Van Life Blog 4 | Top Ten Things about Van Life
Written by Emma Constantine | Published 27th July 2021
This questions, "What are you top ten things about van life?" came from an Instagram follower. I thought it was a great excuse to write a blog but wanted to wait until I had actually lived this lifestyle for a while before jumping into it. Only three months in, so I'm still a newbie to nomadic life but I have enough to say already! I wonder if in six months time, my top ten will be any different. Number One is definitely my number one, but the rest are in no particular order, just the order I thought of them in.
1. The constant change of scenery
Have you ever taken one of those personality type tests? I’ve done it loads of times and what keeps coming up is that my personality thrives on variety and adventure. I thought it was a bad thing that I “got bored” of situations, places, jobs, quicker than some other people. When I read about my personality, it helped me to articulate my love and need for variety in life. It’s like it gave me permission to embrace that part of myself instead of fighting against it. Van life gives constant variety and that’s the top reason why I love it. If we wanted, we could have a different view from the window every day. That excites me. The uncertainty of not knowing exactly where we will be the following weekend also excites me. The possibility of adventure is actually our reality.
2. Our bed
We have a king sized bed in the van! It’s the biggest bed I’ve owned and I love it. Sleeping used to be a difficulty for me but in the van I sleep very well. The mattress is wedged on one side against the long “sofa” cushion, which provides extra comfort for my side and omits any anxiety about falling out of bed as well! A gorgeous duvet set and handmade blanket welcome me into bed every evening; it’s so comforting and homely.
3. Closeness to nature
Similar, to point 1, the views from our window often change and it’s also often filled with nature. Daily I feel so grateful that we chose this lifestyle and the ease of being close to nature fills my heart with such gladness. I can’t express my love of nature without sounding cliché. It’s true that the natural world is my favourite thing and provides me with fulfillment, joy and peace when I’m surrounded by it. It’s a privilege to be so near to it for most of the time.
At first, cooking in the van felt cramped and awkward but now I love it. Somehow it feels simpler and always carries the novelty of “camping style” cooking…even though we have a full oven and a two stove hob! I’m always impressed and pleased with myself for cooking full healthy meals in a small space. We are rarely lazy with cooking; two minute pasta parcels are about as basic as we get and even that isn’t too bad! During the year of conversion, we were living with my parents so perhaps I’m just enjoying cooking for only two adults now instead of four, and remembering the joy again of having more independence around food and cooking!
The “work station” (as we call it) that Chinaka built for me in the van is just brilliant. Sitting at it provides some separation for when we are each working or doing different things. It’s where I teach, sew and do other business related tasks. I have a window to look out of and most things I need I can reach without moving from my seat: pens, file, calender, laptop, plug point, notebook, planner, external hardrive and more. There are three net baskets attached to the wall carrying those miscellaneous yet useful things that I use everyday. It’s a genius deign and I sit so thankful at it every day. Plus it’s made of gorgeous iroko wood and has a seat cushion I upcycled from left over mattress and material.
For these first few months we have stayed close to western coasts which has provided sunsets into the sea. Similar to point 3, this closeness to nature and to something that is so beautiful and calming, brings me great joy at the end of the day. Having never lived near the coast, it is a treat and a privilege to watch the sun setting into the sea. It is another aspect of the natural world that points my thoughts upwards and outwards towards my Creator who sustains and protects my life and the life around me.
7. Having less clothes/less stuff
It’s not the first time I’ve had to review and reduce my belongings. Twice I have moved to Australia for a year: once as a student and again as an adult. Packing a suitcase with all occasions in mind and all weather possibilities is a challenge but it overwhelms me less than it used to. I’ve learnt that if I don’t have something that I want, I just make do with what I do have and it’s not the end of the world. Neither of us are high maintenance people when it comes to clothing or beauty so it wasn’t difficult to decide what to take. Out of the clothes I have with me, like most of us, I wear 50% of it anyway! Thanks to a glorious summer, I practically live in the same 2 pairs of shorts. It’s easier to access as well! Working remotely gives us freedom to not worry too much about formal clothing too. Of course I still dress decently and want to look presentable but I’m really enjoying having less clothes to choose over. My careful wardrobe choice means that I have the clothes that I really like with me so I’m always dressed in something that I love, feel comfortable in and (hopefully) look good in.
8. Aware of our Waste
Even with a small bin, it sometimes takes over a week to fill up. Having to search for a public bin to empty it into, means we are very aware of our waste and put a lot of effort in to having little waste: buying loose fruit & veg, not buying items we don’t need, repairing when things break. We have even less space to store recycling which also affects what we buy and how often we buy things. I buy a large mayonnaise rather than a small one for example, so that it is only one jar we need to recycle. Our food waste we keep in a separate container so that the main bin doesn’t smell. Again, the small container means that I will be careful with cooking: washing carrots instead of peeling them and leaving the peel on, cutting the tiniest bit of core out of apples, making sure we eat food before it goes off. This is in my top ten because creating minimal waste and taking care of the world is really important to me. Living in a van forces me to do this even more efficiently than I was before. There is just simply no space for more unnecessary stuff and its waste!
9. Surprises every day
Our plans are fairly fluid. There is a general direction of where we want to go but a lot of details are decided on the day. This makes for lots of surprises, sometimes good and sometimes bad! It is a daily decision about where to go, where to sleep, where to park for the day. Neither of us work very many hours so there is room for spontaneity. If our plans change due to weather or a car park being full, we can and have to be spontaneous and flexible with making a new plan for the day. This can sometimes be stressful, but more often than not, we end up in a beautiful place and the stresses are forgotten.
10. Kindness of people
While writing this, we are parked up outside Glasgow. Another Iveco van parked next to us and we got chatting to the owner, who also lives in his van. We spent the evening with him round the fire and exchanged various pieces of advice, as well as actual items that we no longer wanted or needed. I hemmed his curtains; he gave us a spare string of fairy lights; we gave him a spare strip of LED lights; we shared his wine and marshmallows round the fire. Interactions like this restore my faith in the kindness of humanity. Similarly, while on the Isle of Arran, I was packing my shopping in the co-op when an older man approached me. He was on his way out and offered me a voucher that he would not use because you had to spend over £20 to redeem it; he said he never spends over £20 so did I want it? He even went to the trouble of scanning his membership card so that I could use it. I was almost taken aback at his level of kindness, and perhaps left a little embarrassed at the level of skepticism that I carry. These interactions inspire me to be generous and kind myself. On some levels, van life is making me a better person.