Everything has to be done together
When your car is not only your means of transport but also your home, it turns out that you can’t just leave the house and drive to the shop, have a coffee with a friend or go to a gym. You have to take your whole house with you. Of course, each time you have to prepare the van inside for the drive, to make sure nothing will move inside. But, even more importantly, it also means doing every activity that requires transportation together.
Setting a daily schedule that suits us both is again a constant compromise. As a result, while living in the van we have limited opportunities to spend our free time independently. We have many common interests, and we love kiting, surfing and running together, but we also enjoy spending time apart. Thanks to that, we can experience new things, meet new people, and share that later with each other. On the other hand, while living in a van we are together 24/7.
4. Cars break down surprisingly often…
When I bought a car with 220 000 km on the odometer, I expected frequent visits to the mechanic. However, the reality exceeded my wildest expectations. During the first six months of our journey, we visited more than five car mechanics, even though all the components had been refreshed or replaced in the car before doing the van conversion.
- In France, the DPF system broke, and water was getting into one of the lamps (no one in the entire garage could say more than “hello” in English).
- In Portugal, we did the DPF cleaning, replaced the DPF injectors and the timing belt, and did the oil change.
- Again in Portugal, we visited another mechanic as the oil icon turned on (despite the oil change).
- In Spain, we had to delete an error from the car’s computer and change a light bulb.
- In the Canary Islands, we transported the car twice with a car hauling trailer, replaced a sensor in the engine and exchanged the car battery.
Each of these breakdowns required a lot of money, time and stress. Looking for a good and trustworthy mechanic while being in a foreign country. Moving all stuff from the van to the flat for the time of the repair. Waiting for new parts and hearing that the repair will take longer than expected. It means total uncertainty and lack of comfort.
And while dealing with all of this, you need to work, eat and do your everyday tasks. Adventures are great, even the more challenging ones. However, it’s still nice to have that safe roof over your head in case something happens. Even if it’s just a flat rented for a few months. It gives you the feeling of stability when everything else goes wrong.
5. Limited social life
I know it sounds a bit strange, but I have to mention this. While living in a van and wild-camping you are constantly on the move. Either to see something new, or because there are better waves somewhere else, or because the police just asked everyone to leave a certain spot. Generally, van life is a continuous journey, so it is hard to spontaneously meet some cool people without stopping somewhere for a longer time.
Of course, on most of the camping spots, you will find some community. Other vans are standing around, and people are sitting outside or playing with their dogs. Every time we think that there will be plenty of opportunities to meet new people. We hope to see the fancy vans of other van lifers, talk about different conversion solutions, and spend every evening sitting in a circle surrounded by vans and drinking wine with our new pack of friends. Isn’t that what all the van life influencers show on their stories? The only problem is that if you are not earning your living on Instagram, and you have to work the whole day in a closed van there aren’t many occasions to meet and do stuff like this.
What I want to say is that it seems for us to be much easier to rent a flat in a town with many digital nomads and go to a weekly meet-up in one of the bars in Las Palmas, sign up for a yoga class in Ericeira, or take salsa or Spanish course in Corralejo.
6. Living in a campervan simply takes a lot of time
The amount of time we spend organising our life in the van is extremely high. Everything takes twice as long as in normal life, even though we always put things in the same place and hold onto our systems.
Still, you can’t take a quick shower after a run or a surf session. To do that we have to clean the kitchen table first, hang up the curtain and turn on the gas.
At least once a week we need to find time to refill the water tank and drain the dirty water. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy task. Sometimes it takes a whole evening to find the right place. In Portugal, for example, some petrol stations forbid refilling tanks in campers with water from the dispensers.
While living in a campervan the small space gets dirty much faster than a normal flat, so cleaning is necessary every day. Sometimes I sweep the floor in the van five times a day :D. And, of course, we can’t just chill after our dinner and clean up the kitchen later. We have to clean right after finishing eating because the whole van will stink, and the leftovers will dry.
It’s nice to enjoy such slow life from time to time, but we both agreed that in everyday life, it’s very stressful to deal with all the additional tasks – and I just mentioned a few above.
Summary: why we decided not to live in the van permanently?
We both love van life. We love it for the close connection to nature, for the feeling of freedom, for the minimalistic attitude it teaches, and for the possibility to discover new amazing places. However, van life also means a lot of compromises, which make everyday life way more difficult and can simply be tiring over a longer time.
Sometimes, I think that maybe if we had a bigger or better taught-through van, it would be easier. But show me a person who is 100% satisfied with their van and would not change anything inside it. I don’t know one.
When talking with people on the wild spots I sometimes mention that we actually have a rented flat nearby and that we don’t live in the van permanently. Their answer isn’t something like “you’re not a real van lifer”. I rather hear from them how great it is to have a flat after all, and I listen to lots of stories about how hard it is sometimes to live permanently in a van.
It was only after a few of these conversations and stories that I realised a very important thing. We enjoy real freedom when we have the possibility of making a choice. It’s the possibility to decide whether we want to spend this night, this week or this month in a van or maybe in a flat. This is what freedom means for us now.