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Van Life Blog 1 | The Design and the Dream

Written by Emma Constantine | Ist June 2021

Today we have lived in the van exactly a month. It’s a happy coincidence that it’s the first of the month as this will make it easier to track our time! Recently I asked my Instagram followers and newsletter audience for any questions they had about our transition to van life. You guys gave me some great questions, which I have categorized into sizeable chunks for leisurely and (hopefully) enjoyable reading. This first chunk I have named “The Design and The Dream”, for reasons that I hope will become clear. I have kept the questions written in the way that they were asked, so that if you were the person that asked it, you can easily see the answer!

How did you choose your van?

To answer this question, I must first tell you about the van we travelled in for 8 months around the coast of Australia (yes, the whole coast; we have a map to prove it), affectionately called “the dog van” for in its former life, it was used for a dog grooming business and the logos on the side showed this. We were forever being asked how we groom the dogs. On one occasion, one lady even followed us into a car park and drove up alongside us, asking us to groom her dog!

Anyway, after this van experience, I left Australia with a desire to travel my own country, the UK. So many Australians we met asked us where in the UK we were from, boasting about where they had been; I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know where they were talking about or even worse, never heard of it. To me, to get to know a country, it makes sense to travel it. My husband thankfully was up for it too and we came home wanting to replicate our Australia travels in England, Scotland and Wales and further afield… more on that later.

I realize I haven’t actually answered the question yet about how we chose the exact van. The dog van taught us that we wanted something much larger for living in; it wasn't going to be just for holidays. Once we had decided we would live in it full time, this also determined the size we wanted as we would be installing a shower and an oven. We looked at several vans and one appeared on Facebook Marketplace that was a really good price. It had low mileage because it was a business van used only onsite, and it was tall enough for us both to stand in (another important factor learnt from our dog van). In Australia, the weather is good enough to cook outside and be outside basically all the time, so the short height didn’t matter too much. But for UK living, being able to stand inside is important if you want to cook in all weathers. Plus, we would be working from the van so needed enough space to create a desk area as well.

We bought the van on May 1st 2020 so I reckon we got lucky with the price too: the pandemic may have meant that the seller was keen for a sale. If bought now, it would go for a higher price.

I would love to know the inspiration behind the fabulous artwork on the van

In order for your van to be classed as a campervan for insurance purposes, there are some aspects it has to have. One of these is that it has to have “campervan graphics” (whatever that means!?). Wanting something unique, we decided to get creative with this and asked my university friend Rosie if she would be interested in designing and painting something for us. Rosie is a street artist and we both love her style. My first question to her was if she knew how to paint on a van, as she usually does wall murals and the paint would be different for this surface. Turned out she painted London buses for a festival once, so she knew what to do!

We wanted Rosie to enjoy the process and to have some creative freedom with what she painted on the van. To ensure we also liked it, we chose two of her paintings that we already liked and she created a mash up of the two! To me, the artwork is about joy and colour and I think Rosie would say the same. You can check out her website for more information about her artwork and the inspiration behind it, as well as projects she has completed all around the world.

Where are you traveling to – just around the UK or heading further afield?

I’m keen to stay in the UK but my husband Chinaka wants to explore Europe as well; we’ve heard from other van-lifers that some European countries are much more friendly to campervans compared to England so it would be a great experience. It is rather dependent on our employment however, so although we have dreams, we have to balance it with work commitments as well. Like everyone else!

In this first month, we have spent it in the places where we have friends and family who we haven’t seen not only during the pandemic but also since our wedding 2 years ago as we were away in Australia for 8 months and came home a week before lockdown began.

Now that reunions have happened and we are full of love from our nearest and dearest, our very vague plan is to head north. We’d like to spend the summer in Scotland, but are already realizing it’s rather further away than we appreciated! We could easily get distracted by the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and everywhere inbetween. We are making our decision about routes on a weekly basis and will review it every so often. There is lots for us to learn about making routes, planning, as well as fitting in work. It’s actually exhausting driving great distances on a regular basis so trying to balance it with a slower pace, as well as work, is also a challenge.

Do you park it in one place or move around?

We’d like to see as much as possible as we can within a year so we will be moving around, but at not such a great speed that we get tired and irritable. Making a new decision about where to sleep every night (that is safe and legal) can get stressful, so a week or at least a few nights in one parking spot would be ideal but not easy to find for free. We are trying to use campsites as little as possible as this can get expensive and we have already spent over budget on the conversion.

We have to fit in work and “normal” life around travelling and planning, which, until you spend a long time in a van, is difficult to understand just how much energy and mental effort it takes up. Packing the van up and making sure that items are stored away so that they don’t move and get damaged while driving, is part of the new daily routine. Doing this as little as possible would be better, but at the same time, there is a lot to see once you start exploring.

I hope I’ve answered your questions but if not, then reach out again! Next blog will cover the topic of storage so if you have any further curiosities about that, then let me know!

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