Van life –
Lets talk van life. Those of you that know me know I’m about to take off on a small Euro-trip in a self converted van. It’s something that I’ve found fascinating for a long time now so I thought it would be great to get some answers to the many, many questions I have.
Luckily, I have a great gal in my contacts that has been travelling in a van for a while, so I thought the best thing to do would be to get in touch and have a little chat. I feel so inspired and excited after out talk, so hopefully you find it as fascinating as I did. Enjoy!
1. Lets start by telling me who you are and a little bit about yourself.
OK sweet. I’m Izzy. I’m almost 29 and I’m from Yorkshire, England! I run, climb, play the violin and paint. I feel like I was put on this world to help others.
2. Hopefully you can help someone out there with this blog post 🙂 What was it that first inspired you to live in your van?
I would love to think so! I spent some time working as an Art Therapist in a hospice, supporting terminally ill patients. Seeing the fragility of life first hand, showed me how quickly we can be here one minute and gone the other. Living the van life had been a dream for a long time, but I decided that now was as good a time than ever to go for it. Also, I think a part of me wanted to do the things that my patients wish they had!
How long ago that was?
About 1 year today actually, so not very long really.
3. Tell me a little bit about the van, how big is it, did you convert it yourself etc.?
It’s a VW transporter. So it’s quite compact, and getting on a bit bless him. I call ‘him’ Rod. He’s got a sink with electric pump for running water, 2 gas hobs, a ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ bed and a pop top. I can fit 4 people at a squeeze sleeping inside, but it’s great to be able to stand up while I cook. My 6+ft boyfriend can even stand up in him. And we’ve got a long board in there too. I bought Rod pretty much complete. But my dad and I did some adjustments (mostly to make my wardrobe bigger) and we just changed a few things to make day to day life run more smoothly.
4. Speaking of your boyfriend, what’s it like having a love life while living in a van?
Living in a van is an interesting conversation starter that’s for sure. It’s funny, I met him while I was travelling in the van. Getting to know someone new, while living in a van meant that we got to know each other really quickly! There’s the space issue, personal hygiene is reliant on beach showers or the ocean and everything becomes a bit of an adventure. I honestly think that we have the van to thank for being so comfortable with each other, and learning to trust each other really quickly.
5. I’m glad you brought up personal hygiene. Has it been difficult to stay clean, wash your clothes, use the bathroom etc.?
At times, definitely. I mostly relied on being by the beach and using the public showers, but I brought an unused weed-killer sprayer with me, and would use that as a make shift shower when I was inland. It worked quite well! Having a sink was also a life saver though. I could always wash my hands and face when needed which helped. I would visit a laundrette a couple of a times a month to keep on top of laundry. And when it came to needing the bathroom, I just had to plan ahead. If all else failed, a shovel and a very remote spot in the woods would do.
6. What are peoples reactions when they hear you live in a van? Is there a stigma around it or is it often positive?
That’s a good question. I would say mostly positive. A lot of people want to know how it works, and find it quite exciting. The only time I’ve felt judged in a negative way was actually back in England. I was living in the van before I quit my job, to save some extra cash for my trip. The locals would often move me along because they didn’t like having a ‘homeless person’ living outside their house. I ended up going to a free parking spot by the beach, so it worked out!
7. So on your 1 year journey so far, where have you been and do you have a favourite place?
I began in the North East of England (Northumberland is lush for van spots), took the ferry from the South across to Mont Saint Michel (well worth a visit). Then drove down the West coast of France, stopping at all the cute towns and beaches until I got to Biarritz. From there I visited Bilbao (had to see the Guggenheim) and Saint Sebastian (perfect surfing, wine and pinxtos). Then I headed across country to Valencia, to visit some van friends I had met at the start of my trip. I followed the East coast of Spain up to Barcelona, then through France and into Italy where my best friend joined me for a leg of the trip. After leaving her at Genoa in Italy I spent some time in Milan with a friend and did some volunteering before seeing Sienna with my boyfriend and then heading back to Barcelona.
I would have to say my number 1 favourite for van life is Hossegor, on the west coast of France. It was lush! They really welcome free camping, the beaches are beautiful, the land is covered in amazing pine forests and there’s such a chilled/surfer vibe there. Though I’ll always have a soft spot for San Sebastian in Northern Spain too.
8. You mentioned meeting some ‘van friends’. Is there a van life community and have you found it easy to make friends while travelling alone?
Really easy yeh! After trying a couple of apps to meet people, I actually had more luck just parking up next to a group and getting chatting! I met my Valencia friends on my first night in France! I parked next to them in the pouring rain, offered them wine and the 3 of us got chatting. We travelled together for the next few days. It’s great moving with others, you know someone has your back if things go tits up! Plus it’s less lonely of course.
9. Travelling for such a long time and such a big route must be costly. How do you manage to sustain yourself on the road?
I saved most of the money living in the van before I left England. I cooked in the van every day to save money, and actually it’s quite fuel efficient even for an old van. Originally I planned to sell my paintings on the move, but never got round to it. One way I did keep it cheap though was by joining Workaway. It meant I could stay at locals’ houses and volunteer for them in return. The families I stayed with cooked for me and put me up, and sometimes taught me some of their language in return for farm work.
10. Do you think you would be able to live the van life long term and earn a living?
I see some people doing this really effectively and it looks amazing. But for me personally, I don’t think so. I found after a few months of living in the van that I really appreciated being in one place for a while. With wanting to pursue a career as a therapist, I feel that the emotional strain of the job would demand a stable home for me. I know long-term van lifers often feel they have this stability. But I haven’t reached that point. I guess it really depends on what country you’re in, what the job is, how comfortable you can make yourself etc.
I see vloggers and follow van families on IG who seem to have it down to a T, but I don’t personally know anyone who does it. A group I met in Barcelona spends half of the year working in bars in Ibiza and earn enough to travel for the other half. I’m sure it’s hard work, but it suits them, and pays off in the end. They had been to some amazing places in their vans.
View this post on Instagram
(A really great post on van life and making money)
11. I imagine that travelling full time must give you a lot spare time. How do you manage your time on the road and have you found you have a different mind set towards how you spend your days?
Yes, great question! I definitely have a different mindset now. For a start, not having WiFi 24/7 meant that I wasn’t using my phone so much in my spare time. Its a bit of a cliché, but this helped me to feel more connected with the place I was in. I would spend more time walking or running, exploring, I painted most days, and scouted out the best van spots, or grocery stores, or beaches.
I was just telling a friend, when I moved into my new apartment recently, we didn’t have WiFi for a while, and I painted so much! It was great! I’m a lot more content now with just being. Before, having ‘nothing to do’ made me feel quite anxious.
12. Solo travel is always a daunting idea. How has it been being a solo female travelling in a van?
On the whole, it’s been fine. I always trust my gut with where I parked the van, and never stay somewhere I have a bad vibe about. Most of the time I looked for other travellers (preferably mixed male/female groups). But if I really had to stay somewhere I didn’t feel so comfortable with, I would just make sure that I got there late, was as discreet as I could be, and left early.
When the van got broken into, I spent a few nights with a friend, to get my confidence back. I wasn’t in it when it happened, but poor Rod was completely turned upside down inside, so I was a bit shaken. Knowing you have a back up plan is essential.
13. That sounds like a horrible experience! Would you say that’s your biggest fear when living in a van?
I think that, and breaking down. I broke down really early on in my trip in France, and the van took days to fix. In the end I had to stay with a random family who found me crying by the side of the road and insisted I came and stayed. They were amazing, but barely spoke any English so I had to use my GCSE French to communicate with them. They had two little girls, and made me feel so at home, taking me to the beach and to the local attractions! It was a blessing in disguise.
14. What’s been the biggest positive and biggest negative of van life?
This is going to sounds so mushy, but meeting some amazing people, and having my eyes opened to different ways of living has been the biggest plus by far! I guess the worst thing for me was feeling isolated, partly due to travelling alone, but partly due to other people’s perceptions.
Could you tell me a bit more?
I guess I just felt different all the time from everyone else. Which was really liberating sometimes, but really isolating when I was having a down day. Having down days was difficult because I was so far away from anyone or anything familiar. I tried to remind myself how lucky I was. Often I would call my friends and that would help, or just make sure I was looking after myself, in a basic way – eating well, drinking enough water, sleeping enough, exercising etc. But the ups very much outweighed the downs.
15. Last question. Would you encourage others to give van life a try?
I would say 100% yes. Whether it’s just for a weekend, or for a whole year. Give it a go. I wouldn’t travel alone again – I think it takes a lot of confidence in your ability to adapt when you’re alone. Travelling with someone means there’s always someone there to have your back, and pick up the slack if you don’t have the mental or physical energy. But if you have a friend, partner, or family member who’s willing to spend some time in very close proximity with you then I would say go for it! And if you feel like solo van life is for you, then just make sure you have a network of people you can depend on when you need.
I hope this has been helpful! If you have any questions of your own feel free to email them to me.
If you want to take Izzy’s advice and give van life a try, I’ll post some resources below that have really helped me so far:
Campervans for Sale – Always new self builds being posted.
Self Build Group – I posted in here for help so often!
Greg Virgoe – Amazingly informative Youtuber. He’s also helped me on the group above a couple times.
Indie Projects – Another great practical Youtube channel that have converted lots of vans.
Park4night – Izzy told me about this. Helps you find overnight parking all over the world.
See you next week!
Love, Kallum <3