06 Jul

Living in an RV may look like a dream on social media but is not always easy. An experienced full-time van dweller reveals some important things you should know before starting van life!

Be honest: how many times have you had a bad day at work or in your personal life and thought, “Right, that’s it. I’m selling everything and going to go live in a van…”?

And how many times have you followed through? 

Zero, right? Because real people don’t actually DO that. That’s just for the Instagram models… 

Er, hi. I’m Kat.  

Van Life: The Reality Of Living In An RV 

In 2018, I quit my (very well-paid and secure) job as an air-traffic controller in London in order to go touring Europe in a motorhome. With no plans to ever come back again. 

We got a motorhome (like a class C RV), saved every penny for almost a year, gave notice on our house, sold most of our stuff, and headed off over the horizon. (Literally- we left the UK and headed into France.) 

Van Life: The Reality Of Living In An RV 

It wasn’t a “gap year” or career break. There was no safety net; once I left that job, I lost my competency and there was no going back.  

No pressure then… 

That was several years ago, and boy, it has been a rollercoaster! We’ve experienced incredible highs and some tougher times (such as a global pandemic and lockdown!).

Living out of the “norm” is not for everyone. But if living in an RV or campervan sounds intriguing to you, here are seven things I wish I’d known before I started doing it!  

7 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Living In An RV 

Van Life: The Reality Of Living In An RV 

1. Living In A Small Space Is Harder Than It Looks 

I lived on boats for 15 years. I thought I had the living in a small space thing DOWN. But, I’ll be honest, it was a lot harder to get adjusted than I thought. 

Especially when you’re sharing said space with a husband and a dog. Both of whom are very judgemental about mess… 

The trick is to have a routine and be organized.

If you’re an early riser (like me) and are working from the road, have a place set aside where you can work while your partner stays in bed, and have everything you might need to hand so you don’t have to get them out of bed in order to get your laptop charger (true story – my husband was not impressed!) 

2. Less is more. Much Much More. 

TOP TIP: you don’t need to pack as much “stuff” as you think you do. Promise.  

Campervan storage is at a premium, so make sure you only fill it with the things you really REALLY need. 

For example, when we first started motorhome living, we had four blankets with us. FOUR. There were only two of us in the van! 

We also packed a blender, whisk, and cake tins. None of which have been used. 

Now, to be clear, that’s not to say YOU shouldn’t carry these items. If you make smoothies every day or bake regularly, then by all means, add them to your packing list. The trick is to be honest about what you ACTUALLY use, not what you think you might use in the vision in your head. 

Talking of which… 

3. You Won’t Suddenly Become Healthier If You Live In A Van 

I’ll be honest – I thought when we started living in an RV, I would eat healthier, go for runs on the beach, meditate, and live on carrot sticks and fresh fruit. Of course, within a week, I’d look exactly like one of those Instagram van girls with blonde hair and no cellulite.

SPOILER – that hasn’t happened. I do get up early, but only because I have a dog. But we spend our time touring the UK & Europe, which has croissants. And freshly baked bread. And delicious pastries. So, I’m not a stick-thin model. Or blonde!  

Like it or not, you won’t change if you start living in an RV. And neither will the people you travel with… 

4. You Will Regularly Consider How To Get Away With Murder 

I love my husband. I really really do. 

But there have been a few (ok, fine… several) days on our travels when I’d have happily left him at the side of the road and driven off. 

Dead or alive. 

When we lived in a house, we were able to spend time apart in different rooms. He had an office, a garage, and a “man shed”.  

And I had a room where I did crafty things or just hid and read a book (oh, the luxury!).

But in a van, unless you get a HUGE RV, you don’t have the space to get away from each other. One space is all you get. For everything. At the same time. 

We discovered very quickly that my husband is LOUD when he’s on the phone with work. 

And he’s on the phone with work a LOT. Which made it very difficult for me to work, read, or watch tv in the motorhome.

So, we had to learn to adapt. I now do as much work as I can in the early morning before my husband or dog are awake.  

Then, I take the dog for a long walk while he gets some work and calls out of the way. 

He also had to learn not to completely rewire the van or mess around with the wifi while I was filming or uploading a YouTube video.  

It’s all about compromise, boring as that may sound. We were so used to doing things independently before that we’d never considered the challenges of trying to do it all in one space. Still, we’ve found a rhythm that works for us now. 

5. Traveling Full Time Is Exhausting 

Something which has surprised me is how exhausting it is to be always “on the road”. Traveling full-time can be really tiring unless you learn how to manage it.  

We learned very quickly that we planned too much driving and not enough time for sightseeing, gentle exploring, workdays, or just plain days off. 

I treated our trip like a holiday, and it was “go, go, go!” from day one. Within three weeks, we were almost burnt out, especially with no end in sight. 

We (I) have had to learn to slow down and take our time. Now we aim to do one day of driving and then a couple of exploring days where we stay in the local area and see the sights. 

We also now plan days off and workdays, although we do try to be flexible on these, so we work when the weather is not good and go sightseeing in the best part of the day.  

Too much freedom can feel overwhelming. Being able to go anywhere and do anything sounds amazing, but the options can almost paralyze you into indecision. What if you turn left instead of right? What will you miss out on? 

On the flip side, having the freedom to stay in a place we like for longer than we planned, being able to change our plans to accommodate last-minute invites or events, and not having to be back at work on Monday morning is one of the best things about life on the road!

6. Chores Are Still Boring (And Now They Take Even Longer!) 

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but living in a van doesn’t stop the need for chores, such as cleaning or doing the laundry. Even worse, most things take MUCH longer than they do in a house, particularly if you need to go to a laundrette or if you don’t have a powerful vacuum with you. 

On the bright side, you’re now living in a much smaller space, so it’s way quicker to clean! Try to do a little every day; it will make it much more manageable than trying to do a big clean each week. 

The other thing to remember is you will need to maintain your RV or camper. Be sure to plan time in to check and fix things that are broken. Allocating time for this makes life on the road run much more smoothly.  

7. People Ask Really Personal Questions! 

In the “real world”, how often do you ask people how much money they earn? Or about their retirement plan? Or what happens if they become sick? 

Unless you’re a financial advisor, my guess is not very often.

But, for some reason, living in a van makes people curious about the details of your life. VERY curious. And I don’t mean the other people you meet on the road (most of them already get it), but other people, like friends or family members. Or complete strangers in a cafe. 

I’ll be honest: despite living this way for several years now, it still feels oddly intrusive to have complete strangers ask about your financial situation. And yet, I know how I felt when we were researching living in an RV – we wanted to know everything. So, I try to be much more open with anyone considering changing their own life. 

Talking of other people you meet on the road, one of the best things about traveling by van is the community. Most people who live in a van, whether for just a short term or full-time, have a certain way of looking at the world. They are able to think outside the box and will encourage you in ways your “at home” friends might not.  

During our travels, we’ve been lucky enough to chat with some wonderful people from all over the place. We’ve shared beers over campfires with countless people who don’t always speak the same language, but we’re all connected by a common spirit of adventure and a love of freedom. I’m grateful to call a few of them friends.  

Final Thoughts On Living In An RV

Changing your life can be daunting. Heck, just moving out of a house into an RV is tough, even without the job change, the travel, and the million other things that go with it.  

The points above are things that took me by surprise or things we’ve learned along the way. Some are positive, some less so, but all of them have contributed to this incredible adventure we’re on, and I wouldn’t change our decision for anything.  

Van Life: The Reality Of Living In An RV 

So, if you’re thinking about changing your life, go for it. REALLY go for it. Obviously, do your research and plan your finances first, but it could just be the best decision you ever make.  

Feel free to contact me on social media if you need some encouragement or advice – I’m always happy to hear from people who are brave and living outside the norm. 

About The Author Of “7 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Living In An RV”

Author Kathryn Bird

In 2018, Kathryn Bird quit her job to explore Europe in a motorhome with her (slightly bewildered) husband and their over-excited puppy. 

Since then, they’ve visited 19+ countries and driven over 60,000 miles, sharing their experiences on the award-winning motorhome travel blog Wandering Bird. 

She is passionate about inspiring others to experience the freedom of life on the road, whether for a long weekend away or selling up to live a full-time van life. 

You can read more about Kathryn’s adventures, tips, and “How to” guides on their website or find them on YouTube or Instagram.


I have been fascinated by #vanlife and enjoyed reading Kathryn’s tips regarding living in an RV. I would love to try it one day, at least on a short-term/part-time basis, but I think I should work on my organizational skills first!

Before you go, you may also be interested in the below post.


Thanks for stopping by! 



If you enjoyed this post describing the reality of van life, please pin it on Pinterest to help it reach more readers!

***PIN IT***Van Life: The Reality Of Living In An RV 

Leave A Comment