“So, how are things between you two?” We hear this question a lot, and I think the subtext here is that two people living in a small space are bound to get on each other’s nerves, and that these conditions would put a strain on even the sturdiest of relationships. First and foremost, I don’t believe that van life is for everyone. It is a small space, and you are going to be living on top of each other. Throw a dog into the mix, and you’re looking at personal square footage in the single digits. I’d say that this environment has great potential for unearthing relationship issues. Some people need a great deal of personal space, too, and there’s nothing wrong with that; it might even be part of their psychological — or perhaps even genetic — makeup. And you can’t change that!
For Morgan and I, however, it has categorically brought us closer together, which we didn’t think was even possible before we set out on the open and endless road. We’ve always just gotten each other — no compromises needed or frustrations endured. Living in a van and whether or not this would tease at a loose thread in our relationship was never even a question, because we just knew it would work. And the amount of time we now get to spend together and the conversations and experiences this affords us, all while we’re pursuing and full-time living our greatest passion — travel — has been the most constructive, strengthening, and rewarding part of our journey yet. We’re currently working on our “mind-meld”, which will allow us to communicate exactly what we’re thinking and feeling without words, avoiding any kind of misunderstanding, ever. I kid, and of course we don’t always see eye to eye. But we’ve gotten damn-near to a coalescence of feelings, which I think is partly due to a few things we’ve discovered along the way.
1. Your space is unlimited once you open the door.
We like to think that the 69 square feet of space we share in the back of our van is only limited to the times when our sliding doors are closed., i.e., when it’s raining, really cold, buggy as all hell, or we’re driving. Once we open them onto a campsite, we have the endless expanse of nature to explore. We can spread our camp chairs, table, and stove out, prepare a feast, and dine like royalty under the stars. If we feel like watching a movie, we’ll set up our pico laser projector, hang a sheet on the side of the van, and boom, we suddenly have a 70-inch movie screen. We’ve found that the creature comforts of a static home were easily transferred to our traveling adventure wagon, with the added bonus of more opportunities for new experiences and those special moments we’ll remember forever.
2. Stay clean.
I cannot emphasize this enough: cleanliness is next to godliness. If you haven’t showered in four days (or even two, sometimes), you are going to feel gross. You are going to feel crabby. You are going to be annoying, and you are going to get annoyed. But after glorious hot water rains down upon your grubby brow, you will be rejuvenated and will find yourself doing backflips in the parking lot. It makes a world of difference, believe you me. Even if its just at the nearby Planet Fitness. And this also applies to keeping a good diet so that you’re clean inside and out.
3. Get rest.
A good night’s sleep makes all the difference. Our sociocultural norms don’t exactly promote ample, quality sleep as a hallmark of success, but the simple fact is you will be more alert, focused, calm, and pleasant when you’re well rested. On a personal level, when I haven’t allowed myself enough rest I usually feel fuzzy, find it hard to focus on complex tasks, and have less patience and empathy for others. On the flipside of the bed, if I wake up feeling refreshed after a solid 9-hour snooze (sorry, I need a lot of sleep!), I’m cheery, motivated, more sociable, and, well, I just feel smarter. It’s awesome!
All mind-meld jokes aside, believe it or not, you can’t read your partner’s mind. If you find yourself constantly questioning why they’re doing the exact opposite thing to what you expect of them, chances are it’s because the two of you aren’t communicating well, and your personal expectations of them have been somewhat malformed. I’m not trying to provide relationship advice but I know that when Morgan and I talk about what we’re feeling or are in need of — which we always try to do — it prevents micro-frustrations and keeps us smiling throughout the day.
5. Be A Team.
A lot of the time we are faced with scenarios that require both of us to work together to figure out a solution. Whether it’s finding a campsite, deciding on which route to take, or what the schedule of the day should look like, it takes both of us to get there. The most frequent quandary we face is navigation — one of us is driving and the other navigating, so we have to trust the other to make quick decisions about where we’re headed and how we get there. Other times, being a team means supporting each other when one of us is struggling — for example, with a lack of sleep, frustration with work, or if you’re generally just in need of a boost. Thankfully this is typically a 50/50 affair, but it’s so nice to know you have the other there to help to figure it out, make the day brighter, or to just take the lead.
I think the bottom line of all of this is that living in a van with someone else isn’t always going to be easy, no matter how good your relationship. But there are conscious decisions you can make throughout the day that minimize your wearing on each other over time. And I know some of these things are pretty obvious (shower, duh), however, they’re also applicable to maintaining a healthy relationship in general and can be useful to remind yourself of from time to time.
In summary, van life can be testing now and then, but we can’t imagine another scenario that could bring us closer together. Literally, emotionally, and spiritually.