I was checking my inbox the other day and had received an email from a lady asking if we wanted to be a part of her graphic on people living and travelling in vans with a few questions to answer. This was super exciting and one of the questions “Why vanlife?” got me thinking.
The space for answering wasn’t very big and as you know I have a tendency to waffle so I thought I might take the opportunity to do a first blog post (probably about time!) and fill you all in on why and how we’ve ended up on this great big adventure.
We’ve had a so many questions over the past few months from both family, friends and strangers – many along the general theme of, “You’re living in a van? For a year? Won’t that be a bit….small?” But there’s also been so many people interested and excited for us to take this plunge and also so many people doing it now that I find it intriguing to think about how everybody got started. So here you go, this is how we got started! And I’ll address the big one too – the worst question and the bit everyone would rather avoid talking about “But what about money!?” (For this my advice is probably to just not think about it too much!).
To give a bit of a better idea on how we’ve got here (here being parked by the side of an exceptionally sunny lake in beautiful Sweden) I should probably give you a bit of background.
Eight months ago we were both living in the middle of Wales; the beach was our front garden, bbqs and nights at the pub were commonplace and many of our friends were within a seven mile radius (it’s a small place!) in short, it was pretty idyllic in so many ways.
Alec was working for the Outward Bound Trust and I for a small hydro company which was my first ‘proper job’ out of university and one which I was really enjoying. Then, Brexit; government support for renewables was already dwindling and the uncertainty everyone was feeling with grants and their futures hit us hard. As it was such a small company the extra pressure of another member of staff just wasn’t working out. I lost my job, and the company stopped trading soon afterward. Fortunately I’d also been working the odd weekend at FatFace and with selling the odd paintings things weren’t too catastrophic! But a change was definitely needed – where we were in Wales was very quiet, the majority of jobs are in hospitality, shop work, or, overwhelmingly the Outward Bound so if I was to do the sensible grown-up thing and ‘continue my career’ I’d have to move on.
Travelling was something I’d always wanted to do but just never seemed to get round to it, I either felt like I didn’t have enough money, didn’t have the time, felt I should be saving my money or didn’t know who I could go with. In short, too many excuses had been made previously and now there were some new ones – that I should be focusing on my career, settling down properly with Alec and building up our savings to buy a house. Adult things. That ‘running away’ from responsibilities only meant that they were there to come back to. That the tiny amount of savings I’d managed to build up over the years would take ages to regain and then where would we be!?
I have never been spontaneous as you might have realised, I’m unwilling to put myself out there and I worry way too much about money – or more specifically, the lack of it and the consequences for the future (The exact opposite of Alec who’s frustratingly worry-free about these sort of things and alway manages to work things out regardless).
I’d been so focused on trying to be sensible and saving I hadn’t had a holiday in the past three years. Yes, life was feeling a little bit too work a lot less play than I had envisaged but that what you had to do if you wanted to buy a house wasn’t it, make sacrifices? And I wasn’t even yet anywhere close to the house-buying stage!
But then… what if now was our chance?
The next time I found a job I enjoyed I wanted to spend years in it, to progress and I wasn’t planning on leaving it for a good while (hopefully). The next chance we would have to have time away from work might be years down the line or even never because by then we might have a mortgage to pay, we might have children, we’d probably have a lot more responsibilities and Alec might not have a job he could request time off from.
For the first time the thought of missing a chance to travel was scarier than the consequences of spending all my life’s savings on some ridiculous idea we’d both managed to dream up together without much real thought having gone into it (is this what realising you’ll be closer to 30 than 20 your next birthday does to you!?). It felt like a chance we should take.
Realistically we had very little saved up and no clue if we’d be able to manage such a trip as we had in mind. But for once this didn’t seem to matter (or I’d just somehow managed to squash the feeling of mild panic!). Within a few weeks of me losing my job, Al had requested a years sabbatical starting in April from his and we were on the hunt for van. Things felt a way too serious and more than a little scary.
We were fortunate in the fact that we did already have a van (a little red Transit) which we could sell to partially raise the funds for a new one, but nonetheless money was tight, very tight! Alec now had six months left of work and every bit of his next six pay packets would be going into converting the van. I was only working part time and selling the odd painting which was just managing to keep me out of my savings each month. We gave up meat, we stopped buying alcohol, we didn’t buy each other birthday or Christmas presents, we ate beans on toast for dinner and noodles for lunch, and made every cut in spending we could think of. All in all our friends found us quite boring I think! And all the while we were brushing off questions of how would we be able to afford this, realistically? What on earth were we doing!?
But why not!? Especially when making these small sacrifices filled us with a sense of purpose and excitement, rather than any form of resentment at not enjoying all these little luxuries. We’d made our decision, and whether we’d manage two months on the road before our money disappeared or ten, we were very excited to see what the next year would bring.
But why choose vanlife anyway? Mainly and predictably the main answer to that is because of Syl. Life in a van seems to me to be the perfect life for most dogs – new walks everyday and never ending new smells to sniff. Dogs for the most part crave nothing more than trips out with their owners and what a trip this was going to be! Plus if you follow our Instagram you’ll know Syl sure appreciates a good view, surely it’s our duty as good dog parents to provide the goods?! We would be able to travel without worrying if we could find dog-friendly accommodation and Syl would be able to be with us at all times, happy and settled because she was at ‘home’ despite her ever changing garden. In that regard it was the best way for us too, for me there’s no place quite like home and being able to slump into your own bed at the end of the day while exploring the world sounded absolutely perfect!
There’s also obviously a brilliant freedom that comes with living in a van that you don’t get with any other type of travel and it’s something that we’re slowly getting used to, having had a hint of it in trips in our previous vans. If you like an area, stay there. If you don’t, move on and find somewhere else you prefer. Weather’s rubbish? Check the weather forecast and drive a few hours in a different direction and hope for the best. There’s no need to check train or bus times and if the traffic is awful you can just turn off and find somewhere to park up and explore instead. It’s a feeling like no other, to be completely in charge of your destination and your days and a feeling that both of us clearly craved, so much so it had led us to throw all caution (and money!) to the winds it seemed!
So ultimately why did we choose to spend all our savings on travelling round in a big white van for a bit with absolutely nothing tangible to show for it afterwards?
Because why on earth not!?
We’d been inspired by stories and photos of people taking off into the sunset in their little rolling homes too often to not want to be a part of it. Each and every one of them projected this feeling of overwhelming contentment and enjoyment of their life, that we wanted to experience as well. We wanted to see if we’d be able to live with less, be more self sufficient. Pick up snippets of other languages and explore places we’d never even heard of. We knew that everything couldn’t be as perfect as we saw in those photos, sometimes it would – and has – rained for days on end and everything gets damp and a bit claustrophobic. We would have to hand wash our clothes for the most part and get used to emptying our toilet. I’d probably miss home and Alec would probably want to shove me out the side door on more than one occasion (and vice-versa). We would probably run out of money way quicker than we expected. But we were ready to deal with these things and if not ready, more than willing to. Plus every once in a while I’ve heard that it’s good to do something that scares you – and this no-money, no-plan, no real destination and no idea what we’re doing thing certainly scares me!
And to that final comment, one that makes me laugh every time I hear it because it’s what I used to think whenever I saw photos, read articles or watched videos on Facebook on people living out the life I wanted to be living too.
“You’re so lucky to be doing this”
Yes we certainly are – we’re visiting amazing places, seeing incredible views, challenging ourselves in new and different ways, and living every day on our own schedule while meeting wonderful people along the way. This afternoon we’ve swum in the river our van is parked five feet away from and been out paddle boarding with Syl after a lazy morning sunbathing and listening to audiobooks. Later we might stay and enjoy a beer while the sun sets or drive on a bit to see where else we can find. We’re SO lucky. But you never know, it could just be down to you losing your job and having a slight crisis for you to be equally so!
As for me, the sun’s out, I have a glass of wine in my hand and Alec’s doing something delicious with some salmon we found in the reduced section… Smug? Maybe just a little bit! 😉