You’ll Have a Lot of Time to Live in a Van Down by the River When You’re Living Through a Viral Pandemic

Instagram makes van life look effortlessly chill, but there are some major drawbacks

van life
It's all fun and games till it's time to empty the sewage tank.
Getty Images

A certain famed SNL skit declares living in a van down by the river the ultimate symbol of a failed life, a categorically unsavory lifestyle accompanied by a “steady diet of government cheese” and multiple divorces. In pandemic times, however, it seems van life is enjoying something of a renaissance, becoming an increasingly attractive option for many people who would rather take to the open road than wait out the pandemic in a tiny apartment.

Van life has some obvious benefits for a certain brand of free-spirited nomad, many of which have been heightened amid the pandemic. For those who have found themselves unemployed or working from home indefinitely, taking to the road may seem like a good opportunity to cut ties and expenses while traveling the world for cheap. But while you’ll certainly have plenty of time to live in a van down by the river when you’re living in a van down by the river during a pandemic, some van-lifers warn the lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

Speaking to Vice, some van folk opened up about the biggest drawbacks to life on the road, most of which include the inconvenience of having to refill the water tank and empty out the sewage.

“Constantly traveling to unknown places can be stressful, especially when you need to fill up your water tank and empty the sewage every week,” one couple told the outlet. While the van life may seem like an effortlessly chill lifestyle free of the stresses of normal urban life, the reality of life on the road comes with plenty of its own daily stressors. “If you’re someone who panics easily, this life isn’t for you,” the couple told Vice. “You often have to be your own mechanic, plumber or electrician, and there are plenty of unexpected factors. You need an emergency plan for any type of problem — sooner or later, you’ll have to use it.”

Even if you are cut out for the van life, writer Antonio Amaro says it still wears on you eventually. “After a while you do miss your four walls and a hot shower, especially in winter,” he told Vice. “That’s why I don’t recommend this life if you only want to save on rent.”

As blogger and “van life consultant” Daniela De Girolamo noted, “If you choose the van life, it’s because you don’t want anything to do with ‘normal life.’” And while there’s not much in the way of “normal life” to be had during the pandemic, taking to a van probably isn’t the best option for those of us still hoping to return to some semblance of normalcy.

Far from a symbol of a life led poorly, a van down by the river is now an aspirational lifestyle for many wanderlusty nomads. But as it turns out, not all of us have what it takes to be van folk.


Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.