Limited space, mechanical failure, and dirt everywhere mean living in a trailer or van isn't all sunshine and glamorous Instagram posts
With all the photos of shiny, happy van-lifers in stunning places clogging social media these days, it’s easy to get the impression that road life is as easy and carefree as an Abercrombie ad. Admittedly, Airstreaming has provided Jen and me some amazing opportunities and advantages over life in a moored-down box: simplicity, reduced expenses, fresh backcountry to explore at every turn.
But if we’ve learned one thing, it’s that road life isn’t all gourmet picnics and lazing in hammocks, and it isn’t the panacea to all your problems. If you’re too busy at home, you’ll likely be just as harried in a trailer or van—until you make the decision not to be.
Here are a few realities to consider before selling your house and hitting the road full-time.
Get Used to Claustrophobia
A lot of what has been written about the liberating glory of small houses is true—energy efficiency, less maintenance, simplicity—but 200 square feet also feels maddeningly small sometimes. My single clothes drawer is overflowing, which means that when I get dressed, I have to take out every piece of apparel to find what I want. Because space is tight, you can’t “not make the bed today,” since the bed doubles as a workspace, nor can you “leave the dishes for later,” because a precariously balanced pot of water is a recipe for a fried laptop (as I discovered the hard way). And with a single path through the trailer only big enough for one person, leaving for a bike ride or to go fishing can turn into a Three Stooges wrestling routine as Jen and I elbow and bump into one another, trying to get our things ready.
Something Always Needs Fixing
When we arrive at a new campsite after a day of travel, we breathe a sigh of relief when nothing is broken. That doesn’t happen very often. Hinges blow off, doors tumble, screws pop out of the wood, cabinet and fridge latches give way and leave piles of clothes and food that need cleaning up. This maddened us to begin with, but the fact is it’s simply a function of dragging our house over rutted, washboard dirt roads. We fix as much of it ourselves as possible. (We joke that we should buy stock in wood putty and Gorilla Glue.) But sometimes, like when our fridge fan failed recently and needed not just a new part but all new wiring, you just have to put the cold goods in the cooler, break down camp, and head for the repair shop.
You’ll Have to Give Up on Grooming
When 39 gallons of water must last one or two weeks, there’s no luxuriating in hot showers. (For perspective, the average American uses 17.2 gallons each time they bathe.) We shower on exercise days only, not daily, and even then it’s the Navy variety—get wet, turn off the water while sudsing up, then turn it back on for a quick rinse—which doesn’t lend itself to shaving and other primping. Recently, after ten days in the trailer, I checked into a hotel for work and was flabbergasted at the seemingly homeless-looking person staring back at me from the mirror: chain-grease-stained shorts, sun-scorched face, tangled hair, spraggy start of a beard. Road life won’t make your mother proud.
Give Up on a Meticulously Clean Home, Too
At home, we’re a bit neurotic about cleanliness, religiously cleaning the stove after every meal, sweeping at the first sign of dust or food, washing sheets and towels weekly, whether they need it or not. If we kept those standards in Artemis, we’d do nothing but clean. With the trailer open to the elements and us traipsing in and out through dust and mud 50 times a day, the floors are always gritty and the sinks water-spotted and grubby. Laundry can be a full-day endeavor by the time you drive to the nearest laundromat and back, so we tend to wear the same clothes over and over. At home, I’d never wear a chamois more than once without washing, but out here, it’s not “dirty” until three or more rides.
You Won’t Always Get the Most Scenic Campsite
Because Jen and I need cell service to work from the road, we’ve had to come to terms with passing up gorgeous, secluded campsites. Case in point: Our current parking place in Ketchum is a pretty spot on a bench above Trail Creek, but it’s also just 30 yards from a road. Up valley, there are much more private, quiet spots, but with no 3G, they were a no-go. Likewise, while the coziest (and most hammock-friendly) sites are often tucked in the trees, more often than not we opt for the wide-open places for solar gain to power our electronics.
Workdays Aren’t Any Shorter
Family and friends seem to think that Jen and I are on permanent vacation because we live in the trailer, but the truth is we work as much if not more than when we were home. With fewer diversions of home life (friends to visit, errands to run, TV to watch), work time is definitely more productive, but it’s also easy to work another hour to get that one extra thing done. Unless you’re mindful of boundaries, it’s easy to burn ten hours a day at the computer, seven days a week.