We’ve now been living full-time in our self-built motorhome for over two years!
On 14th October 2015, we packed up our tools after spending an evening working on our van’s kitchen and started driving away from our workshop along the A36 towards Salisbury, as we had been doing pretty much every day, only on this day we didn’t have a house to drive home to!
This realisation was one of the most liberating feelings we’d ever experienced, we could literally go anywhere, sleep anywhere, wake up anywhere! We were both still working full-time so there were some limits but finally having our home with us wherever we went was the most exciting feeling.
It took us a while to get used to our new routines, figuring out things like where to stay and how to get to work every day. Instead of mindlessly doing the the same thing everyday, we were forced to break out of our routines and start consciously making decisions about where we wanted to be and what we wanted to do.
We decided what we really wanted to do was travel.
We picked a date and set ourselves a savings target to work towards. The date got pushed back a bit, as anyone who’s every built a motorhome will understand! But eventually we got there and quit our jobs, then in May 2016 we set off for Europe.
We spent an incredible nine months travelling, all the while having the comforts and conveniences of our home with us.
When we eventually came back the UK we saw no need to move out of the van and back in to a house. We love living like this and we figured if we could do it and enjoy it in places where we didn’t speak the language or know the culture, doing it back in the UK would be even easier than before.
We’ve now been back for 10 months and so far have found this to be all too true. Vanlife is easy, enjoyable and above all incredibly liberating.
We thought we’d share our answers to some questions we frequently get asked when we tell people we live in a van…
Where do you park up to sleep?
The honest answer to this is anywhere! We’ve literally stayed in every type of place you can think of, city centre car parks, supermarket car parks, industrial estates, quiet(ish) roads in London, residential streets, the list goes on. Of course we have our favourite regular spots. Our general criteria is to not park right outside of people’s houses and to be far enough off the road that you don’t feel cars passing you when you’re trying to sleep. We prefer woodland car parks and big laybys where you can have the door open and not worry too much about hiding away but we have no side windows so are very discreet anyway.
In our two years of living in the van we’ve never once been asked to move from a spot, however we do stay on the move and never really stay in one place for more than a couple of consecutive nights. This is partly because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves and upset anyone but also because we enjoy moving around and waking up in different places.
Is it legal?
We often get asked if what we’re doing is legal. This is probably because it’s beyond most people’s comprehension of what’s possible and it goes against all the ways we’ve been conditioned to live.
In the UK it is legal to sleep in your car however there are some local councils that prohibit it in certain car parks and some roads, such as the new forest and some beach car parks. In these places it’s usually made very clear with signs. We wrote to our local council to get a conclusive answer for our area but they weren’t able to give us one, they don’t seem to be sure themselves!
Our approach is to be considerate, leave places as we found them and try not to get in anyone’s way.
How do you wash clothes?
This is an easy one, the launderette! Europe was brilliant for launderettes, particularly across Spain and Portugal. There are so many that have proper tables and baskets for folding your clothes, and even free Wifi! The UK isn’t as great. We struggle a bit to find good launderette’s where we live but have a couple around Southampton and Salisbury that we regularly use. As they have huge industrial machines we find we can do a month’s worth of washing for about £20, including drying.
Even though you have to cut down on the amount of clothes you have when living in a van, we find the best way to get by without easy access to a washing machines is to have loads of pants and socks! These are really the only things that you ideally want to be able to change ever day and they don’t take up too much room!
Where do you shower?
We built a wet room in to our van with toilet and shower which works really well. We did have a few problems with the purpose built plastic shower tray we originally had in there cracking apart but now we’ve replaced this with tiles and have a fully functioning bathroom. The only difference is we have to be more mindful of how much water we use, as we’re limited to the 120 litres we carry in our tanks.
Whilst we were travelling we used our own shower all the time, but since returning to the UK Simon prefers to use the shower at his work and Dee the shower at the gym – it’s just easier as there’s unlimited water and more space to get dry and dressed. Moving in to the van has certainly changed our general attitude to showering and we definitely shower less often, using less water.
Whilst many may see this as a compromise on cleanliness, we feel so much happier living like this. When we very first moved in to the van Dee did struggle a bit with getting used to the new cleanliness routine. Working in an office, she had some days where she felt like she physically couldn’t go in to work if she hadn’t showered for a few days, which just shows how strong the effects of societal pressures can be. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to shake this habit and now it really doesn’t bother either of us. We just shower when we feel we need to! Another way that vanlife has liberated us!
What do you do for water and electric?
We have water tanks bolted to the underside of our van that can carry up to about 120 litres of water. We have a tap at our workshop so can fill up there but whilst we were on the road across Europe we found plenty of aires and motorhome services with taps you could use for free.
For electric, we have two 115Ah leisure batteries which are charged by our solar panels that are mounted to the roof of the van, so we get power from the sun 🙂 This is great abroad, less so in the UK! We also have a split charge system which charges our leisure batteries off the van’s alternator when the engine is running. We have plenty of power to run LED lights, laptop and phone chargers, the fridge, the heater and our DAB radio. We haven’t run out of electricity yet although we did recently need to upgrade our original batteries.
What do you do in the evening?
This question took us by surprise the first few times we were asked it. We do all the things we used to do when we lived in a house, and more! We watch catch up TV & DVDs on the laptop, we read, play music, cook, draw and all that kind of stuff but now, where we have total mobility and freedom we also travel, visit places and people, go to gigs, go for walks, cycle rides, all sorts!
How much does it cost?
When we were travelling we set ourselves a budget of £10 a day each, this was for everything, food, drink & fuel. We managed to easily stay within this and had change leftover at the end. This is such a cheap way of living, not only because of not having to pay rent and bills but also where we’re more frugal with our energy use and buying ‘stuff’.
We spend on average £6 a month on gas which we use for cooking and heating our van and £400 on insurance, which we would probably be spending on a car if we lived in a house anyway.
Is it cold?
Not really, well maybe a bit! It was approaching winter when we first moved in to the van and stupidly we hadn’t yet fitted our heater. This was a mistake, a van with no heating is cold. We were fully insulated by that point but even so, when you start getting in to minus temperatures at night, that cold is quite uncomfortable, particularly if you have any days of illness! When we did eventually get around to fitting the heater we decided we wanted to keep the cost of gas down and so hardly ever switched it on. This was also a mistake. When we realised LPG was so cheap and the importance of being warm we decided to start leaving the heater on all the time during the winter months and set it so that the thermostat comes on to keep us at around 20 degrees. This is so much more comfortable and helps maintain the vans overall temperature better.
Where do you keep your stuff?
We’re renting a workshop to build other campervans so that gives us a nice amount of extra storage for tools and stuff. Simon’s parents also very kindly let us store some of the things we’ve collected over years of living together at theirs. When we were travelling we kept on board enough tools to basically redo the whole conversion which we stored under the bed. This was a little excessive but proved how much extra stuff we have the capacity to carry should we need to!
For storage we love drawers! We have 21 drawers in our van for storing everything – kitchen stuff, clothes, food, towels. Splitting our storage up in to drawers helps keep things organised and makes it easier to tidy up – we tend to find when things are in a cupboard you end up stacking them up and stuff at the back becomes less accessible so you make a mess any time you try to get a particular thing.
Where does your post go?
This can be tricky at times. When moving out of a house you realise just how many things you need an address for! Going to the doctors, borrowing from the library, signing up for a Screwfix card! Not many places have the option to be ‘NFA’. So we get around this by using family’s addresses. Mainly Simon’s parents who kindly forward on post to his work if it’s urgent or we just pick it up when we visit. As most things these days are paperless anyway it isn’t really a problem! We did have one sticky situation when we were travelling in the South of Spain and Simon realised his drivers license was about to expire, who knew they expired?! So we had to sort out having it sent to an old friend’s address near Barcelona and plan an impromptu visit to them. Everything always works out in the end 🙂
What do you do for internet?
We have a mobile dongle that gives us 20gb of data to use a month. This gets used up fairly quickly so we’re looking in to other contracts but it at least gives us enough to sort out the important stuff! We also massively appreciate kind friends who let us use their internet and shops/cafes with free WiFi!
How do you cook?
We have an amazing 1960s Calor oven that we cook everything on. The oven isn’t quite as predictable as what you’d have in a house but it can cook pizza and cakes so that’s all that matters! It also has a built in grill which is really useful for cooking.
What do you do about going to the toilet?
We have a Thetford cassette toilet in our van’s bathroom which we use when we need to. We make the most of public toilets whenever we have the opportunity and we aren’t opposed to the odd wild wee. We don’t use toilet chemicals in our toilet but pop in laundry capsules which mask the smell slightly. When the cassettes closed it doesn’t smell at all as it’s completely sealed off.
We empty the cassette in to regular toilets – again something that was much easier abroad when using the motorhome service ares. They even have dedicated toilet emptying facilities for motorhomes in some supermarket car parks!
Why did you decide to live in a van?
If you’ve read down this far then the answer to this question is probably clear by now. Aside from the freedom and excitement this lifestyle gives us, the main reason we first started thinking about living in a van was purely practical. We were both recent graduates and our combined wages didn’t afford very much more than our rent and bills each month. We asked ourselves, do we really need this or can we give it up? We decided if it was doable to live in a van, then it would help us break away from the cycle of working to pay rent and give us time to get more out of life than just working.
With housing costs being so high and wages stagnating, many people’s lives revolve around being able to pay rent. Living in a van means we’re free from worrying about money and so we get more out of life. We would absolutely recommend it to anyone who feels the same way.
What do you miss most about living in a house?
For both of us the answer to this is definitely having a bath! We loved our bath and do miss having a bath right there to use at any time with unlimited water! That’s about it really. Sometimes we think, oh it might be nice to have more space or a big sofa to relax on but we certainly don’t need those things in our life and it’s probably healthier to go without them!
If you have any other questions that aren’t covered above please do get in touch via the comments below!