Day 118: Don’t Retreat Back Home from Van Life

Home is where you roam.

Robert Gibb
My Van Year


Back on the road in New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

If you’ve decided to travel, work, and live from a van, you may look for reasons to return home like I did. The reason is simple: home is consistently comfortable and familiar and van life is not. You are always switching locations, trying to find a good space to camp or sleep, and acclimating to new areas. Don’t get me wrong. I think this is fun. But when you’re short on sleep and feeling stressed, it can feel like too much and going home can seem like a good idea.

It seemed like a good idea to me when I returned home about a month ago. I rationalized that I had to return home anyways for an important doctor appointment so I went home to Pittsburgh a few weeks early. I split my time camping in the driveway of my mom’s house in Warren, PA, and the parking lot of my dad’s HOA in Pittsburgh, PA.

I’m so grateful to have spent time with my family but Pennsylvania weather in April switches between snow and cold rain. Also, there are virtually no campgrounds around the Pittsburgh area. There are many places in the Allegheny National Forest near Warren, PA, but it was so cold that staying close to my mom’s house and sleeping inside some nights seemed like a much better idea.

Make van optimizations on the road

I also rationalized that I had to make optimizations to the van to feel more comfortable, and that I needed a single place to make all of these optimizations. With that in mind, I had the following delivered to Pennsylvania:

  • Ladder/tire carrier by Owl Vans. I was traveling without a spare tire because of the undermounted A/C unit. This caused some anxiety, especially when traveling on rough terrain in secluded areas.
  • Bike rack by 1UP. I love exploring new areas by bike but left mine in Pennsylvania because I had nowhere to store it when I hit the road in January. A benefit of returning home meant I could pick up my bike, but buying a cheap used one on the road would have been just as good.
  • Bug screen by The Bug Wall. On warmer nights, I enjoy keeping the side door open when the sun sets and I’m winding down inside the van. But, in most areas, I was unable to do this because bugs would infiltrate. The screen will also keep wasps out during the day. For some reason, they are attracted to the awning and end up inside the van.
  • Front cab air mattress by Luno Life. Chester hogs the day bed during the day and the bed at night. He needs his own space. Sometimes he will sleep on the floor but he doesn’t love this. He liked the front cab bed that my van friend custom built for her dog. Since Chester is bigger and I didn’t feel like building anything custom, I got him this.

Next time I want to have something larger delivered or make an optimization, I will have it delivered to a Mercedes dealership or another legitimate and relevant location on the road. Other locations include Hipcamps, RV shops, and homes of friends and family.

Fly back for events

As for the doctor appointment, I could have flown back. Chester could have stayed with a friend or with a Rover. This would have saved time and money. This is a good lesson to have learned for when I travel west and have a wedding to return to in Pittsburgh in October. Instead of driving back, rationalizing that I should return home somewhat permanently, I will park the car somewhere safe and fly back.

Move through van life slumps

Not retreating from van life often means not going back the way you came. Keep going in a somewhat steady direction. Don’t force anything, but also don’t turn back. Unless you are completely miserable for weeks upon weeks. In that case, van life is either no longer for you or you are not letting go into all the beauty that comes with it. There is beauty in home conveniences and static community, no doubt, but you can have that any time. Van life, not so much.

Next time thoughts of returning home consume my mind, here is what I can do:

  • Reflect on my previous posts about the best times and lessons learned.
  • Get an AirBNB and/or a Rover for Chester if I need uninterrupted relaxation or work time.
  • Make optimizations on the road to make the van even more comfortable.
  • Connect with people around me.
  • Remember the cold and rainy Pittsburgh winters! Let this motivate you to explore the country and find another place to call home.

Having a general travel plan is also a good idea. It will motivate me to keep living this beautiful life and not feel directionless. I have tried making specific travel plans before but those don’t work out. I either don’t connect with an area or meet someone along the way and want to travel with them, abandoning my specific plans.

Not retreating back home from van life is a powerful lesson learned since I have directly experienced the pull, as well as many other good people I meet on the road. People also like to blog or vlog about why van life sucks. Best not to read or watch this content, even for research purposes. At some deeper level, this life is no different from living in a house. It is what you make it. Enjoy the good and move through the not so good the best you can.