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July 19, 2021 4 min read

Do you dream of a vanlife or a trip in a van? Read the 5 biggest surprises that Hanna had when starting a new lifestyle

Few years ago, together with my boyfriend, we were in front of an exciting change in our lives. We were going to move into a van for an undetermined time period. 

Before the final leap I was trying to predict and prepare myself for the upcoming surprises and situations. While reading and watching videos from fellow vanlifers, and trying to pack everything needed but not a single item more, I was wondering: Which things would surprise us, what unexpected might happen? What if vanlife is not for us after all?

Now, after living in the van for few years, I'm happy that vanlife proved to be an excellent choice, and that the positive surprises have easily out-weighted the negative ones. Here's a few of the things that caught me by surprise!


Vanlife Hanna Vartia

1. Safety

Safety is something that concerns many in vanlife - and it also worried me. What if someone would break into our home? Or even worse, just drive away with it while we're out climbing? So it's been relieving to notice that van life has at least so far (🤞) felt very safe. We haven't even had close calls, even though we've travelled in very different countries and areas. One thing to know though, is that 95% of the time we're sleeping in the nature or in small villages and towns. In big cities we pretty much always choose campsites.

So even though there's many horror stories out there, there's no need to get too scared. Just use common sense, and getting proper locks naturally never harms. Also one tip: try to avoid sleeping next to the highways. Almost all the bad stories I've heard are from these places.


Vanlife Hanna Vartia

2. The time needed for daily routines

Of course I realized that many of the daily routines take much longer in the van. But still I got surprised about this! It's not only one or two times when doing laundry takes half a day, or that we need to drive to three different water taps to find one that works. Or that the gas runs out and the closest station to fill it is hours away.

These are things that you get "better" at and more efficient with over time. But still when moving to new areas, it will take some time and effort to learn how the daily stuff works there. Luckily when needed, campsites offer a nice stress free environment when one doesn't want to bother too much with water and electricity for example.


Vanlife Hanna Vartia

3. How natural the small space feels

One of the biggest differences between an apartment and a van is of course the amount of square meters. I got positively surprised how rapidly the limited space starts to feel natural. I don't even miss more room, and when the space indoors is limited, one simply spends more time outdoors. In addition, my eyes have opened even more to the fact how little items one needs to be happy, or just in general! For example, only few high-quality and multi-purpose clothes can get you very far.

The only moments when the small space bothers me a bit, is when it's been raining for days in a row, if one of us is ill, or if it's super messy inside!


Vanlife Hanna Vartia

4. The communities on the road

For me the hardest part in van life is to be separated from friends and family. What's been helping with this, are the amazing friendships we've built on the road. It's easy to get to know other vanlifers and shared hobbies make it even more natural. I'm still surprised how fast deep friendships can form with people living in the car next to you. What's even better: we keep on running into the same people time after time - just in different places!


Vanlife Hanna Vartia

5. Vanlife is pretty close to what it looks like

For many months after we took off, I was still waiting for the "catch". I tried to avoid having too rosy image of vanlife - it can't just be like in Instagram, right? At least for me, it proved to be pretty close. Even though there's very hard moments, for example when your home breaks down in the middle of nowhere, it's been even better than I imagined. As long as you give some thoughts for the realities of vanlife, and try to understand what you're getting into, you should be fine!

If you're dreaming about vanlife, I can warmly recommend to try. I'm pretty sure it's going to surprise you in a good way. Also, I still haven't met a single person who would have regretted!


Vanlife Hanna Vartia


Writer and photos: Weekendbee's TestBee Hanna

Hanna has been living and traveling in a self-built van since 2017 with her boyfriend. She likes to park in places which have good conditions for rock climbing, whitewater kayaking or kitesurfing, plus a good internet for working! You can follow her adventures through her Instagram account @hannavartia.