I Love to Poop in a Home Depot Bucket: A Day in #Vanlife Paradise

The sprawling vistas on Instagram are real. So are mosquitoes, warm beer, and having to bathe nude in public.
The author and her wife savoring the cramped thrills of vanlife.
Photo by Jane Ozkowski

It’s 8 a.m., and I’m shitting into a Home Depot bucket as quietly as I can. Truly, I’m following my bliss, living my very best life out on the road, and by out on the road, I mean in this Walmart parking lot where I’ve slept for the past few nights.

My wife and I have been living in a short school bus and traveling through North America for two months now, and #vanlife really is as incredible as it seems online. While I may not be doing yoga on a secluded beach somewhere, I am sprinkling hamster bedding over my own feces and hoping there’s a garbage can close where I can dump it, hashtag wanderlust.


It’s 11 a.m., and after only a few hours, we’re ready to leave the Walmart. While this trip across North America might not be perfect, living in a school bus was the only way we could see the continent on the budget we had. Our bus is full of ingenious #lifehack #storagesolutions, and making breakfast is simple. All we have to do is take apart our couch to get at our bread, crawl under our bed to get at our peanut butter, and reassemble our stove from the pieces we stashed behind the passenger seat, by our front stairs and in our kitchen drawers.

A live-in bus on a cross country vanlife trip

The live-in bus where the author and her wife are currently making their way across the country. Photo by Jane Ozkowski.

We make it to Acadia National Park by 12 p.m. The sound of everything we own smashing together as we went over potholes kept us alert on the way here, and we only had to pull over once to close every one of our kitchen drawers after they all flung open on a wide turn. Sitting on the side of the highway, waiting for someone, anyone, to let us back onto the road, was a great opportunity to reflect on the beauty of nature and the wonder in the world around us.

We secretly dump a gallon of urine out of a cranberry juice jug into the visitor’s center toilets, then wait in line to ask the park rangers about hiking, wifi, and showers. Yes to hiking, no to wifi and showers, but #lessismore. We’ve got a pretty good data plan and a pretty big bowl we sometimes wash our hair in.

We get to a trailhead at 1 p.m., and I spend the next fifteen minutes trying to guide my wife into a narrow parking space. Eight people gather to watch our bus pull forward and back twenty-seven times, and I’m pretty sure one woman even pulls out a rosary to pray for us and the cars on either side of us.


Once we’re parked, I climb into the back of the bus and shimmy into my hiking clothes while lying on the floor. Our bus has fifteen windows with fifteen individual curtains, and we don’t bother closing them every time we have to change.

It’s 4 p.m. and we’ve made it to the top of the mountain we’ve been hiking up all afternoon. We eat trail mix and apples, and my wife tries to coach me in different poses for the perfect #hikespiration photo.

“You look like a meerkat,” she says, showing me her phone. “And in this one your entire body is facing one way and your head is facing the other.”

It takes half an hour for me to figure out how to pose like I’m one with nature, only for a man to walk into the background of our perfect shot. We have to take the picture again, because the only way to find true #innerpeace is to stage every photo as though you alone survived a nuclear holocaust, and now you spend your days looking effortlessly chic at abandoned tourist destinations.

A vanlife adherent looking out onto the water with her backpack

The #vanlife can be rewarding, but at what cost? Photo by Jane Ozkowski.

It’s 8 p.m. now, and we’ve made it down the mountain. We’re sitting on the roof of our bus at a picnic area and are splitting a warm beer straight from our battery-powered cooler. Our battery’s not big enough to run our cooler full time, so everything we eat or drink is kept at the perfect temperature for breeding the sort of bacteria that leads to nausea, diarrhea, and other severe stomach issues. #whatdoesntkillyoumakesyoustronger, though, and having violent diarrhea into a Home Depot bucket could be considered a cleansing and spiritual experience.


My wife and I cheers our matching enamel mugs that we paid way too much money for, and we look out at the smooth flat ocean and the sky changing colors like a pink highlighter leaked all over it. The rest of the tourists have gone home, and it’s just my wife and I and the birds and our bus.

We’re tired from our hike and full of the lentils and hickory sticks on toast we ate for dinner, and in the quiet of the evening, I can feel the world opening around us. It’s the whole wide earth showing itself to us, the thrill of possibility, and the humbling privilege of a unique human experience.

While we may not always be following our #bliss, there have been moments of utter amazement. We’ve climbed mountains and camped alone in forests. We’ve seen whales and rainbows and shooting stars. Sitting on our roof now, watching the sunset and knowing we could go anywhere and do anything, it suddenly all seems worth it, Home Depot bucket and all.

And then the mosquitoes come out.

We climb back into our bus and watch Netflix on the four-by-five-inch screen on my tablet for a bit, then head back to the Walmart, having completed yet another day of #vanlife paradise.

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