How to live in a van whilst working full-time

We lived in our van for 8 months whilst working full-time at our office jobs

Whilst working on converting our van we got a little impatient and wanted to set off for Europe as soon as we could but it was nowhere near finished and we didn’t have enough money. To try and move things along more quickly we decided to give up our rented house and move in to the van whilst working on the build and at our jobs.

One of our regular spots outside of Salisbury, Wilts.

Living in the van slowed down the build as we were juggling our daily routine of getting up, going to work, cooking food and cleaning with all the dust and mess of a motorhome conversion. In the end it took us eight months of doing this to finish the build.

Living like this was sometimes difficult, especially through the winter when we’d finish work in the dark and wake up to ice inside the van in the morning BUT it made life so much more interesting and helped us save up the money we needed to eventually quit our jobs and travel.

So, here’s how we did it…

Where we showered…

Our bathroom in the van wasn’t fully finished until the last month of the build and as we both worked in offices it was kind of important that we were clean and at least slightly presentable when we showed up to work.

It took us a while to get used to living in the van and working out a routine for day to day stuff like having showers and at first it felt a bit like we were planning our whole lives around this one simple task but eventually we adjusted to our new lifestyle.

Simon was lucky enough to have a shower at work, so he’d arrive ten minutes early and have a shower which worked out pretty well. At first it raised a few eyebrows among his colleagues but everyone got used to it fairly quickly.

I showered at our local sports centre and combined it with a swim before work which felt really good! Inevitably there were some days when I was running late and desperately needed to shower so I’d just go in, pay for a swim session and go straight from the changing rooms to the showers, skipping the pool. No one ever noticed and if they did they didn’t seem to care. It was a  bit of a pricey way to shower, but weighed up against what we were saving it was an insignificant expense.

Finding toilets…

This is one of the least glamorous parts of van life. We fitted a Thetford C200 toilet in the van as soon as we moved in and planned to only use it in ’emergencies’ – like when we’re parked up on a residential road where a wild wee wasn’t really appropriate and when we couldn’t get to a public toilet.

We quickly learnt where our best local public toilets were and when they were open and managed to keep use of the Thetford down to a minimum but still, emergencies did happen every now and then and so came the thorny issue of emptying the cassette.

Wanting to keep costs down we didn’t stay on a campsite once the throughout the eight months of finishing the build and unfortunately the UK doesn’t offer anything like the aires you get across Europe so public toilets were our only option.

We managed to find a layby on an A-road out of Salisbury that had public toilets open 24/7 and if you got there after dark there usually wasn’t anyone there apart from a few truckers. So, like ninjas in the night, we’d whip out the cassette, empty it in to a toilet, flush it away and be back in the van, leaving no trace of the atrocity we’d just off-loaded.

Getting gas, water and electric…

Our original van kitchen...
Our original van kitchen…

For our hot water, heating and cooking we have a Propex Malaga water heater, a Propex HS2000 blown air heater and a Calor B600 cooker. We don’t think we’d have stuck out winter in the van had it not been for the heater, this made a huge difference and we ended up having it switched on every night.

Cooking in our slightly more developed kitchen...
Cooking in our slightly more developed kitchen…

Getting gas was no problem as many of our local petrol stations did LPG. Through the winter months we only needed to fill our 38 litre tank once every couple of months and it cost about £15 to fill up.

For water we were lucky enough to have use of a tap in a workshop that we were renting with a friend. We also kept a few bottles of drinking water in the van which we’d just fill up at friends houses whenever we got the chance.

Electric in the van is also nice and cheap – we have two 115ah leisure batteries that charge off the alternator using a split charge relay system, plus two solar panels on the roof, these didn’t do very much during the winter but even so we always had more electric than we could use.

Doing laundry…

Working in offices meant we had to be clean and sometimes go to meetings where smart dress was required or the company uniform had to be worn. We’ve never been big on dressing smart even when living in our house…I think the iron might have made its way out of the cupboard twice in the whole time we’ve lived together! So we weren’t too worried about getting our clothes perfect…

We used the local launderette to do our washing and they had big industrial sized machines so we’d only need to go once every couple of weeks. We preferred this so much to when we were living in a house because it meant we got it all over with in one hour a fortnight.

Parking up for the night…

Throughout this time we were parking out on the street, at the side of the road in any quiet residential area we could find that had no parking restrictions. This was pretty easy and generally we didn’t need to plan where we would stop too much.

As we grew more used to our new lifestyle we became less picky about where we’d stay and eventually found that we felt relaxed in our van almost anywhere, we even spent a couple of nights parked up in central London when visiting some friends and still slept like babies. We find that once we close the door we’re at home and completely oblivious to whatever’s outside.

Of course it’s always nice to be somewhere where we feel relaxed enough to have the doors open and through living in the van whilst working we found loads of great new places locally that we’d never noticed before when living in our house.

Frosty but beautiful view from the van one cold winter morning.
Frosty but beautiful view from the van one cold winter morning.

We parked up in lots of beautiful places; by rivers, in woodland and in remote countryside. One of our favourite places to stay was Stonehenge as it was only a short drive from there to work so really convenient but also just a great place to hang out and meet other van dwellers – see our post: The Van-Dwellers of Stonehenge.

Connecting to the internet…

Even though we were living off-grid on the road we still wanted to be able to use the internet so we signed up to a 20GB a month contract with a Three MiFi dongle. This has worked out well for us as Three don’t add-on any charges for using the dongle abroad.

It’s been surprising to learn how quickly you can adapt to a completely different lifestyle to what you’re used to and even though living in the van whilst working wasn’t part of our original plan, we’re so glad we did it. We’ve had so many great experiences, met amazing people and once you get in to the swing of it, you realise that it’s a genuinely feasible alternative to renting or buying property, even when you work in an office!

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