Why do people live in vans? The reasons that come to my mind first are vaguely the same as those that pop up on Google after a quick search: freedom, simplicity, to save money, to travel, and pure enjoyment.
Why do I live in van? Well, mainly to travel, to be with my boyfriend and because it’s just a bit of a laugh! I was put off working in the yachting industry by my last job for various reasons and wanted a break. Luckily Harry wanted to leave the boat too and asked if I wanted to join him and now, here we find ourselves at the beach in Norway on the Atlanterhavsveienor ‘Atlantic Ocean Road’. My reasons for living the van life have certainly manifested.
And does my version of the van life match Google’s? Well we certainly have freedom. We can wild camp in most places in Europe and can move around quite easily with our British passports, so freedom and travel come hand in hand. We have already had a fair few adventures and we are nearly a month into a six month trip. Money wise it isn’t cheaper for us as working on yachts you get accommodation and food as part of your work contract, plus you save your salary as you work most of the time. Any spending money usually comes from work tips. We forked out a fair chunk from our salaries and left over tips to pay for said van and lifestyle. We are definitely enjoying ourselves, parking up for the night in Norwegian forest clearings or by Danish North Sea fjords has been pretty amazing.
To be honest I should have seen this coming, we have made this simplicity thing slightly harder for ourselves. Firstly, when planning the van we decided to have a permanent double bed because who wants to sleep on a fold out bed or swivel chair bed for six months, bagsy not I. Underneath the bed therefore became our main storage space, great because we can store a lot, not so much when you want that specific tool, towel or pair of trousers that isn’t as simply accessed as it would be in a normal van or motor home perhaps. The living area has efficient storage and we used the space to our advantage but things still aren’t so simple. To get certain things we have to squeeze the bench top up and out and stack the cushions somewhere. If the table is out and you want a last minute ingredient or utensil that lives below it your life becomes a bit hard, you get the picture. Everything in the van has a specific place and it often takes triple the time than normal to get anything done because of the space issue.
Secondly, we may have brought too much stuff. When you live and work on a boat and share a cabin with somebody there isn’t much space for personal affects. You bring what you need and perhaps a few extra luxuries you can cram in somewhere. After a year I was bored of having a fairly small and selective wardrobe so I have packed multiple clothing options. Dedication to fashun doesn’t have to disappear when you live in a van ladies. As true Brits we have a whole draw dedicated to tea, perhaps ten types, and our condiments cupboard is stocked full with personal favourites and British essentials. Our toolboxes are brim full so that in the eventuality of a possible break down, mechanical or electrical fault we are ready. The activities box, as if, makes sure we are ready for swimming in cold and warm climates, canoeing, boxing, skateboarding, frisbee, yoga, Scrabble and we have enough books to read, fiction and travel guides, until Christmas. We even have a fresh pasta machine and ravioli press. Sorry, not sorry. The simple life is a bit of an oxymoron here.
Many van people take aerial shots of themselves, their van and its contents sprawled out on a patch of grass. I assume this is to show how simply they can live as usually there isn’t much in the picture, and how minimal and resourceful the van life is. I’m not sure if these people live in the van for a stint such as us or are travelling half way across the world, either way they do not pack much. If we did this certain photograph A. it would take forever to set up, B. it would be embarrassing, and C. we would destroy the common dream that the van life is always simple and minimal. However, I didn’t embark on this experience to embrace simplicity, hence everything and the kitchen sink.
This is where I meet my conundrum. We have made our lives simple because we have brought everything we normally use or need, but we don’t necessarily have the space for it all making accessing and storing them not simple. And right on queue my said mish mash emotion explodes. I am getting dressed and realise I didn’t pair my socks up when I washed them last and I have to get out of the van, run round, open the back, take out the clothes bag, find my underwear bag and find the other sock. Whilst I’m cooking my breakfast I look up from my egg frying in the pan and bash my head on the ceiling. For a split second the thought of my yummy marmite and fried egg toast spectacular has made me forget I can’t stand up straight in the van because I’m too tall and I smack my head and crick my neck. Cooking is one of my favorite things and I now associate pain and disdain with it, not pleasure and creativity. My back is almost always in pain and driving about fours hours a day doesn’t help. At times I prefer not to be in the van at all, it is as if a black mist has swamped me and I feel so angry and stressed and cramped I just have to get out. I guess I am more claustrophobic than I thought.
Next, after my internal tantrum, often external, has calmed down I realise what a brat I am being. The van is nicer, more comfortable, warmer and better equipped than some peoples houses. I am not meaning to brag by saying this, I am merely stating the truth. I am in such a position that I can live in a vehicle for ‘pleasure’ and not because it is my only form of shelter. I am in an even more privileged position because I can take six months off from work and even do this trip. I have saved my own money to do this and have had the support of parents in the past financially to help me train to work in an industry that means I can swan off to Mongolia on a whim. Our quality of life, save going to the loo in bushes the majority of the time and not showering as often as we would like, is better than a lot of people around the word. And I sit here complaining that my tea bags are in an awkward place or extensive wardrobe is in three different places in the van or my ceiling isn’t high enough. At least I have a ceiling! At this point I get annoyed again, this time at myself. So I go back to my awkwardly placed tea bags and make a calming brew and sit amongst the beautiful Norwegian scenery, give myself a talking to and everything simmers back down…until the next time.
A few articles that appeared when I searched for ‘Why do people live in vans?’ answered with to better ones self as a person. I never thought about this motive until now and now wander whether this van and the lifestyle is bettering me spiritually and mentally. I can’t tell yet if it is bettering me, if anything it’s driving me up the wall, but its certainly pushing my boundaries and aren’t we always taught that this is a good thing?
Often our 21stcentury lifestyles are all about saving time, living fast but efficiently and being able to multi task. This is great I guess and of its time with how fast technology is advancing and I often jump on the bandwagon, but I also turn my nose up at certain things. For example I don’t need to preheat my oven via smart phone so when I get home from work its ready to go. Efficient and clever yes but we managed perfectly fine before. For me that twenty minutes is a luxury: sit down and read, have a glass of wine, stroke the cat and play with the dog, or chat to your family or housemates. We don’t need to live at 100mph. However, I guess I have fallen too far down the time saving rabbit hole because it grinds my gears at how long it takes me to do anything in the van.
Aside to this there are also thousands of articles, books, blogs, podcasts and more telling us to calm down and take our lives slow at times, bla bla bla. Now that I am doing this, not doing much else other than leisurely driving to Mongolia and back again, living my life at a slower pace and embracing Scandinavian Hygge at this present time, I should be super duper happy and zen and at one with myself. Instead I’m confused and angsty and feel far more stressed at times. I haven’t done thorough research but I’m sure these articles, books, blogs and podcasts don’t normally say to live in a van to achieve the perfect state of calm. Then why do some van dwellers say the lifestyle improves you as a person? I don’t feel improved or bettered or calm so maybe I’m doing it wrong then? Maybe I’m not a true van gal? Maybe I should just pack up and go home? Sometimes I feel like doing just that.
I loved camping as a child and waited for August bank holiday and summer holidays with glee to venture to Wales and go camping in Pembrokeshire and the Gower. I still do love camping but I think the knowledge that you can have a proper shower, wash your dishes in warm and plentiful water, that you can go back to ‘normal’ at the end of the camping trip makes it more bearable and all the more exciting. It is only temporary, you get to go home. At present time we are doing a form of camping but the van is also our home. We drive, live and sleep in this wonderful 6 x 3 x 2 metre self built home. I didn’t really prep myself for this part, realising I had to actually live well in it. I assumed I would like it, which I do most of the time, it’s just harder than I thought, emotionally and physically. We have been away nearly a month and maybe I just need more time.
I want to take this moment to formally apologise to Tina for the frequent slamming of doors and swearing she has had to endure. You are amazing and I love you deep down. I am grateful for the shelter you give us, the warm fuzzy feeling you give me in the morning when I wake up, open the door to a sunny fjord and make coffee, and for letting me have so much clutter and crap in tow. I still have to pinch myself sometimes that the opportunity came along to go on this trip with Harry, who smiles and nods at my stupid behaviour and emotions. At times Harry grinds my gears too, likewise for him too, but I couldn’t ask for a better co pilot and travel companion. He helps me to see what a fool I’m being, that I’m made of stronger stuff and I can live in a van for now. Travelling the world with one of your best pals is living the dream and I’m lucky to live that. I wouldn’t say doing it in a van is living my dream but it does make it all the more special.
Project Van life is certainly a ‘project’ in many forms, not just a nice sounding hashtag or an American hipster craze. My hat goes off to people and families who live in vans full time, you are ninjas of space management and I salute your enduring dedication to the so-called simple life. I don’t think I could live in a van forever and my experience so far is perhaps a little different, yet it’s a work in progress and perhaps more of a personal project than I thought.