5 things we didn’t know about van life until we tried it
Since we began our full-time housesitting adventure almost three years ago, we’ve been curious about van life. The idea of living minimally, in a small home on wheels that can only fit your essentials, is not a far cry from how we live now.
We’ve often thought that van life, interspersed with housesitting, would be the perfect set up for us – we’d have a base to call our own between housesits and there’d be less pressure to line up dates exactly. Over the years we’ve watched countless YouTube videos from full-time van lifers (we highly recommend Eamon and Bec’s channel), we’ve followed dozens of van life accounts across social media, and recently we’ve started looking into realising our own van life dreams by researching different models and layouts.
The Covid pandemic gave us an unexpected opportunity to slow down and consider the next stage of our travels. After many, many conversations talking about vans we decided to take the first step, and hired a van for week-long adventure to get a taste for van living! We used Quirky Campers to find the perfect match to house us on our van adventure. For more information about our first experience with van life, check out our blog post detailing our week with Homer Roamer!
Living the van life for the first time felt epic and we had an incredible time exploring the Lake District and Scotland, parking up when we felt like it and calling that lay-by or car park home for the day. There were elements of van life that we fully expected when embarking on our trip, but some more niche things came though over our time in Homer, which made us realise there’s a lot more to it than you see in #VanLife Instagram posts. Here we’ll go through 5 of those niche things, and how they shaped our first van life adventure!
1- The importance of stretching
We’re not great at taking things slowly – we get excited upon arrival in a new place and tend to dive headfirst into exploring! On day two of our van-venture we spent the best part of the day hiking 10km across steep fells in the Lake District. The next morning we started the day gently, reaching for the kettle from our cosy bed to pour ourselves a cup of tea, and simply pulling down the breakfast table to make ourselves breakfast in bed while still tucked up under the blanket. When it came to moving on and exploring our next place, we suddenly found our legs were aching and our backs were stiff.
It was then we discussed the fact that, when living in a regular house, you tend to stretch yourself out naturally in the morning. You get out of bed, your feet hit the floor and you walk to the bathroom, you walk to the kitchen for breakfast, you might stretch your arms overhead while waiting for a cuppa to brew before having a shower and stretching out every which way as you pull on fresh clothes for the day ahead. None of that in a 60ish-square-foot van. With everything in arm’s reach, we didn’t stretch our legs until we began walking for the day. Now we see why so many van lifers practice yoga, or go hiking or running – moving your body becomes even more vital when living in a smaller space.
2- Constant driving
It might seem an obvious one, but when your vehicle is your home you’ll spend a lot of time in it, and half of that time will be while driving. We reasoned that we were taking a dedicated week-long trip to explore Scotland and the Lake District, which involves a lot of driving in any vehicle, but it’s also necessary when living in a van full time as you need to find places to sleep each night. It’s not always possible to stay in the same spot for more than one night, which involves moving on constantly. We purposely chose to explore in rural countryside so were treated to a plethora of picturesque park up spots where we felt safe and comfortable staying the night, but we can imagine it gets tiring in and around cities where it’s harder to find legal places to camp for the night. Luckily, Chris found there wasn’t much difference between driving the van and driving our car once we’d got used to the bigger size!
3- Toilets are everywhere!
We asked for the option to have a porta-potty in the van when we hired it, thinking that it would be an absolute necessity and probably safer in Covid times. For eight days, we didn’t have to use it once. Public toilets, in Scotland and the Lake District at least, are aplenty and the ones we used over the course of our trip were probably the cleanest they’ve ever been, due to government guidelines inspiring more regular and thorough cleaning procedures. On the few occasions we were without a bathroom, it was nice to get back to nature with a wild wee! We’ve never had such picturesque views for a bathroom break.
4- If you want to stealth camp, don’t paint your van yellow
‘Stealth camping’ in the van life community refers to owning a nondescript white van, with no part of the exterior giving away that it’s lived in full time, and parking up in an area where it’s not permitted to camp but getting away with it due to blending in as a regular vehicle. Homer, our rented home on wheels, was bright white and yellow (no prizes for guessing how he got his name).
We had no plans to stealth camp over our week together, and this was probably for the best. Everywhere we parked, people couldn’t help but look at Homer – he stood out like a shiny yellow beacon amongst other white or black vans and motorhomes. We overheard people talking about the colour as they passed, and found we could spot him in a campsite from the very tip-top of fells we hiked. While not-so-stealthy, a few people took pictures of him and we like to think they were just admiring his beauty.
5- Van life is an instant magnet for like-minded people
While we may have turned quite a few heads while driving Homer, we can’t say we minded too much! Our stand-out yellow home for the week became the starting point for many conversations with friendly locals, who asked us about our trip, our plans, our travels. We were given recommendations for quiet park up spots and local places to visit, as well as talking to other van owners about their set ups. Living in a van became a social activity for us as the week went on, and we attracted more and more people to talk to us (from a safe two metre distance) from the side door of what was effectively our kitchen / living room / bedroom.
In the past we’ve walked by the open side of a van, getting a fleeting glimpse of someone’s converted living room, and failing to pluck up the courage to talk to the inhabitants. Now we’ve experienced it for ourselves, we know there’s a very low chance that the owners wouldn’t appreciate a quick chinwag. Van life makes you slow down and appreciate the little things, the small amount of items you truly need to be content, and it’s this attitude that attracts other like-minded folk to you and why the van life community is such a strong one.