10 Things We Wish We Knew Before Vanlife

Today marks day #48 living in the van and while that is just a drop in the bucket, it has certainty been enough time for us to gain our “road legs” and have some helpful tips we can share, whether you’re preparing for vanlife, a roadtrip, or just enjoy reading our blog (thanks!). Sean had the great idea that we should both share our top 5 tips/lessons and I thought that was a fun way to kick off our new blog! We hope you enjoy reading our different styles of writing, and be patient with us as we will probably make some grammatical errors along the way- it’s been a while! So, without further ado, here are our top 10 tips to living in your home on wheels!

Tips 1-5 are written by Ashley, and 6-10 are written by Sean

  1. “BLM Office Closed Due to Lack of Federal Appropriations” Vanlife is made possible largely in part to free land owned by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). You are allowed to stay in any one area for up to 14 days for free. Most places are considered “boondocking” which means no amenities (toilets, water, trash) and you MUST pack in and out everything…and I doo mean everything. To find these lands, you need good topographic land status maps, available for purchase at the BLM office stationed in the area you are visiting (about $5 a map). These maps are essential, to get away from people, to find hidden gems, and because service sucks, they will save you, time and time again, trust. The first few weeks living in the van was so difficult because the government was shutdown and all BLM offices were closed and we couldn’t access any maps that showed us the land we desperately rely on. We were stuck in well known, easy to access places, an RVers wonderland, and our personal nightmare. Find the office in your area and hit it up, you can thank me later :).
  2. “Illegal Dumping $500 Fine” Because we aren’t garbage human beings, we pack out every last bit of trash (+ then some) from where ever we are staying/hiking/exploring. We made the mistake of buying 13 gal trash bags at first and waited for it to be filled before trying to throw it out and that made things a bit tricky, because most places have a lid on their trashcans to avoid this exact thing LOL. We try to repurpose shopping bags, but when they run out, we now use 8 gallon trash bags and don’t pack them in too much. 
  3. “Wake Up and Smell the Routine” Establish a routine for daily tasks early on. It took us about a month to learn daily chores became much easier when there was a process set in place. Dishes are easy for Sean now, our prep for dinner is the same every night, breakfast is made the same way, and coffee too. We make the bed together and organize all of our little belongings every morning, in the same exact way, even down to how we fold the comforter we put on the side of the bed during the day. It may seem like a no-brainer but the first month is about getting your bearings, and things don’t come as quickly as they do when it’s all brand new. 
  4. “Sorry for What I Said When I was Hangry” Have a consistent meal schedule, and stick to it (hello routine), having at least 3 healthy meals a day with snacking in between is crucial. Vanlife is entirely more active and stressful (new, different stresses that take getting use to), adding an empty stomach and grouchiness can zap the fun out of any moment. Especially important if you aren’t solo…it can get ugly. Not that we would know……hahaha totally kidding we don’t eat and fight over stupid things like, all the time, :).
  5. “Drive Less, Explore More” It’s so easy to get caught up in traveling from fun place to even funner place, only spending a day or two in each area before checking out the next ‘gram worthy destination. However, learning to stay in one place for a week and longer, while, is a learning curve, is so worth the brain training. Slowing down, and combing through an area can be incredibly rewarding (when you have maps!!). We find hidden gems, walk paths that have been forgotten about or grown over, and try to really explore an area. Sometimes, we’re surprised and decide to stay longer, while other times we immediately regret the decision and hightail it outta there or to the nearest Walmart. We have spent all of February in and around Phoenix, Arizona and the longer we stay, the more we find to explore- you always find what you’re looking for- so make sure you’re looking for something good :).
  6. “An Organized Van is a Happy Van” With less space and less belongings, organization becomes more important, not less. The first week was tough, and one thing I remember was having to search for every little thing. If I wanted to make coffee, I needed to know where 8 different things were stored in the van. I can remember often looking for one crucial tool to complete a simple task. The answer was to over organize everything. Sort every bin and every shelf. Once I knew where everything was, it became easy to make dinner or clean up a campsite quickly. Now the tough part is keeping the van that way.
  7. “It’s Free for a Reason” Always pay the 20-30 cents a gallon for water. It sounds exciting to find free drinkable water at a rest stop or the 711 in Mexican Hat, UT, but you can always taste the difference. 28 gallons of water that tastes, as Ashley puts it, slimy, can be hard to go drink. Sometimes its better to just dump it out and pay for the good stuff.
  8. “Where Would We Have Pooped in the Morning??” Knowing the weather, and the changes in the weather has never been more important. We learned this on what was supposed to be a rainy day in Flagstaff. We planned to run our errands, to avoid being outside or feeling too cooped up in the van. But, the rain never came. We were able to get everything done without a drop of rain. After deciding to stay in town for the night, we found camp outside of a Cracker Barrel, planning to leave town in the morning. As the rain finally started, I checked the weather for the night before I went to bed. The days rain was late and instead going to be tonight’s 10 inches of snow, with 40 mph winds. Our 2 wheel drive van would have been stuck for at least a day. I woke Ashley up and we drove in the rain to warmer Sedona and slept out the rain storm in a rest stop, instead of being snowed in outside a Cracker Barrel.
  9. “Plus Their French Toast is Delicious” Cracker Barrel is the most Vanlife friendly restaurant there is. Twice now, with nowhere to camp for the night, Cracker Barrel has come to our rescue. Walmart is known for letting campers stay the night in their parking lot, but we have found that sometimes Walmart security has different rules. In towns where Walmart has turned us away, I would have never guessed that it would be Cracker Barrel to the rescue.
  10. “They Only Came in Pink” There is one tool that makes my life easier every day that I did not even have when we started our journey. My favorite new accessory, Dish Gloves. January and February in the desert can be very cold in the mornings and at night. Without running water, I clean our dishes  with the help of our trusty blues(we have four 7 gallon blue water jugs), and that water can get cold. It was a frosty morning in Tuscon, AZ when the dishes, as well as my hands, were all frozen by the time I was done and ready to dry them. That was when Ashley suggested dish gloves, which I had never used. They instantly made it so doing the dishes was no longer a chore. Since then I have even done dishes in the snow, but with my gloves my hands were as warm and happy.

So, there you have it! Our top 10 tips we wish we knew before starting on this wild journey! We hope you found this insightful, or at least fun to read our different takes. Thanks for reading and joining us on this journey, sign up to receieve email notifications for future posts, and if you aren’t already, follow us on Instagram (@thebeirnes) to see our day to day adventures!

‘Till next time,

Ashley + Sean


4 Comments on “10 Things We Wish We Knew Before Vanlife

  1. Loved your first blog, I imagine daily what you guys are doing and this helped me to better paint the picture! And, I was pleasantly surprised that your 10 things you wish you knew were all very minor! I was worried that one of them would terrify me, not at all! Love you both, keep the blogs coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much!!! They are all small, but significant little details that we easily overlooked, trying to save the next person from the unnecessary aggravation. Love you so, so much more!


  2. This is great! I’ve been having trouble picturing living in a small space and liked your comments on organizing. The devil is in the details I guess. Also, the BLM maps are something I would never have known about. Enjoy!


    • Thank you so much for reading, Cheryl! We have learned to lived with as little as possible to save the space, clutter, and ultimately, sanity! It’s been really fun to learn how to live the complete opposite of how one typically lives. 🙂


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