Whilst totally enthralled by the idea of travelling full time, exploring Europe, in our self-converted camper, it was important to Mike and I that we didn’t feel like we were living in some metal box, with a mattress haphazardly thrown in the back. If our little van was to be our home for the foreseeable future, we wanted to ensure that our home would be comfortable, warm, somewhere we would look forward to returning to at the end of the day. We wanted to thrive living the vanlife!
Here are ten things we’ve learnt along our journey, things you ought to know before converting your van and hitting the road.
1. Making your home comfortable is important. Insulate!
Living in a van when it’s cold can get pretty brutal, if you’re not properly prepared. Mike and I spent a considerable amount of effort and time insulating our self-converted campervan, in the hope that we’d stay warm during even the harshest of winter nights. We tested our van on the west coast of Scotland, during some raging December gales. If you can, install silver reflective bubble wrap and your preferred choice of environmentally (and human) friendly insulation – it’ll help with the heat, too. You’ll lose a lot of your heat through the windows, so hang up thermal curtains whilst you’re at it.
2. You can sleep almost anywhere!
Campsites are great for a guaranteed shower and usually, wi-fi, too. However, if your van is a stealth-camper, meaning you have designed your van to look fairly inconspicuous on the outside, then with some consideration as to where you’re parking, there should not be any problem sleeping pretty much wherever you like! The first few nights stealth camping might feel a little strange, but we’ve slept:
– Down dirt roads, in the middle of forests.
– In large cities right next to famous attractions.
– On the top of snowy mountains.
– In noisy motorway service areas and gas station carparks.
– On the beach.
All for free!
3. Food and Exercise are crucial to your well-being on the road.
For the vast majority of our food, we’ve cooked inside the van. We’ve found that it’s been really important to eat wholesome, sustaining and nutritious meals whilst on the road – helping your body and your mind adjust to ever-changing environments. Our food choices have kept us happy and healthy. We try to always have a selection of fruits and vegetables with us, and our store-cupboard is full of pastas, couscous, and other dried goods. It’s a lot of fun to shop at local supermarkets whilst you travel, and to play around with various ingredients that you might be unused to. Stock up before you leave with anything specific you might need.
Exercise is also hugely beneficial whilst living and travelling in a van, and the effects of exercising daily should not be underestimated. Go hiking, or if you can, take bicycles with you.
4. Keeping clean is less of a challenge than you might think.
Dry shampoo, natural deodorants, baby wipes, these are the basic components of keeping clean on the road. And, if you are a girl, you’re probably going to have to get used to using a pee-funnel!
Gyms, swimming pools, and Airbnbs, all can be utilised for great showers, but there are hot and cold showers you can buy for your van too.
5. Relationship highs and lows – ride with them!
When vandwelling with another person, tiny frustrations might transform into issues magnified tenfold by confined space and a lack of any sense of privacy. Practice empathy, understanding, and perspective. One of the biggest plus points of living such a life with another person is that the confined space will bring you closer as a couple, or team, and the experiences that you will no doubt have together will challenge, and strengthen, your relationship. You are living the dream, together.
6. You’re perfectly safe, but take precautionary measures.
You can’t thrive if your environment isn’t safe, if you don’t feel secure in your home. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher that is the right size for your van, and a carbon monoxide alarm is super crucial. Ensure you have a first aid kit and some basic knowledge of first aid techniques. Make sure your
most treasured possessions have clever hiding places inside your van, that you can lock, if you aren’t going to be carrying them with you at all times, and try to always carry your ID/passport with you. Perhaps invest in a battery kill switch, or an in-van security camera, if these things will help you feel more comfortable.
7. Making money on the road is a challenge, so you’ll have to be creative.
It isn’t easy to finance nomadic living, but, we’re living in an age where the internet allows us to plug in and connect with anybody, anywhere. We are also networking like never before, and this never-ending fountain of communication offers up immense knowledge, on any topic. Make the most of this, appreciate the resources you have, and realize that if you have a passion, there is more opportunity now than ever before, to pursue it. We’ve met photographers, bloggers, developers, and writers on the road, all making enough money to sustain their lifestyles.
8. You need more storage than you think, even after packing light!
We packed light before hitting the road, or so we thought. We packed just a couple of plates, a couple of cups, you get the idea. The very minimum, we wanted our van to be an exercise in minimalism in motion. Even so, we’ve found ourselves scouring french supermarkets for yet more storage boxes. You will accumulate more whilst travelling than you might expect, so plan for it!
9. A change of pace might take some adjustment.
Self-care and little luxuries are important on the road. A blender for hummus and smoothies, battery-operated fairy lights, a bar of chocolate, some coconut shampoo, solid perfume, or some peanut butter. Each person has an individual selection of things that can make them feel a lot more comfortable, and those few things are some of ours. Figure out some small comfort-items that you really enjoy and appreciate having around you, and bring them with you on your journey. In rough moments, or when you’re feeling a little tired or overwhelmed, these items will prove invaluable.
10. Home is the road (or the people you will meet)!
Living in a van and travelling full time, you’re likely to meet scores of others living similarly, adventurers and travellers redefining the bare essentials, and all looking for alternatives to life’s prescribed path. We’ve made lifelong friends on the road, though we might only see them once a year, or less – but this just increases our appreciation of these infrequent meet ups.
We believe that full time van-travel, waking up every morning to the endless potential of the open road ahead, and to sun-light pouring through the windscreen, or perhaps the sharp ringing of rain pounding on our metal roof, is an extremely rewarding, sometimes quite challenging, and wildly creatively inspiring way of life. It’s not for everyone, but for us, for now, our home is the road, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.