Outbound Collective logo

5 Lessons I Learned On My First Experience With Van Life

There's a lot to learn on the road.

By: Jessica Passecker + Save to a List

During my most recent road trip to go pick up my camper van, Dan The Van, I learned some very valuable lessons. I believe that something only becomes a mistake if you don't learn from it, so here are the mistakes I made. Hopefully they will help you Van Life dwellers out there, or anybody looking to start the Van Life.

Photo: Bo Baumgartner

1. Know the dimensions of the vehicle and plan ahead.

After my husband and I bought Dan The Van, we went to have the oiled changed. To make a long story short, the van didn't fit anywhere because it was too tall and we ended up having to go to a truck stop and wait five hours to have the oil changed. As fun as that may sound, it would have been much better if we could have planned ahead and known what places Dan The Van would fit inside. This information also comes in handy if you are going under bridges, into parking garages, and exploring cities.

2. Check the weather for the route and prepare for it.

We hit the road after we got the oil changed and we ended up driving into a blizzard. The snow was falling like blankets and we were worried we would end up getting stuck on the backroads. We were in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming and we had no propane, a half tank of gas, and one tiny blanket. It was a pretty scary moment but we made it through to the nearest Walmart and stocked up on the supplies we needed. Lesson learned: check the weather and get what you need BEFORE the storm, not during or after. This would be especially helpful if you are going any place that the weather drastically changes; driving up to the mountains, changing landscapes, or going up or down in elevation.

Photo: Jessica Passecker

3. Do a thorough vehicular inspection before hitting the road.

Upon exiting from the snowstorm and finally getting into warmer weather in southern Nevada, we decided to pull over to enjoy lunch in a small canyon. When we went back to the car, my husband realized that the front driver side tire was so bald the cables were showing. It was honestly a miracle that the tire didn't explode already. We had checked the tires before, but not well enough apparently. The part that was bald was the closest side to the vehicle and wasn't really visible unless you turn the wheel outward. If you're going on a big trip, and driving in remote places, it is so important to make sure there is nothing wrong with the vehicle beforehand. Things can go wrong on the road - it happens - but it's best to start fresh. Driving through different elevations and road conditions can speed up any degradation of your vehicle too, another reason why it's always good to do a little checklist of points to inspect before you start any trip.

4. Always carry the right tools.

When we saw that the tire was pretty much dead, we decided to limp Dan The Van to the nearest gas station 30 miles away. There, we would change the tire and check the spare to see if it had air. We were driving 20 miles per hour down a main highway when we got pulled over by the police. My husband explained to the officer what was going on and he offered to help us. We jacked up Dan The Van, got the spare tire out (which thankfully had enough air in it) and went to change the tire. As we proceeded, we realized our socket wrench that came with the van wasn't long enough to reach the lug nuts. We ended up having to put everything away, and continue to the nearest gas station. Once there, they called an emergency roadside service to come change our tire. If we would have had the correct tools, we could have changed the tire ourselves and saved all that trouble. Often during road trips, you find yourself in a place far from any towns, and without any cell phone service. If something goes wrong it's up to you to fix it, or figure it out, and having the correct tools there to assist you is a lifesaver.

Photo: Jessica Passecker

5. Keep a positive attitude in stressful situations.

This is the short version of all the things that went wrong during our road trip back from getting Dan The Van. The most important thing to remember when traveling is to keep a positive attitude. When we had to wait five hours to get the oil changed, we could have been upset and let it ruin our day. Instead, we decided to go see Mount Rushmore while we waited and grab lunch. When we drove through a blizzard we could have gotten upset that neither of us checked the weather, but we decided to support each other until we made it to safety. Keeping a positive outlook on negative situations opens the door for good things to come your way. I believe that we attract the energy we emit, so putting forth bad vibes, only attracts bad things, and vice versa. It's harder said than done, but with a little practice it will help you get through tough times and make you a better problem solver.

I am a firm believer that mistakes shape you into a better person, so get out there and let life teach you some valuable lessons! Adventure on my friends.

Cover photo: Bo Baumgartner

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.


A golden happy hour on the California coast

Hannah Sibley

Lake Tahoe's trifecta: 3 Days of adventure at Zephyr Cove

Ranz Navarro

10 Ways to make camping in Yosemite National Park even better

Meghan White

Review: Danner Mountain Light boots in Yosemite National Park

Hannah Sibley

Meet TINCUP Whiskey ambassadors Renan Ozturk and Taylor Rees

The Outbound Collective