Mistakes People Living in a Van for First Time Make, From Someone Doing It



  • After living out of my car for about three years, I’ve seen my fair share of inexperienced mistakes.
  • Avoid jumping into life on the road without trying it out first, and also don’t glamorize it. 
  • Over-posting on social media and not telling people where you’re going can be dangerous.

I’ve lived out of my Subaru Forester for about three years and have learned a lot about life on the road, from safety to car maintenance. 

But since there’s a learning curve, there are several common mistakes I see newcomers to the lifestyle make. 

Jumping right into living on the road without trying it out

A view of the inside of the car with a colorful comforter and mountain view out the window

The lifestyle can be rewarding, yet daunting.

Nicole Jordan



I live out of my car by choice, and it suits my active and adventurous lifestyle. That said, it’s certainly not for everyone.

Before committing to an expensive van purchase or converting your car into your home, go on a road trip for several weeks and see if you really like it.

You have to be OK with showering and going to the bathroom in public places (or the woods), cooking outside when it’s dark and cold, and finding a place to park every night.

Even though living on the road has opened up many opportunities for me to explore, it can also be daunting, so it’s best to test it out before you commit.

Not telling people where you’re going 

Safety on the road is very important. More than likely, you’ll encounter areas without a lot of people or cell service.

So it’s always best to let some friends or family members know where you’re going or where you plan to set base.

As you develop a community on the road or in a town you’re based in, you’ll meet more people to reach out to. But when you start out, you should have someone to contact if your vehicle breaks down or you run out of gas.

Hitting the road without doing your research ahead of time

It’s important to know a bit about where you’re heading before you get there.

Make sure you research the safest ways to travel that area and what kind of attire or equipment you may need. 

Consider factors like the time of year, whether it’ll be hot or cold, what kind of bugs are common, and if you’ll need to book a campsite.

Overpacking your vehicle 

The insider of a car with a bed and lots of miscellaneous belongings

I try to be a minimalist.

Nicole Jordan



I’ve found that minimalism is the key to comfort in your vehicle. The more you own, the less space you have to relax, sleep, cook, or go about your daily life.

Almost everything I own is in my car, including summer and winter clothes, my outdoor gear, a comfortable bed and kitchen setup, and some common supplies. However, most things I’ve kept are multifunctional.

It also helps to have extra storage. You can add a roof box on top of your car, maximize the space under your bed, or attach netting or other options to your ceiling. 

Rushing from place to place 

Whether you’re exploring on a trip or living on the road for years, don’t try to see everything too quickly.

Even though it’s nice to see many different sights, you’ll likely only visit the most popular or overcrowded ones if you’re rushing. 

Research a few spots you’d like to explore and dive in there. You might find some hidden gems from locals and really get to see an area. It’ll also help prevent burnout from constantly moving.

Even though you’re living on the road, you don’t need to drive the whole time. Take your time — stay the weekend for a local festival or spend a few extra days hiking during off-hours to avoid crowds.

Overlooking proper vehicle care 

My car is my home, and I like to feel safe when I’m driving and sleeping in it, so I always stay up-to-date on the suggested maintenance.

Some people understand a lot about cars and how to fix them. And even though I know very basic maintenance, I still ask for an inspection when I bring my vehicle in for an oil change or think there’s something wrong. 

Staying ahead of problems often saves you money and stress in the long run.

Glamorizing this not-so-comfy lifestyle 

Nicole Jordan cooking a dinner with a portable stove in the forest

Living on the road can be difficult at times.

Nicole Jordan



Many people are choosing to live on the road and document their lifestyle on social media, but they often only share the highlights. There’s a lot beyond that.

I regularly have to dig holes to poop in the woods when it’s below freezing or figure out how to dry out wet snowboard gear in my car and still comfortably sleep at night. I’ve also cooked dinner under the roof of my vehicle during a thunderstorm. 

There are many incredible things about this lifestyle, but it can be uncomfortable at times. It’s also a privilege to live on the road by choice. 

Over-posting on social media 

It’s important to be mindful of what you post on social media.

Especially if you’re traveling alone, it can be unsafe to post in real time. For example, someone could meet you at a trailhead when you finish the hike because you uploaded a video from the summit a few hours ago.

Also, be mindful about what you geotag. Some beautiful destinations have gotten super popular after being tagged, but don’t have the infrastructure for that many visitors. This can lead to shutdowns or increased regulations. 

Underestimating how difficult the winters can be

From the mountains to the desert, it can get cold just about everywhere. Plus in the winter, the days are shorter and nights are longer.

While living on the road, tasks like cooking and going to the bathroom usually require being outside. And no matter how well you insulate your vehicle, the cold will likely still seep in. Getting out of bed to go to the bathroom in 20 degrees Fahrenheit is rough. 

And even if you love winter activities, you may have to dry out your wet equipment in your vehicle. 

So try to find indoor places to hang out when it gets dark and cold. Cafés and libraries are good spots to get work done, plus you can ask some of your friends if you can stay at their houses. 

Deciding every day must be an adventure 

Nicole standing in her white subaru in the middle of the forest

I’ve learned to pace myself.

Nicole Jordan



When I first started living on the road, I felt like every day needed to be a fun, new adventure. Eventually, I realized that wasn’t realistic. 

I had to work and do chores, plus still wanted to socialize with friends and find a community.

Although I love heading to new places and seeing what’s out there, I’ve also realized that sometimes I need time to relax.

My day may just be a 3-mile run, a bit of work, and drinks with a friend, and that’s totally OK. It’ll help me have more energy in the long run. 



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