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Van-Lifers Reveal Why The Romanticized Lifestyle Isn’t All It’s Cut Out To Be Online
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Van-Lifers Reveal Why The Romanticized Lifestyle Isn’t All It’s Cut Out To Be Online

Interview
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We’ve all dreamed about leaving our monotonous routines behind for a more adventurous lifestyle far away from home. A group of people have actually turned this fantasy into a reality, converting a van into their homes for months or even years.

But, as soon as they take their large vehicles on the road, many “van-lifers” realize that there’s more to the experience than the aesthetically pleasing landscapes shared on social media.

“Everything is ten times harder,” 23-year-old Siena Juhlin told The Wall Street Journal. Siena left her waitressing job in Missouri to explore the US West Coast.

“But everything is also amazingly beautiful and rewarding.”

Part of Siena’s journey involved working three jobs to recover the $5,000 she had invested in repairing the transmission of her white Ford Transit.

Photo courtesy of: Kahlilah Fleming

Meanwhile, Abby Joselyn, who hit the road in October 2022, said she got into an accident that took her van out of commission for five months. Still, she has no plans of stopping. 

“I had dreamt of van-life. I had seen it on social media.”

“I remember telling my parents that I wanted to do it. My dad was kind of skeptical. You know, I had my master’s, I got my CPA, I had a really good job. And he was like, ‘You’re really going to give all that up to live in a van?'” she explained.

Bored Panda spoke with Kahlilah Fleming, who spent a total of two years on the road, encountering various challenges along the way but also collecting treasured anecdotes she hopes to compile into a book someday.

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Kahlilah embarked on her journey after returning home from Germany. She spent a year there as part of a Fulbright grant program, an experience that confirmed her love for travel. Before that, she had immersed herself in a semester of study in Austria.

“I realized that I had hardly seen more than my hometown in the US, one of the largest countries on Earth, with every type of geologic feature (from mountains to deserts and oceans, islands, bayous, forests, caves, volcanos, and on),” she explained.

“So I decided to explore my own country, and a van made the most sense to me. It’s like living in a giant purse you can drive around.”

I ended up traveling for 6 months, saving for 6 months, traveling, saving, for 4 years total. Half of that was spent on the road.”

Image credits: Siena

The fact that she didn’t have a travel buddy wasn’t going to stop her from fulfilling her wish.

“I put off doing a van (journey) for some time because I couldn’t find a travel companion. Though, I decided that I would have the experience nonetheless, despite not having anyone to share it with. 

“It took courage to go it alone, though it was scarier in thought than in reality.”

As she explained, one of the main drawbacks was living without the basic comforts that are offered in a regular house.

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“You don’t have a bathroom or running water. So, where do you get your water from? Where do you use the bathroom five plus times a day? Where do you shower? How do you clean up after cooking?”

Additionally, she had to find a way to fit everything into her self-converted Honda Odyssey minivan.

“There is no extra space anywhere, not for your stuff or for your body to stretch out. And it’s a big game of Tetris, which can be a fun puzzle or frustrating that there simply isn’t space,” Kahlilah admitted.

“You are also more at the mercy of the weather. It can be really hot or freezing cold. Of course, you have tools to help with these —parking in the shade, fans, not being in the van during hot hours, feather blanket, hot water bottle, parking in the sun to warm it up, etc.”

“There is no extra space anywhere, not for your stuff or for your body to stretch out. It’s a big game of Tetris,” Kahlilah, who spent a total of 2 years on the road, said

Photo courtesy of: Kahlilah Fleming

Photo courtesy of: Kahlilah Fleming

As a female solo traveler, Kahlilah knew she had to be constantly alert to be safe.

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“I always think the best weapon you have is a good head on your shoulders.”

Just in case, though, she brought four Tasers, which she kept hidden in different places around her van—and one on herself whenever she stepped out. “Having them quelled a lot of fears, though I never used them.”

One day, she was woken up at 6 AM by someone banging on the window and yelling over to his neighbors he was going to get his gun.

“Once he walked away, I jumped in the driver’s seat and took off, so nothing came of that.”

A further safety incident she experienced was when a man started following her. He began by parking his vehicle next to hers and trying to talk to Kahlilah. 

“I immediately shut him down, and he drove off. Thirty minutes later, I took off and went to a store. Then I saw the man inside… So I left, and so did he.

“I pulled into the next public place down the road. He followed me inside.

“I stood my ground and yelled at him to f*ck off, and I stared him down as he turned his back, got in his car, and until his car was out of sight. I was super stirred up and scared inside, though I was proud of myself.”

From safety issues to exposure to extreme weather, there are many things to take into consideration while living inside a van

@geneandshay Replying to @ace 🎀🤍 why i hate vanlife #vanlife #vanlifetravel #vanlifecouple #vanlifereality #vanliferealitycheck ♬ Paper Birds (3 min) – Jordan Halpern Schwartz

While she was initially worried about feeling lonely on the road, she later discovered that her sociable personality would facilitate things for her.

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She explained: “I’m not afraid to talk to someone, so I talked here and there with those around me. 

“Combined with staying in touch with family and friends, I was surprised to find my social needs met and that I was fine.

“I didn’t so much make friends on the road; I just enjoyed those who were walking the same road as me at any given moment.”

In the two years she spent inside her van, Kahlilah experienced two accidents (without counting the two times she drove away from a hurricane). 

The first “headache” was with a small deer, which resulted in her having to replace the hood, light, and bumper herself. On another occasion, she hydroplaned and spun out, “leading to a dead van, though an alive Kahlilah.”

“That was the last hoorah, and I’ve been home ever since.”

“I have a bit of road fear after my big accident on the highway… It feels weird to be a little afraid after all the time I’ve spent driving around. 

“The road can take you places, but you need to have respect for it.”

Still, she doesn’t rule out the possibility of embarking on a new journey.

“There are roads I haven’t taken in other places. Perhaps I’ll try another country or continent,” she said.

“The hardships are worth it,” someone pointed out

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Marina Urman

Marina Urman

Writer, BoredPanda staff

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Marina is a journalist at Bored Panda. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she holds a Bachelor of Social Science. In her spare time, you can find her baking sweet treats, reading, or binge-watching a docuseries on Netflix. Her main areas of interest are pop culture, literature, and education.

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Marina Urman

Marina Urman

Writer, BoredPanda staff

Marina is a journalist at Bored Panda. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she holds a Bachelor of Social Science. In her spare time, you can find her baking sweet treats, reading, or binge-watching a docuseries on Netflix. Her main areas of interest are pop culture, literature, and education.

Ugnė Lazauskaitė

Ugnė Lazauskaitė

Author, BoredPanda staff

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I am employed as a Visual Editor in the news team. I make sure you have the best pictures near the most interesting text. In general all day I am looking at all you favourite celebrities facies and I am geting payed for it!

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Ugnė Lazauskaitė

Ugnė Lazauskaitė

Author, BoredPanda staff

I am employed as a Visual Editor in the news team. I make sure you have the best pictures near the most interesting text. In general all day I am looking at all you favourite celebrities facies and I am geting payed for it!

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kayrose avatar
Roan The Demon Kitty
Community Member
1 month ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

And then there's the van life family vloggers, where the parents get a huge a*s room and their kids are sleeping in a shelving unit.

tom_brockington avatar
Smart writer
Community Member
1 month ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Nobody thought van life was glamorous did they? Driving around a clapped out old van with a s****y mattress in the back.

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kayrose avatar
Roan The Demon Kitty
Community Member
1 month ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

And then there's the van life family vloggers, where the parents get a huge a*s room and their kids are sleeping in a shelving unit.

tom_brockington avatar
Smart writer
Community Member
1 month ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Nobody thought van life was glamorous did they? Driving around a clapped out old van with a s****y mattress in the back.

Load More Comments
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