When you tell people you live and travel in a van you get asked a tonne of questions, oddly enough not the ones you imagine you would be asked such as why a van? Here we try and answer some of our most asked questions
What is vanlife?
Vanlife is a new way of referring to an old idea; the idea of living a more mobile life in a van, campervan, caravan or car. In recent years the term vanlife, or #vanlife, has been adopted by people on social media to showcase their lives living and travelling in their vehicles. Whether it’s static living in cities, travelling around the world, gritty reality or picture perfect vistas vanlife is being lived by tonnes of people in countless ways.
Can I live in my van legally?
Yes! – In the UK at least. Local authorities may have restrictions on parking overnight or where you can and can’t park but there is no law against living in your campervan or motorhome. (We’re not lawyers so keep that in mind…)
What van is best to convert to a camper?
That’s a question with no right answer unfortunately. It truly does depend on what you’re looking to do with your van and how much you have to spend. Our first van was going to be our full time home and so we wanted something big enough for us to stand up in and have space to live comfortably while still being a stealthy campervan and so we opted for a MWB Ford Transit. Our second van was built to be for short term travelling without the concern for being stealthy and so we opted for a Citroen Dispatch. It all depends on what you want in a van.
What is stealth camping?
Stealth camping refers to camping in the open without people knowing that there is anyone living in their van. We usually do this when we are in cities and don’t want to garner any unwanted attention from other people. When we are out in the wild we are far less concerned about trying to be stealthy. Making your van appear to just be a normal work van from the outside despite what is going on inside is what we refer to as ‘being stealthy’.
Can you live in a motorhome in the winter?
Absolutely! – We lived in our campervan year round for over 2 years. This included not only UK winters but also minus 20 degree temperatures in the German alps. And we achieved all of this without any heating in our van. It’s amazing how comfortable you can be with a bit of insulation, a hot water bottle and a thick duvet. Of course having heating (we recommend a diesel heater) for you van is going to make winter far more comfortable.
Why is van insurance so expensive?
If you’re looking to insure a normal panel van you will probably be shocked at how expensive it can be. A lot of times this is due to the fact that it can be seen as a commercial vehicle and the insurer assumes you will be using it for work. One way to try to lower the cost of your insurance is to have your van reclassified as a motorhome at which point you will be eligible for motorhome insurance.
How much does campervan insurance cost?
This depends on a myriad of factors so it’s impossible to say, however our insurance quote for our van as a camper compared to it as a van was around 60% cheaper.
Where do you go to the toilet?
Until recently we didn’t have a toilet in our van and it was only when we decided to pick up some additional work in the city that Matt made the decision to get one (wild pooping in the city is not recommended and may get you arrested!). There were a few occasions whilst we were travelling that we did regret not getting a toilet but the biggest issues we had were always when we were in a city, so we did usually get a campsite on city stays rather than stealth parking. We tend to spend most of our time in the wilderness only venturing into the cities once a month so for us the campsite was a chance to wash, clean our clothes and poo to our hearts content!
Otherwise, when a toilet isn’t available we both have our own bottles for peeing. I recommend a juice/smoothie bottle with a wide rim and at least a litre capacity. If you’re a lady get yourself a she-wee and get practising, it can take a couple of goes to get used to but once you’ve got it it’s an absolute life saviour. For anything that can’t fit in a bottle we either find a toilet (don’t be shy about using bar/restaurant facilities etc) or dig a hole! Sturdy fold up shovels are a van must, it’s a shame how many paths I’ve followed in beautiful places that just led to a clearing of everybody’s excrement! Dig a hole, do your business and cover it up. I also have a terrible pet hate for leaving toilet tissue around the countryside, it’s the same as any litter, take it with you and throw it away.
How easy toilets are to find also depends on the country you’re in. In Scandinavia we found every petrol station had a toilet, but this wasn’t true of central Europe. France is great for rest stops, which although usually don’t have any other facilities will always have at least a basic toilet. The best advice I can offer is always take the opportunity to use facilities when you have it and don’t have your morning coffee until you’ve found somewhere to poo.
Where do you wash?
I’ll confess there have been times that we left it far too long without showering, such is the beauty of sharing a small box with a comfortable partner and barely seeing other people. However, when it’s been two weeks since you’ve had a proper wash and you’re begging your partner to put their clothes back on because you can smell them from across the van it’s probably time for a shower.
Whilst we were in central Europe we normally paid for a night at a cheap campsite once a month or so to get a proper shower in and to use the launderette. We found we only had to do this once the whole time we were in Norway because so many of the petrol stations had shower facilities. The first time I used a shower in a petrol station I felt weirdly self conscious, but the feeling of being actually clean soon put this out of my mind.
We’ve also used a solar shower to keep ourselves presentable. You can fill up with water from any source and leave in the sun to warm up, then hang it up (or get your van buddy to hold it for you) and use as normal. If you really want to get in touch with nature you can always wash in natural water sources. We purchased natural, biodegradable shampoo and body wash for any occasion we were washing outside so as not to pollute any water sources.
On a day to day basis we just wash up in the sink and use dry shampoo, baby wipes, dry showers and feminine wipes to keep fresh. You’ll definitely need to get your hair used to not being washed as often as it’s used to. Try and work up to leaving a week in between washes or you’ll be driven mad by a greasy, itchy scalp.
Where do you find water?
Here is my personal plea for somebody to create an app to locate water! Regularly finding water is probably one of the biggest challenges of living and travelling in a van, especially when you’re running out every few days. Our main water tank is 25 litres and we’ve recently topped that supply up with a collapsible 7.5 litre tank. The extra tank has added another day or two onto our reserves, which has helped a lot.
Service stations and rest stops are our usual haunts for topping up water stores and we obviously also make sure to top up all our tanks and water bottles whenever we pay for a campsite. When we were in Scotland recently things weren’t quite so easy, however as the Scottish are a friendly bunch we didn’t mind asking at a couple of hostels if they would mind us pinching their water and they were more than happy to help.
I also certainly made the most of the ‘if the water is running it’s safe’ rule in Scandinavia and topped up our water bottles from rivers whenever I could. You can also find water in graveyards (weirdly), parks, supermarkets and public toilets. Again, if you see a tap then it’s always worth topping up your water, it’s better to have it than have to spend ages looking for somewhere in a couple of days, especially if you’ve got better things to do!
After struggling to find water in a remote part of Norway we got chatting to a lovely lady who pointed out that there are taps everywhere however they all needed a key to access the water. Seeing our confused faces she gave us her spare water key set and all of a sudden we were able to get water from any of the taps you see around Europe. We can’t recommend getting a set like our one before you travel enough!
Where do you find park-ups?
There’s a great app called park4night and I can’t overemphasize how useful it is! It’s a crowdsourced app that shows you the nearest parking spots and their facilities. It also has useful information like if you have to pay or if there are restrictions on how long you can stay. Of course, it doesn’t cover every parking spot in every place but it has been really, really useful especially when we haven’t come across any decent spots ourselves or need to find somewhere in the dark.
We’re not too picky when it comes to sleep spots, especially if it’s just an overnight stay when we’re on the move. Whilst you’ll sometimes stumble on a perfect, insta-worthy spot to stay for the night, service stations, laybys and supermarket carparks have sufficed on many occasions (ear plugs are recommended). If we do find a really good spot, or even notice one driving by I’ll drop a pin on google maps and favourite the spot for future reference, you never know if you’ll be in the area again. We’re beginning to build up quite the map of beautiful spots to sleep right now!
Generally you just need to use common sense when finding a spot to sleep. If you park in a residential area you’re more likely to get the police called on you, if you stay in the same place more than one night you’re more likely to get noticed (in fact, the only police encounter we ever had was staying in the same spot for two nights in Bruges. Matt assures me he was very nice and also exceptionally hunky), if you leave your van in a desolate side street you’re more likely to get robbed. A common vanlife mantra is ‘arrive late, leave early’, but being lazy sods ourselves we’ve never really followed this rule! Just limiting time at any one spot seems to do the trick.
If you’re somewhere where free camping is legal, park wherever you like! Just make sure you don’t annoy the locals, take your rubbish with you and generally just respect the local environment so we can all continue to openly camp for free.
What do you spend your time doing?
I think both of us had ideas of becoming fluent in several languages, learning a new instrument and becoming proficient in hula hooping before we left, but in reality we found we hardly had any time to do all these things when we were out on the road. Actually ‘hardly any time’ might be stretching it, but in the down time we did have we didn’t suddenly develop new personalities that gave us the motivation to be bothered to do any of those things! Instead we read a lot of fantasy novels and watched all 7 seasons of Parks and Recreation. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t do relaxation very well, so for me, learning to be content doing not very much was difficult and I quite often took myself out on a walk if I was going a bit stir crazy.
Most of our time, though, was spent driving (the downside of having time limitations and a lot of area to cover) and just going out soaking up whatever the area had to offer. We did budget in a few fun treats for ourselves like the fjord safari in Flam, which, at £60 per head was not exactly the kind of cash we could be dropping everywhere we went, but mostly we stuck to free outdoor activities as much as possible, which for us was a lot of walking. Before our next trip we’ll be getting an inflatable kayak so we can make the most of the lakes we love parking up next to so much, and will be hooking some bikes up onto the back of the van to expand our scope of outdoor activities! We also want to start climbing, but we’ll have to see how that one goes!
What do you use for power?
We have several USB and 12v ‘cigarette lighter’ ports in the van for powering all our electricals (you can buy car chargers for nearly everything), which are much more efficient than a mains plug. Our power comes from two solar panels on our roof and an engine powered battery. If you want details on the techy stuff, you can read Matt’s articles on it here.
How do you fund your trips?
Contrary to popular opinion in the comments section of our Daily Mail article, neither of us have ever claimed benefits or used the bank of mummy and daddy to pay for our travels. I’m personally pretty poor with budgeting and with the amount of hobbies I have I can burn through cash pretty quickly. However, once we’d decided we were going to go away I just switched myself on to saving mode and made a mental decision that if something wasn’t going to be used in the van then I wasn’t going to buy it. After being two thousand pounds into an overdraft for 4 years I managed to pay it off and save an additional two in 5-6 months. We did have one ‘stroke of luck’ in us both getting made redundant from our jobs just before we were due to depart! Whilst I didn’t get anything and lost my job slightly earlier than I would have liked, the payout Matt received paid for the initial purchase of Vinnie.
Other than working, our biggest extra earner is matched betting, saving both of us a few thousand pounds each before our first trip. Since our next trip will be in the UK and we’ll still be able to bet on the road, what we earn with matched betting will help pay to keep us fed and on the road without having to touch our savings for our next larger adventure!
Of course the support you guys offer us on this website by using our affiliate links to buy things as well as all the purchases made from our shop go directly into our fuel fund and keep us on the road (a massive thank you for all that support!)
Otherwise, anybody who travels will tend to tell you the same thing: When you’re working, you’re working towards a goal and that becomes your main focus. It can mean a boring few months of working long hours, doing overtime and not going out much, but when your end goal is getting away from it all it’s much easier to endure!
If you have any questions you want answering about us, our travels or our van then please get in touch and if we get asked them enough we’ll add them to the FAQ!