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25 Important Lessons and Candid Confessions from a Van Life Couple

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Van life is tough. Setting out as a van life couple can be twice as tough.

Deciding to spend almost every waking second together with your significant other, crammed into the most confined space you can practically live in comes with its own specific set of challenges. Challenges that will test any relationship. And they might be challenges that wouldn’t even cross your mind before you set out.

Of course, it can also be very rewarding. You will get to share one of life’s great adventures with your partner. You will get to know them better than you ever thought possible. And, undoubtedly your relationship will grow as a result.

Here are some of our greatest lessons and biggest confessions from living in a van as a couple over the last four years.

What to Know Before Setting Out as a Van Life Couple

#1 Van Life Adds Stress to Your Relationship

#Vanlife Instagram is all stunning views, tanned bums, and drum circles on the beach. The reality of van life is more car parks, days between showers, and arguing over directions.

Things that you used to take for granted, like knowing where you are going to find freshwater or where you will be sleeping each night, can cause friction in a relationship and be the catalyst for fights.

Be conscious that van life can add to the pressure of a relationship and when you feel that stress, don’t take it out on each other.

#2 Van Life Can Remove the Mystery

Sunset at Pueblo Nuevo
It was you…

Guess what, you are going to get to see (hear and smell) your partner up super close and personal every minute of every day. There are no mysteries in the van.

If you’re at a point in your relationship where you’re not even sure if your partner breaks wind yet, good news, you’ll get to find out real quick.

Be prepared to know more about your partner and their bodily functions than you ever imagined or wanted to.

#3 Van Life Can Affect the Romance

Aside from removing any mystery from your relationship, living in a van can also affect romance in a relationship. Because you spend every meal, every evening, and every weekend together it can also be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need to plan dates or time to be together. After all, life is one big date now, right?

Wrong. Washing up in a Walmart car park doesn’t count as a date. It is important to set aside time to be romantic with your partner (and let them know when that time is).

You have to work, maybe harder than in real life, at the romance part on the road. Don’t forget.

#4 Intimacy Is Going to Take a Hit

Unless you are heading off the grid into the wilderness, van life often means sharing campsites with a lot of people. Moreover, van walls are thin. Expect this new reality to manifest itself in the bedroom with more early nights.

On the plus side, it will encourage you to make the most of it when you do find yourself alone.

#5 Van Life Couples Can Develop Serious Co-Dependency

Kelli watching the sea in Ecuador
You might start to feel you need to be around each other all the time

After our first van life trip, we came back feeling pretty cool. The lives of the friends and family we left behind seemed pretty mundane compared to our adventurous romp through South America.

But settling back into normal life, things unraveled pretty fast. It seems living in a tiny van 24/7 impacts how you relate.

There was panic when I disappeared one day. Kelli wandered the seemingly empty house calling my name, the anxiety rising in her voice. I was on the toilet.

There were fights when someone had to run out to get milk and someone had to stay behind to watch the toast. By the time we had finished arguing the toast was cold so we both went.

There were tears when I needed to find a sock and couldn’t without Kelli there to help me.

Van life means you will need to depend on each other more than other people, but try to keep that dependency in perspective and in check, especially when you return to the real world.

#6 There Will be Fights

Smile…even when your partner gets you lost in the woods

There are fights in every relationship and honestly, I can’t remember if we had more or less, or if they were better or worse when we didn’t live in a van.

What’s important is that there is nowhere to run in a van. No friends to vent to. No gym to burn off some of that energy.

Fights over nothing seem to get magnified and quickly escalate in the tiny confines of the van. Remember to breathe, take a time out, and revisit things later to decide whether that argument over whether you said “turn left” or “turn right” is really worthwhile.

#7 You Don’t Want to Divorce / Break-up / Commit Murder You are Just Hungry

Feet by the Fire above Ayungue
Make a meal together and chill out

Nine times out of ten what feels like perfectly justified homicidal rage that your partner left that sock on the floor may seem kinda silly after an apple.

If you start to feel like it might be time to kill your partner (even if you’re sure no jury in the world would convict) take a little walk with a snack to mull it over. If you still want to split after a feed, then it might be time to have a serious chat.

#8 You Will Share More Than Most Couples

For better or worse, for the most part, it will just be the two of you. The ups, the downs, and the everyday. Outside of living together in a submarine, not many other co-habitation experiences are as intense as van life.

You will be experiencing things for the first time together. You will be facing new challenges together. You will be without your support network. You will be with one another 24/7. Almost all your experiences will be shared experiences.

Lean into this new reality, treat it as an opportunity and let it strengthen your understanding of one another and your relationship. Celebrate little wins together and commiserate over awful days. Support each other and lift each other up. Count this time together as a blessing.

#9 Having Shared Interests Helps, Even if It’s a Feigned Interest

You don’t need to begin with shared interests, but without any other family, friends, or colleagues to rely on, you are going to need to encourage or even take on an active role in each other’s hobbies and interests.

As a van life couple, you tend to do a lot of things together, there isn’t anyone else around. Naturally, you’re going to want to spend your time doing things you like. And, if you want someone to talk to about, support, or participate in the things you like to do, make sure you take an interest in their hobbies.

Whether that’s playing bridge or base jumping, crochet or fire twirling, getting behind your partner where you can to support or even join in their hobby will be seriously appreciated.

#10 You Need Some Individual Hobbies as a Van Life Couple

Following on from the above, there are going to be some things you will prefer to do alone (or things you prefer they do alone). That’s healthy. Don’t feel you need to do everything together just because you are always together physically.

Give each other space to do the things you don’t care for or understand, whatever that may be.

#11 You Don’t Need to Play on Hard Mode

Camping on Isla Tintipan
Take some time to relax

Sometimes it can feel that because you chose this lifestyle, you need to do it properly. Checking into a hotel is cheating. Paying for a shower when you are already near the beach is sacrilege. Stopping for a cafe breakfast when you have perfectly good foraged mushrooms in the back is unacceptable.

When one person starts to feel like they might be reaching their wit’s end, it can be hard to admit to their partner that they aren’t coping. After all, it’s hard to accept ‘defeat’ and no one wants to drag someone else down with them.

This situation adds stress to your life and puts pressure on your relationship. It’s never a sign of weakness to make life a little easier sometimes.

It’s important to let each other know that it’s ok to take the foot off the gas sometimes, take a step back, and take a mini-break from van life. Even better if you can recognize when the pressure is getting too much for the other person and help make life a little easier when they are overwhelmed.

#12 Taking a Break From Van Life Doesn’t Mean You Failed

Following on from the above, sometimes van life itself starts to lose its sheen and becomes a bit too much to bear. Just as it’s not weak to make a life a little easier sometimes, it is not a failure to hang up the car key for a while and stop traveling.

Maybe it’s a brief timeout, a short break, or something more permanent. Do whatever feels right for you and your partner, the van life will always be there waiting. Just because you need a break doesn’t mean you couldn’t hack it or you aren’t cut out for life on the road.

#13 Van Life is a Great Way to Save… If You Can Earn on the Road

Mexican Pesos Money

Van life can be more than an escape from the real world, it has the potential to help couples save for other dreams. But only if you can retain your earning power on the road.

Most weekends there isn’t anywhere near us to spend money if wanted to. We don’t pay rent or a mortgage, we share a phone, we don’t have electricity or water bills. No gym membership or spin classes. No Friday after-work drinks, or expensive dinners out. We spend a fraction of what we did when we lived in one place.

On the flip side, while being far from cities, showers, and public transport, makes life cheaper, it also makes it harder to find work. There are definitely ways to earn money on the road but it can be more of an effort to find work and to do work fully remotely from the back of a van.

If you are planning to save money on the road, be sure to factor in how much your earning power will suffer.

#14 Van Life Gets Old

Like everything else, you adjust to van life very quickly, and eventually, it can start to be a drag. Not knowing where you are going to find your next shower, or if the library will have strong enough internet for your work call. Rain for weeks on end, or stinking hot days of summer without respite. There are going to be periods of your van life when you want out.

No matter how sure you are before you set out, nothing can fully prepare you for a life lived from the back of a van. Be ready to navigate the possibility that one of you, or both of you, may feel differently about this lifestyle after a while and have an exit strategy.

#15 You Will Miss Out on Sharing a Lot of Moments With Friends and Family

Christmas tree with presents at our feet at the beach
It’s not the same, but it’s not all bad

Living on the road gives you the freedom to roam anywhere you want but that freedom has a price. You will miss the milestones and everyday moments of families and friends, and you will miss sharing your own moments with other people. The sad truth is, if you are traveling, you likely won’t be able to make it home for every important event.

On one hand, you will likely get over the FOMO as you continue to travel. On the other, you may feel regret or guilt for missing moments you can’t get back.

As a van life couple, we’ve missed weddings, Christmases, birthdays, engagements, births as well as countless everyday moments we may have taken for granted before. One benefit has been that we are more aware of how precious the time spent with loved ones is when we get it.

#16 You Will Need to Be There For your Partner in Ways You Didn’t Before

Without access to support networks like friends and families, you can expect to show up for each other in every capacity.

Besides your existing role as a partner, you might be required to be a work colleague, a friend, and a family member. You will gossip about work colleagues or friends the other person has never met. You will comfort one another. You will care for each other when you are sick. And you will celebrate each other when the occasion calls for it.

Of course, that is true of any relationship, but you can feel the difference when there is no one else around.

#17 You Will Need to Learn to Compromise on Whole New Level

There is one car, one, small home, one shared itinerary, and perhaps just one phone.

There needs to be compromise. Serious compromise. You will need to quickly discover where you can give a little and what you can’t bend on.

Learning the art of compromise will help keep the balance and the peace in the van like nothing else.

#18 Building a Van As a Couple Was More Difficult Than Living in One Full Time

“HA HA HA I will hit you with this hammer…”

We thought building the van would be the easy part. But without any experience and a hard deadline, we should have known better.

Though we work well together in a range of contexts, building projects are not one of them.

By the time we built our second van, we had worked out our very defined roles. Kelli was the project manager who would send me off to work on the car for the day, and I was on the tools. That worked a lot better for us.

Maybe you and your partner work better together than we did, but my point is, if you can build a van together, you can live in a van together!

#19 Having Shared Goals Really Helps

Life as a couple can be difficult when your goals don’t align, but van life is near impossible if you are pulling in different directions.

If you have shared long-term goals and dreams that you are working toward together this can really help. It can make the everyday struggles of van life seem worthwhile if you both feel you are benefitting from your combined efforts.

Before you set out, make sure you are on the same page about what you both want out of van life and out of life and how you plan to reach those goals together.

#20 You Need to Be Able to Give Each Other Space, When There is No Space

It can be hard not to engage with someone who is two feet to your left. However, sometimes it is essential to give each other room to be alone with their own thoughts when that’s what they want or need.

Learning how to give one another space when there is no space is an important skill to master in a van.

It can be simple as remaining quiet when the other person is processing. Or, it can be as dramatic as sleeping top to tail, the van life equivalent of someone spending a night on the couch.

#21 You Will Need to Share the Workload

van life South America
You wash the dishes and I’ll take the photos…

Van life is a lot of work, there is cooking, cleaning, driving, navigating, fixing things, more driving, planning a route the list goes on and on. If you are going to make it as a van life couple, you are both going to need to do more than your fair share.

There is nowhere to hide in the van and trying to lump your partner with more than their fair share of responsibility is going to be glaringly obvious and breed resentment.

A good sign that the workload is being shared properly is when both people feel like they are getting the better end of the deal. If you are both looking for ways you can contribute, then you will likely both feel as if the other person is really pitching in and that in turn will make you want to do more to help your partner. This positive feedback loop makes everyone want to do more for one another. Yay.

#22 Don’t Take It For Granted

(Van) Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Ferris Bueller

The challenges of van life can distract us from the enormous blessing and opportunity that a life of travel is. Don’t forget to stop to appreciate what van life gives you both, individually and as a couple.

Freedom, experiences, simplicity, and time are shared together. Don’t let the stress or surprising pace of van life take away from the golden moments that happen every day.

#23 Practice Gratitude

Girl under a palm tree watching the sunset
I’m grateful for this sunset and that we didn’t kill each other today

Following on from the above, one way we can ensure we don’t take things for granted is by actively practicing gratitude.

If you are part of a van life couple you have at least two reasons to stop and practice gratitude every day. The first is that you get live an incredibly liberating and exciting life on the road. The second is that you have found someone who shares your ideals and is crazy enough to live in a van with you.

Take some time each day to write down, or say aloud some things that you are grateful for in your life and in your partner. Focusing on this can provide great perspective, especially when things are challenging.

#24 A Journal Can Be a Powerful Tool

You can’t always rely on your partner to help you sort through your thoughts, emotions, and feelings especially when they are the subject of said feelings.

Journaling also works as a sounding board allowing you to let everything out, even the things you aren’t ready to talk about. It gives you the space to reflect and distill your thoughts on paper. Journaling can be a powerful tool to help you clarify things this will in turn help you crystalize your own thoughts, and better articulate and communicate them to your partner.

#25 Get Plenty of Photos

Trade secret we were alone in this epic campsite and had to use a tripod

It can be hard to remember or stay motivated to always take photos, but a van life shared together is likely to be one of your most significant and formative experiences and memories. Make sure you document your time together, doing something truly epic by taking heaps of photos.

You don’t have to share the photos, you don’t have to edit them, or print them and hang them around the van, just make sure you take them. No matter how silly or embarrassing it might seem, whip out that tripod or selfie stick and start snapping. You’ll be glad you did.

So, Can You Hack It as a Van Life Couple?

Of course, you can.

By properly estimating the challenge, cutting each other some slack, and leaning into the opportunities and benefits van life can provide, your relationship can not only survive but thrive on the road!

Happy travels!

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What did you think of our advice for van life couples? Did you find something you hadn’t thought of? Did we miss something you’ve discovered traveling as a couple? Do you have a question about becoming a van life couple? Let us know below!

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