At this very moment while I type this, i’m sitting in my office with a cup of coffee to my left, the door open to a grassy daisy-covered view, some Xavier Rudd background music, aaaand…. i’m in the back of a parking lot.
YUP, you guessed it - i’m in my van-home. Some people think me and Dom are crazy to live in a van. Others think we’re full blown hippies. But we like to think we’re living a pretty rad life.
So it’s time I wrote a blog on WHY we decided to move into a van.
After our 2018 travels came to an end, we knew it was time to have a home-base. We wanted somewhere to call home, but also somewhere we wouldn’t have to spend oodles of dollars on while we weren’t even there.
Since we loved the “#vanlife” in Australia so much, we asked ourselves, why not do it full time? We’re pretty simple people - neither Dom nor I have many belongings, we like easy meals, and we’re not fussed on things like long showers or AC, so it seemed like a no-brainer.
A few other perks of moving into a van:
We save roughly $200 USD on rent per week (that’s over $10,000 per year)
We can bring our home on all of our road trip travels and not have to worry about accommodation, ever.
We have the freedom to travel where we want, when we want.
When we do have trips (without the van), we don’t lose money on rent.
FINDING A VAN & THE BUILD:
In February 2019 when we made the move over to London, we took the plunge and purchased our very own van-home (and yes we’ve already created an Instagram for it like some sort of embarrassing new parents). We searched high and low for a while with a max budget of £4,500 pounds ($5,700 USD). Our main requirement was it being a high-roof van, long wheel base or XL wheel base, not too old, with a good mechanical history. After a few weeks of scanning the internet, we found our dream van… a big red ex-Royal Mail 2013 Mercedes high-top Sprinter. So not only do we drive a Mercedes Benz, but we also live in one. #Winning.
Van Cost: £4,200
We settled on a design after lots of Pinteresting, and then got to work on transforming it into a DIY livable space. That process needs a whole Blog Saga of its own though, so for now, I'll just show you a few transformation shots! Keep in mind it’s not totally finished, as it still needs cupboards, windows, new foam, a kitchen area, shower, and finished flooring, but it’s homey for now. My estimate that the total cost will come out to be roughly £10,000 (which if you read above, is almost the same as what we will save this year on rent).
A few of the major van life essentials we’ve discovered while building our little home-on-wheels have been:
A comfortable bed/foam. We talked to a LOT of other van lifers to get recommendations, especially since we were planning to use pre-cut foam rather than getting a mattress. We soon decided our foam was slightly too thick for our liking, so we’re switching from 6” foam to 4” pretty soon.
A heater AND a fan. England weather can change at the drop of a hat, so we have both on a thermostat to keep ourselves cozy no matter what the weather.
SOLAR POOOOWEEERRRR! I freaking love solar. We have one 200W solar panel as of now which powers our laptops, phones, lights, etc, but i’m guessing we’ll need to add another once our fridge and boiler are installed.
A toilet. You can’t just pop a squat wherever you want in England, especially while stealth camping, so having a toilet in the van is a lifesaver. We have a chemical Thetford porta-potti which has been an awesome purchase so far.
ANSWERING YOUR van life FAQ’s
Where do you park at night? Is it legal?
At the moment, we are stealth camping around the suburbs/outskirts of London. Since we pay U.K. road tax, we are legally allowed to sleep in the van, granted we’re not parked illegally (or on double yellow lined roads). We still like to keep to ourselves though and not draw attention to the fact that we’re living in the van, so we usually prefer dead-end roads or on quiet neighborhood streets, and we move location each night. Here are some of our criteria for a good van spot:
Not directly in front of someone’s house
On a quiet street
Decent internet signal
When we’re traveling, we use apps like Park4Night and iOverlander to find free parking spots or the occasional camp site if we’re in need of laundry and/or showers.
Where do you shower?
This week we’re getting a membership at the local gym for £23 per month so we can use the showers there (until we’ve finished the one in our van). Up until now, we’ve either used the showers at camp sites or at Dom’s family and friends homes. We are basically giant freeloaders at the moment so hopefully they don’t hate us yet LOL.
Where do you go to the toilet?
We have a small porta-potti toilet in the bathroom of our van! The goal is to only pee in it, but if one of us has an.. uhh.. emergency bowel movement and there’s no public toilet nearby (or it’s the middle of the night), the rule is that they have to empty it the next time around. I know some people don’t want to hear about our bathroom habits, but for those of you truly interested, we also utilize public bathrooms on the daily. Eventually, you get in the habit of looking for public bathrooms and using them when they’re available. McDonalds and large supermarkets are almost always a sure thing. It’s honestly way easier to get used to than it seems!
Where is all your stuff? Where do you store the rest of it?
Beneath our bed/bench seats we have deep storage boxes with lids that lift up, and we also are planning to put overhead cupboards in next month for clothes, food, etc. We don’t have a lot of stuff as it is because traveling so often has forced us to live minimally. We both store things at our parents homes, and have miscellaneous things (tools, winter clothes, fancy clothes, suitcases, etc.) with Dom’s grandparents too. While having a storage unit would be nice, it’s too pricey for a few random bits and pieces.
Are you living in it full time?
You better believe it! We moved in before it was totally finished (not the smartest idea, but we’ve made it work), and have been living in the van for 11 weeks now.
Do you cook in the van? Is it easy to make meals?
We do! We don’t have a fridge or an oven right now which makes cooking a little more challenging, but that’s all part of the adventure. Some of our favourite foods are simple dishes cooked in a wok, so we just use our gas burner stove to cook all our meals on. Some of our favourite meals are: curries, veggie burgers, ramen noodle bowls, Mexican wraps, and the occasional (weekly) chip and gravy sandwiches.
Did you do the whole van build yourselves?
We sure did. I can’t take any credit though, because I was just the assistant to Dom. It DEFINITELY helped that Dom’s a qualified and experienced carpenter, so he knew how to do pretty much everything from the insulation, to the walls, to flooring, lighting, power, and plumbing. He’s pretty damn amazing if you ask me, but i’m biased. As for myself, I did a pretty decent job of painting and handing him things lol.
How do you keep all your stuff charged?
Solar baby, solar. We have one 200W solar panel mounted on the roof, and honestly, it’s been more than enough to power everything up. I figured England wouldn’t give us as much solar power since it’s cloudy more often than not, but our battery is on 100% every morning and has never even dropped below 60% yet. We’ll see how things go once we get a fridge and water pump in though.
How long do you think you’ll live in the van for?
Hmm tough question - definitely for the foreseeable future. We really want to ship it over to Australia in a year or so if we can get our visa sorted out, so fingers crossed that pans out and we can continue living in it over there for a few years!
Do you feel safe?
Most definitely. We still use our common sense and don’t park anywhere that seems sketchy, although tonight Dom did want to park down a shady alleyway where squatters were hanging out LOL. Since we’ve been in residential neighborhoods around London lately we feel totally safe sleeping here.
How do you make money?
The question everyone is always dying to know! We do a little bit of everything. I do freelance photography, social media consulting & management, content creation, web design, brand collaborations, and other random bits and bobs that come up, while Dom does a mixture of photography, videography, and his regular flooring job. We definitely aren’t rolling in cash, but we also love our lives so that’s the important thing, right?!
What are the biggest challenges?
Oh the challenges! While the #vanlife hashtag on Instagram shows jaw-dropping window views, super chill vibes, and lots and lots of vegans, you can bet your bottom dollar the reality is not always that pretty. What you don’t see on social media is driving around trying to figure out where to shower when you’re on Day #4 of no bathing and you’re starting to smell a bit like a dumpster.
A few of my least favorite parts are:trying to find parking when it’s late at night and you’re exhausted; finding the perfect spot only to get politely moved on by the local police; not being able to have the door open all day due to shitty weather and then feeling the claustrophobia creeping in. But all in all, the pro’s definitely outweigh any cons, and the things I complain about really aren’t bad at all in the grand scheme of things.