True Life: Van Relationships Are Hard

True Life: Van Relationships Are Hard

Meet Mike. He’s my husband of one year, but we’ve been together for about six years. We’ve obviously had our ups and downs, like everyone does, but for the most part… it’s been pretty easy for us as a couple. There has only been one huge screaming fight, about six months in of us dating. But overall, when we disagree or frustrate each other, we tend to make up pretty quickly and easily. 

Now, when we decided to do this whole van life thing… I got a little nervous about that. It’s one thing to have a great relationship when you both have plenty of space and friends and your own life. But to live in a 10 foot box with your partner, where you do all the same things and listen to the same podcasts and no one else around?

Wellllll…. I was a bit worried for what would happen to our easygoing relationship.

So, I hit the internet and the blogs for their infinite wisdom, as we had done for so many other van life questions. Some had decent information, but overall…. “we love each other, it’s the greatest thing ever, blah blah blah.”

There were a few things that appeared to be a common theme among the majority of vanlife blogs and Instagrams. However, in our short six months of van life, I have learned that these three popular opinions are NOT our truths. 

  1. “Sprinter vans are the best!”
  2. “We were planning on doing this van life for a year, and here we are 72 years later!”
  3. “Van life is always perfect, including our relationship!”

Let me just say this…..


Number one; we finally have accepted that we got a dud of a Sprinter van and it’s just not for us. We will be selling Big Red soon. More updates on that soon. 

Number two; while we are loving this adventure, van life is definitely not a life long thing for us. 

Now, in reference to number three…. life is not even close to perfect, nor is our relationship. The Insta accounts we follow and the blogs we read did not prepare us for that. I’m sure they have their issues too, but no one talks about the dark side, the negatives, what makes them question everything. Our first section of the trip was extremely difficult for us. We had lots of amazing adventures and saw incredible things, but there were a lot of hours between those. And in those hours, we really did not get along that well. 

We were short with each other. We did not agree with each other. Everything the other did annoyed the other person. Our differences were magnified, and no longer seemed to complement each other. We had nothing to talk about because we lived the exact same day as the other had, every day. 

We were not waking up to the most gorgeous sunrises, overlooking vast canyons, like #vanlife showed us on Instagram. As there were no public lands around, we found ourselves spending the night mostly at Walmarts and travel stops, filled with creeps and truckers. 

We were not eating delightful camp meals, over a fire or our van stove. When you’re parked in places where you’re concerned about getting robbed, you don’t exactly set up shop and start cooking, showing everyone that your whole life is in the van…. instead, you eat avocados for breakfast and sandwich meat and cheese rollups for lunch and dinner. Every single day. 

We woke up each day unsure of our purpose. I had spent the last ten years of my life thinking and working and planning for a YMCA camp. It was a life, not just a job for me – my brain didn’t just clock out after 40 hours. Mike had spent the last few years inspiring and pushing others towards their goals with his outdoor/adventure business, which was also not a 9-5, Monday through Friday job. But there was no one around anymore, except us. So, we would over-schedule our days and then feel unfulfilled when something would inevitably mess up our plans. 

We were full of anxiety, as this was the first time in our lives that we were depleting our bank accounts, but nothing was coming in. That is hard to deal with and it leads to judging the other person’s spending choices. It was easy to spiral from there too…. then I was constantly worried that our current situation was all my fault because of my stupid dream. Then I’d be worried that Mike was blaming me too, and then we’d be short and rude to each other, and then we’d go buy dinner or a beer to make ourselves happier. And cue the cycle starting again.

But would I end this blog post about how much we’ve been irritating each other? Obviously not. Turns out, I’m just as bad as every other person that blogs about vanlife. This is a happy post about how we’re still awesome.

We finally recognized our negative patterns and worked really hard to get out of it. First, we realized that we had spent six straight weeks with each other and not a single hour apart. While we love each other, I’m a strong believer in villages and personal support systems and being an individual. It’s crazy to expect one person to be absolutely everything for you. So, that night I spent the evening with my friend Kitty, and Mike headed off on his bike and he camped that night. 

Then we were very intentional in getting back on the right path; we did breathing exercises and meditation together, we listened to different podcasts that would provide meaningful discussion points, we purposely spent time apart each week doing our own thing, and we looked at our finances together and set a more realistic budget.

All that was good and well, and brought us back onto the path of a healthy relationship. However, happy relationships require happy individuals. The biggest issues that led us to be snarky and rude to each other were our own personal unrealistic expectations of this trip. When we finally accepted that this trip was never going to be perfect, that’s when things fell into place. The detailed plan and schedule was never going to be followed. Every day does not have to be the most exciting. The amazing adventure we were/are on is still life. There are days that are boring. There are days that are pretty awful (hello, getting towed out of a desert).

But, that’s life… it’s not supposed to be perfect. 

So I guess the moral of this story really is not just about van life, nor relationships while living in a van. You need to appreciate the highs and lows of life to truly be happy. And if you and your partner can both do that, you’ll be just fine. 

Are you unsatisfied with how this ended? You still realllly need some concrete suggetions on how to not kill each other living in a metal box together? FINE. See below for some of my super duper helpful tips. 


  • Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more! I would make plans in my head, and Mike would make his own – then we would get frustrated with each other when we were not on the same page. You can’t expect the other person to read your mind. 
  • Plan your budget before your trip. Decide on what sorts of things are worth extra money for you. If you’re a foodie, maybe it’ll be a nice restaurant. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, maybe it’ll be a white water rafting trip. Whatever it is, make sure you two find a good balance of your wants and needs!
  • Compromise. If doing something will make your partner happy, make it work. As long as it doesn’t crush your budget, it’ll be worth it in the long run. If your partner is happy, you’ll be happy too. With that said…
  • Part ways regularly! Not only is it impossible to spend 24/7 with the same person and stay sane, it’ll allow you to do things that the other person might not love. It also gives you things to talk about! 
  • Probably TMI for some of you, but you still have to make sex a priority and get creative. For us, I’ll just say that my junior ranger badge isn’t the only thing I’m earning at the parks… 🙂
  • Last, but not least…. if it’s before 8am, or your partner has been awake less than an hour, or they have not had coffee yet, don’t take anything said personally. If Mike got mad everytime I told him he was an taintwaffle at 6am, or if I got mad everytime he called me a dingleberry monster before he’s had coffee… we’d never stop arguing. So if one of those three things listed is true, just let that shit go. 


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