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Van-lifers reveal the most difficult challenges of roving lifestyle: ‘Everything is 10 times harder’

The #VanLife movement shows signs of slowing amid return-to-office mandates and high gas prices, as trailblazers spill about the speed bumps in their journeys.
The #VanLife movement shows signs of slowing amid return-to-office mandates and high gas prices, as trailblazers spill about the speed bumps in their journeys.

So much for the van-tasy.

The dream of ditching expensive apartments for Instagram-worthy nomadic RV adventures and endless excitement took off at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the #VanLife movement shows signs of slowing amid return-to-office mandates and high gas prices, as trailblazers spill about the speed bumps in their journeys, including unforeseen repair costs, isolation, safety concerns, and tiresome logistics, among other shortcomings.

“Everything is 10 times harder,” Siena Juhlin, 23, admitted to The Wall Street Journal last week. “But everything is also amazingly beautiful and rewarding.”

Juhlin, of Missouri, confessed she is working three part-time jobs to recover the $5,000 she spent to fix the transmission of the white Ford Transit she purchased in August.

Juhlin, of Missouri, confessed she is working three part-time jobs to recover the $5,000 she spent to fix the transmission of the white Ford Transit she purchased in August. Instagram/@solo.siena
Juhlin, of Missouri, confessed she is working three part-time jobs to recover the $5,000 she spent to fix the transmission of the white Ford Transit she purchased in August. Instagram/@solo.siena

And freelance photographer Emilie Hofferber, 28, griped to The Journal about the exhausting complexities of daily decision-making, such as evaluating the safeness of the sleeping conditions at truck stops.

“You’re just always having to make big choices and think about all the tiny things you need for survival,” Hofferber said.

Even more frustrations were shared in a recent post to the Reddit Van Dwellers channel.

“I spent only a few months living vanlife and had a nervous breakdown,” one Redditor penned. “My mental health wasn’t the best to begin with, so perhaps take that with a grain of salt. I still feel that vanlife is a fantastic way to live. I was vanlifing at the height of covid so very isolated, I had envisioned making lots of friends along the way.”

“Making friends takes time: you don’t just meet someone and become close over a weekend,” another Redditor replied, adding, “Additionally, a lot of the expenses of vanlife come from moving: the obvious thing is gas costs, but less obviously, moving around a lot means you don’t have a chance to learn where to get supplies like groceries inexpensively, so you end up paying more money for everything you buy.”

A man who adopted #VanLife after surviving a bout of colon cancer shows off the inside of his Ram ProMaster van. Instagram/@nyc_vanlife
A man who adopted #VanLife after surviving a bout of colon cancer shows off the inside of his Ram ProMaster van. Instagram/@nyc_vanlife

In asking, “Is Van Life Coming To An End?”, Men’s Journal noted in November that the rise of van rental programs allows wanderlusts to test out life on the road without making a full-time commitment. Some aspiring acolytes are determining it’s not for them.

Caity Weaver, for one, described her short-lived 2013 Ford Econoline E-150 adventure as “cramped, slovenly and bad” in The New York Times Magazine.

Still, others remain devoted to the movement.

Abby Joselyn, who has 133,000 Instagram followers, told Marketplace last month that despite getting into an accident last summer that sidelined her van for five months, she has “no plans of stopping” the lifestyle.

“I feel like I haven’t done everything that I wanted to do,” she said.