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Van Life Expectations Vs. Reality

If you’re considering joining the growing van life movement, you may have already explored some of the swoon-worthy #vanlife posts on Instagram, but nothing beats hearing about the lifestyle from someone who has lived it. That’s why we interviewed globetrotter Ashlee Potter, who has been traveling and living in her van part-time since 2019.

Here, Ashlee shares some of the unexpected challenges and pleasant surprises of van life, as well as a few tips for those dreaming of hitting the road in 2021.

Rec Van: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ashlee Potter: I’m a full-time leathersmith and avid traveler. My home base is Florida, but my job takes me all over and allows me to continue to travel.

RV: How did you get into van life?

AP: I’ve always loved travel and the idea of utilizing small living spaces. For a decade, I wandered the U.S. and 27 other countries on every mode of transportation you can think of.

I started my own business making leather goods inspired by my travels and found that markets were the best way to sell my products. At the time, I had just been diagnosed with some life-altering, chronic medical conditions and funds were low. Also, my trusty Jeep Cherokee gave out and I needed a new vehicle. A van was the perfect choice! Not only was it large enough to hold all of the supplies and displays I needed for markets, but it was also big enough to sleep in, which meant I could travel further and longer without having to worry about where I would stay.

RV: What were your expectations about van life before you started?

AP: When you look at van life on the internet or in books, you typically see people parked in magnificent locations. They often feature views with the doors opened to a cliffside overlooking the ocean, a swoon worthy outside set up with rugs, chairs, and no one else in sight… and so forth. While that may happen sometimes, it is not going to be your daily reality.

RV: Was there anything about the reality of van life that surprised you?

AP: I spend a lot of time sleeping in parking lots. Because of the van I chose, I can also get away with spending hours at a time using street parking or even staying in neighborhoods. You’ll probably spend a lot of your time trying to figure out where to park and where to sleep. Often, those beautiful van life vistas you see on Instagram are temporary spots before a van-lifer pops off to a parking lot for a good night’s sleep.

RV: Do you have any tips for people new to van life?

AP: I would suggest looking into laws in different areas regarding sleeping in your car. It is such a ridiculous thing, but there are some places where you can’t legally sleep in your vehicle. Even in a place where it is legal, it is better to be stealthy about it.

RV: Is there anything you would’ve done differently?

AP: Because I am only in the van part-time, I’m happy with my van choice. However, if I were to be in it more often, I’d like to have a small toilet, which would really open up overnight options.

RV: What has been your favorite surprise about living and traveling in your van?

AP: I love that I have a home I can bring anywhere. It makes travel both an adventure and extremely comforting. Is the café you’ve been wanting to try completely full? That’s ok! You have your own seating area in your van. Is the wait really long for an appointment? You’ve got a place to hang out. I try to find beautiful spaces in nature and just open my doors and read. There’s a huge comfort in that.

RV: What’s next for you?

AP: I’d like to get a larger van that’s more equipped for full-time living. That would allow me to look into seasonal jobs and bring my own housing. Maybe I could spend a summer working reception at a quaint Inn in Maine, or the fall at a pumpkin patch in Vermont. When you have a place to stay with you at all times, the world really is your oyster.

RV: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

AP: If you have a chance to live in a van, even part-time, do it! It’s lovely.

You can follow Ashlee’s adventures on Instagram at @wanderingashtree. Shop her travel-inspired handmade leather goods at Wandering Ashtree!

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