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The Grossest Things You Need Know About Van Life

Is living in a van down by the river all that it’s cracked up to be?

More travelers than ever are deciding to hit the road and sleep in their car rather than spend money on a hotel room. But saving a few bucks comes with a catch!

Despite what you see on Instagram, living in a van isn’t all sunsets and bikinis. Some parts about #vanlife are straight up gross!

Before selling all your stuff and moving into a van, you might want to take some of these things into consideration. Because there’s nothing like waking up in the middle of nowhere with ticks crawling across your body.

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No Bathroom

This one is the most obvious, so let’s just put it right out there! While some of the more elaborate campervans come with a working toilet, most basic builds don’t have a place for you to do your business.

That means that when nature calls, you must go out in nature. The native van dweller can find themselves digging a hole in a backwoods campsite, which is dirty all on its own. Or if they are exploring civilization, there are port-a-potties and grody gas station loos dispersed about the countryside.

But the one thing all van-dwellers would agree is most memorable includes finding yourself in a situation where the only option is a bucket and a plastic bag. At least no one can see inside.

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Lack of Showers

Lack of showers in normal working conditions is one thing, but when you spend the day exploring outside it takes on a whole new meaning. OK, well even that’s not so bad; plenty of people on safari or backpacking long trails do it all the time.

It starts to get gross when you are trying to blend back into civilization for a day or two without a shower. After hiking a muggy forest in Washington, it’s hard to sit down at a Starbucks and use their Wi-Fi for a few hours without feeling like you may be imposing on other’s nasal space.

Here’s a hint: when everything around you smells fruity and fresh, it’s quite probable that you smell stale.

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Dirty Bedsheets

One of the biggest benefits of traveling in a campervan is that you have your bed with you all of the time. And one of the drawbacks to that is exposure to things that beds were never meant to be exposed to.

Cooking inside the van? That big flatbed looks like a good spot to place a cutting board for some food prep. Need a place to toss a sandy beach towel? The only spot available is also the bed. The bedsheets get pretty dang gross after a week of living next to your kitchen and mudroom and gear storage and everything else. Plan on washing sheets frequently.

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Muddy Animals

Admittedly, muddy pets aren’t so gross if you don’t own a dog. But for those van-dwellers who are traveling with their companion, they must become zen with a whole new level of dirt. There is just no good way to manage an animal who is exploring their wild side. Everything is new and exciting and full of muck.

The grossness comes after trying to keep things clean for a few months. After a while, that big splotch of mud on the driver’s seat that would have been wiped up before now looks “good enough” for sitting on.

Eventually, that mud gets transferred to your living area, along with some hair and drool for good measure. The things we do for the ones we love.

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Leftover Dishes

Most days dirty dishes aren’t so bad. In a van, there isn’t much storage, so they get cleaned right away. And usually, the cooking setup is not very elaborate so it is fairly quick to wash up.

But for those few times that you either don’t have time or ability to clean up a mess, whoa does it get disgusting!

Trying to figure out how to scrape yesterday’s hardened burnt spaghetti sauce off the bottom of the pot with only a few tablespoons of water…ugh! It feels like you need to wash your hands after washing the dishes. Letting things soak on the floor is asking for trouble, especially for those who are clumsy. Best to do the dishes right away when living in a van.

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Smelly Laundry

The dirtiest of laundry comes with an easy solution. You can just put it in a bag or container and throw it someplace that you don’t see until the next trip to a laundromat. But when living in a van with limited storage and fresh clothes, a new question pops up: What to do with the sorta-dirty clothes?

You see, the next time a laundromat will be available is in a couple of weeks. You have a sweaty-but-still-passable shirt that you know you will need to use again. You can’t put it with the clean laundry to spoil the whole bunch, and you can’t tuck it somewhere where it will get musty.

After pondering this decision many times, you find that your bed is covered with half-worn clothes that can’t be put away but also can’t be tossed on the floor, waiting for laundry day or to be worn in desperation.

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Ticks and Mosquitos

Ticks are gross anywhere, but the problem gets bolstered in #vanlife. For one, you are often in campsites and on trails where ticks are likely to be picked up. Now the issue is that you have to try to find the ticks in a cramped living space, often with inadequate lighting. If you don’t succeed, the ticks have all night to crawl around in bed with you to find the perfect hidden spot to latch on.

Mosquitos are another major issue. In the heat of summer, you can’t open up the doors for more breeze because the mosquitoes get in. And when they do, you’re left squishing them against the walls of your van, leaving little mosquito bodies dotted around your living space. Doubly gross if they already have blood in them!

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Actual Trash

Surprised? Trash in your van builds up quickly and really lets you know how long it’s been since your last visit to a dumpster. Unless you seal the trash off, you’ll find yourself getting whiffs of old hot dog packages and remnants of gas station muffins as you move about the van.

Moving the trash bag around the van is all fun and games until someone is too hasty and it tears or spills open. Then you have a proper mess to manage, and if you don’t clean up the goo quickly it will sink into your floor carpet and forever be a part of your travels.

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Dirty Feet

More than any other body part, it seems that feet are impossible to keep clean in a van. Dirt can work itself down into any shoe situation to create an un-scrubbable mark between your toes. This is one of the great mysteries of #vanlife and should be proposed for further peer-reviewed study.

Even with shoes on the whole time, at the end of the day, you will find that your feet are darkened with experience in the van. Scrubbing with wipes only delays the inevitable; #vanlife just leads to dirty feet.

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Getting Stuck

One of the problems with getting your van stuck is that you don’t have much choice but to try to get it out. This often means digging in slippery wet clay or deep sand to try to position the van for a better grip. Or perhaps trying to reach around a wet snow-covered wheel to try to fit some tire chains on.

In and of itself, this isn’t that gross. Most of the time people who are digging vehicles out find themselves back at home with a shower at the day’s end. In a van, you are stuck sleeping with all of the dirt you pick up. Because van-dwellers like adventure, the potential for having to work the van out of a precarious situation means this makes the list for grossest things.