In January 2016, Mat and I spent 16 nights living in our van whilst doing a Day Skippers course with the Royal Marines.
We did it for 2 reasons. Firstly, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income to spend on accommodation, and secondly, we liked the idea of getting to grips with compact living, especially during the cold January winter, in preparation for our Atlantic rowing challenge.
Admittedly, I wasn’t really looking forward to the experience – I was worried about the cold and also living in such a small space during an intense learning period. Mrs Pegasus, the van is 2m long by 1.5m wide, a lot bigger than the cabin we will be ‘living’ in for 2 months on our ocean rowing boat, so it felt gloriously spacious in comparison.
Despite my hesitations, we absolutely loved every minute of our adventure, learning a lot about ourselves and each other.
Here are our 11 top tips for a successful and enjoyable #vanlife.
1. Comfort Breaks Strategy
Toilet habits are no longer determined by bladder and bowel movements but more your vicinity to a toilet.
Mrs Pegasus does not home a toilet facility (thankfully), which meant forward planning for ‘convenience stops.’
Use restaurant, cafe, pub, supermarket, public facilities even when you don’t need them. You’ll often be pleasantly surprised and thankful later.
2. The Local Laundrette
Laundrettes aren’t as popular as Eastenders makes out to be, so staying on top of our laundry game meant washing our smalls in the shower with us. No-one wants a bag of stinkies on board with them.
Fortunately, because we visited the Marines gym before sea school, we had the benefits of a hot shower every morning so was able to stay on top of the laundry game. It’s not glamorous, but neither is living in a van.
And to dry the stuff? The van looked like chinese laundry with pants, knickers and socks hanging from everywhere and on the dashboard drying over the window heaters : )
3. Plug Point Obsession
Charging our devices with Peggie’s single AC plug when on the move just wasn’t realistic. The simple life (for those who need to raise £120,000 for an adventure) still requires iPhones, laptops, phone chargers and Go Pros – how else are we meant to record awesome stuff?
Be on the lookout for plug points at all times! Even if your sitting down for just 5 minutes. And plug everything in! Everything! It’s as important as breathing ….. and finding toilets. It feels cheeky at first, but you’ll get used to it. Welcome to #vanlife.
4. Supermarket Food Bag Thief
Who knew those little clear supermarket plastic bags were so useful? You know, the ones you put your apples, oranges or kiwis in. And no, before you start thinking “The Lady In A Van”, I’ll stop you in your tracks. There’s no poo bags in this story.
These little bags are great for rubbish – the perfect size to fill after an evenings cook up and then chuck away in a nearby bin.
They are also good to use as a temporary lunchbox, keeping food fresh for a day or so longer and preventing spills. When you’re in the supermarket grab a massive handful!
5. Housework….. Vanwork
Living in such a small space, especially with 2 people, required us to be extremely well organised and tidy! Within minutes, Mrs Pegesus would go from OCD-compartmentalised-tidiness to a-bomb’s-hit-it chaos.
Mat and I only took 5 bags of belongings away with us in total, and each morning and evening, we had a routine that fell into place, meaning we always knew where everything was. We moved about the van fulfilling our chores like synchronised dancers ready for the next day.
And then every few days, we’d have a deep clean, taking everything out, having a full anti-bac and sweep, then repacking everything in it’s perfect little position.
Once we had found a cosy place with wifi, we’d order a pot of tea (always go for the teapot!) and sit for hours tapping away on our laptops.
We didn’t intentionally do it, but often 3 hours would pass and our pot would still be full. Hot tea is over rated anyway. And remember – sit near a plug point!
7. Nervous Laughs
Our adventures on the road sometimes meant going a day or so without a shower. It’s a bit gross but there are worse things I promise you.
On occasions, I’d head into the ladies WC at a service station armed with my soapbox, toothbrush, toothpaste and small towel and get to work with a bit of face and mouth admin. It always amused me that some of those around me would laugh nervously. Perhaps they thought I was homeless, or a hippy or something…..
It makes me chuckle every time. I suppose it’s not normal behaviour to wash your face whilst visiting a petrol station, but come on, it’s not as though I’m washing my bum at the sink…… Or my smalls. I’ll save that event for the shower.
8. Less is definitely more.
Mat was extremely strict with me on how much I was allowed to take for the 2.5 week adventure. One 55 litre bag and no more. And that included all clothes for school, exercise, activities and socialising. Less belongings meant more living space, less to worry about, less to tidy and therefore more free time.
The simple life is a beautiful life.
Afternote: After living with so little during our van adventures, on my return, I cleared about 30% of my belongings as I knew I could live (happily) without them.
9. Have a permanent supply of the following in your ‘home.’
- Bottled water – drinking, cooking, face washing (when you don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable at service stations)
- Wet Wipes – face, hands, spring cleaning and washing up. They work wondered on dirty pots, plates and cutlery. No water required.
- Anti Bac Gel – Cleaning hands, housework and washing up. I’m sure it’s not designed for the latter but works a treat teamed with Thirst Pockets when wet wipes just don’t cut it.
- Thirst Pockets Kitchen Roll – Keep to the branded stuff! See below.
10. Thirst Pockets are King!
Saving money on baked beans is fine. Doing your shop at 7pm when all the food has been reduced is fine. Buying own-brand Thirst Pockets is 100% NOT fine.
Don’t do it, don’t think about it, don’t even look at the cheaper brand. Spend your money on the finest kitchen towels money can buy.
Thirst Pockets are the BEST! You’ll find so many uses for them, primarily mopping up condensation from the inside of the roof each morning, unless you’re all posh and have a proper converted van, unlike us.
One morning, I thought it was raining inside the van, perhaps the roof had a leak? Oh no, the roof was covered with millions of microscopic droplets of Mat & Laura evaporation – yep sounds gross, and it kind of is. We had bought an own brand kitchen roll, and it literally fell apart even looking at the moisture. Thirst Pockets are like the Hob Nob of the kitchen towel world – anyone remember that Peter Kay sketch?
Spills, serviettes, plates, chopping board, flannels, emergency convenience stops, housework. Crikey! They are so strong I reckon you could even make clothes out of them.
Ha! Can you believe I just wrote so much on that one subject? Thirst Pockets are King!
11. Enjoy The Simplicity
With so few belongings cluttering our life, we were able to enjoy the simple pleasures.
We rotated 3 outfits each throughout our trip.
We only bought enough food for us to eat each day, keeping it basic and nutritious.
With no TV or radio we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of our location.
We made a conscious effort to stay off of our phones, to not only save the battery life but to also enjoy each others company and relaxation.
The best bit of the trip was falling asleep when it was raining. We’d lie in our sleeping bags, snug as bugs, and enjoy the sound of the rain hitting the roof and gently drift off into a deep sleep.
The trip was beautiful.
Something I would definitely do again!
I loved it so much, I am going to chuck in a bonus tip.
So, here it is……..
12. Which Car Park?
You have the choice to stay wherever you want every evening .
We stayed on the beautiful coast of Plymouth looking out to sea one night with the gorgeous starry sky above. Another evening, on the peaceful shore of a reservoir.
But it doesn’t always go to plan …..
If you can get a heads on up which car parks might attract the local dogging community, then that will definitely improve your quality of sleep, depending on your preferences and desires of course???
One evening, I think we stayed in a ‘dogging’ car park. It was a beautiful beach side location and I was so excited to spend the evening listening to the sea. Well……when the ‘local activity’ aroused (probably the wrong word to use) my suspicions, I was so petrified I spent the night quivering in my sleeping bag making sure the doors were locked every few minutes. It made Mat laugh so much as I thought someone might come and knock.
We didn’t go back there again.
Here is a little section of my favourite #VanLife pictures:
To see the full Van Log Photo Album, please click here.
And here are my Van Log Diaries:
Van Log 001
Van Log 002
Van Log 003
Van Log 004
Van Log 005
Van Log 006
Van Log 007
Van Log 008
Van Log 009
Van Log 010
Van Log 011
Van Log 012
Van Log 013
Van Log 014
Van Log 015
Van Log 016
Van Log Conclusion
(I’m not sure what happened to Van Log 008! – oh well).
Thank you for reading x