I’ve been living in my Sprinter Van for a little over a year now, and during that time I continue to be surprised by the little joys of living in a van, the ones I didn’t expect when I moved in. I expected the freedom and the flexibility and the beautiful scenery, but I didn’t expect the pure joy of a nice parking space or the giddy feeling I get when the wind blows through the curtains on my open door. 

Unexpected Joys and Sorrows of Vanlife - One Chick Travels

I’m also continuously surprised by the bittersweet sorrows and just general inconveniences of living in a van. Not the ones you expect like getting woken up by the cops at 2 am, or the troubles of finding a bathroom. It’s a unique irritation when your pee jar breaks and you have to find another one ASAP, or when a cat jumps on your roof at 6 am and scares the crap out of you. 

I wanted to compile a list of hidden gems of both varieties that speak to me as a unique van living experience, the positive and the negative. 

  1. Joy: That 5 seconds right after you wake up where you forget where you are, and you could be anywhere.

  2. Sorrow: Knowing that you have to empty your gray water tanks before you wash dishes and not having a place to dump them out.

  3. Joy: When the van is perfectly clean.

  4. Sorrow: When the van is a huge mess.

  5. Joy: Having exactly 2 forks, 2 spoons, 2 bowls and 2 mugs.

  6. Sorrow: Having exactly 2 forks, 2 spoons, 2 bowls and 2 mugs.

  7. Joy: Having new friends sit on your floor, your countertop, your swivel chairs, the bed and share road stories into the night while waiting out the desert rain.

  8. Sorrow: Sweeping away the dust from the boots of the people you shared an adventure with, knowing you might not see them again.

  9. Joy: Sharing a cup of coffee with a stranger on the side of the road.

  10. Sorrow: Running out of propane at the worst possible time.

  11. Joy: The smell of campfire smoke lingering on your clothes even after you’re 200 miles away.

  12. Sorrow: Changing your bedsheets.

  13. Joy: Nice notes people leave you on your dashboard.

  14. Sorrow: Finding mold. Anywhere.

  15. Joy: Sitting on the roof and watching the sunrise.

  16. Sorrow: The baking heat waking you up in the summer.

  17. Joy: Setting cruise control at 70 with an open highway in front of you, music blasting, and mountains in the distance.

  18. Sorrow: Hugging a travel companion goodbye for the last time.

  19. Joy: Finding out the wifi connects if you park close enough to the coffee shop.

  20. Sorrow: The sound of someone banging on your door at 2 am.

  21. Joy: The feeling of the warm summer breeze passing through your windows.

  22. Sorrow: Parking tickets.

  23. Joy: Gaining a new appreciation for a hot shower.

  24. Sorrow: Seeing the fuel light turn on when you are miles away from a gas station.

  25. Joy: The feeling of soft blankets bunched around you while it rains outside.

  26. Sorrow: Finding a leak in your roof.

  27. Joy: Afternoon naps with the doors open.

Unexpected Joys and Sorrows of Vanlife - One Chick Travels

There are things about living in a van that will always be challenging, no Instagram filter can change that. But the hidden moments of joy I find in having a space that is exactly the right size for me are precious. They aren’t always as obvious as the scenic views and the freedom of the road, and I think we should take more time to acknowledge the little moments, good and bad.