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41 Lessons Learned from Women Living in Vans

It’s easy to overthink or second-guess decisions when considering starting van life. But the reality is, you won’t know how living in a van will be until you’re actually doing it.

The best thing to do is to learn from nomadic women who have already gone to “the school of hard knocks”.

Read on to hear what each woman wished they knew before becoming a “van living woman”. Some have been on the road for months or years, others are just beginning. All of these responses came from the Facebook group, Solo Female Vanlife–check it out!

41 Women Share What They Wish They Knew Before Living in a Van

solo female mercedes sprinter

1. Gas prices vary state to state! By up to like $1.00+ a gallon.

2. No matter how much you plan- things will go wrong. Stay light hearted and have fun. There’s always a solution.

3. Having a pet on the road severely restricts your activities, but their health and happiness has to be priority #1 if you have one.

4. Never start in the summer.

5. I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long to start. Start NOW with small, local trips and grow from there.

6. Rent a van and test it out. You will have personal insights and preferences. I’m on my third van and knew what I needed before spending big bucks.

7. Social media is full of pretty van builds but that isn’t how vanlife starts for most people.

8. I wish I had my finances better figured out. Either a way to make income on the road or a remote job.

9. Everything will take 10x longer to do in a small space (making the bed, cooking dinner, getting dressed in the morning). Make sure your build provides the most efficiency to reduce your frustration and extra steps to do simple daily things. For example, although having a pull out bed in my build allows for more space during the day and a bigger bed in the evening, I have to consider the time it takes for me to make my bed in the morning and the night.

small van life cluttered

10. You’re gonna sleep in a lot more Walmarts and truck stops than you see on Instagram.

11. Personally, the build is the hardest and most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I wish people would have been honest, not just ‘positive’ smoke blowing.

12. Baking soda and some water is the superior dish washing method.

13. I wish I’d known how much I’d be IN my van and the heat, that it is not tolerable above 70°F outside or it could give me heat stroke, so I wish I’d plan for heat better as I prepped more for cold! Even after insulation it’s probably 5-10° hotter inside than out, and a dark color vehicle makes it worse. A fan and a cheap Walmart AC aren’t enough either…Still trying to figure out this issue after a month of moving in!!!

14. Because I have a 20 year old van and did the build myself without any experience, it’s like living in an old house: something is always leaking, creaking, loose or broken. Mostly easy fixes but can be a daily frustration.

15. You’re living with the weather and the bugs, you’re in their territory and mice might get into your van. But trade offs, because it’s a nice life too. 

thick forest

16. Pillow, rechargeable flashlights, canopy/tarp for rain, slide on mosquito nets for car windows for ventilation (always buy bigger than you think) paper towels, water.

17. It’s way less scary in real life than it seems when you’re planning for it behind a computer. Also you will continually learn new things about yourself.

18. Always have a tent. Camping places are extremely weird and wont let you primitive camp without a tent.

19. I wish I knew basic mechanics for my van.

20. Everything is either fixable or replaceable, if everyone involved is still in one piece it’s not the end of the world.

21. How to squat to pee (and poop)! If you’re stiff, you won’t be able to do it, but squatting is SO good for our health! Even if you have a stand up pee-er, I’d practice squatting! And pooping is so much easier in this position. And DO know what poison ivy looks like, and don’t squat there.


22. Definitely spend hours researching, watching YouTube videos. It’s not all Insta-worthy. Understand it’s a lot of alone time, a lot of behind the wheel time, a lot of side of the street, Walmart, Cracker Barrel, parking lot overnighting. I’m on the 2yr plan. Hoping van prices will come down and some of the novelty from the COVID surge will subside.

23. Underestimated how tired I’d be building this damn van.

24. My best tip, before you buy an older van, do a pre-sale inspection, the best $45 I ever spent. I was tired of all my test drives. Fell in love with an older van that appeared to be in mint condition for a great price. Mechanic discovered it was a lemon underneath. I dodged a bullet. I have been looking for a van for 8 months!

25. You’re gonna bump your head. A lot. 

26. Everything needs a home. I have so many packing cubes to organize my clothes: socks, underwear, sports bras, tank tops, leggings, shorts, etc. I use smaller clear plastic bins for all my kitchen things and food. I use clear drawstring bags for my shoes so they aren’t getting dirt everywhere. My puppy even has dedicated packing cubes for all her toys and treats.

27. How hard it is to pull up your pants in a minivan haha…

28. If you are traveling with a dog you have to be able to “chase 70” (in terms of temperature). Gas is super expensive.

29. Organizing space is important. 

small organized van

30. Check for rust. And, if an advertisement looks too good to be true, it probably is…so definitely see it in person before exchanging any pertinent info or money. Good luck on your hunt!

31. Accountabilibuddies and others in the industry to talk to are golden!

32. In a pinch (especially during pandemic) parking in McDonald’s and using the WiFi has been a business lifesaver!

33. Don’t let anybody else’s negative opinions of your life choice affect you

34. Don’t buy a bunch of stuff you “think” you need until you get out there and see what works for you!

35. Put in two overhead fans. One over the kitchen and one over the bed.

36. Black absorbs the heat from the sun, white reflects it–which is why most people build out Chevy Express vans. 

37. You will lose things alllll the time. Do what you can to make sure everything has its place! Also insect netting for the doors is a must. 

38. That it would end up being easy to make good friends. Go to a couple of gatherings, you’ll be set…

two women sitting on van

39. You might not be able to take all your toys or hobby tools/supplies with you. Choose wisely. Bike, motorcycle, paddle-board, rock climbing, tent and backpacking gear, 20 pairs of shoes, all my club dresses and heels (I seriously have over a 150 pairs of shoes), my Sonos sound system with subs, all my makeup, rave makeup and glitter, rave outfits, my books… This list is real, but supposed to be funny too. 

40. You won’t mind not having a toilet.

41. That some day there would be many more people doing it, loving it, and enjoying it and I wouldn’t be alone.


There you have it–from the amazing badass women themselves. So…what are you waiting for? Let’s hit the road!

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