Whats the biggest mistake you made in vanlife?

Hi Everyone! I am writing an article for Project Vanlife and would love to know your answers to the question:
“what is the biggest mistake you made in vanlife?”

It could be not making the water tank big enough, not fitting a toilet, not having enough money put aside for repairs, taking your reluctant pets along, filling up with petrol instead of diesel, buying too large a base vehicle, being too confident with doing the fittings, spending all your budget on one specific item, anything that happened that you would consider a mistake!

I would love to hear your stories, good and bad, and if you’d like to, please include your name and/or links to social media so we can link back to you in the article. If you would prefer your answers to be anonymous, that is not a problem either, just let us know in your response! I’m looking for any pitfall that you fell into that we can help a new vanlifer to avoid!

Thanks in advance! Happy vanning!

LizB (Project Vanlife admin)

Not doing it sooner.


Greetings & Welcome!

Worst mistakes:

  • cargo vans
  • diesel engines
  • expensive vans or builds
  • somebody else’s DIY build
  • newer vans depreciate in value quickly
  • roof vents
  • solar panels
  • expensive batteries
  • any flavor of lithium batteries
  • sliding slat beds
  • 12v compressor fridges
  • having to build floor/walls/ceiling
  • no toilet/shower
  • plumbing that can freeze
  • insufficient or inefficient ventilation & climate control, or ones that require power
  • lack of a generator & battery charger
  • propane
  • anything complicated or expensive
  • all the bad advice from promoters & newbies with no experience repeating the promoter’s & influencer’s bad advice.
  • too many people spend big money, and wind up losing most of it.
  • all the “do it now” & “just do it” advice. Proper planning, patience, & practice are all better choices.

Best choices:

  • avoid any advice by promoters or influencers.
  • be very leery of advice by newbies, most make many mistakes they later regret, but rarely admit or report. Do your homework.
  • get a pre-purchase inspection!
  • cheap, older factory camper vans & motorhomes (preferably pre-computerized)
  • passenger vans or buses for DIY, tons of advantages & cost savings
  • being fully self contained
  • an inexpensive but reliable electrical system does not require solar, an isolator and cheap junkyard deep cycle batteries fulfill 99.9% of all my electrical needs.
  • a cheap generator & battery charger are essential for many people (never rely on solar)
  • No leaky roof vents or holes in roof
  • non electrical ice chest or fridge
  • non electrical ventilation & climate control (heating & cooling)
  • liquid fuel instead of propane
  • having your own kitchen & bathroom
  • a comfortable bed & seating
  • keeping things modular/portable for indoor/outdoor use without duplication
  • reliable, self sustaining income
  • multiple backup plans & an emergency fund
  • the time to start saving money starts with the vehicle purchase, and should continue indefinitely
  • never gamble more than you can comfortably afford to lose


"Always avoid complicated solutions to solve simple problems." ~ OffGrid


Thanks Axel, this is one of our mistakes too!

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This is great, thanks so much Van_dweller, lots to go on here!

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Hi LizB! No matter how many videos you watch and research you think you’re doing, mistakes will be made. We have barely begun our conversion and our first mistake (all the vids never mentioned this!) was throwing the old floor in the dumpster when we removed it! Now I see how useful it would be to have kept it as a template for the new floor we have to put in -sigh. Will update you as we make more mistakes.

Hey @Van_Dweller, what don’t you like about diesel?


Basically the total cost of ownership is about 3x that of a gas vehicle, with no added benefits.

Diesel mechanics can be hard to find in many areas, and the same is true for parts. Wait times to get it into a mechanic can be much longer too.

I’ve had diesels, and driven them at work too. I prefer gas vehicles hands down.


"Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." ~ Murphy