Why I Wouldn’t Buy A Camper Van Again

Why I Wouldn’t Buy A Camper Van Again

I had a camper van for two years, and I loved it. As you can see from the title image I was doing things a little different than most people, but my little yellow cutie had all the functional advantages of regular camper vans, plus being a real force multiplier and work horse. And that actually makes my first point: I miss that work horse capability more than the camper portion of that build. I mean, look at all that workspace, I had a whole workbench on wheels that I could park anywhere to craft cool stuff.

Not even to mention the fact that he would transport a half ton of steel that I pulled from rivers with magnets, to give me scrap steel for cool crafting projects in the first place.

I constantly talk about those days to friends and coworkers, and rarely ever do I even mention that the whole back of the cabin was a sleeper cell, with a folding trunk. Slap an ice chest in there, a battery bank and an inverter, and you are virtually independent. I loved that portion, and so did my friends, the little yellow cutie was a hell of a party vehicle.

Eventually I sadly had to let go of it because I had bought the cheapest of the cheap, and subsequently had no money left for the highest of high repairs. But now, almost a year later, I am thoroughly through with the experience of a camper van, and I want to give you a retrospect on why I wouldn’t buy a second one.

A camper van has all the drawbacks you would expect

If your journey into the world of van life, digital nomadism and minimalist living conditions is anything like mine you probably started out amazed, then quickly thought ahead to give yourself a practicality check.

I knew right away that it was not just impractical to consider this as a full-time living situation, but downright impossible in Germany for legal reasons alone.

That doesn’t make the idea any less appealing, after all who is going to catch you roaming the interstates and backroads, and who’s going to care?

But there are other reasons getting in the way of going all-in or even half-in with a camper van. The first is simply logistics, of hygiene in particular. It’s annoying to find solutions to problems that society has long fixed, and taking showers or going to the toilet quickly become a hassle. As much fun as swimming in a river is, as frequently as you come across public restrooms – it just takes time out of your days to search for either. Not impossible, but annoying. Do it every day for even just a week, and you are getting slightly unnerved.

Power supply is annoying as well, even for someone like me who got away with just a power bank since I was never really doing long trips. Washing clothes is a hassle, drying them seems easy until the first time you get caught in the rain and have to „dry“ wet clothes inside your van that is anything but dry after. It’s a good life during good days, and a shoddy life on shoddy days. Which is not to say that it can’t be exhilarating, I loved reading books with rain dropping on the roof just as much as I expected it to. For the twenty minutes that I could concentrate on reading before getting insanely bored and lonely.

Even a stealth camper is not stealthy

Even though we live in times when van life is more and more acceptable and the quirky idea of old starts to feel awfully like a dystopian reality for many – a van parked in a residential street raises attention.

Park a van anywhere and everyone goes „oh look, it’s one of those camper van guys“. The street where I worked in the city had no less than fifty camper vans parked in the lots, and that is not an exxagaration.

And that is true both for regular camper vans and „stealth“ camper vans, those things just raise attention if your goal is staying in one place for more than a day or two.

It’s a lonely life at best

Before I get to the lonely part let me say that being lonely may just be the best of cases here – because the alternative is being surrounded by other campers. That is actually the worst, ask yourself how many long-term campers you know who haven’t lost their marbles a decade earlier and it has been downhill since.

Before you hate me, take this as the joke that it is, but campers actually are a weird bunch and I’m not sure if they are my kind of weird even though I like pitching tents more than hotel rooms.

But there is a loneliness to the days that is hard to describe. Day one feels adventurous and exciting, and day two is incredibly relaxing. But evening two, you start to get your phone out that you kept tucked away religiously before, and you start texting people who live regular lives in regular homes. You send them pictures of rivers, and they send you pictures of their couch, and each of you kind of envies the other.

So now you go to bed again, and the quiet solitude out there starts to fade into latent paranoia. At three o’clock you wake up by the sound of an engine as a lone car drives onto the parking lot and just stands there, engine running for ten minutes (this actually happened to me the first night ever). You lie there under your blanket in your much desired discomfort and start clutching the crowbar that your fingers gripped by accident, and thoughts of murder run through your mind when really you should be asleep.

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You realize how thin a wall you actually have around you, and that metal tent that seemed so protective suddenly feels like it has very thin glass windows, windows that you have seen break from being hit with stones like you are now surrounded by. You realize that your best bet in the case of emergency is to quickly get out of the blanket, jump to the front seat and start the engine to hightail it out of there. Then the car leaves, and you keep lying there awake.

In the morning a couple walks by your van and startles you awake, and this is when reality sets in to remind you that the world is a really small village, and true wilderness is not where cars can easily park.

A car can do the same things, better

What is a camper van? Let me answer that for you: It’s a hunk of steel that sits in your driveway, is slow and cumbersome to park, probably a pain to reverse because you bought a panel van that has no back windows.

Let me show you what my beloved Volvo V70 is:

  • It’s a car, which means I can drive it anywhere with no issues, I even fit into McDonald’s drivethroughs now.
  • It’s also a large car, big enough to fold the rear seats flat and comfortably sleep inside.
  • It is comfortable and comes with creature comforts that never really made it into the world of affordable vans.
  • I can drive it to work and park right next to the other commuter cars and nobody sees a thing wrong with it.
  • It’s fast, my old van could do a hundred, the V70 with the small engine does 200 on the few roads where we are allowed to even go this fast. I can overtake scooters now!

And the best for last: Absolutely no one sees anything wrong with a car being parked anywhere by the side of the road, in a parking lot, even residential streets if you wanted to park there.

It’s a tethered freedom

By all practical means motorized camping of any sort is a tethered freedom that gives you a choice of which parking lot, which campground you want to vacation in. I feel like I made the best of my setup since I was also using it for helping people move and doing my crafting stuff, without that it would have been a complete case of „might as well have done this without the van“.

I could have bought a motorcycle, a car, a bicycle, and a tent and backpack, and lived a „freeer freedom“ for a lot less money. I did that after school, traveling by bike and just camping wherever I felt like it. That was fun, I should do that more often now that I have literally everything needed and the money I might want to bring along.

The cheap alternative living form becomes an expensive passion project real quick

As I stated already full-timing a van seems impractical at best, illegal at worst, so now suddenly you have an old van that takes a lot to keep in shape. You have a brick of metal parked next to your regular car, and look at it every morning thinking that you drive this thing too little to really make it worth it.

Then, when you go on vacation you try to enjoy it double-time to get your money’s worth out of it, and it doesn’t quite work out.

So now you have upkeep, insurance, taxes, a fuel bill that is a little too high since you only ever drive short distances with a vehicle made for the long haul, and repairs that will quickly add up. You also have a hundred things added to your setup that require ten dollars for cables here, twenty for a water canister there. Oh, and you can never have enough ratchet straps, might as well buy another five pack while you’re at the hardware store to buy quality tools that you may or may not get your money’s worth out of.

It’s really not as cool as it used to be(tm)

Everyone has a sprinter these days, or a RAM or a Promaster. At the very least they have an old eighties VW that is freshly painted and cute and everything, with a surfboard that they never use.

When I bought mine I was the guy „who turned a work truck into a camper van“ instead of someone doing anything newsworthy. Not that I expected that, mind you, but the point remains that this idea of van life is so commercialized and standard by now that you can buy ready-made versions from the high-brow retailers if you have the cash to spare. So now you aren’t even the rebel living the rebel life anymore, you are just the sucker who got sucked into Instagram lifestyles that don’t fit their personality all too well. You know, like that friend who bought a beamer on credit and doesn’t even know how to corner in the opposite lane or honk at people going 140 in a 120kph zone.

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