the truth about fulltime vanlife
I decided to embark on fulltime vanlife during that global pandemic we were having – that one that seems almost a distant memory now. I met a bloke (Damo!) and we decided to buy a motorhome together after 3 weeks (Yes, just 3 weeks) and explore the world together.
So – how did that go? Well – pretty well really, as you can see – we are still together and have lived most of our lives together in a motorhome. Crazy right?
When you start living in a motorhome – you start to open your eyes as to what you really need and leave that whole rat race behind. Society dictates how many people need to live their lives. To be successful you need the big house, the important job, things, things, things. And then you will be happy!
I worked out that travelling made me happy. That was what I wanted. I no longer have to work all hours to earn the money, to pay the huge bills of household living, to buy the stuff, to fill the house with the lovely things, to get the clothes to meet the people etc.
So we started out probably without much idea of how we were going to embark on our vanlife journey. Full of dreams for traveling to Turkmenistan (me!) and Spain (Damo!) but this is the reality of how things work and what fulltime vanlife in a motorhome looks like.
Here are our top tips and things to be aware of with fulltime travel on the road!
working in the van together
Working in a motorhome requires consideration and compromise from each other as you respect what each person needs to do to do their job.
I have to talk on conference calls a lot, so I don’t want Damo doing the dishes whilst I am working or deciding to grind up his coffee beans or do a 3 course meal!
Damo needs to have time to not be interrupted, so needs me to not keep asking him questions because he has headphones on all the time whilst he writes music or edits videos (I am still not very good at that!!).
In a house, you are able to carry on with activities in alternative rooms – it doesn’t matter if I decide to put the dishwasher on in a house – but in a van, washing the dishes is no more than 3 foot away from the space that Damo is working in (and I am being generous on those measurements).
privacy and space
This brings me on to privacy and time out.You need to get on well with your partner because living in a van for 6 weeks of cold, dark, miserable wet weather can be challenging. Even in another country.
I am not going to sugar coat it! You are bound to have some humdinger arguments. People still need their space so you need to work out how you are going to be able to give that to each other.
I can only really think of two that we have had – but we are both pretty laid back. Damo is happy to watch/listen to films on his headphones, whereas I mess about on my phone. He will read or play piano, I paint stones to leave around the place!
It may mean that you go off for a walk and explore alone somewhere, or a bike ride, or paddleboard.
I also do a lot of solo travel. I have been to Lebanon, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Syria and caught the train to Iraq in the last 18 months – so that gives Damo plenty of space for longer periods – and I get my junky travel fix for more unusual destinations.
How much stuff DO you need?
When you live in a motorhome or van fulltime – you will be surprised at how little stuff you need. In fact initially, you will take way to much stuff and gradually filter through it as you get used to how little you need.
For me the most difficult thing to reduce is the amount of clothes I have. I still find it difficult! I no longer have a triple wardrobe with 10 big drawers to put things in, plus a coat rack and a shoe rack! 15 pairs of jeans and 10 different coat styles with 14 different pairs of boots in different colours, styles, heel heights and lengths! I have 2 now. And one of those is walking boots.
For Damo, as a music teacher and composer, it was musical instruments. In his previous flat, he had a full on music studio with 5 guitars, 4 keyboards, 3 monitors etc so he has obviously really had to think about what he actually needs as the fundamentals of creating music vs what he would like!
We are both keen cooks – so downsizing on the kitchen equipment was really difficult. We have many discussions on what we need to keep and if we buy something, then we have to discuss what is going to be removed in its place.
The thing with motorhome vanlife is that you have to watch the payload of your vehicle and make sure that you do not go over it – so really, every little does count.
You will find you go through and replace and whittle down and change as you go along – but do make sure you get weighed at a weighbridge regularly to keep on top of things. Minimal really is good!
what will family and friends say
This is quite a big one really. What will everyone say? Chances are you are going to get a mixed bag of reactions here.
My elder family were actually more against it. ‘Don’t give up your job’, ‘Don’t sell the house’, ‘You are making a massive mistake’, ‘Where will we have Christmas?’, ‘Where will the kids stay when they come back?’.
The amount of WhatsApp conversations that went on behind my back was insane!
I got all of these and more. The bottom line that I stuck with (and I needed plenty of resolve), was I told myself over and over that I had devoted 30 years of my life to others (bringing up my gorgeous children) and put people first my entire life, and now it was my time to live the life doing the things that I wanted – which was travel. I also felt massively guilty for wanting to do this thing.
You will have to work out your own way of handling things. Only you will know your family and friends and know how they will respond or react to what you are about to do.
Did I pay a price – yes. I think I did pay a price. My relationships changed. Some better, some worse and some not at all.
Would I do it again – Yes.
If I hadn’t messed about at school so much when I was younger, I might have had a house that I could keep so the kids would have a base when they went to see family (and me!). But I can’t change how I was when I was a kid can I?
how much does fulltime vanlife cost?
People love to ask this! I think it is fair to say that the answer to this is ‘However much you want to spend’.
In the same way you live in a house – the expenses are what you spend outside of the house. Going to the movies, eating out, having a glass of wine or two in the evenings. Its just the same.
I absolutely love not having those big bills! No massive mortgage repayments, no huge electricity rises, so many bills that I don’t have to pay anymore. I would say I have more money to actually enjoy life itself now. The freedom feels wonderful. And I can treat the kids more!
We invested in a big battery bank in our van – we have 2 x 300ah LiFePO4 batteries – with 550w of solar on the roof and live off grid most of the time. We use our natural resources to power everything.
Sometime we go to sites – mostly around cities which are bigger. We can explore the cities knowing the motorhome is safe – and also fill up with water, do the washing, spring cleaning. We parked up for 5 days outside Venice and got an AirBnB in Venice knowing everything was safe.
We also go to sites to empty toilets and fill up with water. We pay a nominal sum for the use of the facilities. It just makes life easier – and I am anything for an easy life.
Your travel style will probably change
This was especially true for me. If you ask my my previous travel style – it would be ‘Don’t plan for a rest and take a few days off when you get home’.
I have travelled quite a lot previously, having visited about 60 odd countries before vanlife – but having to get that travel in to a standard 9 – 5 office job holiday allowance meant that I didn’t have time to waste on relaxing!
Pre-vanlife me would have a spreadsheet in hand and things booked – from cooking classes, scooter food trips and hikes to train rides, paragliding and kayak trips.
The fulltime motorhome vanlifer me just has a list. If I am going to a particular place, then these are the things I would like to see in that area. If it takes 2 weeks, then that’s fine. If we stop to do something different or change direction – that’s fine too.
Vanlife is a relaxed way of travelling. However, if you are travelling somewhere in peak season or if there is a festival or celebration on, you might want to pre-book a campsite or something. Also if there are big fines for wild camping (Austria springs to mind here – 14,000 euros in some districts) then if you can not be flexible (i.e move on and do something different) then you may wish to do this.
what if you change your mind about vanlife?
Well, this depends on what you have thrown into the ring on fulltime vanlife investment.
I would definately make sure that you have thought about all angles and are sure you have sat down and worked out your finances and done your research into what your future may look like.
You may be doing a midlife gap year. You might just be travelling for 5 years. You might only do it in the winter to get out of the UK winter weather – or you may want to travel as much as you can until you retire.
I am quite risk adverse. I have worked very hard in my life to provide for me and my children – so I planned and checked and made sure I had an alternative plan that meant if I hated it – then I had a fall back. I even studied to make sure that I could teach on the road remotely!
Everyone’s story is different so you need to make your own story, with your own risks and plans and do what makes you feel comfortable and happy.
would you change anything?
Fulltime motorhome vanlife is not for everyone. My life is pretty much contained within this motorhome. Everything I own in in this motorhome. I have a couple of boxes in my mums garage of photos, travel artifacts that I have collected on my travels and things the kids made me when they were at school – you know, the mothers-day cards with hand prints on etc! But thats it. I sold everything or gave it away.
The only thing I would change is that I would probably go for a 4 wheel drive motorhome now! Oh – and I would get an incinerator toilet fitted! haha!
But that will be the next motorhome we buy if it ever happens. We have pondered on the thought of living in a converted Toyota Hilux – but that is a way down the road yet!