Guest Post: Reflections on One Year of Vanlife

What's it like to spend a year living in a van, even when half of it is spent working a part-time job? I asked Jane to give us a reflection of her past year living with her boyfriend, Casey, in their tiny home. Do they have a routine? What are the challenges? Why do they continue to live this way? These are some of the things Jane discusses as she takes us through a day-in-the-life in vanlife.
Last year on this day we woke up to four inches of snow on the ground and decided that it was a great day to hit the road.

We had just moved into our campervan, a '95 Ford Sportsmobile named Tatanka, and we were prepped and ready to chase warm weather and adventure throughout the American Southwest for the winter and spring. We ended up doing so successfully, returning to our home in Colorado when things were turning green again and all the white stuff was almost gone.

Despite all of the epic exploring we did in other states, we were happy to get back to the mountains for the summer.

I walked back to my job of three years as a small-batch coffee roaster, and my boyfriend, Casey, started a business teaching kids to skateboard in Aspen and Snowmass. What we didn't return to was a house or a lease.

We had six months under our belts of living together in almost 100 square feet, and had no desire to upgrade our space.

We've clocked another six months since then, taking the van on various Colorado adventures.


And here I find myself today, sitting in my swiveling co-pilot seat with my feet on the cooler (AKA my version of a Lazy Boy) looking at our tiny home and reminiscing on the last year of vanlife.

With the van to myself this morning, I've got candles and incense burning and Native American flute music playing. There's some solid, gratitude-filled, meditative nostalgia going on here.

While I've written about life in a van with another person—mostly answering people's questions (where do you shower? do laundry? make money? not kill each other?) and sharing what we've learned or where we've been—I thought for this piece I might try and give you an idea of what it's like to live small, a day-in-the-life sort of thing.

I think many people think of vanlife as waking up somewhere different each day—which can be true when you’re on the road and it’s a wonderful thing.

But in our case, the fact that we're on wheels doesn't mean that we're always going somewhere new. Having spent equal amounts of time in our van traveling and being at home, I've found myself thinking more about the little things this lifestyle offers that are so appealing to us, the parts I notice when the wheels aren't turning.

So here’s the scoop on living small from my point of view.

If an alarm goes off, it doesn't signify much, really. We've sort of nixed early morning jobs or wake-up calls unless it's for an adventure.

It’s much better for our bodies and moods to allow ourselves to sleep until we’re ready to wake up.

When Casey wakes up, he heads to the bathroom. On the road, this could mean various places, such as a campground toilet, hole in the ground, Walmart, coffee shop, etc. With winter upon us, Casey will start up our Buddy Heater before he goes outside, and our space get nice and toasty within five minutes. This leaves me to get up slowly, quietly, when I'm ready.

Rising according to my body accounts for a lot of my sanity and good health, and I think a lot of folks could benefit from doing this if your schedule allows.

Breakfast is pretty routine whether we're on the road or not. We use an MSR PocketRocket one-burner stove multiple times a day, opening and turning on our ceiling fan exhaust.

I usually make myself a pour over of my coffee beans and Casey drinks maté.

Then we make egg tacos. Two each: each egg flipped with a bit of cheese added so that it melts into a corn tortilla, and then we top them with avocado and green salsa. We do this almost every morning.

At this time, we begin a dance. We have very limited counter space, so everything from filling water bottles to cooking to brewing coffee all happen simultaneously. All of the sudden, our two bodies seem to be in the way of each other all the time.

"Switch me sides."
"I need to change clothes."
"Excuse me."
"Can I stand there?"
"Scoot over."

These are said all the time. And yes, we've both probably thought about killing each other a few times.

Living so small with someone else requires patience, deep breaths, consciousness of placement and action, slow movements (especially when cooking so nothing gets knocked over), and an overall release of silly frustrations and annoyances.

Of course, we still get on each other's nerves, but I think we have learned how to control our energy and reactions (at least, for the most part). We choose this lifestyle, which means we choose to do the dance and share a small amount of space. It has made us much closer (no pun intended). But why do we choose this? I've written about this, but to answer the question briefly, sacrificing space, a toilet and full kitchen are small prices to pay for the freedom of time and money that vanlife has given us.

We have accomplished more of our personal goals and projects in the last year than either of us have done in our adult lives so far, which is awesome.

Now, back to our routine. So after eating breakfast and drinking some caffeine, the day could take any number of turns. When we're living in one place (Colorado), we head to work. But when we're on the road, we are always looking for an outdoor adventure. Some days we'll go hiking, climbing, biking, or soaking in some hot springs. Some days, I will turn on the flute music and zen out in our cozy cabin for hours. This is easy to do just by closing all of the curtains and shades to block out the outside world.

I really enjoy spending time alone in the van, and this is how and where I run my website.

Depending on the season, we'll spend more or less of our time inside the van. It took about two months until we started spending hours at a time hanging out inside it. In the heat of summer, we seek out shade to park. Sometimes it's so hot by 7:30 a.m., that we have to go outside and find something to do.

In the colder months, we enjoy spending time cozied up in sweaters and blankets, and drinking coffee or tea.

Seasonal changes mean moving things around inside the van. Clothing, shoes, and gear that is used frequently is brought to the front and out-of-season things are moved to the back. It's a great time to take inventory and see if there's anything we need or aren't using. We get rid of unused things. If I buy myself new clothes, it has to replace what I already have. My side of the clothes cabinet is full so I don't have much of a choice, but it keeps me from owning a bunch of unnecessary things. Blankets also get switched on the bed.

I just bought a down comforter (from a thrift store) that is so big and warm that I’m no longer worried about being cold during winter nights.

Lunchtime is usually light and easy with minimal to no cooking. Sandwiches, wraps, fruit, yogurt and granola are pretty regular. On the road, we're usually hiking so we eat a lot of granola bars and fruit.

Sometimes we have friends over to hang out—especially in the summer for local get-togethers and festivals. We've had quite a party in here. Up to nine people have been crammed inside our van rather comfortably (or maybe that was just the whiskey talking).

As the day progresses, regardless of whether we're traveling or not, I try and make it a point to get some work done.

Sometimes, I work on my blog, a film photography book or other personal projects.

Casey likes to find a skatepark, which is one of his favorite parts of being on the road. When he does that, I use my phone as a mobile hotspot, or I'll head to a coffee shop or bar to work.

We try and cook as often as we can for health and monetary reasons.. I've become quite good at one-pan cooking, but we also have a small Weber grill that we like to use. We grill veggies that can be used in a variety of meals.

Quesadillas are a go-to meal in a rush and soup is always easy if it's raining. The weather slightly impacts our ability to cook as we can't use our exhaust fan if it's too wet.

Since it's November, that means colder temperatures are coming. As much as I dislike the colder temperatures, I've been focusing a lot on the seasons and cycles of nature and how this applies to me.

Layering up and wearing my down moon booties is just part of life. Living out of your comfort zone can be difficult, but it is also enriching, life-changing, and really all about perspective anyway. What is difficult? There are so many who have it so much worse.

We love our tiny home because it simplifies everything in our lives and allows us the freedom and opportunities to pursue our personal goals and dreams, while also bringing more fulfillment and happiness into our lives.

Since we've been back, we've had the pleasure of meeting many vanlifers, camper lifers, and other individuals and couples that have passed through Colorado. We enjoy meeting up with them for beers at our local brewery. That is one of the most amazing and unanticipated aspects of vanlife. We have met so many wonderful and inspiring humans through social media that are a part of this vagabond community of creatives.

I’m so blessed to have met some of you and can’t wait to meet more.

Follow Jane & Casey of Rock Meets Soil

Produced by Kathleen Morton.
Edited by Kate MacDougall.
Photos courtesy of Jane Salee.