Tips for Full Time Van Life
When we tell people that we live in a van full time, we get plenty of mixed responses. Most of them, however, are positive and go something like this “oh I’m so jealous, I’d love to have the freedom of living in a van.” We are really lucky to live the way that we do. We have so much freedom to just take off when we want and go explore. It is great. But – and is a pretty big but, it’s not always easy, in fact it can be really testing at times.
Remember it’s a small space, crammed with things you need on a day to day basis. There is no where to run off and hide when you want some space, no nice big kitchen to do your food prep and washing up, and there’s certainly no bath to soak in after a long day in the elements. It’s cramped, especially with two of you and a dog that’s main talent is getting right under your feet.
Sometimes, just figuring out where you’re going to stay for a night can be a worry. We pride ourselves on being responsible and respectful full-time van dwellers, which means only stopping over in appropriate places that allow overnight stays, that are out the way and making sure we leave no trace. They can be hard to find and that can be stressful.
Whilst it might not be glamourous, it suits us completely. We learnt very quickly how to adapt to living simply, in a small space so these are our tips for living in a van.
Tip #1 – Keep it Simple
When we moved into the van, we had to downsize our stuff to fit into a 6ft by 12ft space. That’s quite a task. Luckily, we didn’t have too much stuff to begin with, but we tackled it by addressing every item and asking if we needed it? Did we need the whole array of cooking pots, dishes, cutlery, books on gardening? If the answer was no, then it went to the charity shop.
This also means that you need to limit the stuff you buy when you are living in a van, or at least be sensible with it. My absolute Achille’s heel is books, I love them, and I go through them so quickly which is not great when you have nowhere to keep them. So, I invested in a Kindle to prevent our living space being turned into a library, but charity shops are a cheap way to pick up books and you can donate the ones you’ve already read.
The whole point of van living is to keep it simple, find products that multi task, look after your clothes and learn how to cook in one pot. You don’t need much to live on a day to day basis so leave your baggage behind.
Tip #2 – Think Storage
Once you’ve whittled down your belongings, you’re going to need somewhere to hide them. This is where box seats, hanging nets, overhead cupboards and underbed storage comes in really handy. There is nothing more stressful than clutter, especially when you are living side by side with someone else. If all your clothes are out and about then there’s no where to sit and if all your cups and cutlery are littering the kitchen side, then how are you going to cook?
This also applies to things like coats and boots and other outdoor gear; chances are you are going to be spending a lot of time outside and that means mud and wet things – stuff that is most definitely best suited to outside the van. Get a storage box and put any outdoor stuff in it – that way you can keep your van element free. Clever storage keeps everything running smoothly and allows you to enjoy your campervan even more.
Tip #2 – Keep It Tidy
At the risk of sounding really boring (and maybe a bit like my mum) this is probably our most important bit of advice. What’s the point of having all that clever storage space if you’re not going to use it? Put things away after you’ve used them, dust and sweep through everyday and do the washing up as soon as you’ve cooked. Seriously, it’s a game changer, it adds a real cosy feel when you settle down at the end of the day with everything in its rightful place, and it means you’re less likely to argue over who’s dirty washing/shoes/clothes/books/tools are in the way and inconveniencing the other.
Tip #3 – Plan Ahead
We all like to be spontaneous, it’s probably one of the reasons we’ve chosen the van life, but a little bit of planning goes a long way. If you’ve got a rough idea of where you’re heading, then have a look at the available stop over options. Apps like Search for Sites are great for finding alternative options to campsites. You could also ring ahead to pubs or cafes in the area to ask if they would let you stay over in their car parks. Most places are quite generous and for the cost of a small meal are very accommodating. By finding somewhere ahead of time you limit the risks of a noisy lay by stopover or being moved on.
If you know that you’re not going to be near any facilities for a few days, then scout out campsites that will let you use theirs for a small fee. We did this quite a lot up in Scotland and found lots of places that were more than happy to let us fill up with water or dispose of our chemical waste.
It’s also worth planning for the weather, especially if you are out and about in winter. We keep an eye on sites like XC weather so we can find suitable spots to stay; it’s no good camping out next to a river if heavy rains are due.
Tip #4 – Be Respectful
Sometimes wild camping is unavoidable, you might be on the road late and need somewhere to stop off, or it’s your only option that night. If you find yourself in this situation, and we certainly have on plenty of occasions, then be respectful.
Be respectful to the environment, the people around you, and other motorists. Make sure that you are actually ok to stay there over-night; if there’s a sign saying no overnight camping, then you’ve guessed it – there’s NO overnight camping. Definitely DO NOT park in front of gates, driveways or other access ways and don’t just pull up onto the verge or grass and think that’s ok. Look for spots that are out of the way, but if there are lots of other campervans there then you need to find somewhere else – people hate big groups of campers in one place and it’s best not to annoy the locals.
Try to arrive there as late as possible and then leave early in the morning ensuring that you have left no trace. Think stealth. This means no letting your grey water waste drain off here, no dumping your litter in the hedges or emptying your chemical toilet in the bush because you think no one can see you.
Fulltime van dwelling is great fun and an amazing opportunity to live simply whilst exploring wherever takes your fancy. We’ve lived this way for around 18months now, except for spending a few weeks crashing at our parent’s places here and there, and although we’ve always campervanned, adapting to fulltime living took a bit of getting used to. But we honed our full timing skills and with the aid of those tips, we certainly wouldn’t want to live any other way.