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    Our Early Day: Learning from Common Vanlife Mistakes


A broken jar of spaghetti sauce, a dented countertop and shattered plates, showed our lack of foresight.

Before purchasing “Denny”—our 4m x 2m expedition vehicle and beloved tiny home—our lives revolved around our house in Seward, Alaska and a comfortable motorhome we’d use for extended road trips and overnight stays. While we found some satisfaction with this lifestyle, we were keen to make the jump to a truck that could fulfill our shared dream of traveling the world. Don’t be fooled by the endless depictions of an ideal #vanlife on Pinterest and Instagram, the common vanlife mistakes will occur.

After an exhausting 18-month search, we finally found the right truck, a 2007 FUSO FG140 4×4. It seemed like the perfect fit, with only one catch, it was 3,900 kilometers away in the state of Montana. So, after boxing up many of our worldly possessions, we headed south. Brimming with confidence after two years of full-time RVing, we began our #vanlife adventure, somewhat unprepared for the challenges that lay ahead.

SWEET (TINY) HOME MONTANA  Montana and the surrounding states were the ideal proving ground for our first six-weeks in Denny. With a diverse terrain of vast mountain ranges, unforgiving badlands and huge swathes of prairie land, it was the perfect chance to test Denny’s—and our own—capabilities. We explored the Rockies and enjoyed endless rivers and mountains.

We spent a night high atop a cliff overlooking the entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Cody, Wyoming and marveled at a spectacular lightning and hail storm along the shores of Lake Granby, the large body of water hemmed in by the jagged Colorado peaks.

It was an amazing journey that confirmed we were indeed on the right path. Looking back on those first few weeks, it turns out the challenges we faced had less to do with our new truck, but rather with the two who would sit inside its cabin.

LEARN ON THE GO  We could write a book on the common vanlife mistakes we made in those first weeks and months. Our missteps began before we ever stepped foot in the truck. First, we shipped far too much stuff from our Alaska home, most of which was completely wrong, leading to monthly “spring cleans” to reduce the load.

Finding an ideal set-up that matches our lifestyle and our tiny home on wheels is a process that’s taken several years to perfect. At times, our motorhome experience had given us a false sense of confidence.

When we got the keys to Denny, we questioned the need for the bungee cords the previous owner had attached to the cabinets; after all, they already had latches. A broken jar of spaghetti sauce, a dent in our countertop and service for four turned into three plates and a bowl, shows our lack of foresight.

The list of times we got it wrong goes on and on…until finally we’d get it right.


ORGANIZATION IS KEY  We knew baskets would be a great way to keep the cabinets tidy and naively thought one trip to the store would be enough to get exactly what we needed. However, upon return, we found only half of them fit, leading to a day dashing back and forth in the parking lot of a local craft store to puzzle together the perfect fit.

Another tale of time wasted in less-than-inspiring locations was when we spent several frustrating hours in a parking lot trying to figure out how we’d managed to disable the truck after switching fuel tanks. Needless to say, the list of times we got it wrong goes on and on…until finally we’d get it right.

A WRONG TURN TO THE RIGHT PLACE  The challenges ranged from simple truck teething to full-blown frustrations, but the road oftentimes has a magical way of throwing you a lifeline. On one such day, we managed to take a wrong turn on our first “shakedown” trip in Montana and found ourselves lost in the mountains north of Yellowstone.

Soon we found ourselves greeted by a rushing river, tuneful birdsong, scampering deer and even turkeys gobbling in the tall grass. With the sun high in the blue sky, we took a refreshing dip in the creek—all signs we had arrived just where we needed to be—proving sometimes, even the wrong turns end up being right.

1. Expect the unexpected and learn to embrace it.
2. Don’t be afraid to fail until you get it right—no matter how frustrating it may be.
3. After fixing a list of “necessary” items, go through it again and cut it down to half—you’ll be infinitely more comfortable and happier.
4. Less is more, so try to pack items that serve a dual purpose.
5. Make sure everything has a place and is kept there—clutter makes for a miserable tiny home!

ABOUT BEN & REBECCA  For more than a decade, life-long travelers Ben and Rebecca Pazdernik have enjoyed life on the road, venturing beyond the glacial beauty of their home state of Alaska to roam the vast North American continent. Having built an international online audience in the process, in 2018 the couple purchased a FUSO FG140 4×4 expedition vehicle to embark on an extraordinary around-the-world adventure. For more, follow the journey on their Outliers Overland YouTube channel.