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TEAM ZOELLA AUGUST 14, 2021

We Spoke to 2 People Who Live In A Van

Living the free-spirited life might seem fun but it’s not without its problems. We spoke to these van dwelling pros to find out the reality of that van-living life.

Living in a van is the ultimate carefree nomadic lifestyle. No astronomical rent or pressure to mount the property ladder, just the freedom of the open road, simplicity and adventure. It’s slow living at its best, where making do with what you’ve got and embracing uncertainty is the new status quo.

But is #vanlife all it’s cracked up to be? Are you always living the dream in a bikini on a picturesque beach as Instagram would have us believe?

Living the free-spirited life might seem fun but it’s not without its problems. We spoke to these van dwelling pros to find out the reality of that van-living life. From saving money and seeing the world, to flat tyres, zero privacy and foraging for public toilets, here’s the good, bad and ugly of living out of a van.

Where’s Mollie

What was your lifestyle like before you took the van life plunge?

Before I moved into my van, I lived in London for 3 years whilst building my travel brand and blog, Where’s Mollie. My work and travels always took me into the heart of nature and combined with my base in London I had a beautiful balance of city/nature living. In March 2020, my London tenancy ended and I committed to full-time nature!

What appealed to you about this nomadic way of life?

I knew, moving out of London, that I wanted to move closer to nature but I wasn’t quite sure where. Moving into my van was my way of trying out different locations without the commitment. In the van, you can stay as long as you love somewhere and then move on when you’re ready. The flexibility was definitely appealing. I also love being in such close proximity to nature. In the van, you reduce your insulation between your body and the natural rhythms of the earth and the effect that has on your mental and physical health is profound. Waking up to the sound of the birds or the view of the ocean is just heaven on earth.

Did you convert your own van or was it already kitted out and ready to go? What are some of the things to consider before picking out a van that’s right for you?

I bought my VW transporter high top as a blank canvas. It was used for transporting goods before! No wicker baskets or surfboards in there beforehand! This was a creative project for me, my creative dream. I’d spent years mood boarding images and inspiration on Pinterest. I’d say, be patient when choosing your vehicle, it’s the most important part. The good ones go quick (just like renting in London), you have to be ready to view and act quickly. It’s so worth waiting for a van that will go the distance… literally. Particularly if you’re deciding to invest in the interior. It’s also good to think about how much time you’ll spend in it and how many of you will be in it. It’s so important to be comfortable if you want to live in it! If you’re spending any more time than just weekends in it, get something you can stand up in!

Do you live in the van full time or part-time / temporarily?

I’ve done 4-5 months total of full-time van living over the last year but vanlife wasn’t so fun when the UK was in lockdown. For me, it’s about the community you meet on the road and the connection you have to the people you meet along the way! The social lifestyle is what keeps me coming back for more. You know if someone’s in a van, you have more than a few things in common. It’s like a green light to chat. I love opening my doors to other van lifers and having a morning cuppa with them!

One of the best things about living on wheels is the freedom to travel wherever and whenever you want! What’s been your favourite road trip adventure, so far?

It’s between Scotland, where I spent the last 4 weeks… and my European road trip last summer. Scotland blew my mind, it was like New Zealand, Iceland and Canada all together in one (we got lucky with the weather which made a huge difference). In Scotland, the landscapes are so vast and their tolerance of wild camping makes it so easy to park in incredible locations. The same with Portugal last summer, at the time wild camping was legal and you could just pull up right on the ocean. That’s what it’s all about, driving your home into nature that silences your mind and brings joy right into your heart space!

Although there are endless advantages of living in a van, particularly for your mental health and wellbeing, it’s not for everyone. What are the greatest challenges and things you’ve learned along the way?

I’d say, for me, extended periods of time on the road can be exhausting. I think that’s because I’m running a business on the road, doing it solo and moving locations a lot. The energy it takes to navigate to new locations, maintain appropriate awareness as a solo traveller, meet new people, fix inevitable issues that arise, food shop every few days (limited storage), figure out where to fill up water (to name a few) can be tiring. Just the little things like washing up and locking everything down before you drive can take time and energy that you wouldn’t expend in a fixed apartment / home. I find myself craving stationary time after a while.

Humour us because we know people will want to know… what’s the toilet and showering situation really like?

Haha! If you’re not down for getting up close and personal with nature from time to time, van life might not be for you. Wild weeing for the win (it’s actually rather liberating). No but seriously, the places you spend your time more often than not have public toilets. You get into sync with what’s available and of course, if you’re on a campsite, you’re sorted. On top of that, I have a portable toilet option in the van.

For the shower situation, again I’m usually parked up near lakes / the ocean! So a combination of lake dips (with biodegradable, eco-friendly soap), beach showers, campsites and the shower I have in the back of my van. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t used the baby wipe option from time to time.

It’s part of the adventure. You certainly begin to appreciate the abundance of luxury you have in a fixed home. Gratitude levels skyrocket.

Apart from the initial upfront costs of investing in a van, has it allowed you to save money in the long run?

Absolutely! I mean anything is cheaper than London rent lol. I’ve gone to the other side of the spectrum. I think in Scotland we stayed on 2 campsites in a month so that takes monthly rent from £1000+ down to like £40. Of course, there are many other costs incurred with a van (maintenance, fuel, parking) but on the whole, for such a wholesome lifestyle, it’s ridiculously attractive.

What do you do for work or have you taken some time off work right now?

I’m still running Where’s Mollie full time and also currently studying as I transition and open my new business. In the coming months I’ll be launching a new well-being business and graduating in Tantra-Kundalini Yoga, Conscious connected breathwork and level 3 sound healing!

How has living this way of life changed you as a person, what has it taught you?

Living in a van has showed me just how important it is to regularly disconnect from technology and to reconnect with the earth, our true nature. When you have no signal, you have no signal. You get outside. It’s made me so grateful for the little things that I once overlooked, like water and electric supply, a big fridge, a bath. Those things feel like incredible luxury to me now. Last summer, in the heart of the pandemic, I lived in my van for 4 months and felt complete peace in what was a globally chaotic time. Van life shows me that we are a product of the things we surround ourselves by, and it’s given me a clear direction and standard for the internal peace I want to feel in my life.

Do you think it’s something everyone should do at least once in their life, even if it’s for a vacation / short-term?

 It’s definitely an acquired taste but… even if you don’t see yourself as a ‘camper’, there are vans out there to suit everyone! You could get a top of the range, luxury van with an inbuilt toilet and hot water shower! All van life really means, is the willingness to be spontaneous, to be wild for a while and in return? to feel complete freedom.

One thing a van-lifer can’t live without…

A good tea and biscuits selection. Haha. Gosh so many things… to be honest, if we are being serious it’s a comfy bed and enough water storage! 

For anyone thinking about living in a van, what would be your golden advice?

Hire some first! Try out the lifestyle for a week/weekend before you commit to the investment. There are so many types of vans to choose from so it can also be really overwhelming when deciding which one to get. You never really know what you like design wise until you get in the van so hiring one is a good way to get an idea of what you like. There are websites like Camptoo where you can rent one out!

Follow @WheresMollie & @WheresMolliesVan on Instagram, and check out Mollie’s blog here!

Amy Nicholson

What was your lifestyle like before you took the vanlife plunge?

Just before covid hit, I was living in a flat on my own in a town just outside London. I was working as a freelancer remotely, which I love, and had a full rota of clients but when the pandemic hit I, unfortunately, lost all my work as marketing budgets got slashed. This meant I could no longer afford to live in the flat, so I moved back home with my parents. The idea of the van came about as I wanted to be able to have some freedom, and to explore and travel whilst we were in the midst of all this uncertainty and chaos. I had been wanting a van for years, as I had done a few trips in one in New Zealand and across Africa. I loved the simplicity of it all, and being able to explore and travel from your home. 

What appealed to you about this nomadic way of life?

I have lived the ‘nomadic’ lifestyle for a few years before I got my van, as I lived in Bali for three years working remotely out there. I had grown tired of the rat race in London, and was exhausted by the constant rush of city life, so after a year of traveling I eventually settled in Bali and started picking up freelance work. There was a huge ex-pat community living out there who were all working from their laptops, and it completely hooked me! To be able to choose your own hours and to design your work life around your hobbies was the dream! I decided to go freelance there and then, and since have been building up my portfolio of experience and clients. In the last few years [especially since covid] finding remote work has become a lot easier, so working remotely from the van is working out really well.

Did you convert your own van or was it already kitted out and ready to go? What are some of the things to consider before picking out a van that’s right for you?

I converted my current van myself yes! It was a project I took on during the last winter whilst in lockdown. Due to losing all my work, my flat, and various other difficult things I was dealing with behind closed doors, I needed something to focus on and put my creative energy into. It was incredibly hard, especially doing all the work in the freezing cold weather in the dark months of winter with no DIY experience at all, but it was so worth it. It’s very rewarding to be driving around in my little home on wheels that I built myself. I got some help with the difficult parts, like the electrical system, but the majority of it I did myself using the help of YouTube videos.

Do you live in the van full time or part-time / temporarily?

I am currently full-time in my van! I finished it in April 2021, and moved in that day! I’ve been exploring Cornwall, Devon, Scotland, and am currently in Wales. I’m planning to go over to Europe in September.

One of the best things about living on wheels is the freedom to travel wherever and whenever you want! What’s been your favourite road trip adventure, so far?

I actually had a smaller van before this one, and I went over to Portugal for 4 weeks last October which was incredible. At that time wild camping was allowed there and I can’t even put into words the beautiful places I parked up at. Waking up with ocean views is the dream. The weather was glorious, the surf amazing, and it was the first proper trip I had done in the van. I just completely fell in love with the simple life that vanlife offers on that trip. Since then, the two-week trip to Scotland I did recently blew my mind – the scenery there is incredible!

Although there are endless advantages of living in a van, particularly for your mental health and wellbeing, it’s not for everyone. What are the greatest challenges and things you’ve learned along the way?

I travel a lot on my own, so there are times that I do struggle with loneliness. The vanlife community is very open, but if you are struggling with your mental health and not feeling confident to be sociable, it can be a lonely place being in this small space on your own away from your friends and family. But, I also had these feelings living in my flat on my own, and having an ocean view is much better for me and my headspace than a town view! It can also be stressful constantly trying to find places to stay, feeling unsafe in new locations, and not having that routine [like your local gym or coffee shop]. But for the most part, I love the thrill of moving around and exploring!

Humour us because we know people will want to know… what’s the toilet and showering situation really like?

Due to wild camping being illegal in most of England and the fact that I feel safer in a campsite when I am on my own, I actually spend a lot of time in campsites, so the toilet and shower facilities are great here. I do have a Porta Potti in my van, which is basically a glorified potty. It has a flush and a toilet lid so it feels like a toilet, but you have to empty and clean it every few days – that is probably my least favourite thing about living in the van. But it is funny how quickly you get used to it! My outdoor shower is also great – it’s cold, but a cold shower is good for you!

Apart from the initial upfront costs of investing in a van, has it allowed you to save money in the long run?

I’m saving a lot of money living in my van now because I’m paying no rent, mortgage, or living bills [I have a full solar system so I don’t even pay for electrical hook up at campsites]. My only outgoings are my mobile, wifi router, campsite costs, and diesel. I also am living a very simple stripped-back, outdoor life – so I am spending much less in general too. No more expensive nights out in London or mass orders on ASOS [I mean, I can’t shop because I literally don’t have anywhere to put anything new!]

What do you do for work or have you taken some time off work right now?

I am a freelance marketing consultant. I have built up my portfolio since losing all my work last March and am busier than ever, which I love! I designed my van layout so that in the day it transforms into my office! I am clocking some long laptop hours, and I do try to show this on my social media – I work hard to have this lifestyle. 

How has living this way of life changed you as a person, what has it taught you?

Traveling solo has made me more confident, and the time alone has given me the chance to figure out what makes me happy and work on a few things that were making my headspace a little fuzzy. The stripped-back lifestyle has also made me much more chilled out! The simple life of vanlife has definitely rubbed off on me and my attitude towards life and how I want to live it. I’m much less materialistic than I used to be, and have found a new love for outdoor hobbies like hiking and surfing. I think all of these things contribute to me feeling a much healthier and happy person in general.

Do you think it’s something everyone should do at least once in their life, even if it’s for a vacation / short-term?

It definitely won’t be for everyone, but why not give it a go! It might surprise you. I think a really positive thing to come out of the pandemic is that it has given a lot of people the time to sit back, to stop, and to look at their life and whether they are happy. It is so easy to get caught up in this rollercoaster of life, but sometimes we do just need a little re-set. Taking a little trip in a van might be just the thing you need to re-evaluate what is important to you and what makes you genuinely happy. 

One thing a van-lifer can’t live without…

Eco-friendly soap! I try to be as environmentally friendly as I can in the van, and when I outdoor shower I use soap that is biodegradable.

For anyone thinking about living in a van, what would be your golden advice?
Try before you buy! I  spent a month in my first van and that trip was so eye-opening to understand how I wanted my layout of my second van to be, what I needed to have in the van, what I needed to pack etc – it’s all a personal preference and there is no right or wrong way, so it’s just what works for you! 

Follow @Freelance_Amy on Instagram!

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