Van Life Realities

Alright, let’s get real. We LOVE living in our motorhome and know that we are lucky to be living a life where we can travel full time. To complain about it at all does seem like ‘1st world problems’ but we also want to be completely honest, especially if anyone is reading our blog to help decide if this life is for you! Social media, including ours, is full of “Look at this beautiful place that we found” but doesn’t mention the tiny road you had to drive down to get there, that a caravan had nearly crashed into you on the motorway (yes, in our first 2 weeks of travel!) or the realities of living in a small space with someone else ALL the time. We don’t want to put anyone off but we always want to be honest & show the realaties of full time motorhome living.

Laundry back in Jersey was one of those things that needed doing ALL the time. If it wasn’t being washed, it needed to be dried, then folded & put away. When we had more space in our flat it could be delayed & spread out. We had busy lives and far more important things to do & we also had LOTS more clothes than we do now so if something was in the wash we could wear something else. In the motorhome washing, drying, folding & putting away needs to be done on the same day. Sometimes that’s just not possible, like when a storm arrives or it starts raining on the washing you’ve just hung out to dry. Sometimes the laundry facilities we find are just rubbish, or complicated to use, or really expensive or absolutely filthy. Sometimes it takes hours just to wash the clothes, let alone dry them and put them away. We try to do laundry every 7-10 days including washing our sheets and at least one towel (sometimes all 3). That’s usually a minimum 2 loads of laundry. We keep a long washing line in the van, a bag of pegs, a laundry hanger that fits on the outside of our van window & washing detergent. Also colour catchers so more things can go in together, very important as you’re likely paying per load of washing at a campsite or laundrette. It has to be done, it’s not fun but having all your clothes & bed sheets clean is such a great feeling.

Theodore in the ‘laundry den’

Data & Internet connection
Working online means we need acces to the internet. Producing a blog and posting to social media does too, along with keeping in touch with people when we are hundreds (or even thousands) of miles away. Technology is great, but isn’t always perfect. We bought sim cards in Belgium at the start of our travels, that gave us data & worked quite well, until we got to Spain. In Spain we found a better deal with another internet provider so used them until we travelled up to Scandanavia. Unfortunately the Spainsh sim cards didn’t stretch that far so we had to revert back to our Belgian cards, which give us half the data for twice the price. It’s definitely a minor problem but if Callum has a call for work or we need to get hold of the insurance company or doctor, for example, we need some kind of connection. Wifi can be scarce, especially when you wild camp as much as we do. It’s one of the things we gave up when choosing to sleep in nature & we generally prefer it that way, but it is something to consider when thinking about living this life.

Not a bad ‘office’ to work from

When you have no indoor plumbing and have to fill your clean water & empty your waste water you need to know how much you’ve got at all times. This has been a really great way for us to manage our water usage and help in our steps to live a more sustainable life but sometimes it’s REALLY frustrating. We have run out of water in the middle of washing the dishes or, even worse, in the middle of a shower. We love that we have a shower in the motorhome but it takes ages to warm up (you have to turn on the water heating about 1/2hr before you want a shower) and there is zero water pressure. It just kind of leaks out the shower head! Not great when you want to wash your hair & don’t even talk about the gymnastics involved in shaving your legs!! We like to keep our washing water and drinking water separate. We use the tank water for washing dishes and ourselves and water containers for drinking water (2 x 10 litre containers and 2 x 5 litre). It’s just one of those things you get used to and we try to fill up & empty whenever we have an opportunity, even if we’ve just done it the day before.

Lack of facilities
Every country is not the same, they all provide different services, in various places at varying prices. You have to know what you’re looking for and sometimes it takes a bit of research to find what you need. For example, Spain and France are fantastic for providing emptying & filling areas for water & toilet waste. You can find them at nearly every fuel station & every little town has an ‘aire’ or motorhome area. In Scandanavia nearly everything is done at campsites, especially laundry. We found one laundrette in Denmark, outside of Copenhagen, apart from that a lot of our six weeks travelling in Scandanavia was spent looking for places to do laundry. We LOVED travelling though Scandanavia but we would have loved to see more facilities, especially as we saw lots of motorhomes during our time there.

Trying to make laundry time fun

Travelling is tiring
It might seem obvious or something that you haven’t thought about at all but travelling itself is tiring. Just think about how you feel after you get home from a holiday. It took us quite a few months to find our own rhythm, to realise that full time travelling is not the same as being on holiday. You don’t have to try to do everything, all at once. Even though you’re likely living a slower paced life, you will need days to just rest and relax. We absolutely love the adventuring & exploring side of travel; meeting new people, discovering new places, exploring cities and being continually awestruck by nature but we also need time for ourselves; time to just sit, switch off and most importantly sleep! Driving for hours at a time can also be exhausting. We try to limit our driving to a maximum 3 hours a day when possible, only exceding that when we really have to be somewhere by a certain date or time, like to catch a ferry or meet other people. It’s taken us a long time to figure out what works for us. It may take weeks or even months but you will too.

You have to REALLY like who you live with
There are lots of pros about living in a vehicle or small space: less to clean, a clutter free minimalist lifestyle, more time to focus on other things and we love all those aspects. Sometimes though you just want your own space. Living in a motorhome or vehicle with someone else means you have zero privacy. None at all. We had no secrets from each other when we lived together in our flat, we very rarely shut the bathroom door, for example, but we could if we wanted to. When you live together in such a small space you know EVERYTHING about each other: when they last brushed their teeth, when they last washed or went to the toilet & yes, that includes their last bowel movements! Travelling together has definitely brought us closer and has been great for our relationship as a whole but we still have times when we just want to be alone for a while. The first month was especially hard, having spent a year or more working all hours to earn money to come travelling meant that we had hardly seen each other. Then to suddenly be spending every minute together was a bit of a shock. Thankfully we’re good at talking things through, we try not to let disagreements or annoyances escalate and we sort them out there and then. I don’t think we would have survived this long otherwise.

Emptying the toilet
The thing we are asked about most often & the thing that basically dictates our lives: emptying the chemical toilet. As I said above, living in a motorhome or van means that you have no mains water, no indoor plumbing and most importantly; no flushing toilet. All your waste is collected in a neat little box that sits underneath your toilet waiting to be emptied. By you. It’s up to you to decide if you use chemicals in it or not, if you put your toilet paper in it or not (we use a bin at the side of the toilet) and who is going to empty it. We take turns. We both make the waste so it’s only fair that we both empty it. Finding places to empty it can sometimes be a challenge. As I mentioned earlier, different places have different facilities. Some are great, some aren’t. Sometimes the black waste (from the toilet) can go in the same hole/drain as the grey waste (the waste water tank from washing up etc), at other times they are in two very separate areas. Even after a year of travelling we sometimes still have to ask. It’s disgusting, never pleasant but has to be done.

On the plus side; the days when you’ve just washed, dried & put away your clean laundry, have full fresh water & empty grey water and toilet cassettes you feel great!!

Friends & family
The biggest downside of full time travel is missing the people that we love that live back ‘home’. We have met wonderful people from all over the world and have made so many wonderful friends during our travels but we still miss our friends, the in jokes & the daft things only they understand. Social media is brilliant for keeping in touch with people but it’s not the same as a proper hug and being together face to face. As we approach our first full year of travelling we are getting to the point where we REALLY need to see those people. Thankfully, some of our friends are coming out to Europe to meet us very soon & we absolutely cannot wait to see them! Other friends & some of our family came to meet us in Malta over Christmas and New Year and we are hoping to pop back to Jersey for a couple of weeks at the end of the year, coronavirus permitting. As the saying goes “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”.

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