I Do Van Life, but My Partner Does Not — How We Make It Work

  • I’m a solo van-lifer for about half of every year, but my partner doesn’t join me on my adventures. 
  • To make our long-distance relationship work, we make sure to cut each other slack.
  • We try to do the same activities at the same time so we can chat about those experiences later.

I’ve been independent my whole life — I once found the book “Parenting Your Strong-Willed Child” on my mom’s bedside table — and I have no problem traveling the world by myself.

Those traits make me an ideal solo van-lifer, and I try to go off adventuring as often as I can. 

But when I’m not living by myself in a van, I share a house with my partner and two dogs, and my partner doesn’t like to travel or camp at all.

Read on for some of the ways we make bouts of long-distance work.

We find interesting ways to communicate and share experiences

I’m not a big texter, which isn’t the best trait when I have a partner who’s very communicative. 

When I’m away, my partner and I rely on something we used to do back when we were long-distance full-time: We do the same activities at the same time, no matter where we are in the world.

I can be under a sleeping bag in the foothills of the mountains in Utah and my partner can be on our couch with our pups, and we can still watch a movie “together” and discuss it afterward.

It keeps our conversations from being exclusively about boring aspects of day-to-day life — errands we’ve run, traffic jams, etc.

It’s important that we remember to cut each other slack

Say it’s 10 p.m. and you’re exhausted and just want a little bit of familiarity. You pick up the phone and wait to hear your partner’s voice, only to reach voicemail.

This can be frustrating and disheartening, especially if I’m feeling homesick, and it’s easy to let distance and time apart fester into conflict.

When I’m traveling, I remind myself that my partner has as much going on as I do and that missing a call or text isn’t a big deal. 

Giving each other the benefit of the doubt every time and realizing that nobody should be glued to their phones helps keep that anxiety at bay. 

I allow myself to make connections with other people and dive into new experiences

abbey's van sitting in a tree-filled forest over gravel road

I like meeting new people on the road.

Abigail Robertson for Insider

When I’m traveling solo for long stretches of time, it’s easy to let my partner become my primary point of human contact. But my journey in the van is about experiencing what I can’t do at home.

It’s about finding rapport with people from entirely different walks of life and learning self-reliance.

While I’m on the road, it’s important for me to remember that my partner is someone I can share thoughts and ideas with, but not the only person. And they’re also not my only source of joy.

I can’t resent my partner for their preferences and vice versa

Not everyone is alike, and that’s a good thing.

It’s tempting for me to imagine my partner on the road with me and resent having to do things solo, but I know that independence like this is rare for many couples. I get to be with someone I love while getting to do my favorite things.

I enjoy sitting by a campfire at night for hours and bathing in a nearby creek, but those aren’t things my partner likes. Accepting those differences has greatly enriched our relationship and our understanding of each other’s needs. 

We prioritize quality time together when we’re in the same place 

When I get home after a long time on the road, I miss it immensely. Even when I’m excited to be back with my partner, it can be jarring to go back to “real life.”

We make sure that when we’re together, it’s not just idle time. Instead, we do things I rarely do when I’m traveling, like dining out and going to the movies.

These shared experiences ease me back into living at home and give us something to be excited about. 

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