The stuff they don’t show you on Instagram

It all looks very romantic when you see it on Instagram. I’ve seen the pictures. The videos. The couples that love each other to death Itheir romantic van and the lifestyle that comes with it. To be honest, I find it quite impressive that people can even make it look romantic. I don’t believe them for a second.

Van life. Camper life.

There’s just no way on earth that you can live in a van and have a romantic life. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is totally possible to live in a van. I also think it’s totally possible to share the space with other people. However, it’s pretty challenging and unlikely to be very romantic.

In the past five weeks, Heike, our two kids, and I have spent almost three in our camper van (and quite some more in the past). This is only possible because I share this space with the three people I love most in this world. Admittedly, most of these romanticized Instagram van life people don’t add kids to the mix, but that’s not even the main reason why I don’t believe what I see about van life on the internet.

When you live together in such a small space, you have no privacy. Zero. Trust me. Romantic does not exist in a small van that serves as two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. You can fluff it up with filters all you want, but that doesn’t take away the smell of each other’s piss when you use the Port-a-Potti in the middle of the night – or even better in the heat of the day. And that’s just the fluid factor. Heike and I made a sacred agreement early in our relationship that we would not ever take a dump in each other’s presence. This sacred agreement was brutally violated the first time we went out with our van. I’ll admit. It was me, first, and I still think my wife wanted to have some form of payback, so she followed up a day later. What can I say. Sometimes you just gotta go, and although I’m a huge fan of a back-to-nature squat in the woods, sometimes this is simply not possible. So yeah. The toilet situation is far from romantic.

Hiding other bodily smells in a small space? Impossible too. We choose to stay on campsites regularly, so we can take a shower every now and then. Alternatively, wash cloths work. Somewhat. Still, I feel like I smell more than usual. These van life muppets at least pretend to live on the road, always parked at the edge of some lake or some canyon. You do that every night, you’re gonna smell like a pig sty. There’s nothing romantic about a pig sty.

Less smelly (or well…). Laundry. Don’t these people have laundry? I appreciate a minimalist life style, but honestly, it’s not very practical on the road. Where do these van life people wash their stuff? They must hang out at the laundromat a lot. There’s nothing romantic about a laundromat. If they don’t, I’m certain that they smell like the aforementioned pig sty in a matter of days.

Food. Here there’s potential for romantic stuff. Probably it would work if you’d go out for candlelight dinner every night. (If you find a restaurant that is willing to serve your pig sty smelly ass.) If not, you’d have to cook in your camper van. I think our Ford Nugget has one of the best kitchenettes that you can get. We cook decent meals. But whatever we eat. Our entire van smells the same for a day. Food items, notably cheeses or overripe fruits give particularly pungent smells that also make for a non-romantic atmosphere.

Like I said. I don’t believe them. I enjoy the process of being out and about all the time, but it’s not all glitter and glamour. I think the only reason I can do this with Heike is that we have lived the majority of our twelve years together in small student rooms, basically from nthe moment we got together. We got used to being in each other’s space at all times. We were just joking about this. There’s always dirty laundry and at least one filled diaper within reach. Today we had to clean out rotten forgotten tomatoes in a cupboard. Our van is slowly turning into a laundry basket (we need a washing machine on our next stop). It’s all good fun, this camper life, but it’s probably the most unromantic thing I could imagine. So next time you like a lovely van conversion or beautiful view over a canyon from the back of a van. Just imagine. The smell…

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of one but almost two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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