#Vanlife - three lessons I've learned so far
Now that Instagram has worked its sierra-filtered magic all over the once red-blooded American camper van, its become a serious hipster obsession. Have a look at the nearly three million #vanlife photos on Instagram and see for yourself. These days it seems everyone is living life on the road; scantily-clad couples doing weird yoga poses in their tiny bed, nerds kitting out their four wheels, families, hippies, adventure seekers. You name it.
So, our little clan decided to join the band wagon, or should I say van wagon, during our six month travel adventure. I think Sven was inspired in part by the documentary Surfwise with the famous tagline 'reject normal'. The film follows Doc Paskowitz an avid surfer who gave up work to live in a camper van on the beach with his wife and nine kids. Well, I was up for a lot of that – but not the permanent bit– so we’ve limited our vanlife adventure to two months in New Zealand.
Now its been well over one month since I kissed my happy, urban London life goodbye. It's been 24/7 travel across windy roads all smooshed together with my three guys. We’ve had rain, we’ve had wind. We’ve had cuts, bruises and tears. We’ve had more bouts of car (and sea sickness) than I care to share. So while van life might seem virtuous, treading your own tiny path, there's certainly a steep learning curve and I'll be the first to admit it's not all sepia toned bliss. Which brings me to the first lessons I've learned...
Lesson 1: Vanlife isn’t always blue skies and pastel colored VWs
In fact, we don't even have a VW van because we had to opt for something that was actually practical. There was the first disappointment in our vanlife journey and that was before we even got started.
But seriously, upon revealing our plans to quit our jobs and travel for half a year there was much excitement. Excitement quickly gave way to a slew of tough questions though. Won’t the kids get bored? Won’t they drive you nuts?
In short, YES! They’re kids after all. They can be moody, dirty and just downright difficult. BUT, the campervan doesn’t actually change any of that. Our kids would often complain of boredom back in London with a flat full of toys and games. In fact, being outside most of the time has given us a respite as they love playing with sticks, rocks and all kinds of odd things they find.
Also, don’t all parents pine for a long leisurely brunch with friends or a quiet morning spent reading the paper from time to time? Whether trapped in a camper van or executing the daily routine – kids will inevitably get on our nerves once in a while. The bottom-line is circumstances don’t really change whether your living the van life or the spacious family home life. There have been plenty of moments where I thought ‘this was bad idea’ and that I've utterly failed my experiment in tiny living. But there have been a lot of lovely times as well, spent outside in nature creating some great memories.
Top tips to cope with rough van life times: always have lots of snacks and learn a few deep breathing exercises to use as needed.
Lesson 2: Van Life is about living a practical life
At first, living in a van sounds far from straight forward. But, really it’s a parred down way of life that revolves around the basics. We rented our campervan from a fabulous peer to peer site called mighway. Upon pick-up, one refrain by the van’s owner sticks out in my mind. ‘Everything has its place.’ I think Marie Kondo of the world-famous book, ‘The Life-changing Magic of Tidying’ would agree. Everything in our homes should have its place and if it doesn’t it’s probably because we don’t need it or at the least love it. Van life requires us to simplify our stuff and when we do it makes room for so much more – like creating great family moments on the road.
Since this is only temporary, our route to van life was easy. I can imagine the transition to a permanent van life scenario might be more difficult. All we did was rent a van and it had everything we needed. From a rooftop solar panel to generate our own power to a sofa that turned into a bed to the handy stove-top toaster, we were covered. The only thing we had to bring along were our personal affects. Which brings me to the key lesson here.
At its core, vanlife or tiny living or minimalism or whatever other word you want to use to describe living with less is about practicality. I’ve realized one month into our family road trip that my penchant for silk clothing and designer make-up is NOT practical when adventure traveling with two small kids. I keep wearing the same utilitarian clothes for hiking, swimming and being outdoors. They do not include any silk fabrics! As far as make-up goes, I stopped wearing any as soon as we left Auckland. Quite frankly, wearing makeup while hiking, swimming and spending time outdoors besides being a total waste of time is also a total waste. So, I’ve buried it away until we land in New York.
Top tips to survive in a small space: make sure your wardrobe reflects the activies you conduct on a daily basis and make your personal hygiene routine easy by limiting it to a few key products like sunscreen and moisturizer.
Lesson 3: Van-life is all about cleaning, but at least it's a small space
Between snacks and games and copious amounts of artefacts being brought in from the woods, our van is constantly smattered in stuff. Maybe if you don’t have kids, you can stretch the time between cleans, but regular washing is an essential way to keep the camper van from total chaos.
When I was younger, one night after dinner my Dad surreptitiously asked us, ‘who’s gonna sweep the floor.’ Well, probably no one, which is why Daddy-o was trying to be slick. I’m pretty sure he was thinking, ‘maybe if I ask as an imperative someone will volunteer.’ Now, many years later I find myself asking the same rhetorical question over and over. Between sand from the beach, dirt from the forest and general grossness from two small kids, we need to sweep constantly. The good news is, there's actually very little surface area to clean!
Top tips for keeping the van from being invaded by dirt and stuff: wash and sweep after every meal – NO MATTER WHAT – and insist on only one object from nature at a time.
Well, so far those are my top lessons in van life. I'll post another round once we've completed the second-leg of our van life journey. Stay tuned!