A former political analyst who quit their job to travel in an RV with 2 dogs shares the reality of van life that you don’t see on Instagram

not vanlife

  • Bree Contreras was once a political analyst who quit their job to spend their days exploring the US in an RV with their partner and two dogs.
  • Contreras documents their travels on their Instagram account, @doesthiscountasvanlife.
  • In a recent interview with Insider, Contreras shared the hard parts of van life that aren't often talked about on social media.
  • Contreras shared how hard it is to get their RV serviced, the lack of Black and queer representation in the community, and how lonely life on the road can be.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Before moving into an RV, Bree Contreras said their job as a political analyst felt all-consuming.

"Very quickly, I started to feel like I just wasn't in my own life anymore," Contreras told Insider. "I just wanted to be out hiking with my dogs and not paying rent."

Contreras, who was living in Houston, Texas, at the time said they hated feeling like they were working hard just to afford a place to live without time to do anything else.

So they bought an RV for $2,000 in the summer of 2018 and quit their job in October with about $5,000 in savings. By November, Contreras was working on the RV full-time in San Antonio, Texas, and they were on the road with their partner and two dogs by the time the coronavirus pandemic hit. Contreras, who is now working full-time as a freelance writer and photographer, is currently staying in Texas to prevent the spread of the virus, according to a recent Instagram post.

Since Contreras joined the road-life community, they said they've experienced both logistical and mental hardships, like what to do when the RV needs to be serviced and how to deal with loneliness. 

Contreras sits in their doorway with their two pups.
Courtesy of Bree Contreras

Contreras made the Instagram account @doesthiscountasvanlife soon after purchasing the RV

"One of my friends said I should make an Instagram account for this," they said. "I was like, 'no one cares. This is dumb,' but I did it anyway." Now, Contreras' Instagram account has over 10,000 followers.

Knowing that they weren't going to be living in an actual van, Contreras came up with the name "does this count as van life" to play on the popular "van life" trend. Van life has become increasingly popular as people consider safer ways to travel during the pandemic.

The name — @doesthiscountasvanlife — was initially just a placeholder, but Contreras said they haven't thought of anything better.

"I've yet to come across a better name because every step of the way I'm still questioning it," they said. "I'm like, 'is this it, am I doing it yet?'"

Regardless of what they call it, Contreras loves their life on the road, but they admit that van life comes with a few challenges that you don't see on social media.

Contreras says road life is only just starting to become more diverse

Contreras is a Black, queer person who says they're only just starting to see themselves represented in the road-life community. 

"I've seen a few people kind of similar to myself moving into RVs. And I'm so stoked because it feels like a shift in the tides, but I see mostly middle class, retired adults at RV parks," Contreras said. "And they're very rarely Black, in my experience." 

As a queer, Black person, Contreras said they experience issues on the road that their heterosexual, white counterparts likely do not think about, like fearing stopping at a gas station in some rural parts of the US.

Contreras said that sometimes when they walk into a gas station, they immediately turn around and leave. 

"There are people staring me down, trying to get me to leave with their eyes," Contreras said, "and it's not worth it."

Contreras works on their bed inside the RV.
Courtesy of Bree Contreras

Contreras shared some common road troubles that people rarely talk about

Contreras has found that a lot of the hardships of life on the road aren't often shared on Instagram.

One significant problem Contreras didn't anticipate was how difficult it would be to find an auto shop that could work on the RV.

"Some shops just can't take it because it's so big, which really puts you in a bind if something happens and you need professional help," Contreras said. 

Contreras' RV gets towed to be serviced.
Courtesy of Bree Contreras

And when you do get help, Contreras said it often takes longer to fix an RV than it would a smaller vehicle, and you have to consider where you will stay.

"It's your house also, so you can either meet up with a friend in the area, find a place to stay, or sleep in the shop," they told Insider.

Aside from common problems, Contreras said that some inherent aspects of road life are simply not fun

Aside from logistics like these, Contreras says that there are things about living on the road that are just plain unpleasant, and they said no one really talks about them.

"I personally hate the hassle of packing up and shifting between driving mode and house mode," Contreras said. "Whenever you get settled, you have to get unsettled."

And because of the size of their RV, Contreras said they can't go through drive-thru restaurants. 

"That's very inconvenient in the covid era," they said.

The inside of Contreras' RV is seen.
Courtesy of Bree Contreras

Another thing no one talks about is how lonely road life can get, Contreras said. 

"There's a lot of time to be by yourself with your thoughts," they said. "And sometimes that's hard to do, especially in a pandemic, when you can't just drive to where other people are when you get lonely."

Regardless, Contreras values the freedom of their not-quite-van life on the road.

"Some days on the road are not so great, but when they're good, they're amazing," they said.

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