Traveling with your own van sounds really romantic. Especially with an oldtimer like a Volkswagen T3. It seems to be the ultimate feeling of freedom. You can go wherever you want, and you always have your home with you – simply park the van, and fall asleep and wake up to the most amazing vista ever. It’s the kind of road trip you always dreamed of!

Are you already dreaming? Riding through a great forest, sleeping with your backdoor open under the stars and waking up with the sun rising from the sea? Perfect! Me too…

Sadly, after living in our (little bit odd) van for almost five months, I must admit: there are also some downsides of traveling with a van. Sorry to burst your dream bubble… Reality hit me several times during our road trip, but I also figured out some solutions. So, why not share these with you and give you an advantage?

5 Downsides of Traveling with a Van AND their Solutions

1. You drive so slow (at least slower than regular cars)

This one is obvious and probably not so surprising. With a campervan you will not drive faster than 100km/h on the highway, and more so on regular roads you’re much slower than average traffic. Of course you can try speeding up a bit, but prepare for having cups and plates flying around your head. Trust me when I say: you should never believe the ETA of your TomTom when traveling in a van.

The solution

First of all, don’t plan to drive more than 500km per day, if you’re route includes some highway. Without highways, make it less. Secondly, create a nice road trip playlist. I prefer for example Bob Marley, it relaxes me and doesn’t make me drive faster. Last but not least: ENJOY THE VIEW! If you drive fast, you do not have the time for this. Use this downside to your advantage and enjoy!

 

2. You have to pack all your stuff every time you leave

Before leaving the parking lot, it will be necessary to pack all your stuff or stash it away – every time. After a little while, you will get the hang of it and it will take less time. For a ‘neatfreak’ this is no issue of course. But it is something to think about if you are a person that normally lets all their stuff lying around. Every now and then you will still forget to stash a glass in a cupboard or to put a bottle of wine away. Trust me: after the first corner or bump you will remember…

The solution

Make sure all your stuff has its designated place in the van. This makes it really easy to pack. Make it a routine: one person stashes everything in the cupboards while the other gets the electricity cable (if you are plugged in), rolls the tent back in and folds chairs and table. After some time you will be able to be packed and have left your spot in under 10 minutes.

5 Downsides of Traveling with a Van AND their Solutions 4

3. You are less mobile – What?!

Indeed, this sounds quite wrong – it’s called a mobile home after all… But with a campervan you won’t just quickly drive to the local market, because that would mean packing up everything (see 2.), and/or also your van is too big for the village roads. This was one of the things I really had to get used to in the beginning. When you go camping with a tent, you always have your car to see villages, local markets, the beach etc. You can simply drop what you are doing in the camp and jump in the car. After a little while, you will also get used to this and get trained in either planning either packing (or both!).

The solution

This is one of the reasons we took our bikes with us. It gives you the freedom to go and buy basic supplies without packing, and made visiting small villages really easy. Only if you stay in the mountains, you probably won’t cycle to the next supermarket – at least, I won’t. My solution to that problem: get a very fit partner.

 

4. It is harder to meet locals or other travelers

If you travel by public transport and hop from hostel to AirBnB to hotel etc., you are in constant contact with locals and other travellers. This is different when you travel with your own home on wheels. After all, the point is to be completely independent. I like to meet the local people though, and get in touch with their culture. If you travel around in your van, you need to put a little bit more effort into that.

The solution

Couchsurfing! I am temporarily a host at Couchsurfing in Ioannina (Greece) during our two months stay here. Recently I met two French girls who are traveling with their van in Europe. Because they didn’t really meet locals in Greece, they wanted to try Couchsurfing for a night. It was a great experience to have them at our place and I will keep it in mind as soon as we are on the road again!

5 Downsides of Traveling with a Van AND their Solutions 3

5. You carry a heavy and bulky ‘backpack’ with you

Although traveling with a van is the ultimate feeling of freedom, it can also be a burden. When backpacking, the only thing you need to care about is where to leave your backpack safely. Maybe you are even carrying the most important things with you at all times. But what about your camper van? That’s quite a bit heavier and bulkier than a backpack, but you still need to store it and keep it safe somehow. It is an easy target for burglars and it is easy to assume there will be something valuable inside, like a camera or a laptop. Second of all, your campervan needs to be maintained and cleaned, every now and then get new tires, the annual check, make sure you have the obligatory items with you like a yellow safety jacket etc., get your insurance, check the oil regularly etc etc. It is a responsibility and this might dampen the feeling of freedom a little bit.

The solution

  • Do not bring any valuable things you can’t carry with you. My only valuables are my smartphone, sunglasses, wallet and my MacBook. These are always in my backpack on my back, together with my passport, the registration papers for the van and the passport of the dog. I never leave it behind in the van.
  • Some say close your curtains but I am more a fan of leaving the curtains open. That way, potential burglars can see that there is nothing to find inside. So far, we haven’t had any problems – touch wood!
  • Regarding the maintenance: 1. Have a garage owner or mechanic on speed dial, who is responding quickly. 2. Get ‘all season’ tires, especially if you travel in winter (as summer tires are not allowed in winter in some countries). 3. Keep an eye on when your van needs its annual check for registration. 4. Make sure you have basics, like oil to refill, with you and check levels every 5.000lm or so. 5. A van needs to go for a maintenance check evert 15.000km or so. 6. Keep comparing those insurance companies to always get the best deal.

5 Downsides of Traveling with a Van AND their Solutions

If you are preparing your van trip right now, or are strongly thinking about it, I’m sure some my tips will help you getting started much easier. Do you have experience traveling with a camper van as well, and found different downsides and solutions? Feel free to share!


This is a guest post by Sira van Zanten.

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 09.24.47 Sira is a Dutchie that travels around Europe. At the end of 2014 she left ‘office life’ in Amsterdam behind and decided to travel for a couple of months. Road tripping trough Europe in her van, made her realise there is so much more to see outside the high-speed-city-life. Now she, her boyfriend Dimitri and their dog Kalí (who they found on their trip), hop from place to place, while he works remotely as a programmer. She writes down her experiences and thoughts in her blog Being A Nomad while she makes bucket lists of the places she wants to spend a month or two.