What the Van Life Taught Me: 5 Lifelong Lessons


As a kid, it was a bad thing to live in a van by the river. How things have changed! It seems like van life has been increasingly in the public eye as more and more people are drawn to the full-time or semi-nomadic life. There are as many reasons as van lifers as to why people begin a life on wheels. No matter what calls, van lifers hit the road in reply. 

Making the shift to living full-time in a van was a major adjustment. But van life taught me so much more than just the practical skills to survive in the lifestyle. I’ve learned lessons about myself and life in general that will stay with me long after I decide to settle down again. 

5 Lifelong Lessons from Behind the Wheel 

Everyone’s experiences are different and their van life stories are different. But in traveling slowly across the U.S. and Canada, I’ve learned far more than I ever expected. 

Filtering Through the Instagram Filter

Life in the van is not all picturesque sunsets. Of course social media makes van life look like it is nothing but gorgeous settings, perfect weather, and laid back days. On the road, you learn quickly just how skewed this view can be. 

Sometimes, you wake up in a Walmart parking lot because you haven’t made it to the next campsite quite yet. Sometimes it storms for days in a row confining you to just 30 or 50 square feet of space. But sometimes, it really is as wonderful as it seems on social media. The balance of these experiences, the good and the bad, is what makes van life so rewarding. It also teaches you if van life is for you or may be best left to weekend excursions. 

Stuff is Just Stuff

One of the hardest things to do before setting off on my grand adventure was downsizing into the van. There just isn’t enough space to bring everything that you’re used to. I sold plenty of my things, but still there was stuff that I wasn’t ready to let go of that couldn’t make the trip. I kept this in a storage unit for the first six months, and what I learned was that none of it really was essential or that necessary. I no longer have the storage unit. 

It feels freeing to leave all but the essentials behind. It showed me what I value and which luxuries I can’t (and won’t) live without. Living in a van has changed my relationship with everything I own. The quick and easy buy-buy-buy culture doesn’t serve me nearly as well as the joys I’ve found in nature and in simple living. 

Be Prepared

Alone on the road, anything can go wrong. Some days it seems like nothing can go right! Van life will challenge you. Mechanical mishaps can have you stranded for days depending on the make and age of your vehicle. Gas prices fluctuate wildly by region and even by the day. Campgrounds and RV resorts book up quickly or may have higher rates for certain days. It can get a little expensive out on the road. There are plenty of van life stories that make it easy to see it’s best to prepare for challenges. 

Careful planning and always having a back-up to the back-up plan can make it much easier to tackle whatever comes your way. Living in a van has taught me just how resilient I can be and has challenged me to find creative solutions to save time and money on the go. 

Go With the Flow

Even the best laid plans will sometimes go awry. Van life demands that you go with the flow. There’s no reason to stress, panic, or even worry as long as you are confident in your ability to find a way through. 

Most van life stories emphasize the slow and intentional way of living when you’re forced to pare down to the essentials. When I learned to let go and wind along with the quiet ribbons of highway, I found a sense of peace. Far from the stress of regular life and the corporate grind, living in my van has taught me to just keep rolling along. I embrace the hard parts and it makes me even more grateful for all of the true beauty and wonder there is to experience in our wide world. 

Friends Are Everywhere

Van life can be enjoyed with a partner or solo, but if you keep your eyes peeled you start to quickly see the larger community that surrounds you. I learned to start saying hello to the familiar vans that seemed to stop where I stopped and quickly found my people. 

Other van lifers understand the challenges and unique pleasures of spending life on the road. And most everyone is nice and welcoming! You can even look for van meet-ups online to intentionally come together with like-minded travelers who are also looking to make friends. 

The greatest relationship I’ve forged however, is the one with myself. Living alone in my van has taught me that I can be my own best friend. I am strong, reliable, and adventurous. And of course I’ve had plenty of time in my own company. You have to learn quickly how to really enjoy the long stretches of solitude. 

It’s All About the Journey

Van life is about so much more than the best places to camp and explore. Getting to adventure outdoors is such a huge part of the allure of van life, but what I have learned along the way has come mostly from the journey itself. It’s not only where you park, but I’ve learned to enjoy the road there no matter how rocky. 

You don’t even need a van to fully experience van life! For the same style of easy-to-drive living without having to build out your own van or pay extreme amounts for newer vans designed for camping, a compact RV comes fully prepared for you to hit the road. 

See the entire fleet of RVs for sale at Cruise America to find a compact RV that’s ready to load up and go. All of their fully refurbished RVs are reliable vehicles at an incredible value. 

Take advantage of the Fly and Buy for a free flight to step inside your new home on wheels. And if you’re not ready to buy quite yet, you can rent one first and receive a rental reimbursement after purchase. Check out the selection and take a virtual tour of a compact RV from the comfort of your current home on the Cruise America website.