At the beginning of this year, we purchased a dirty 14-year old Nissan Caravan from yahoo auction and spent a month converting it into our dream tiny home on wheels. We didn’t have much prior experience with van life or DIY and to be honest we embarked on the van build without much of a plan!
After four weeks working night and day on converting the van, we set off on a journey around Japan with the aim of visiting all 47 prefectures. We have spent most of this year as full-time van lifers and are approaching 200 nights spent in the van!
We have gained some invaluable lessons and knowledge while living full-time in our van and we have also made some mistakes along the way! In this blog post we will share our top 5 van life mistakes that we have made.
We hope that by sharing our knowledge, others who are thinking about starting van life can benefit and not make the same van life mistakes as us!
Our 5 Van Life Mistakes
1. Not buying a vehicle with a high roof (which you can stand up in!)
In Japan, it’s common for most camper van conversions to have a “high roof” which means it’s possible to stand up inside the van. We are often asked why we didn’t purchase a “high roof” vehicle and the honest reason why is because of the cost!
Vans with high roofs cost more and at the time of purchasing our van we didn’t have enough money to afford a “high roof” van. We knew we wanted to travel all around Japan during 2020 and we were saving every single penny that we had to make our dream become a reality!
Shota spent 2 months at the end of 2019 working in a factory packing boxes of bacon in order to save enough money to be able to afford the van we ended up purchasing!
Having a “high roof” in our eyes is a luxury and if you can afford the extra money and plan to do van life for a long time, then we do recommend purchasing a vehicle with a high roof since being able to stand up inside your van is more comfortable!
We love our van though and have got used to living in a small space without a high roof. It’s also convenient for driving along small roads but if we were to start again, we would prefer to have a high roof!
2. Filling all our storage areas to the brim
Another van life mistake that we made when setting off on our van trip was to fill all our storage areas full to the brim! It’s inevitable that you will accumulate things along the way such as new clothes, tools or souvenirs and if you have stuffed full all your storage areas then you will have nowhere to store the extra items!
We aim to fill storage areas 70% full and this leaves us with some room to store extra food like big bags of rice or a box of beer after we visit the supermarket.
When packing away clothes after the coin laundry, it’s also much easier to do so if the storage areas have some breathing room and you don’t need to pack everything in so tightly!
3. Not bringing durable gear
Since you will only pack what you really need when you set off in your van, it’s important that the items you do bring work well and are durable. If you bring a rubbish raincoat with you that takes one full day to dry off after getting wet, then you will waste time trying to dry the jacket and risk making your van damp.
You will be using the items in your van on a daily basis so it’s better to invest more money and buy better quality items that work well and will last a long time so you can avoid any issues.
4. Not making a routine
A mistake that we made when we started van life was having no routine. Since life in a van is very different to life in a house or apartment, it can take some time to get used to. Some jobs also take more time such as cooking or washing the dishes compared to when you live in a house.
Since we are working and travelling at the same time, it took us many months to get into a routine and organise our time. However, now that we have got into a routine, it has made our lives much easier and less stressful.
When we have a work day, we focus only on work for the full day from 8am-5pm as if we are working in an office at a regular job. We also use the planning tool called “Trello” to list all the jobs we need to do each week and allocate days to do these jobs.
Sometimes our routine can be messed up if the weather changes and we end up swapping laptop days with filming days at the last moment if we need to!
5. Not having time apart or away from the van
Living in a van full time as a couple is not always easy! Spending 24/7 in a small space with your significant other can definitely be challenging and it’s normal that there might sometimes be fights or arguments. We definitely have arguments every so often!
We have recently started spending some time apart each month, for example one person stays in a hotel for 2-3 nights while one person stays in the van.
Another recommendation is to spend some days away from the van in a place that has more space for example a rental house. By doing these things, it means each person can focus on what they want to do and have some alone time by themselves.
It’s not natural to spend so much time together with your significant other and it’s healthy to have some time apart sometimes! We wish we had started doing this earlier and it was one of the biggest van life mistakes we made!
Our Overall Verdict
We can’t believe that we have almost spent 200 nights in our van in Japan. The time has flown by and it has been such an incredible way to explore more hidden parts of the country.
We hope by sharing our 5 big van life mistakes that it can help anyone who is thinking about starting van life in Japan or anywhere else in the world!