VANLIFE: 5 QUICK THINGS WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR
We’ve been on the road for a while now, and are well and truly getting used to ‘vanlife’. When we were getting ready to embark on this adventure we had lots of questions and no matter how much research we did really had no idea what to expect. Everyone has such vastly different experiences (different people from different places with different vans - the variables are endless) so it’s hard to generalise. That’s why we thought we’d put together a quick list of 5 general things we’ve learned so far:
1. It’s incredibly easy to camp for free
When budgeting before we left, we decided to err on the side of caution and assume we’d have to pay to stay in campsites on most nights, but we’ve found that we pretty much always camp for free. Two apps are our absolute saviours: Park4Night and Camper Contact. Park4Night is particularly useful, as users upload locations of literally anywhere they have spent the night, and no matter where we are, there are always several options available. Some of the spots we’ve found through this are magical.
2. You self cater more often than you think
We are generally not good self-caterers when travelling. We like to try the local cuisine and enjoy the vibe of going out to eat. We realised the other day, though, that we actually haven’t had a restaurant meal in aaaaages. We have plenty of storage in our van so we are able to stock up at grocery stores or markets, and enjoy buying the local specialties, which means more often than not we’ve preferred to eat in. This has not only saved us a heap of money, but it means we eat healthier and can be in control of the quality of the ingredients we use. It also makes going out much more special, and we can splurge on something really good.
3. You get attached really quickly
Frankie is a tight squeeze, the floor needs sweeping about 10 times a day, and we have hit our heads more times than we can count (and are possibly living with permanent concussions) but we fell in love with her almost immediately. She is our home, and part of our family. Our hearts warm when we see her at the end of a day out, and we miss her when we take a few days sojourn in a hotel. We love having all our things within reach and not having to live out of a suitcase.
4. Things always need fixing
This isn’t really something we learned along the way, it’s more something we correctly assumed. When you buy an old campervan, it’s bound to have little quirks and breakages. While we haven’t yet had any of the anticipated monumental breakdowns requiring serious mechanical work (though these are probably yet to come…), we’ve had burst internal water pipes, shredded bike covers, a dead fridge, broken horn, loose steering wheel, malfunctioning water pump, stinky grey-water tank, and a snapped awning. If you’re travelling in a van you need to be relaxed about things going wrong, and okay with not getting travelling at a hectic pace. It's all part of the experience. And it helps if you have handyman Jamal on call.
5. You CAN be in the middle of the action
One of our worries about vanlife was having to always stay on the outskirts of a city where the life of the place would be on our doorstep. In most cases, though, we have been within walking distance (or a short bike ride) from everything we want to see and experience. We have also been surprised to find that sometimes staying on the outskirts of a city can be a better experience. For example, in Barcelona we decided it was safer to stay in a proper campsite (called Camping Barcelona), and the best option was a free 40 min bus ride (only free in off season) into the centre. Only 5 mins away, however, was a little town called Mataro, which we ended up LOVING. We ended up spending more time here than in Barcelona itself.