I originally got drawn into this lifestyle because it allowed me to move freely and volunteer at Permaculture sites and homesteads with creature comforts of my own space. I thought it’ll probably be for two years, maybe three. but as it turns out, I’m still rolling in it and probably will continue to do so for at least another year.
It’s been a tough autumn/winter for me. Weeks of constant rain kept the humidity super high and the diesel heater that I ordered didn’t arrive from China until winter was nearly over. Being single, totally alone in an overgrown back alley of a city, cold, dark and mouldy nearly broke me this time. I often went to bed dreaming of a warm house with a bath and a proper kitchen.
Funnily enough, toilets didn’t make it into my dreams. I must have gotten quite comfortable pooing in a bin and pissing in a bottle, right next to the kitchen and beside my pillow. Only permissible because it’s my fecal matter. I would strongly object to someone else dumping their load in here even in dire emergencies. Besides, I am super uber careful with my every movement when nature calls so I’ve never spilled or tipped over the bin and I intend to keep it that way.
Fast forward a couple of months and I am SO glad I’m not paying rent and bills right now. Hooray to van life. As soon as the lock down was announced, I moved away from a city to a friend’s 70 acre campsite that adjoins a beautiful woodland park with tranquil lakes. I’m now able to dry my duvet outside, unload all the gear and aerate, play music loud, sun bathe unashamedly and have my windows and doors open all the time. The proper way to enjoy van life.
The downside is that the campsite is closed and the shower is ice cold. But the weather is getting warmer and I’ve made it my mission to get ripped during this lock down so getting properly sweaty before hand makes the cold showers somewhat tolerable. I’ve heard it induces the production of heat shock proteins which apparently is good for your health but I’m definitely not hardcore enough to do this through out the year.
It’s also quite nice to know, in such times of unprecedented uncertainty, that I can push the eject botton and pop off to a safer place should shit hit the fan hard – diarrhoea style. Though, not having a garden to grow food is still my no.1 worst thing about living in a van. Mobility and cost efficiency = loss of food security. My plans for volunteering on farms have all been cancelled too so a little concern there.
But I unintentionally picked up a hitch hiking colony of French ants while I was there and they’ve made themselves at home somewhere in my van. I have a feeling I’m headed to the deepest darkest parts of hell if every ant I have annihilated remoreselessly incrementally worsened my karma. But hey, better ants than rats and I’ve heard they’re edible. From a permaculture perspective, I’m farming fresh emergency protein source with no effort while clearing bread crumbs.
Things I’m Pleased About
These water bottles have served me well. I’ve got two of these and they’re easy to fill up anywhere, robust, light weight and very little that could fail. I’ve never had issues with filling them up except for a short stint in Spain where water point was frighteningly scarce in places.
My solar set up struggled a bit this year in the depths of winter and had to use a head torch occasionally but I’ve got power to spare now. It’s a nice feeling that all my electronics and lights are powered by the sun, including the laptop on which I’m typing this up. I’m quite certain my return on investment is fairly high now.
This hob is very powerful and able to boil water quickly or stirfry at high heat and yet only costs me about £3 every couple of months to fill up my 3L Gaslow tank at a petrol station. Still one of the best investments I’ve made in my van conversion.
Things I’d Do Differently
I chose the small sized van for fuel efficiency and cheaper tax. Being Japanese, I have no problems sitting crossed legged on a bed most of the time I’m in the van. I don’t have any regrets over my choice of vehicle but I do have moments when I wish that I could stand up. A small bit of luxury worth having if you intend to live in it for longer than 3, 4 years.
I never use the sink. I wash my plates and cutlery in the pots and pans that I cooked in, and discard the grey water in nearby bushes (I use ecover). I wash my hands and brush my teeth outside of the van. So instead of being a place of cleanliness, the sink quickly becomes a dumping ground for bits and bobs. I think what I would do differently if I was to do this again would be to make a wider kitchen work surface and build more food storage underneath.
So far, I’ve been OK without a fridge. I buy small quantities of fresh produce frequently and it’s been a good incentive to cook with the short time window to consume. This is proving to be a little more challenging with the lock down and minimised visits to the shops but if I was to buy a fridge, it will most certainly be reserved for beer. Ice cold beer on demand in the heat of summer would be ludicrously good. I’ve hidden some beers in mountain streams for after hike cold beer moments but harder to do in less favourable locations.
I still think the best thing about living in a van is that the small space limits the amount of stuff I can accumulate. It makes me think twice before buying something. I still have annual sessions of clear out and downsizing to keep myself lean. It made me realise, and continues to remind me of, how little I need to live a happy, fulfilling life and this belief in minimalism will continue even when I eventually graduate to a house.
An ideal setup that I’m aiming for now is to have a solid base of a small but hyper efficient off grid house on a 1-2 acre property with the camper van remaining available as a means to go on extended excursions or even weekend trips to climbing crags. I just hope the van lasts for at least another few years without a catastrophic failure. Fingers crossed, touch wood, pray to some omnipotent god, fuck, whatever it takes man.
If you’d like to read up on more about my van build process and annual reviews, here are the links.