Biggest Van Life Mistakes

Uprooting your life from a home filled with creature comforts to living in a campervan full-time is a huge change. New life routines and lessons to learn. Making mistakes on the road is natural as you become accustomed to a new lifestyle. We’ve certainly made our fair share of van life mistakes in our five years on the road.

In this article, we want to share some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned while living full-time in our DIY campervan.

Many van life mistakes can’t be avoided; they must be experienced to grow and learn. Regardless, we hope you find our experiences helpful and valuable for your own van life journey.

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1. Don’t Sprint! Van Life Is a Marathon

Eric sleeping inside a camper van with the back doors open
Taking a rest after locating a camp spot for the night

When we started our van life adventure, we wanted to drive everywhere and see everything! We would sleep at some campground and jet off the following day.

That was a huge mistake.

Six months later, we were exhausted! We burned ourselves out. And suddenly, we weren’t so excited to see that next waterfall, hike that next mountain, or visit that museum.

And we spent more and more time simply scrolling on our smartphones, desperately needing mental breaks from van life.

We’ve learned from our mistakes, and since then, we treat our van life journey like a marathon instead of a sprint. Now, when we like a place, we stay longer. We don’t pressure ourselves to “do” things; instead, we’re more honest about what we want to do that day.

Sometimes, that means sleeping in and napping in the middle of the day.

2. Urban Stealth Camping Is Stressful

Stealth camper van parked overnight in Mexico
Parked overnight in Mexico

When you have a campervan, there is this intense desire to camp for free. We felt it, too! Why pay to camp when you can theoretically stealth camp anywhere you want to sleep for free?

But after several late-night knocks on our doors, while trying to stealth camp in urban environments, we realized urban stealth camping is not worth the hassle, the risks, or the stress.

If you’re in an urban environment, there are better ways to sleep for free:

  • Ask the local Walmart
  • Look for nearby truck stops
  • Check the iOverlander App for consistently safe overnight places

We actually believe a 100% stealth campervan is a bad idea. Read more to learn why.

3. Proper Van Maintenance = Happy Times

Campervan maintenance is tedious. And the topic of van maintenance is even more dull. Who wants to worry about it? Or learn about it?

“Let’s just do it tomorrow.”

But accepting the van life lifestyle means we must begrudgingly learn the basics of vehicle preventative maintenance. Responsibilities and skills include:

  • Keeping your tires properly inflated (LPT bring an air compressor)
  • Keep your chassis clean (especially after the beach and driving in snow)
  • Regular oil changes & tire rotations
  • Monitoring the state of charge of your vehicle’s starting battery

Van life is a fantastic adventure until there’s a problem with your vehicle (and home). To learn more, we talk more about essential vehicle preventative maintenance.

4. Mind Your Indoor Air Quality

Like van maintenance, ensuring your campervan’s inside is clean and tidy is essential.

But this also means being aware of the air quality inside your van. Specifically, the “Indoor Particulate Matter (PM)”.

Exposure to too high indoor PM can lead to respiratory problems and eye, nose, and throat irritation.

We’re ALWAYS dedusting our pillows, blankets, cushions, and clothes to maintain cleaner air inside our van. You’d be surprised just how much dust settles on these things!

We also always sweep our floors and vacuum around the edges with our handheld vacuum.

Proper dedusting also helps your van smell cleaner, so that’s a bonus of keeping your van clean!

Lastly, if we can help it, we always cook with our sliding doors open. When propane combusts, harmful byproducts, like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, are released into the air. It’s hard to escape these pollutants in a small campervan interior space. So we help these harmful pollutes escape with wide open doors and a strong ventilation fan.

5. Get a Van You Can Stand In

This is a big one that often gets ignored when people buy their first van.

If you plan to live long-term in your van, purchasing a vehicle you can fully stand up in is crucial. Whether buying a high-top van or installing your topper on a low-roof van, comfortably standing up in your home is essential.

Standing up makes it easier to move around, cook, clean, and generally live van life more comfortably.

We love our Ford Transit commercial van, and one of the reasons is that the Transit has an exceptionally tall interior height. For us, it’s made long-term van life viable.

6. Underpowered Van Electrical Systems

One of the most common issues I see when we meet other van lifers is electricity supply problems. Batteries are always running out of power, solar panels that can never fully recharge those batteries, and, ultimately, the inevitable dead battery headache.

“But why do these problems happen?”

The answer mainly stems from the fact that the battery banks and solar array sizes have not been adequately sized. Too many campervans have undersized battery banks and solar panels. And it’s hard to exaggerate how pervasive undersized camper van electrical systems are. Not only are underpowered electrical systems and dead batteries a headache, especially when you’re on the road, it’s money down the drain to purchase new batteries.

Learn More: How To Size Your Campervan’s Battery Bank Properly

Final Thoughts: Biggest Van Life Mistakes

We all make mistakes when journeying through our own unique van life adventures. And it’s impossible NOT to make mistakes or have regrets.

The best we can do is learn from our mistakes and those of others and continue to grow and get better at this lifestyle.

We hope you learned a bit from our own van life mistakes. If you feel we omitted any common mistakes, please let us know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

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