Traveling in a van has its difficulties. Traveling in a van as a couple has its own set of unique challenges.
Quite frequently we get asked by friends, family members, and even strangers – “How did you survive living in a van together? I really want to try it out, but I can’t imagine sharing such a small space with another person.”
We always try to be transparent and honest with our readers so I will tell you right off the bat that doing van life as a couple is not always that easy. It takes a lot of work and compromising to cultivate a happy, healthy, and balanced relationship when traveling and living in a tiny campervan.
Sometimes that means letting go of small arguments, sometimes that means clearly communicating with your partner. Sometimes you’ll just have that unavoidable fight because you’re tired, hungry, don’t want to do something, or just can’t get on the same page.
While there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to van life, in this post we cover 15 essential tips that helped us survive over a year on the road in a van as a married travel couple!
Split Up Your Duties
When people think of van life couples, you often picture a fun, long term vacation traveling the world with a significant other and having the best time. But behind all those wanderlust photos and videos we see on social media is a lot of work and daily chores.
Most days you will need to figure out where to sleep, get groceries, fill up on gas, water, propane, do laundry… the list goes on. If there’s two of you, it’s much easier to knock out these chores but sometimes one person ends up doing them all and feeling overwhelmed.
We did our best to keep a balance of our daily responsibilities by splitting up our duties – if my husband drove, I would take that time to search for campsites. If he stopped to get gas, I would go fill up on water for our campervan kitchen. While he cooked, I would clean the van. This keeps both people happy and will get things done much faster so you can both enjoy hanging out after all the chores are done.
While we both love traveling and outdoors, our intentions and goals don’t always align. My husband loves to travel for personal enjoyment while I often want to go to specific places because they look interesting for photos.
I spend a lot of time creating content for this blog and sometimes that takes away from our travel experience. This can lead to disagreements because my husband likes to go at a faster pace while I take my time writing notes and taking a ton of photos.
Over the years I’ve had to learn how to compromise on certain things like maybe I don’t need 1000 photos of the same location or I can put my laptop away to enjoy a relaxing evening hanging out at a campsite.
It’s great when both people are on the same page about things like work and activities but if you have different interests make sure to listen to your partner and create time for things that each of you can enjoy.
Give Each Other Space
Most people live in a traditional environment where couples spend 40+ hours a week away at work not seeing each other. Even when you’re at home after work you might hang out in different rooms watching tv-shows or browsing on your phone.
When you move in a van together, all of a sudden you’re spending a lot more time around each other. Sometimes this can feel overwhelming. If that happens the best thing to do is head out for a walk and clear your head.
We all need space to think and be by ourselves, especially if you are an introvert, like me. In van life, you share a tiny space with the same person for weeks, months, or years but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend every second together as a couple.
It’s important to set aside time daily for yourself. For me that means going for a run, heading to a café to work, reading a book, getting my nails done, or watching a girly show by myself like The Bachelor that my husband doesn’t necessarily care to watch.
Make Time For Date Nights
Van life is all about feeling comfortable. We’re talking about wearing leggings every day, t-shirts and oversized sweatshirts. Most days I don’t bother putting on makeup or doing my hair. Even showering once a week itself can be a luxury in a van.
But if you’re traveling in a van long term as a couple, it’s important to set aside special time to spice up the romance, dress up and head out to dinner or a movie. Keep things interesting with designated date nights even if it’s just to get out of the van for a couple of hours.
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Talk It Out
It’s so easy to let everything turn into a big deal when living in a van as a couple. Money worries, van having issues, wanting to do different activities, or even just dirty dishes sitting in a sink can seem like a catastrophic event.
If something is bothering you, give yourself time to calm down and gather your thoughts before you talk to your significant other. It can even help to write things down so you can stay on track about what’s really on your mind.
If you choose to let a small argument go, let it go. If you can’t let it go and it keeps nagging at you, it might turn into misplaced anger and a bigger fight down the road (figuratively and literally). Talk about it and you might realize that your partner feels the same way.
Go For A Test Run
Before we decided to move into our van, we spent quite a lot of time traveling and sleeping in our Honda Element SUV and we even rented a campervan in Iceland for a week. These were great test runs to see if traveling in such a tight space was doable for both of us. Thankfully we came back from those trips happy and excited to work on our own DIY campervan conversion.
If you head out on a road trip with your spouse or significant other and find yourself wanting to be back home after a few days, van life might not be the best choice for you. It’s better to be realistic about it now than find yourself committed in a situation that you don’t want to be in later on.
When I quit my full-time job to travel, I was ready for a break from work. But a few months in I realized that I missed working and having something challenging to do. I started replacing all that extra energy with bad habits like boredom, anxiety and bickering with my husband.
When living in a van, often couples are not sure what to do with all of that new free time.
For me, work brings a lot of enjoyment, routine, and structure in my life. Without having work and a set schedule, I feel a bit lost. So a few months after I left my job, I started this blog.
When you’re busy working and creating something, you have less idle time to overthink things.
To this day starting this blog was one of the best decisions I did while traveling because it gave me purpose during our travels (and income too which never hurts).
While 10 years ago remote work was not very common, nowadays there are so many different avenues for online work. Some people start van life YouTube channels, others focus on Instagram, some keep their regular jobs and others get more creative by selling items on Etsy.
Living in a van is the perfect opportunity to do the things that you always wanted to, but never had the time to.
Maybe it’s reading more, learning how to cook, picking up rock climbing or surfing. Don’t be afraid to try something new – it will bring you more joy and create a better mental space for yourself and your partner.
It Won’t Always Be Romantic
When you move into a tiny space like a campervan, you’ll soon find out a lot of things about your other half. Including things that you normally don’t discuss at home like restroom schedules, stomach issues, periods, or seeing them wear the same boxers for one too many days. You might smell as you lay in dirty sheets after a long day of driving and that’s perfectly normal.
We’ve seen each other at our best and our worst while living in a van as a couple. You’ll deal with food poisonings, cold’s, stomach cramps, hunger (when you run out of groceries), heat, cold, whatever you can think of. It won’t always be romantic but if you can deal with each other and survive van life together, it will strengthen your relationship in the long run.
Be Ready For A Long Term Commitment
Despite being on this new, fun van life journey, sometimes we can hold on to unrealistic expectations. Going on a long term trip in a van as a couple isn’t the same thing as flying to Paris for two weeks.
After a couple of months on the road, I realized that I can’t just leave when something upsets me. We were thousands of miles away from home traveling through foreign countries and if we got in an argument of if I started missing my family, I couldn’t just bail out. Even if we wanted to cut the trip short we had to think about logistics of shipping the van back home.
I had to accept that I was on a year-long trip across two continents and I had to see through it.
Honestly, at first, I didn’t like the feeling that I was so far away from home. But once I accepted that it was my choice to go on this trip (and nobody else made me), it finally cleared up space in my mind to focus on positive things and strengthen our relationship.
Set Monetary Budgets
Before we set out on the road in our campervan, we made a clear budget to spend up to $50 per day as a couple. We were on a pretty tight travel budget and setting realistic expectations made things easier every time we stepped into a grocery store or looked at what activities we could afford to do.
This is especially important if you’re planning to travel with someone who is not your spouse and want to avoid awkward conversations about money. You may even want to consider opening a joint checking account and depositing equal half into it every month for van life bills and expenses.
Read Next: VAN LIFE – How Much Does It REALLY Cost?
Hanging out with new people can add fun energy and brighten the mood. Especially if you’re traveling long term and start missing your friends and family back home.
During our Pan-American road trip we got to know so many awesome people at campsites and often ended up traveling together with them as a group. You can also use apps like iOverlander, Instagram, or PanAmerican Travelers Association Facebook Group to link up with other van life travelers.
When you are active and healthy, your mind naturally feels better and happier. If you’re happy, you’re less likely to feel irritated and get into fights with your travel partner. Here are some ways that can help cultivate more happiness:
- Daily Exercise
- Healthy Eating Habits
- Yoga & Stretching
- Good Sleep
- Avoiding Alcohol
- Taking A Break From Social Media
I’m not always best at doing these things myself and some days I just don’t feel that great, no matter how much sleep I got or how many green smoothies I drank. Some days can just be harder than others.
But in general, if I keep up with all of these healthy practices, I see a change in my mood almost instantly. The difficult part is keeping up with these habits and creating a routine that incorporates them into your daily life.
Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
I know I personally sometimes do this quite a lot especially from following other van life couples on Instagram and YouTube. When we scroll on Social Media, we usually only see the staged highlights of other people’s lives and often we start feeling like they are so perfect compared to ours.
But in reality, you never know what life is really like day to day for others so it’s best not to go down that rabbit hole of comparing yourself.
Online people will show you the most entertaining parts of themselves that will get high engagement and likes. The reality is that nobody’s lives are perfect, no two relationships are alike and there could be plenty of hardships going on behind closed doors that you’ll never get to see. It’s best to focus on your own life and what makes your relationship work.
Sometimes you just get burned out on van life and that’s ok. You go on this fun journey but over time all the chores, lack of personal space, and constant planning can catch up to you.
The hardest part is admitting when you need to take a break to yourself and your partner.
We rented a few Airbnb’s throughout our van life journey and never regretted it. For the first few days, we usually laid around binging the latest Netflix shows but by the end of the week, we felt refreshed and ready to get back on the road again.
Don’t Take It For Granted
If there is one piece of advice I could give myself the day we left for our van life trip – it’s to not take it for granted.
At the time of our Pan-America road trip, it seemed like it would never end. We hopped around from a country to a country for over a year and saw the world. We thought that we would do this for a while and started taking our travels for granted. And then one day, my husband got a job offer back home and it was over the next day.
Now I look back on all the missed opportunities and places that we didn’t get to see and wish we had.
If you’re planning to go on a van life journey and travel as a couple, just know that it won’t be forever. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy the freedom of the open road and quality time with your partner. Make the best of this time because it goes by much faster than you expect!
Looking for more van life inspiration? Here are a few other resources and blog posts that you may like:
- DIY Promaster Camper Conversion Guide – Part I
- 20 Helpful Tips For Stealth Camping In A Van
- 15 Things We Learned From Traveling In A Campervan
- VAN LIFE – How Much Does It REALLY Cost?
- Our Campervan Kitchen Set Up & Essentials
Interested in how I capture photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my images:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for nature shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Sony Camera Charger Set
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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