We've all seen those Instagram posts, beautifully clean van, back door open looking over an azure sky and a golden beach. It is enough to make any of us want to swap our lives for the promise of a life of freedom, beaches and adventure in a small space. Well it was certainly a dream of mine, and last year me and my partner did just that, nine months in a small space, driving around Australia in an old works van that we turned into our little home on wheels. Here's some things I learnt during those nine months:
Be prepared to get rid of everything.
Obviously a van is a small space, and there were two of us in our small space. I think at one point I got down to a couple of t-shirts, one pair of jeans, a couple of pairs of shorts and a pair of trainers. Storage space is limited and with me sharing with my partner of course she needed all the space for several boxes of cosmetics, bath bombs (we stayed in a hotel which had a bath one time), hair dryer, shampoos and conditioners. None of that bothered me as I actually really enjoyed having so few physical possessions, and since the vanlife experience I have tried to make this a part of my everyday life also. But storage is tight, everything has to have its place or things can quickly get messy, unorganised and it is incredible what can go missing in such a small space.
If I was to attempt vanlife again I would start by simply having four or five days worth of clothes, a bag of toiletries and maybe an emergency smart shirt for those special occasions.
Find a way to wash.
There are several different options for this but many I did not know about at the time of living the vanlife. We were in Australia so they have public outdoor showers at all the beaches, although they are all freezing cold, but after not having a wash in a few days it's still bliss. Eventually we found work on the Gold Coast and managed to hold down jobs while living in the van, the shopping centre had staff showers for people that cycled to work, which when we found out about that we signed up straight away. Other alternatives are gyms, if you want to stay in shape it's perfect to get the use of the facilities that you're paying for or some gyms will also do day passes or free trials. Also there are things such as solar showers, which we had but never used once in the whole nine month, and you can also buy dry shower foams which are surprisingly refreshing if you really have no other option nearby and if all else fails, baby wipes are life savers.
You will become the lightest of sleepers.
I can sleep anywhere, standing up, sitting down or lying down, but that first night in that van, when you're parked on a road side up a random street or in a quiet car park near a public park, you will hear every single thing that goes on around you. I slept on my back for the whole nine month and was alert to every single drunk person, every car passing and every single step within a 50 yard radius. I honestly felt like my senses had heightened just because of how different it was to be sleeping outside a random house when on the Gold Coast van life is technically 'illegal'. Sometimes we'd drive for hours looking for a suitable place to park up, especially in the first few month. You soon get used to the fact that nobody actually cares though, arrive late, keep quiet, leave early and don't make a mess and nobody will batter an eyelid a what you are doing.
Wraps Over Plates
Make sure you like tortilla wraps as it is essential. Vanlife cooking can be difficult and sometimes more hassle than it's worth especially if you don't have a fancy built in kitchen with a sink and running water. Tortilla wraps = no plates = no washing up. EVERYTHING goes in a wrap, vanlife staples consist of peanut butter, Nutella, noodles and veg, throw in a few cans of sweetcorn, beans, tuna and what else do you possibly need!?
Motor Vehicle First, Home Second
Probably a mistake we made with our van was that it was the first vehicle either of us had owned, we were naive and saw a cute living space with potential for a cosy bed and floor seating area while ignoring the rust, lack of working windows, poor suspension, and 3,500,000 kms it had done before us. So pick wisely, test drive thoroughly and think A to B before cute instagramming.
Make friends who live in a normal house.
Now I'm not saying make it your first question when meeting new people, but it it really helps if you have a good group of friends who you can call upon on days when you're under the weather, being ill and cooked up in a tin box is not advised. Find friends with a couch to sleep on if you need it, repay them in takeaways and beer and make it known how grateful you are for their help.
Dry bags are storage essentials.
We had a dry bag for everything, cutlery, electronics, tupperware, dirty washing, clean washing, books and even chocolate. They're a great storage solution in a van, get many different sizes and store them in whatever storage solution you have. It helps keep everything separate and means it should be easy to locate when needed.
That's about all for this vanlife post, keep a look out for another in the next few weeks about vanlife experiences where I'll try to make an argument for why vanlife is the best way to travel and enjoy new experiences.