Overcoming Van Life Stupors

Great tips for getting out of an RV travel funk!

Katharine & Humberto Gunn Katharine & Humberto Gunn  |  04.25.2018

It’s raining, it’s freezing, you’re always driving, you miss your family and friends, you’re overwhelmed, you’re dirty, you’re struggling to meet your everyday living needs, and your rig needs attention. You start to feel the dark cloud looming. Based on all the glossy adventure photos you’ve scoured through on the internet; this feeling was never supposed to happen. Setting yourself free from your old life and moving into an RV wasn’t supposed to feel this way, but you’re on your way into a van life (or RV life) stupor.

I would be lying if I said van life was awesome all the time. People think we’re living the life, getting to travel wherever we want, whenever we want, ALL.THE.TIME. While it is true that we have a lot more freedom to do what we want with our time, there are still a lot of stressors and responsibilities that we never had to deal with while living in a stationary house with a continuous paycheck.

There are some days when we spend half the day trying to find a dump station, only to arrive at the one we went out of our way for and have it be out of order. Or when we realize we’re out of propane at 4:45pm on a Sunday night in winter and the U-Haul we thought could fill our tank doesn’t have a long enough hose to reach our rig and every other place is closed. Van life, while fun, demands a constant assessment and re-adjustment of plans. So much so, that we are now commitment-phobes to ever making advanced plans. An advantage is that we are now awesome at spontaneity!

That being said, there are a few things that we have experienced that cause our downward spirals. And a few things that we have learned that help pull us out of them.

Tips for overcoming a van life stupor:

Declutter

Nothing starts the downward spiral like constantly feeling trapped by our stuff, especially living in a Class B van (one of the smallest types of RVs.) When we started van life, we played the daily game of “Throw Everything on the Bed” during the day, and then “Move Everything Off” at night. Just seeing that huge pile of stuff took a toll on us and made us angry that we were always having to move stuff.

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoMorning van cleanup, before & after.

When we start to feel consumed by the clutter, we take the time to pull out every storage box in the van and reorganize it. We also assess things in the van that we don’t need any more and can donate or send back to our parents to store for us.

Try to find a permanent home for everything. For example, our dust buster has always been floating around the van, always stashed in any crevasse that we can find. During our last de-clutter session, we were able to move half of the contents from our first aid box to a less accessible spot in the van, hence giving the vacuum a permanent home. No more reshuffling for that sucker.

Another storage solution we improved was building risers in our pantry and bathroom cabinets, utilizing the vertical height and doubling our storage capacity. Since we don’t have access to a woodshop to make something and the spaces are difficult to fit pre-made stock organizers in them, we made them out of a duct tape and a cardboard box that we got at a grocery store for free. (I’m really putting my model-making experience to use. Thank you, architectural degree!) It is the cheapest mod we have made, but those risers are my favorite things in the van.

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoPantry & bathroom storage risers double our storage space.

Reduce, reduce, reduce

For the first six months of van life, we had way too much stuff. We had no idea what we would use and what we would not, so we just tried to guess. Humberto originally had all of his equipment to make pour-over coffee, but it was in the first package home after he saw how much room his contraptions took up. We now buy pre-made cold brew that we keep in the fridge. It saves us time and doesn’t require electricity.

We also had about five bath towels in the van. We soon realized that the bath towels would outlast the amount of clothes we had, meaning we would be at the laundromat before we ran out of towels, eliminating the need for so many towels.

Don’t let FOMO (fear of missing out) consume you

Another source of our stress was trying to see too many things at once, often jam-packing our schedule to exhaustion, and the worst of all, committing to be in a place, weeks in advance. (Have I mentioned that nomads are commitment-phobes?) At the beginning, we tried to see every notable thing and we tried to stop in every city.

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoAn hour too late to see Four Corners.

We were stressed out that we would miss something if we didn’t go to every place, or visit every person we had ever met. Throw that out the window, because you’ll drive yourself crazy and it’s not worth it. For every place that you miss out on, there will be something equally spontaneous and fun that you will randomly be in the right place for.

For example, I wanted to go to Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas, only to find out that it was closed for two months during the time that we would be there. I was crushed, but we later ended up being in New Orleans for the start of Mardi Gras and a Balloon Festival in New Mexico. We would have missed out if our timing had been different.

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoBelen, NM, Balloon Festival.

Take care of your everyday living necessities

Having an RV is kind of like having a hamster. It’s often self-sufficient, but needs its cage cleaned, food & water refilled, and a little bit of love every so often. Dump (and clean) your tanks, fill your fresh water, fill your propane, charge your electronics.

I’m convinced that every time you see your water/black and grey tanks/propane/battery levels at optimal operating capacity, your body releases endorphins. (Not scientifically proven, but I always feel great when I know I won’t have to worry about them for a few days).

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoNothing like a clean black/gray tank.

If we’re in a location where we need everything and know we would have to drive long distances to fulfill them all, we will just suck it up and book a campground. Plus, the long, hot shower at the campground is an added bonus!

Take a shower

It’s no secret, RVers don’t shower as often as people with unlimited hot water. Even the Class A owners I’ve spoken to are stingy with their water like we are. But when you’re in the stupor, sometimes that is all you need. So fire up that hot water heater and scrub away! Or if you’re like us, head to your closest Planet Fitness, buy a $20/month Black Card membership, and enjoy all the hot water you could possibly want. Just don’t forget your shower shoes.

Visit or call family and/or friends

You might be homesick and seeing or hearing a familiar voice might make you feel better. Plus, if they’re good friends, they’ll let you use their electricity, water, Wi-Fi, laundry, etc!

Make a new friend

RVing and Vanlifing are increasing across the country, and many of us are living with the same issues you are. If your friends and family can’t relate to what you’re going through, there’s a good chance one of us will. Since nomads are always traveling, a lot of our meaningful human interaction happens online. So find us, be our friend, comment on some photos, offer some encouragement when needed … and boom: instant friendship is formed. We are partial to Instagram, but also belong to a Facebook group for Travato owners.

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoBourbon Street is always more fun with friends! We saw that our van life Instagram friends were in New Orleans at the same time as us, so we messaged them and became real-life friends!

We also recently (and randomly) stumbled upon a whole group of Xscapers living on an old abandoned air field in Moab, UT. We were just looking for a sweet boondocking spot, but within minutes of us parking we were having a dance party and playing Rock Band in a new friend’s Class A RV, while also oogling at how much room he had to host such a party.

What was supposed to be a three day stay in Moab turned into 12 days because we loved having people to hang out with who totally “got us” and felt like a community. It was awesome knowing every one of our neighbors while we were there. And we planned things like hikes, movie nights, trash runs, and BBQs together.

We were all different ages, backgrounds, employment levels, and had different rigs and varying levels of adventure experience. But we were all instant friends who came together by our love of RVing and experiencing new things. Membership is only $40 a year and with over 7,000 active members on their Facebook group, you’re bound to bump into someone eventually. You’ll meet even more people if you attend one of their nationwide convergences.

Splurge on something: Food, experience, accommodations, etc.

We told ourselves at the beginning of our journey that if we ever wanted to spend a night or two in a hotel that we would do it. As of the publishing of this article, we have not needed to, except for the Air BnB we splurged on for Thanksgiving because I wanted an oven to cook a turkey. But there have been many times when we have arrived back at the van after a long day of adventuring, and we both don’t want to cook, but we want something hot and delicious to just appear. Or we don’t want to use water/propane, etc., so we splurge on take-out, or even simply go through the Wendy’s drive through. (Still trying to ween myself off my nugget, fries, and frosty orders.)

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoOur biggest splurge and combined Christmas/birthday present to ourselves was a trip to Disney World. It was worth it! We just didn’t look at our credit card right after.

Also, since we planned our trip more to see as many things as possible and not spend our time trying to make money, we need to be careful where we spend the money that we set aside for this trip, ie: we can’t just go to every museum, or do every excursion, or eat at every restaurant in town. So, we try our best to find free activities, usually outdoor and dog friendly. And we pick one or two in every region we’re in to splurge on. Then we add the things we couldn’t do to our travel map for our future adventures.

We have made a game out of how many nights we can boondock for free before we book a campground, and then put that “savings” towards a splurge.

Veg out

It’s totally okay to watch 10 straight hours of downloaded Netflix. Or stay at your campsite all day. Just because you are an adventurer, doesn’t mean you need to adventure every minute of every day, or even every day. People who work regular office jobs still get weekends to relax. In van life, every day is both “work” and the weekend, and it’s a constant ebb and flow. It is okay to spend some time doing absolutely nothing.

There have been a few times when one of us has been sick, or just run-down from the constant traveling, and it reminds us to slow down a little. We both used to work in NYC where the mentality was always to push through sickness or injury, and there was a certain “guilt” associated with taking a day to be “sick.” Sometimes we need to be reminded to listen and do what’s best for our bodies and our sanity, and just veg out.

overcoming vanlife stupor - winnebagoWhen you just want to spend your day looking at a really big rock.

Overall, these are just a few triggers and strategies that we have identified through our eight months of full-time traveling. When we are having a bad day, sometimes we just want to gun it straight back to sticks-and-bricks life, and I think its normal and okay to feel that way.

A lot of people don’t talk about it, but it does happen from time to time. We are usually able to pull ourselves out of the stupors after a day or two, whether it is by splurging on an awesome activity, meeting other like-minded people, getting our rig in tip-top shape, or something as simple as watching a movie or taking a shower.


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5 Comments

  1. Gregory Ellis Posted on 05.30.2018

    Thank you for such a well-written article. It was a pleasure to read as I learned a thing or two or as I chuckled as things yoh said hit pretty close to home.

  2. G. B. Strickland Posted on 05.19.2018

    Very good and helpful article for newbies as well as experienced RVers. I have been a camper most of my adult life. Since retiring 18 yrs ago I have been enjoying RVing in a Rialta QD. The last four years I have spent from the end of October to the first of May living in it full time as I travel through the southeastern states. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  3. Kristi Posted on 05.19.2018

    Great article! You hit on every feeling and trigger that we have experienced! We, too, learned it’s ok to be in a funk for a minute and not feel like every single moment on the road is amazing! Since people always say we are so lucky to be doing this I think we should never feel discouraged or tired! But that is just not true and your article gave us permission to make boundaries and relax! Thank you!

  4. Joe Posted on 05.19.2018

    Nice article. Thanks.
    Tip: For those risers, storage boxes and more that you’re making out of cardboard and duct tape; It’s a bit pricey but Gator Foam boards are so much more durable, clean looking, easy to cut and very light weight. Use clear packing tape instead of duct tape. Duct tape dries out, cracks and deteriorates while the packing tape stays pliable and clean looking. I even made a box that my printer sits in. It opens up giving me access to the printer w/o removing the printer. Quickly folds back together for storage. Oh, why a Dust Buster? A chemical scrub brush, tile sponges and those little brushes & pans for cleaning crumbs off the table are all we need in our vans and Bs. You don’t need all the mentioned. I just find them more usable and compact.
    Happy Trails!

  5. Romaine Broughton Posted on 05.19.2018

    I enjoyed reading about someone else that lives the rv life about the same as I do> thanks for the story