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11 things you need to know about van living full time

A stunning photo of me van living full time down in Invercargill a must stop on your South Island road trip!

There’s something incredibly satisfying about living in a van full time and being so close to nature. Travelling from place to place, spending nights beneath the stars and making simplistic yet (sometimes) delicious meals.

Van living full time is the ultimate experience of freedom.

This article is full of tips for living in a van and some things you may want to consider before setting off on your adventure. If you’re currently living the van life then hopefully this article resonates with you. If you are not living in a van full time or have not set off on your adventure yet the tips in this article will still be of use to you.

Keep in mind this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything through them, I will get a small referral fee and you will be supporting me and my blog at no extra cost to you, so thank you! 

What you need to know about campervan life

A photo of my campervan during my South Island road trip. A great example of the beautiful destinations you can see while van living full time in NZ.

I know before setting off van living full time I thought it was going to be absolute bliss every moment of the day. I thought it would be exactly like the stuff you see all over Instagram with nights under fairy lights and gorgeous backdrops in every location you park up.

The Instagram game is strong and I was constantly looking through all of the beautiful men and women pulling up to the most magical spots dying to get out there and do that myself.

I can also imagine you’re buzzing at the feeling that this will be you soon. However, the purpose of this post is to raise awareness that during your campervan life things will go wrong, problems will pop up, you will run into a frustration or two and life is going to throw you lemons!

But, I am also here to let you know that van living full time is one of the BEST ways to live if you keep in mind these 11 things…

1. Van living full time is super tiring

Van Living Full Time

No matter how much you love travelling or driving, there will be a time when you get tired of both and just want to go home and relax.

I now know where the saying a weary traveller comes from. In my experience there is almost nothing more tiring than spending hours confined to a seat, not knowing where you’re staying the next night, where the bathroom facilities are or if you’ll have enough money for fish and chips.

For the first week or two it seems easy enough and you may think I’m a bit dramatic but I can assure you after a while you’ll soon crave that 3pm kip!

Speaking of kips, one of my best van living tips and to ensure you enjoy your nap in the sun without 1000 sandflies nibbling at your toes (they are rather prevalent in NZ) is to have a bug guard.

Bug guards: 

Bug guards can come in many forms but the best I’ve seen are ones that sit on the outside of your window with magnets. These work well because there are hardly any gaps for the bugs to get through.

We had a pretty average net and I don’t want you to make the same mistake! I was constantly worrying about bugs getting into my van.  Especially in Northland, the West Coast (South Island) and Southland.

Here is a pretty good looking bug guard from Amazon.

2. Laundry facilities are expensive and not always accessible

laundry vanlife

Credit: Chrissie Kremer

Maybe you’re not too worried about laundry facilities. It will get done eventually right? Quick dip in the lake will do the trick! True. But I want to make your life easier.

Van travel laundry tips: 

Speaking from experience grabbing a bucket and some laundry powder and doing the old school squeeze and rinse thing sucks. Especially if you don’t have a clothes rack.

Maybe you are thinking about packing a lot of clothes so you don’t have to do laundry often. But, living in a tiny house means there is not a lot of space… So you won’t be able to pack a heap of clothes! I definitely missed my normal laundry routine during campervan life.

After spending weeks living in a van full time you might get used to the fact your clothes smell a little funky. But it is extremely refreshing to know your clothes have had a good wash, other than a dip under the sink!

My best free laundry van living tip is to take your clothes into the shower with you and wash them with body wash. Particuarly your undies or something you want to wear again pretty soon. We had a curtain rail in our van that we used as a clothes dryer when we were driving. 

Perhaps try one of the methods mentioned above or simply pay to do your washing. Washing facilities throughout NZ are easily found on the app CamperMate, at most holiday parks and in most major towns and cities.

Laundry costs:

In NZ the average cost for laundry is $4 per wash and $4 per dry and the machines are usually coin operated. People have been known to steal laundry as well so I recommend watching your washing. I would park up, read a book and wait for the washing to do it’s thing.

3. Hot showers become a luxury

van swim

During the van life adventure lakes, rivers and the ocean may become your regular form of bathing. Don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a bad thing at all. There is something pretty incredible about dipping into a pool of water and coming out the other end refreshed and renewed. Especially in the stunning Lake Hawea as pictured above.

How to live in a van and shower? 

You can find showers and bathrooms when roaming in most towns. But when travelling on long roads from one town to another the only option you are left with are natural water sources. Unless you have a solar shower like this one here.

Unfortunatly sometimes the rivers and lakes in NZ are not clean. To find a clean swimming spot check out Land Air and Water Aotearoa (here). They have a great tool to show you where the safe swimming spots are.

My best showering tip is to grab yourself a microfibre towel. You can pick these up pretty cheap from Amazon (here). Microfibre towels pack down to almost nothing and dry your body incredibly quickly.

4. Things will go wrong

vanlife issues


Learning how to live in a van takes some time. But even if you have been van living full time for a while things will still go wrong.

I hope you have an extremely good time while living in a van but I also want you to be aware of these things so you’re not caught as off-guard as me. I made the point of not looking at van living posts like this so I wasn’t deterred from going.

Tips for when things go wrong living in your van:

During your vanlife adventure it’s okay for things to go wrong. Your clothes aren’t going to smell quite as good as they did back home and that’s okay, you might not sleep as well as you do at home and that’s okay, your van might get bombarded with bugs and sandflies and that’s okay (well maybe not okay, but normal for sure).

Hey, your van might even break down! And that’s okay and all part of the adventure. Just know you’re doing your best at living a life full of adventure, and that my friend is totally okay. 

We were pretty lucky and only had one near breakdown experience when driving in Northland. Turns out we went down a gravel road that had not been sealed properly and a wee pebble got stuck in our breaks. But I thought there was something wrong with the engine!

We spent a wee while contemplating whether we could figure this out (we have no experience with cars, haha) or, ring the AA. Safe to say my investigative skills saved the day and we were back on the road within 30 minutes!

But things are not always the same. Your car may have more than one breakdown. Just keep this in mind and have a solution for breaking down such as road side assistance numbers and include an emergency kit in your van.

Lastly, every problem has a solution. Camper van living is not always easy and negativity is not a helpful state of mind especially when you have a partner on board. Try your best to stay positive even in tough situations! Easier said than done I know.

5. Meals will become weird

cooking in van

Imagine a kitchen without an oven or a blender or with a tiny fridge and just one burner in a limited space. That’s a van kitchen!

Full time living in a van is interesting when it comes to meal time.

Your meals probably may not be as good as they were be back home because you will not have the same equipment. But the whole point of campervan life is to get off the grid.

There are limited options with your vanlife kitchen unless you are fully decked out. But you can use your creativity and cook something new in your own style. Well, I can’t promise it will be nice, but we learn from our experiences.

Our favourite meal was fried toasties. One day we wanted an easy lunch and wondered what we would have back home and came up with the thought of toasties. Unless you’re super decked out, you probably won’t have a grill. But, we had a fry pan! And wa-lah the birth of greasy, cheesy fried van toasties were born.

Check out an awesome article from Where In The World Is Nina to learn more about campervan sites and campervan food tips in New Zealand! 

6. Flushed toilets will become heaven

toilet vanlife

CrediMichael Jasmun

Unless you’re living in a self-contained camper van (check out my self contained NZ van conversion article here) going for walks to the toilet may become your new favourite pastime.

Uh, who am I kidding, probably not.

It’s a tad annoying having to roll out of the van into the cold dewy grass to make your way to a long drop with numerous moths early in the morning. It also sucks to use long drops and portaloos regularly. But, this made me more appreciative of basic facilities like a flushed toilet and even one that provided loo paper.

When you are on your van road trip, you may understand what I am talking about and how much of a blessing a flushed toilet is. I think realizing what you take for granted is a common theme on a van life adventure.

7. On hot days the van will shrink

small van

Van living full time is not easy especially in summer. In the hot weather the van feels like it shrinks!

3 quick tips for living in a van in the summer: 

  1. My most important tip for you is to get a bug guard, preferably one that goes over the van windows from the outside, maybe with magnets. This way you can open the windows without having to worry about pesky sandflies and mosquitoes keeping you up all night!
  2. Try to cover your body with light clothes so that you can be extra protected from bugs! I really love harem pants like these ones.
  3. If you have a small van and are sharing this with another person it is an awesome idea to get an awning. This way you can sit outside together in the hot sun without getting burnt and without being cramped! We purchased this awning from Adventure Kings. 

8. There will be frequent parking dilemmas


Setting up your home base for the night might ignite an argument or two with your travel buddy.

I don’t know about you, but I am incredibly indecisive at the best of times and parking the van brings this skill out in me even more. Sometimes I parked too much on a slope and ended up squished by my partner in the middle of the night.

Here are a few parking tips when living in a van:

  1. Don’t park underneath branches that will scratch your van in the wind.
  2. Park close enough to the toilet.
  3. Use blocks under the van wheels if you have parked on a slant.
  4. Take a minute to pause and decide where you want to park instead of indecisively driving around.

Hopefully these tips will save you time and an argument or two.

9. Enjoy Wi-Fi adventures!

wifi adventures

You don’t need Wi-Fi on a van adventure. Right? Well, when we are on a long journey, weeks on end, we might need Wi-Fi to connect with the outer world. Searching for Wi-Fi is going to take up a bit of your time while living in a van. And it might become a little tedious at times!

The best van to live in would have a Wi-Fi dock on board. I have heard that you can do this with a router or modem. Check out this awesome article from Minimalist Journeys giving you all of the information you need to think about when deciding on internet in your campervan.

Looking back I really wish I invested in unlimited data on my Spark mobile plan or a modem. This would have saved me a lot of time as I wouldn’t have had to park next to a Spark wifi booth or plug my laptop in at McDonald’s.

My best tips living in a van and using the internet are:

  1. Get a modem, router or unlimited data pack on your phone or both.
  2. Use Wi-Fi at campsites. Just beware most of the Wi-Fi available at campsites is pretty poor quality.
  3. Grab a coffee and use the free internet they provide.
  4. Use free Wi-Fi hot spots such as McDonald’s and Spark. Use the app CamperMate to find free spots.
  5. Charge your devices with a solar pack or battery pack.

10. There’s A LOT of driving involved

Travellers-Auto- Barn 1

Credit: Travellers Auto Barn

Somehow driving becomes a daily task that is almost unavoidable unless you park up for a few days in one location.

It is surprising in New Zealand. The country is small but to get to the places you want to see often you will need to drive for at least 1.5 hours. For example, driving from Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook which seems close together is still a 1.5 hour drive. Or, driving from Nelson to the tip of Golden Bay takes 3 hours. I do think driving time is decieving here in NZ.

Just be aware that driving is going to be tiring as I mentioned in my first point. This means you may want to think about parking up for a couple of days in one location if you can. If you are short on time just take this into account and take regular breaks and stop at the pull over spots we so often drive past because we don’t have time! You do have time on a van trip because it is all about the journey!

If you have a partner with you figuring out the dynamics of who will drive can be tricky. My partner and I decided to go for turn abouts. One person would drive and the next day we would swap. Even if someone drove 4 hours and the next days drive was 1! It was a little way to have a bit of a dig at each other which was kind of funny.

11. Living in a van is liberating

awesome vanlife

This isn’t a tip or something to be aware of or to prepare yourself for. It’s just something that happens after spending time living in a van. The endless dips in refreshing cold water, drinking wine next to the picturesque mountains. Diving into the salty waves, eating all of your meals outside. Laying under the stars and having no exact place to be are all parts of living in a van that sow deep roots in your heart.

There really isn’t a greater feeling of freedom and I am delighted to have experienced such an epic way of living. I’m even more excited for you to begin your journey!

Do I need insurance to live in a van full time?

If you are doing any sort of travelling it is a good idea to get travel insurance. Sadly it is not uncommon for vans to get broken into. At the time of writing this, Christchurch is a particuarly bad place for vehicle break ins.

I recommend World Nomads because they are great to deal with and have a budget plan. No matter where in the world you come from they have awesome deals! I use them to travel abroad as my van was covered under my content insurance as a NZ citizen.

I hope you enjoyed this article and learnt a few things to keep in mind before setting off living in a van. Some of these tips might be useful for you and some of them might be absolute rubbish. Everyone’s experience is different!

If you get anything out of this post I hope it’s the realization that van life will throw you curve balls and that’s perfectly okay! Just remember to be present, embrace all of the opportunities coming your way and keep your heart open.

For more van living ideas check out my articles on van life here.

Loved this article on tips for full time campervan living? Pin it for later! 

A pinterest image to save about this van living full time article

Looking for a campervan rental in NZ? I know you will love this post: how to choose the best Campervan rental in New Zealand

Looking to travel and work in your campervan? Check out my article on the best remote work options here. 

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