17 Things We Have Learned From Traveling In A Campervan – 1 year of full time van life living

When we flew back to Australia at the beginning of the pandemic and suddenly found ourselves locked in the country, all of our international travels (and work) cancelled, and no place to call home, the best thing to do seemed to be to buy a van.

Fast forward and we’ve spent over a year travelling all over Australia living out of our van and loving it!

Was it the best decision we could have made? Heck yes!

Over the last 6 months, we’ve managed to see a lot of Australia that we’ve never visited before. We travelled from Sydney down to the south coast, back up to the Warrumbungles, followed the ocean all the way to Far North Queensland and then back down to the Victorian border. We even spent 3 months camping in Tasmania!

Having our tiny home on wheels is a joy for us as we change our location every day and see so much on the road. It’s allowed us to have freedom and certainty in these crazy times, and we definitely have discovered a lot about ourselves, life and our home country.

1 Year Living Full Time in our Campervan – The Biggest Lessons We’ve Learned

We wanted to celebrate our first year of living in the van by putting together a list of the things we’ve learnt from living in Marlee.

Here are the top 15 things we have learned from travelling in a campervan for the last 6 months. 

Planning is Key

We have been spontaneous travellers for so long, making last-minute decisions as we move around 70+ countries with no real plans. Just going with the flow was always our motto.

We have found that when it comes to van life, it’s not the best way to travel if you want to save money and be efficient.

We didn’t make any plans at the beginning and we wasted so much time backtracking to visit places we missed (wasting time and fuel). Or, sadly, we missed out on tonnes of great destinations because we just didn’t know about them until it was too late.

We would meet other travellers on the road and they would say, “Did you visit X? It was the highlight of my trip!”

Nope, we missed it and now we have passed it!

Because of this we now make more of an effort to figure out where we’re going ahead of time and study maps and blogs to ensure we’re being as effective as possible with our route.

You don’t have to plan every waking hour. But having a general idea of the direction you’re going and what you can see along the way is one of our best lessons.

Plan, Plan, Plan.

Date with a wombat
Jarryd knew how much I loved wombats and planned to visit a free campground with lots of them.

Van Life Takes Some Adjusting

If you follow the #vanlife trend on Instagram, you might think the lifestyle is as easy as building a campervan, quitting your job and hitting the open road, fairy lights hanging from the rearview mirror with not a care in the world for the rest of your life.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not that easy and carefree, especially if you’re brand new to the movement. It will take time to adjust to van living

This is our 3rd van, and it still took us a few months to get back in the swing of things!

If you’ve never lived in a small space before, it can be a huge challenge. Add a partner and it gets ever tighter. You need to learn to move around elegantly and give each other a bit of room, as hard as it can be.

For us, the hardest thing to adjust to is not having a routine. Unless you’re extremely disciplined (spoiler: we’re not), it will take time for you to get your exercising routine back to normal or establish a proper work day if you are working online like us.

It’s the price you have to pay when choosing to live in a van. It’s worth it though!

The Campervan Community is Awesome

We love this the most about travelling around Australia in a van. We have met so many amazing people on this journey so far, and we know we are going to meet so many more.

If you want to make friends on the road it’s easy! People will start talking to one another no matter their age. Other travellers will give help advice to you and give you tips and where to stay. 

Whenever we arrive at a camp, we say hi to our neighbours and usually, a conversation will start up. It is so nice!

Being active on social media too helps us find lots of people to connect with through Instagram, Facebook groups and YouTube.

Don’t forget to follow us on social media, where we share the real story of what it’s like travelling and living in a van full-time!

Us Cory Catie Van Life Community
Meeting other people on the road is the best thing about van life.

Some Things We Thought We Needed – We Didn’t

Even though we don’t really own that much stuff (kind of comes with the territory of being nomadic for 12 years), it is crazy looking back on the last days of us packing the van to see just how much stuff we thought we needed.

A year later, we look around and realise there are so many things we loaded in that we’ve never used, or only used a couple of times.

When you live in a big home, that’s not an issue. When you’re home is only a few square metres, every item counts.

We listened to a podcast recently about decluttering your space and it spurred us to go through the van and pack things up that we couldn’t justify keeping anymore.

Excess cables, tools, too many clothes, activities we had every intention of using lots and never really did (sorry Slackline!) – they all had to go.

Have a good think about what you want to take, what you might use and what you think you will not use and leave behind. 

It is hard moving out of a house or an apartment into a smaller space and having to downsize your gear. 

READ MORE: Check out this post on all the things we think you should consider packing in your campervan.

We Need to Travel Slower

We have always been big advocates for slow travel, but we still haven’t figured out the perfect pace for van life.

When we travel slower our costs go down – less on fuel, less dining out expenses, less maintenance, etc. We can also dive deeper into an area, find all the great things to do, and of course get a good amount of work done at the same time.

The problem is when you’re travelling around a country as beautiful as Australia, you constantly get FOMO because there are so many places to go!

As a result, you can be tempted to keep driving and actually miss out on places you may have enjoyed more if you had travelled slower.

This is so much better in so many ways. By travelling slowly, you can explore an area for much longer, you save on fuel as you are not driving so many kilometres and you will not get travel burnt out quickly as you are resting between destinations. 

Take it slow and enjoy the ride. Stay long at places and enjoy the area. 

Don’t rush.

You can’t just park anywhere you want and sleep the night

This is one thing so many van life travellers think they can do. This is not the case. There definitely are free camps to stay at and they are designated but the councils. 

Some we found to be amazing, with toilets and free hot showers. 

We know of travellers being fined hundreds of dollars as they thought they could park on the foreshore of towns (where it clearly says “No camping”) and not be noticed or fined. 

Locals are sick of people doing this and report it to the council. Then the council worker comes down or is doing his or her rounds and puts a big fine on your windscreen. 

Don’t be that person and think you can park anywhere and set up camp. We learnt this quickly and are conscious of this. Please be a respectful camper.

We use the app WikiCamp to find free or cheap campsites.

READ MORE: Check out our post on the best free camping in Australia!

Marlee Millaa Millaa
This would have been such a great spot to camp but this is not a camp spot. It is a tourist attraction and gets busy so a visit is the only thing we would do.

You Are Busier Than You Think

I do not know how many times I say “Where has the day gone?” Time flies when you are having fun. We have found this to be true many times on the road. 

Between packing down camp, travelling to the next destination, seeing stuff along the way and then setting up camp, your day is full. 

We have learnt to have moments at the end of the day to take it all in. Sometimes on our own and sometimes talking about it together.

Personal Space Is Not A Thing Anymore

When you are living in a van with your partner, personal space does go out the door. You need to learn to really make time for it. 

Maybe one goes outside to read and the other one stays inside. You really become conscious of it as you do not want tensions to rise. We do this.

Jarryd exercises every morning and gives me time to read my book and do Pilates. In the evening, Jarryd will go outside to read, while I cook us dinner. 

You learn to work around each other and give one another space as you are living in a small space. 

Us working in the van
When you live out of a van together, there is no personal space unless you step outside.

You Watch Your Spending

This can get away from you is you are not careful. We record everything – all the way back to our first month on the road.

From a donation to parking to groceries to fuel. If we’ve spent it, it is added to our records. 

This is great as we know how much we have spent on different areas and what to cut down. 

I know one month we got a bit out of control with our alcohol spending (we caught up with a lot of friends) so the next month we watched our spending in that area. 

Keep a record and be strict with yourself if need be. 

You Become More Aware Of Your Consumption

When you are on the road full time you start becoming more aware of your consumption.

We monitor our usage of water and how much and how many days our 110-litre water tank will last. We monitor our electricity usage as we are solely on solar panels and battery power

We can not plug into a power socket and charge up. We keep an eye on the levels when we have work days as the laptops use a lot of power.

We are on top of how much fuel we use and how many kilometres we get out of a tank.

I feel like you need to be when you are moving. You know how much bills will cost if you are living in an apartment or home so why not a van? 

Coffee in Van
We try to cut down our waste and thing of the environment.

Not Every Camping Spot Will Be Epic

So many people think that every night we are parked up at a beach, with the breeze blowing in our van, breathing in the fresh sea breeze. 

Well, we are not and we have accepted that every camp spot is not perfect. 

Yes, we have stayed on the beach at some free camps and they were awesome but we have also stayed outside fuel stations and in gravel pits with a view on nothing. 

I know social media portrays van life to be all peach and you camp by the beach all the time, well it is not always true. 

Most people that post these types of photos, did not wake up here. Just keep that in mind.

You’ll be Sitting… a lot

When you are going from place to place, you will be sitting on your bum with a lot of driving. 

We have found this and that we are tired after a day of driving. To help our bums, we take regular stops and share the driving. 

We knew there would be days when we drive a lot, but when you are in a campervan everything takes longer. Prepare yourself for this. 

Van Silo 1
The distance between places is far in Australia so there is a lot of driving.

Hot Showers are a Luxury

We are not kidding. You learn to have a shower every second day and a cold one when you can. But when you find a hot shower, it is amazing. 

We have a shower in the van and shower in it but try to do it that often as we have to watch our water, especially when we are going out somewhere and there is no water tap. 

We have found in parts of Australia, there are hot showers for a small fee. It is awesome. 

You Get To Meet The Locals

The last year has been amazing with meeting locals. They are typically stoked you have stopped off in their town and are always up for a chat to see what you are up to and where you are going. 

Locals give the best tips and suggestions. We always have a chat with locals in the pub or when we are going for a walk. We love having a chat and have formed fast friendships along the way.

You Form Close Bonds With Other Travellers

We have met so many people along the way and have stayed friends with them. Some we met up with again as we were heading in the same direction. 

When you are both living out of a van you tend to have this bond straight away and the conversation flows. 

We have learnt to just spark up a conversation. Some stick and some don’t and that is ok. 

Meeting great people
Meeting awesome people on the road is one of the best things about Van Life.

You Kind Of Miss The Normal Things… And That’s Ok

We have found ourselves sometimes missing little (or big things). Yes, space sometimes is a part of that. 

It is running outside and you have been getting on each other’s nerves and you just want some space, and in a campervan, you can not get that. 

We learnt to adapt and put headphones on and float away somewhere in these situations. 

When we cook we sometimes would love more space to spread out. And sometimes I would love an oven to cook. 

But we have learnt, you can’t have everything and we love our campervan Marlee to bits and wouldn’t have it any other way. 

When something goes wrong, everything will be ok

I have learnt to try to be calmer in situations. Jarryd can handle them so much better, but my anxiety gets the better of me. 

When something goes wrong, I know it is all going to be ok. 

Even in the worst scenario, it will be ok, eventually. This is something that took me a while and I am still working on it. If something does go wrong, it is not the end of the world. 

Wrapping Up Our Advice

Thank you for reading what we have learnt from living in the van full-time for a year of travelling all over Australia! It does take a bit to adjust but it is worth it. We love this lifestyle and hope we have inspired or encouraged you in some way to consider life on the road!

If you’ve been on the road, let us know what you’ve learned so that we can share with others!

Happy vanning!

About the Author - Alesha and Jarryd - Van Life Theory

Hi! We're Alesha and Jarryd, the founders of Van Life Theory! We're currently travelling around Australia in our 2008 Mercedes Sprinter campervan and sharing our best experiences, stories, reviews and adventures as we go along. Make sure you follow along on our Instagram and YouTube!

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