nubern van life dump tank

#VanLife Realities Instagram Doesn’t Show You

Lusting for #VanLife? Consider the rougher side of life on the road.

Scrolling square after square has you craving the lifestyle. You see mustard-colored Volkswagen campers parked atop dewy mountains with the sun rising just beyond. You see bohemian models watching the sunset between their toes looking out the back window. It’s dreamy!

I’ve been living a nomadic lifestyle for three years now with my husband Adam. We’ve camper-vanned New Zealand and now we’re exploring the United States via a tiny pull-behind. The beauty and freedom you see on Instagram is real.

However, there are realities to this lifestyle Instagram won’t show you.

To be honest, our Instagram feed won’t show you these realities either. Because who can take a picture when you’re using every extremity to dump 16 gallons of your stored sewage from a cheap, plastic slinky hose, praying it won’t explode all over you?

Here are five realities to #VanLife that Instagram won’t show you.

1. You Dump Your Own Dumps


nubern van life dump tank

With this lifestyle, you don’t just flush the toilet and it’s gone forever. Nope, for every dump, you see it and smell it again when emptying the black and grey water tanks from the van into the sewer system. For us, we generally have these “re-encounters” twice a month.

You lose conveniences like water, electricity, WiFi, and laundry, too. In a normal house, you can take those things for granted. Flick them on with a switch, a handle, or a button. When choosing the freedom to roam, you sacrifice these conveniences.

In #VanLife, finding and strategically conserving these necessities become top of mind and weekly responsibilities.

Here’s how we’ve set ourselves up. You can also see a video here.

Water supply

When we’re at a campsite with a water hookup, we have water like a normal house. Without a water hookup, we have a 25-gallon freshwater tank on board and an extra seven-gallon tank we keep in the car.


When we’re at a campsite with electricity, we can plug in like a normal house. Without a place to plug in, we have EnerPlex solar-powered generators.


We have two ways to get WiFi. We use a Verizon MiFi hotspot, or our AT&T cell phones to tether our computers.


You can find Laundromats in most U.S. towns.

2. Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Many new decisions come along with the new adventures. You have the opportunity to ask yourself every day: Where do you want to go? Where do you want to explore? Where do you want to stay? You are free to go wherever you want.

With so many decisions to make, it gets overwhelming. We call it decision fatigue.

Here’s how we’ve made finding a campsite easier:

  1. Find a green space (nature) on the map.
  2. Look at campsites around the green area.
  3. Look at the prices.
  4. Choose one that looks good.
  5. Explore the area.

We’ve found as long as we’re close to nature, we enjoy the area. And, if it’s not a good spot, we can always move on.

3. Dig Deep into Your Extroverted Side

It’s time to make new friends!

When you’re on the road, you’re in a lot of new places where you don’t know anyone. If you don’t reach out to the new folks around you, it gets lonely. This lifestyle gets you digging deep into your extraverted side to meet new people.

Here are some ways to make new friends:

  1. Chat with folks everywhere you go.
  2. Find local activities and events through bike shops and cafes.
  3. Stay longer in an area to meet more people.
  4. Meet likeminded people digitally on social media and meet up with them in person as your paths cross.

4. Sunny Weather Chasers

#VanLife is awesome when the weather is nice. The great outdoors are your yard, and you play outside all day.

But, when it’s rainy or cold for an extended period, living in a van can get claustrophobic.

Here’s what we do to stay in comfortable weather: Chase the good weather! When it’s summer, we’re up north. When it’s winter, we’re down south.

5. Packing Experts

In #VanLife, you pack up your stuff a lot. The van is your house and transportation, all in one. So, whenever you need to make a run to the store, it’s not as quick as it used to be. You have the extra process of cleaning up and packing up.

You don’t want your morning coffee mugs, the coffee grinds in the French press, or the dirty dishes to crash onto the floor or bed when the van’s in motion. Everything needs to be packed away in its place before you take off.

Here’s what we’ve done to alleviate so much packing up:

We bought a travel trailer. With a travel trailer, we can drop our “home” anywhere and then take off in our car to run errands or explore nearby areas without packing up all the time.

Don’t worry. These realities don’t outweigh the adventures and freedom #VanLife gifts you. However, they’re real aspects of the lifestyle you have to navigate and learn to embrace.

Well, I’ll never embrace dumping my own dumps. I’ll let Adam own that chore.

Lindsey Nubern is a GearJunkie contributor and freelance writer currently exploring the USA by campervan with her husband Adam. Follow their journey at

– This post is sponsored by Kelty. Follow their ‘Wander Lost Tour’ on the tour microsite and on Kelty’s Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter using #VanLife.