#VanLife Part 4: The Frequently Asked Questions


For a large part of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, liv­ing in a car is not the most desir­able thing. The oth­er part of the pop­u­la­tion, who get excit­ed at the idea of being able to take their “house” with them wher­ev­er they go, is prob­a­bly most­ly rock climbers, hip­pies, and retired folks.

When I passed through Port­land, Ore­gon, a cou­ple years ago I gave my aunt and uncle a “tour” of my 2005 Chevy Astrovan. It’s not a long tour—I opened up the back doors, pull one or both of the six-foot-long draw­ers open, reveal­ing the stor­age for my climb­ing gear, food, and kitchen stuff, and point at the $100 IKEA mat­tress sit­ting on top, and that’s it.

After the Grand Tour, my aunt asked a very per­ti­nent ques­tion: Where do you go to the bathroom?

“Star­bucks,” I joked. Which is actu­al­ly more than part­ly true. In a van, there’s no room for a bathroom—which I think is a good thing. So I go where every­one else dri­ving a car goes: pub­lic restrooms. Star­bucks usu­al­ly has reli­ably clean and fair­ly nice, pri­vate bath­rooms. So do a lot of gro­cery stores. Oth­er­wise, it’s the side of the road.


The oth­er ques­tion I was often asked is: Where do you shower?

Show­er­ing is one thing you do a lot less of when liv­ing in a van—it’s just a real­i­ty. The most beau­ti­ful places in the Amer­i­can West have plen­ty to offer in rock climb­ing, hik­ing, sin­gle­track, sun­sets, wide open space—but not usu­al­ly free pub­lic show­ers. Which is fine with me. If I can get a show­er every three to eight days, I’m hap­py. Oth­ers around me may not be so happy.

When you get the opportunity—a pay show­er at a camp­ground, state park, or oth­er facil­i­ty (Coy­ote Cor­ner in Joshua Tree!)—you take it and pay the $5–7, some­times fed in coins into a lit­tle steel box before your show­er, and then again when the water stops run­ning and you’ve got both hands stuck to a head full of sham­poo. Oth­er times, when things are dire, you check into a $40 hotel for the night (but only if there’s free break­fast with the room) and take a show­er. Between that, when friends offer, you take them up on their hospitality.

Then, there’s the big ques­tion. Not liv­ing in a house is so dif­fer­ent from what peo­ple are nor­mal­ly doing, and a depar­ture from the way most of us were raised. Every­one you talk to thinks of one or two things they would not want to live with­out, and they ask: Don’t you miss ________? Don’t you miss hav­ing a cof­fee pot 15 steps from your bed­room, don’t you miss hav­ing a decent bed, don’t you miss hav­ing fresh fruit in a refrig­er­a­tor near­by, don’t you miss tele­vi­sion, don’t you miss hav­ing a shelf full of books, hav­ing neigh­bors, your favorite restau­rants, hav­ing friends near­by, hav­ing a clothes wash­er and dry­er in your apartment—the list goes on and on.


Yeah, I miss that stuff. Some of it more than oth­ers. But most­ly every­one is liv­ing with­out some­thing they want, whether they live in a van or a beau­ti­ful house somewhere.

The thing that kept me mobile for almost three years, dri­ving around with all my stuff packed in the back of a van, was the fear that I might miss being able to go some­where new every day, and wake up with a dif­fer­ent sun­rise com­ing through the win­dows of my van. But when I final­ly signed a lease on an apart­ment in the mid­dle of a city and moved my stuff in, the imme­di­ate joy of mak­ing toast for myself and show­er­ing when­ev­er I want­ed def­i­nite­ly made up for the lack of sunrises.