Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Whilst many people have the impression that van life is all unicorns and rainbows, the reality of full-time van life is very different to what you see on social media.
Hopefully, by now, most people understand that what we see on social media is very carefully curated content.
We typically are shown people lying out the back of their vans with a stunning sunrise or sunset backdrop, or a new location every day.
Well, I'm here to call BS on all that! Sure, if you only venture out in your van for the weekend, or a few weeks a year, it's totally feasible that you will constantly be moving for that short period of time. However, if you are living full time as a van lifer, the reality is very different.
These are the seven van life challenges I have encountered and experienced during my first year of living full time in my Hymer motorhome.
Van life challenge 1
Possibly the most stressful and challenging issue about living in your van full-time is when it requires work doing to it.
In my first year, I have had a few occasions where I have required the services of a mechanic/garage.
This included a garage to perform an MOT of the van. It took me absolutely ages to find a garage that was able to do an MOT on a larger vehicle. If you're looking for an MOT centre for your van/motorhome, search for garages that perform Class 7 MOTs. This will generally mean they have ramps/lifts capable of lifting vehicles of up to 3.5ton. However, even this isn't always guaranteed that the garage will be able to assist you if you have a high-top vehicle as many garages just don't have the height clearance in their workshops.
During said MOT, it was discovered that there is some corrosion around my wheel arch on the van that needs sorting. Another nightmare trying to find a garage suitable for my van. The majority of garages I have called who do welding informed me that the welding would be carried outside of their premises due to small premises. And whilst this may sound fine, the work would be weather dependant. Therefore, if it rained for a week, they would not be able to do the work required and I would be 'homeless' for that period. Which of course is not ideal.
Most garages in my experience so far are not empathetic to those undertaking full-time van life. However, I do know that there are some garages scattered around the UK that are more empathetic and will allow you to stay in your van overnight on their premises should the work require multiple days! But they are like unicorns! As I travel around and locate garages that are suitable for larger vehicles I will compile a list of these mechanics/garages and make them available to you all in the hopes it will ease the stress that can come when trying to find suitable garages that are not going to leave you homeless for days.
My advice is to do some research of garages in whatever area of the UK you find yourself in and if you find one that is able to assist be sure to make a note for future use. And ideally, have a plan of where you will stay should you need to leave your van with a garage for several days. AirBnB is always a good option to find nearby accommodation.
If you are a garage owner or work for a garage that is able to work on campervans and motorhomes, please do get in touch with me so that I can include your details on a separate blog post.
Van life challenge 2
Van life challenge 2 is getting around and exploring the area you're in.
When I started my van life journey I obviously had my motorhome, and in addition, I also have a power-assisted bicycle.
The power-assisted bicycle is great. However, it does have its limitations.
What I was finding was that I was spending most of my day cycling between locations that I wanted to visit. I was quite happy venturing 10-15 miles away from my 'base'. And if there were several locations I wanted to see in close proximity of each other, then the bicycle absolutely served its purpose.
The trouble became apparent when 1 location was 10 miles North of my location, and the other was 15 miles South. That sort of mileage was just taking up far too much of my day peddling my backside off.
In addition, shopping on a bicycle wasn't all it's cracked up to be. There is only so much you can put in a backpack.
"Why don't you just drive to the locations?" I hear you ask.
Well, that's just not convenient. Besides the need of having to pack everything away and make the van 'moving safe', many of the smaller shops I tend to have to use in many locations simply do not have the parking space for a larger van. Many parking lots have also introduced height barriers making it impossible to park in many locations now. And finally, with the cost of diesel being what it is, I try to avoid unnecessary mileage in my van.
And because a large part of my van life experience is about exploring areas and finding interesting locations, I need something that is capable of tackling the smaller lanes and greenlaning.
Hence I have now also acquired a motorcycle which has certainly opened up my ability to explore the local area and get down those smaller lanes and greenlaning routes.
So do consider how you are going to get out and about in the areas you're in. If you are constantly on the move in your van then it may not be a challenge for you at all. But if like me you tend to find a spot and then stay there for a week or 2 whilst you explore, then it's very likely you are going to want some sort of secondary transport.
Van life challenge 3
Medical and dentistry
Another van life challenge I've experienced over the past year is getting medical or dentistry appointments.
Medical appointments are a little easier than dentistry ones, in the UK anyway. So for basic medical needs, I have been able to get appointments at GP surgeries on my travels. Once in Wales and again in South Devon where I've currently been situated for the past 3 months. The trouble begins when you need to be referred to a hospital for example for tests that the typical GP surgery cannot perform. X-rays, MRIs etc. Unless you are going to be in an area for several months, it's going to be tricky being referred.
So if you have any long-term conditions, do consider this if you're planning van life yourself. If you're happy to return to an area where you are already registered with a GP in then this should not be a challenge for you. But if you are travelling around, it does require a little more planning and possibly having to be static for a few months.
With dentists in the UK it can be really difficult. Most dentist practices in the UK, or certainly England anyway, are not taking on new patients. So in many cases, if you're travelling and away from your registered dentist, you are going to have to be seen as an emergency appointment. Which obviously costs more money. So whilst it's not impossible to see a dentist whilst travelling, be sure to take these costs into account when budgeting for your van life experience.
Van Life Challenge 4
Van life challenge 4 is obviously only applicable to those who travel with a pet.
Perhaps not so much of a challenge as something you need to have a plan in place for.
So my dog, Shaka, is an older Staffie (approaching 13 at the time of writing this post) who has arthritis throughout his skeleton and has had both his hind cruciate ligaments operated on. He also has epilepsy.
He, therefore, requires 3 daily medications for the rest of his life. All of these medications require an original prescription or to be collected from your registered vet. Obviously, when you're travelling long term and not near your usual vet, this can present a problem. Fortunately for me, Shaka's vet has agreed to provide me with 6-month prescriptions for his medication. Every 6 months we have a telephone consultation to discuss Shaka's condition and if the vet is happy, they will prescribe an additional 6-month prescription. However, it is likely that your vet would want to see the pet within a year or 2 before agreeing to provide further repeat prescriptions.
I get Shaka's medication from an online dispensary as they are far cheaper than getting them from the vet directly. And depending on your pet's medication class, these online dispensaries may need the original prescription posted to them. Which again my vet very kindly post directly to the online dispensary for me.
So have a chat with your current vet, let them know your travel plans if you're going to be away from the area and see if they would be willing to provide you with long-term prescriptions.
Van life challenge 5
Not something I really considered when I was planning my van life experience.
But it really can be a challenge when you're living in your van permanently, and especially so if you are moving on a regular basis.
I, because of my setup (trailer, bike etc) tend to stick to campsites. So every couple of weeks I may look to find a campsite that has laundry facilities and just book in for a single night to get my laundry done.
Other times I've managed to find a laundry within the village/town/city I am in/near to.
More and more, Revolution laundry machines are popping up around the country. These can typically be found in car parks of shops and supermarkets. So it's worth checking out their website to see if there is an installation near you or on your planned route.
In the summer you can get away with washing your laundry in the van and then hang out to dry, but experience tells me that this cannot and will not work during winter! Unless of course, you supply a heat source like a heater.
Van life challenge 6
Loneliness and boredom
I'm quite happy being alone. But similarly, I'm also a social person who really does enjoy meeting and interacting with people.
I don't tend to get lonely when I'm out and about exploring, although some places I visit and things I see I really do wish I had company to share it with. Or at least another set of hands to take a pic of me at the location 😊
However, I have experienced occasions of loneliness. Especially so in the Winter when there are days of rain which means I don't tend to venture out with my camera gear.
Prolonged periods of solitude, for me anyway, can be challenging.
So if you are going to be travelling solo, and are the type of person who craves being around others, van life may not be the ideal lifestyle for you. It really does depend on your personality and the locations you are going to be visiting/staying in.
Van life challenge 7
Finding LPG pumps
Again, this may not be a challenge for you depending on your setup.
My Hymer motorhome is currently fitted with an underslung 30litre gas tank which required an LPG pump to fill.
What I'm finding is that the locations that offer LPG pumps is reducing at a rather concerning rate.
I use an app called MyLPG which shows you, on a map, the location of LPG pumps in your area. I always incorporate this app when I'm planning a route so that if I have to make a small detour for gas, or indeed, there is a pump along my route, I'll stop in to top up my tank as I simply don't know how long it will be until I can next fill up.
Now, as I tend to primarily stay on campsites whilst in England, I tend to not use as much gas as I would if I was off-grid and needing to power my fridge and hob off gas. When I have an electric hookup, everything runs off electricity. I have a small 2 plate electric stove and my fridge is 3-way therefore able to run on electricity.
I do know that I get around 6 weeks from my gas tank (off-grid) during the summer, and about 2.5-3 weeks in the Winter as need to run my heater off gas.
So how often you will need to top up your gas will obviously depend on whether you frequently use electric hookups or are primarily 'off grid'.
In addition, if you use the smaller 7kg gas bottles for example, with the war in Ukraine, and also partly down to Brexit, it is getting harder and harder to find places that have in-stock bottles to swap.
So there you have it. My list of 7 challenges I have found in my first year of full-time van life.
Are you a full-time vanlifer? Have you encountered any challenges that I have covered here? Then I'd love to hear from you and possibly include your challenge in an updated blog post in the future. So please do comment below with any challenges you have experienced 😊
If you have found this blog post of value, please do comment below as it's always great to hear from you and know that people are actually seeing these posts 😊