Van Life With a Partner: 12 Tips To Thrive in a Camper Van

It’s no secret that living the van life as a couple poses several unique challenges. And if you’ve followed some of van life’s biggest influencers, you’ll know that maintaining a van life relationship is no guarantee.

It’s hard work to stay together with less than 5 square meters of living space.

In this post, we share our 12 tips from 3+ years of experience to help give your relationship the best chance of survival throughout your van life adventure!

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1. Do a Practice Run

A couple posing for a photo in front of a volcano in Guatemala
Posing in front of Volcan Fuego in Guatemala

Before committing to full-time van life with your partner, it’s a good idea to test your travel chemistry by taking a trip abroad. Traveling, especially internationally, is a great way to test your relationship because it forces you two to learn how to problem-solve together.

Where will you visit? Where will you eat? How will you deal with challenges like being together 24/7?

Many of these adversities are very similar to what you’ll experience during van life.

Will you work through all these different adversities? Or do you and your partner prove to be a good team?

2. Keep Calm and Learn How To Breathe

A couple posing for a photo in their camper van
Yuko invading Eric’s personal space

As liberating as van life can be, living in a camper van can be claustrophobic, fostering anxiety and tension. Even some of the most minor things that your partner does can set you off and make you want to make snarky remarks or, worse, get into a screaming match.

So, tip #2 for how to deal with van life as a couple is to learn how to control your emotions. Doing so will help you make more effective communication decisions with your partner without undermining the relationship.

When I become bothered by something and can feel my blood rush, I’ve learned to take a deep breath and exhale. My goal is to let that initial wave of negative emotion subside before talking with my partner about what is bothering me.

Breathing helps me to cut off the peak of my irritation and to think clearly and objectively. It also allows me to think about how best to raise the subject constructively and healthily with my partner.

3. Learn To Communicate Openly and Honestly

A couple having a conversation in their camper van
“”How long do you think we have to hold this pose for?”””How long do you think we have to hold this pose for?”

Once you’ve had your deep breath, you’re ready to communicate constructively with your partner.

At this point, you should be open about how you feel. Talk about what you didn’t like or the specific thing that made you feel annoyed.

It’s important to discuss how both of you can resolve the situation together in the future.

Don’t be embarrassed by how you feel. And don’t worry about angering your partner when voicing your thoughts. They should also learn to listen constructively and appreciate your honesty.

One of the worst things you can do is to bottle up your emotions and try to sweep them away. In the long run, destructive emotions can rise suddenly to the surface. And this is especially true when living in a small space, like a camper van.

4. Learn To Compromise & Be Flexible

Couple posing for a photo out the back of their camper van
“Move aside, this is my photo!”Move aside, this is my photo!”

Throughout van life, you will learn all your partner’s habits: the good AND the bad. But realistically, you can’t change every one of their bad habits. You’ll have to learn to live with some of them.

That’s why, as important as communication is, learning when to compromise is just as crucial.

For example, it used to drive me bonkers that Eric would always hang his wet toothbrush off the edge of the sink to dry. I used to always get on him for that. But I later realized that this minor issue wasn’t worth the strain on our relationship.

So, I learned to pick my battles and let that bad habit go.

5. Learn To Apologize & Forgive

Couple hugging each other in front of their camper van
Parked in Mexico in front of Paricutin Volcano

Our last communication tip is for both sides to learn to apologize, forgive, and let go.

We tend to deny or downplay it when we’re accused of doing something bad or wrong. Or worse, we might flip the argument around and blame the other person for their bad habits.

But if you’re receiving (hopefully) constructive criticism, it’s essential to learn how to own the mistake, understand that it bothers your partner, and apologize. And once you’ve apologized, move on from it and continue with van life.

It isn’t healthy for your and your partner’s soul to stretch the fight to the next day.

6. Sharing Is Caring

Couple eating breakfast in their camper van
Sharing is caring!

Yes, van life can be full of big, exciting moments. But it’s just as important to learn how to share life’s little enjoyments with your partner.

This can include pointing out a jaw-dropping mountain view on the road, sharing a funny story you saw online, or even sharing your food when eating out.

We even share a large cup of coffee during breakfast in the morning. It’s much more economical, and there are fewer dishes to do.

Van life is an experience. And you’re choosing to do it with a partner to share the experience. So, make a proactive effort to share every bit of the adventure, no matter how small or insignificant you might find it.

7. Show Love and Gratitude

Couple posing for a photo outside in front of the ocean
“”How long do we have to pose for this photo?”””How long do we have to pose for this photo?”

Love, intimacy, and affection between a couple often become neglected during van life. This can be for several reasons:

  • Physical exhaustion after a long day
  • Reduced cleanliness & personal hygiene
  • Increased tension in the relationship

Van life sometimes makes you forget just how incredible it is to have someone you love with you by your side.

But romanticism isn’t dead.

Although your relationship may not be as romantic as it used to be before van life, don’t forget to show your partner a little love and gratitude daily.

Remember to tell them how incredible they are. How much you value them. Even small things like saying good morning with a kiss go a long way to preserving a relationship during van life.

And finally, learn to acknowledge when your partner does or says something nice. Reward their effort with kindness and affection in return!

8. Motivate and Encourage Each Other

Couple drinking coffee in the morning in their camper van
Sharing a morning coffee is a daily ritual

There are few things better at strengthening a bond between two people than when a couple works to motivate and encourage each other through adversity.

Van life is about trying new things and struggling but ultimately learning from new experiences.

Some examples include:

  • Learning how to cook in a van,
  • Searching for new daily campsites
  • Meeting new friends & strangers
  • Finding work online

One of the most challenging aspects of van life is that every day is a challenge. It’s easy to feel down and be hard on yourself.

So when you see your partner feeling down, try to be that positive light for them. You can become the sunshine that brings them back from the shade and gets them back on their feet.

And that can help to strengthen the relationship between a van life couple.

9. Alone Time Is OK!

Man sitting and reading inside his camper van
Eric enjoying some time alone in the van

Sometimes, van life can make you feel so claustrophobic that you want to get outside the van and be alone for a while.

And that’s OK!

Before van life, we were always separated. We had our work, did our grocery shopping, and even had our own apartments. But van life took all that independence away and crammed our lives together, effectively 24/7.

So, it’s perfectly normal to need alone time and want to do separate activities occasionally. It’s a healthy feeling to have. You should care and love yourself as much as you love your partner.

Top Tip: Plan a dinner date with your partner, but spend the entire day separated. Maybe one of you can spend the day at a café while the other takes care of daily errands. When you meet for dinner, you two might look forward to being back together and enjoying the night out.

10. Help Each Other – Balance the Workload

Couple cooking in a camper van
Cooking together in our camper van

Van life still requires a lot of daily chores and maintenance.

  • The floors still need sweeping.
  • Food still needs to be cooked.
  • Laundry still needs to be done.
  • The fridge still needs emptying & cleaning.

And while we tend to delegate certain chores to one partner or another, it’s important to be considerate towards each other’s daily workload.

For example, if your partner spent all day doing vehicle maintenance and feeling exhausted, you can help prepare the meal, even if it wasn’t technically your responsibility that day.

Working together to complete daily chores and helping each other balance the workload helps make van life more manageable and less stressful at the end of each day.

11. Get Used to Being Uncomfortably CLOSE to Your Partner

Two pairs of feet on the bed inside a camper van
Getting read for bed!

We’re not just talking about physical proximity here.

Living in a small camper van 24/7 means that there isn’t any privacy to be had. You must be ready to share your life with your significant other.

This includes going to the bathroom, farting, burping, and exuding weird body odors. It’ll be the least sexy part of your relationship.

But even in the darkest moments, remember that this is the person you love and chose to participate in this epic journey with.

Remember tip #5 and learn to forgive your partner’s foulest farts!

12. Be Social and Make Friends!

Two couples standing in front of an open camper van
Visiting old friends

If you don’t make the effort, traveling full-time in a van with your partner can be isolating and lonely. Since you’re always picking up and moving on, making true friends can be difficult.

And while we all know that your partner is your best friend in the world, it can be healthy to get out of your comfort zone and talk to other human beings occasionally!

Give it a try.

Hanging out with new people, even just for the day, can give you positive energy and inspiration and help improve your mood.

So, talk to those new people at your campsite or look online for van life meetups in your area. Spending time with other people can help improve your relationship with your partner.

Conclusion

Living in a van with another person takes some getting used to. And it isn’t easy!

But by learning to be communicative, considerate, and respectful, you can have a relationship that thrives during van life. This lifestyle can be the biggest challenge in your relationship but also the most significant accomplishment and can make the bond with your partner more substantial and robust.

If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to see them in the comments section below.

Happy traveling!

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