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Van life?

We recently finished up our winter work in Devon and moved out of our lovely little cottage there. The plan was to spend a couple of weeks with the Somerset family, then have some extended holidays in some countries we haven’t explored yet. Italy was definitely on the list, and perhaps Switzerland if we were feeling particularly rich. Then, over the last weeks, one by one all countries in Europe starting closing down, and though for a while it seemed like it might still be possible to drive through and maybe even find remote places to stay for a couple of weeks, the situation changed day by day until the word “lockdown” became the common state of affairs.

Spring arrived!

So, our current plan is to take each week at a time and enjoy the longer period we’ll now be staying in England for as much as possible. We’re lucky because we both have remote jobs at the moment, which we’ve been working on alongside our winter work, so we can now spend a bit more time on those. One of us writes online content. The other has had a remote job with his old company for the last few months and has also been letting his creative juices flow with a second side project. It’s something he has thought about and wanted to do for a looooooooong time, our #vanlife finally gave him the time and space for it, and #viruslife has allowed even more time! If you don’t know what we’re talking about, there’s a sneaky peek photo below, and see Instagram for the full story.

It’s a load of octopuses beautifully displaying collectible decks of cards!

We also have some more house improvements to carry out in Somerset, scheduled before the world went mad. If we’re not careful, we could soon end up working full-time hours, which was never part of the plan! It does seem like we won’t be moving back into the van though for a while, which is a bummer for sure. But it will be so awesome when we finally can and we’re looking forward to that already.

New floor, check. New wall, check. Just needs some painting and beautifying

Having written and deleted a few paragraphs now with further thoughts on this virus and how the world is reacting to it, perhaps it is best to finish up with some more gratitude. We are happy to be more than two years into #vanlife already, which means we live a life where we aren’t dependent on a regular 9-5 job with steady incomes to make a comfortable living. It also means we live a life where we never had more than a few weeks into the future planned out, so not knowing what we are able to do from one month to the next is no real shock to our systems. We have also been used to spending each and every day around each other, and so far we continue to see that as a bonus of our lives! The virus sucks so much, and the way the world has reacted to it only makes things worse for many. We still manage to enjoy every day, and know we are lucky to do so.

Happy New Year (belated)!!!

It has been a while since we wrote one of these! You may wonder if perhaps this was due to an epic honeymoon, as anyone that follows #vanlife will know that living in a van is all about yoga on the edge of a mountain, perfect beaches and impromptu outdoor-cinema-set-ups with projectors and more cushions than could possibly realistically fit in our tiny van. However, the truth is we had some technical problems for a couple of months so our blog got left behind a bit. After our wedding we finished up our project work on the horse ranch, laid a new wooden floor in our final Austrian project of the year and then saw in the New Year in England once again.

Winter is here!

We need to take a moment here to give a shout out to our epic little van. We have written before about how much we like to live in it, but haven’t shared a lot about what it’s like to drive. Here’s the thing; it’s awesome. That tiny engine runs and runs and runs and runs. It’s not too keen on the cold, but still on the third go it roars to life. It’s typical of an old car in that it has its own personal wants and needs that make it unique. It makes us think of Biff in Back to the Future who claims “nobody drives this car but me”. This makes it all the more special, and somehow all the more homely for us.

It’s a wild horse!

Our last drive to England was done in record time (which at four days is still pretty slow, we know, but shows how happy this van is to be moving and how reliable it has been for us so far). We didn’t have our hearts set on an old van, it just happened to be the camper that was available at the time we were looking that was just within our budget, but there are no regrets from us! Well, actually one of us would really love it to have power steering, but you can’t have everything.

Current work includes cleaning roofs…

and painting windows. And no, it is not always sunny

So far this year we have been back in our, now regular, winter residence in a holiday cottage in Devon. We are hard at work with house renovation here, and one of us has had his first taste at being a digital nomad! #Digitalnomad goes hand in hand with #vanlife for the majority of people that are able to live full time in a van while traveling around and it is fun to be able to give this a try as well as the other work we’re able to find on our travels. Life is always full of possibilities, and we are lucky to be able to grab these when they pop up. Like walking alpacas, which we’ll be doing at the end of the month. Maybe that’s what the next blog will be about…

These guys are just desperate for some hobos to walk with them

A bit of work and a wedding

For the last few weeks we have been working back on the horse ranch, where we spent a lovely autumn last year. It was glorious weather once again! Working outside in t-shirts and shorts in October is really a treat. In fact, getting to be and work outside such a lot is a huge perk of our #vanlife and something we don’t take for granted. The projects were definitely tough, physical work, a little more challenging than last year but, if we do say so ourselves, we smashed them!

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It was also a bit more challenging this year because we had a few things to take care of during the month, which meant we had to keep leaving the ranch for a few days at a time. One of those was a wedding – OUR WEDDING! We had decided that we would very much like to be married to each other at the start of the year. Well, this was the first time we spoke it out loud anyway. So we thought that we would like to make that happen before the end of the year. After spending quite some time getting all the necessary paperwork in order, we got ourselves the last available appointment at a registry office in Vienna and tied the knot at the end of October.

While we very much wanted to be married, we weren’t so fussed on the actual wedding part of the whole affair, so kept it all as small as we could. Conversations with the registry office to book it in went something like the following…

“Do you have rings to exchange?” – “we’re already wearing them, no need to do that”

“The guests can go in first, and you two make your entrance when everyone is seated…” – “nah, we’re not gonna do that, let’s just all go in together and ok, we’ll sit out there in the front if we have to”

“What music would you like to walk in t…” – “no music, thanks”

“Should we make time for speeches during the cerem-…” – “no speeches necessary”

So, all in all, the ceremony took about 7 minutes, and all we had to say was “Yes”. Which was super easy! And pretty much just what we wanted. We followed it up with coffee and cake in a cafe around the corner with our immediate family. It was an awesome day. And now we are husband and wife! I just had to write that, because it still sounds weird and incredible to me. Life just keeps on getting better.

We’re not the type to splurge social media with a bunch of photos, so here’s a few pictures of the day for you lucky people that still follow our blog.

On the way
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We’ve got one more small work project in Austria before we leave this lovely country and enjoy a road trip up to the UK once again. Perhaps our next update here will be when we celebrate our 2nd van life anniversary! Obviously, we’ll put the odd picture on Instagram in between, so make sure you follow us there.

It’s MOT Time! Again!

In the last month we have stayed in six different places so far. Sadly, we don’t mean six different locations while living in our wonderful tiny home on wheels, but six different flats and/houses. Every year, September is Mechanic Month for us, and we have to send our old timer into a care home to make sure he can drive on for another year. This year the last big rusty bits are being operated on, which we knew would take time and cost a fair bit. But mechanically, ours is an oldie but goodie and running really well!

Dropping off at the hospital

We discovered that it can be challenging in these modern times to find a mechanic who is able to work on old machines. Since a typical diagnosis these days involves connecting one’s car to a laptop and letting computers talk to each other, a vehicle that sometimes just requires to be smacked with a hammer in the right place to fix it seems from a different world. In our first attempts to get an MOT, the young mechanic of the Austrian AA (ÖAMTC) looked at it, then immediately made us sign paperwork to agree that our van was Danger of Death On Wheels, suggesting it broke all rules of science to still be running at all. We had to search out someone who was at least the same age as our van (40), if not a little older, who could see that it was indeed a drive-able vehicle and not too tricky to repair after all (hit it with a hammer).

Looking good in the rain

This year, we found an awesome workshop who straightaway shared some nostalgic chuckles when our van made its noisy way into their shop. Rather than shaking their heads and listing all the problems and reasons that it shouldn’t be on the road (which has happened more than once) they had a look, admired how well it has aged and agreed that old cars are the best. So, we are pleased to announce that the baby blue mean machine will be our humble abode for at least another year, though we hope he will go on longer of course.

Epic holiday photo no.1

It is always a strange feeling to be without our house. One of the hardest things is packing. With van life, no matter where we go, whether for one night or two months, we bring or whole house. In our van, we have everything that we need to live a comfortable life, and it all fits so perfectly in the tiny spaces (after some trial and error to figure out the best stacking and packing systems). For the last few weeks, we had to think about what we might need for the coming time and pack accordingly into backpacks. It was tricky, and we ran out of undies pretty quickly. We managed to have some epic holiday times though, despite our poor packing – check out our Instagram for some snowy mountain photos!

Epic holiday photo no.2

With all fingers crossed, we’ll move back into our little home next week and be off to the next work project. We’ll try to do a bit more writing here too, so stay tuned and thanks for reading! Year 3 of van life, here we come!

Epic holiday photo no.3

Surviving the heat wave

Living in a van makes one far more aware of the daily weather, and far more appreciative of lovely, settled, 23-degrees-and-sunny days. These kinds of days have been few and far between so far this year, and our latest challenge was a heat wave of more than 35 degrees for pretty much a full week. On Facebook and Instagram, #vanlife groups and forums were full of advise such as “insulation is the key!”, “reflective covers for windows!”, “leave your engine running for air con!”. Our old timer has never heard of air con, insulation also obviously wasn’t such a hot topic when building out campervans in the early 80s and our orange curtains, though super stylish, don’t do much in the way of reflecting sun.

Beautiful spot! Not much shade

The heat wave hit us during a week where we had to make some miles to get from one working project to the next. Therefore, simply parking up in the shade and waiting for it to be over wasn’t an option, otherwise that would be our first suggestion for survival. Shade was crucial though, and that became the MOST IMPORTANT factor in picking a spot to camp. We use the Park4Nite app to find spots and in lots of reviews, stating that a spot had “plenty of sun” was obviously considered to be positive, and we rejected those suggestions with disgust. The view became unimportant, we didn’t care if there were toilets, bins, showers or any normally-looked-for facilities. Our mission to find shade each day was almost as important as getting to Austria for the next job.

Stunning! But no shade

Usually during our traveling or holiday times in our van, one of things we enjoy most is the relaxing mornings, lie ins, and coffee in bed. Not during a heat wave. The hours before midday, before the sun reaches its burning, soul-destroying maximum, are precious indeed, and we tried to get all of our daily driving done in the mornings. The earlier the better, so we could be done by 1 at the latest and be somewhere in the shade (see point above).

Now there’s a little shade

We can store just 10 litres of water in our van and fill up whenever we get the chance. During the heat every drop was needed. If we were able to get water that was properly cold, we would travel with the containers on ours laps, under our t-shirts, for a constant cool compress. On the hottest day of the heat wave, we sat for an afternoon with our feet in a water bucket (a plastic washing bowl that we hadn’t used in our previous year and a half of van life but were oh SO grateful that we had kept it) and a wet towel over our heads. For the whole afternoon. Just waiting for the wonderful time of day that was sun set.

Goodbye horrid ball of fire

The best spot that we found during the heat wave was in the Austrian hills. We parked along side an incredibly chilly, small river, and the breeze coming off of the cold water was spectacular. The river was shaded by trees too, so it was the absolute perfect location to spend a day. During the evening, the breeze from the water was so cooling that we actually had to wear something more than just underwear. Feeling slightly chilly was the most sublime thing we experienced that week.

Glorious, precious, cold, cold water

So, needless to say we survived the heat with no mod cons in our vintage van! We’ve been working at our latest project for a few weeks now, and the next blog will tell a little more about it. Keep updated with our Instagram in the meantime.

How the f*%k do we make a living?

Since we’ve been living our best #vanlife for 18 months now, we’re plugged in to a few relevant groups on Facebook and follow others with similar nomad tendencies on Instagram. One of the most biggest curiosities regarding our mobile, non-9-5 lifestyle is simply; “how the f*%k do you make a living?” It’s so often wondered about, that we thought we would devote a blog to answering it! We also wanted to share more details of our particular version of vanlife, since it seems to be a little different to others that we’ve seen or follow.The most obvious version of this question that is asked is how to make a living from your van, i.e. how to make enough money online somehow to sustain yourself. There are always some fairly obvious answers in threads responding to these kinds of questions, along the lines of; “you can sell your photos”, “create a blog about your travels”, “host a YouTube channel” etc. We feel like it’s stating the obvious to say that only one in a million people will get a significant income from these avenues, but since it’s suggested so much as a seemingly easy way to sit with your phone and immediately have an income, let us say it more plainly: only one in a million people will get a significant income from these avenues. So, we do keep a blog, we recently uploaded a few photos to Shutterstock and we’re able to slowly and organically keep growing our Instagram account. But there is NO WAY that we’re relying on or even expecting these things to give us any cash to live on. Before we decided to move into our van, we both had jobs that required physical and practical work. They were challenging jobs that meant we both had to keep on learning new skills and be very flexible to switch tasks often. Therefore, between us we have quite a wide and varied skill-set (you can read more about that here), which means we would consider doing almost any job that didn’t need a highly professional level of a specific qualification. We’ve found this to be quite useful. Once you start talking to people, you realise that almost everyone wants a bit of work done to their house/office/garden/business, and we’re able to apply ourselves to a lot of these requested tasks.

Sanding and painting
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That kind of leads into our next tip, which is just ask. We let everyone know what we’re doing and what we can offer, and if we’re in need of work we send out the messengers! Everyone we know contacts people they know and finds out what work is out there. We also check websites like Gumtree regularly, websites that specifically look for help on campsites, and work-for-food sites like Work Away. Usually we have a country in mind that we want to spend some time, so target our searches there. Sometimes though we just have to go where the work is (as we need an income!), so might stay longer in one country or another. We ask for comments/references from projects we complete and keep an online CV of sorts here and hope that with this growing portfolio of work we will eventually have a good reputation as reliable, skilled and efficient workers for any and all needs!Our version of vanlife works pretty well for us. It’s a way that we hope we can keep this lifestyle for the long term, rather than just travel as much as possible for a year or keep a van for weekend and holiday use while working full time in between. This way we’re able to choose our jobs, choose our hours and work together, which was another goal for us. After our first year on the road, we were able to pretty much fully book our second year with work projects. We keep our fingers crossed that the third year works out that way too!

The Netherlands and #houselife

Unfortunately, holiday time can’t last forever. We found some lovely spots to stay during the weeks off that we had, and definitely recommend Belgium and Luxemburg for both cheap and free camper van areas. As we mentioned in a previous blog, the addition of solar panels to our van opened up a whole new world for us. As long as we are close to a lake or river to top up our water supplies, we can stay put! Perhaps not in the depths of winter when we want the luxury of our energy-sucking heater, but for the rest of the year we’re pretty well set up. But since other aspects of living, like eating and petrol, still cost money, we had to move on to the next project in the Netherlands.

Here, we are house sitting, dog sitting and room renovating. This means that once again, our version of #vanlife sees us moving out of our van and into a proper house. We’ve already written about things we enjoy about a house after #vanlife,  and there are definitely some things we miss about living in our van when step back into #houselife.

Coffee in bed is a big one. Of course, this is possible in a house. It just involves getting out of bed first to make the coffee, which often requires visiting a whole other floor or room in the house! What a journey! This isn’t so when we’re in our van, since by the act of sitting up in bed we are able to reach the cooker and set the coffee. Sometimes, tiny spaces are just the best.

Cleaning is another obvious one, and is a great bonus of a tiny home. When it’s time to clean in the van, we sweep through less than a metre squared of floor space, and wipe down a small stove-top that is the kitchen. Job done, in roughly 15 minutes (if we are really thorough with the kitchen. Otherwise it’s more like 5). Houses take a bit more effort.

This may sound a bit strange, but the routine of normal life is a bit more effort in a van, and this is something that we appreciate. We have to set up and break down the bedroom set up each day, we have to put away everything we use after we’re done with it or we quickly run out of space, storage systems need to be stuck to, water supplies are monitored and the daily weather means a lot. May did not bless us with the loveliest spring weather, and we did occasionally drive a few hours in the hopes of finding clearer skies. All of these things make us live a little more in the moment, and mean that we enjoy the shit out of life’s luxuries when we get them (by luxuries we mean more along the lines of WiFi and an indoor toilet, rather than a butler and a spa).

New luxury – chairs!

One of our favourite things about living in the van is getting into bed when the weather is nice enough to leave the back door wide open for a while. Whether we get to watch a wonderful sunset, be nosey neighbours to other campers, spy on busy mice and other wildlife or just listen to our surroundings, it’s a really special time that is hard to replicate in a house. This, alongside the other reasons above, is why we always look forward to making the van a home again, no matter how nice our temporary houses might be!

So anyway, we’re working now in the Netherlands. Check out our Instagram for some updates, and perhaps our next blog will tell a bit more about it.

Camper behaviour

We are sure that we are not the first campers to enjoy watching the behaviour of other campers. It seems to be a time and place in life where being a nosey neighbour isn’t considered to be rude or annoying, but expected and accepted. And your neighbours constantly change! So there is always something/someone new to see/watch/talk about. Highlights for us so far include the man who literally did not step outside of his motor home for the three days he was parked next to us, a guy with a semi-permanent caravan who scrubbed his few paving stones with something that was not much larger than a toothbrush for an afternoon, and anyone with a friendly dog.Hence, the subject of this post. Here are a few behaviours we’ve noticed that seem common to almost all campers that we’ve observed (watched nosily) on our travels:

  • Satellites finding signals. So far, we continue to be the smallest camper in the campsite/free parking area and most of our neighbours have mobile homes, rather than camper vans. And all of these mobile homes have a satellite dish on top of the vehicle. As soon as the vehicle is parked, the dish starts spinning and the occupants quickly move on to…
  • Leveling. No matter how level we perceive the ground to be where we park, you can be sure that the next motor home that parks in the same area will crack out their little yellow wheel ramps and make sure that they are parking spirit-level flat. When a completely perfect degree of flatness has been achieved, campers can continue on to…
  • Territory marking. This is very important, and the priority as soon as parking adequately has been concluded. It is usually comprised of setting out chairs, a table, often extending some kind of roofing from the side of the vehicle, sometimes laying down a rug or carpet of some sort and then immediately sitting in said chairs and enjoying the view.

    Other nosey neighbours
  • Sitting within the constructed outdoor living room. Obviously, the point of camping is getting into the wonderful outdoors, so it’s not the sitting outside that we find quirky here. It’s the fact that it only takes place right next to the campervan or motor home. The parking spot can be next to a lake, on the coast, by a forest or anywhere else beautiful, but you can guarantee that the chairs get unpacked and set up next to the camper, never carried to a different spot. We like to do this too! Our van is our home, and it’s always nice to sit at home.

    No neighbours here!

    Something that so far has been very particular to our daily routine that we are sure other campers have enjoyed observing is switching our van from living room to bedroom, and then back again in the morning. We haven’t seen anyone else with this arrangement in their mobile homes, no doubt because no one else seems to be living in something as small as we are. Pretty much all the vans we see on Instagram too have a permanent bed set up inside. Is anyone else building up a bed each night?

Also, our territory marking behaviour is seriously lacking. All we have to claim space outside is a doormat. Which we do enjoy laying down on the ground outside our front door as soon as we arrive somewhere. We have lately conceded that the idea of chairs might be worth pursuing, so perhaps we can join in with the more established territory marking that we commonly see very soon. Stay tuned with us on Instagram to see if this day happens soon!

First time doing that!

After a few months and a few completed projects in England, we are on the road again! In the last week we have touched ground in England, France, Belgium and Luxemburg, and it is in the last location that we have put down our very temporary roots for a holiday.

Goodbye England!

It is our first proper holiday in our van! We have had many lovely traveling days since starting our #vanlife and sometimes taken more than a week to get to our various work projects. But to just take off with no immediate work booked and no fixed plans for the next few weeks is a novelty, and an exciting one. Our days are filled with tough decisions like where to go for a walk and what to have for dinner. Like any holiday should be!

Road trip!

It is our first time really using the newly installed solar panels! As we suspected they would be, these have really been a game changer for us. We literally have a never-ending electricity supply in our home, and still find it a bit unbelievable each time we plug a phone in. We can also switch on our lights in the back/living room/kitchen/bedroom at any time. It is the best upgrade we have made so far.

Nice view from our bedroom in Belgium

It was our first time spending more than one night at a free spot with no amenities! This was possible mostly thanks to the solar panels mentioned above, and also because we were next to a lake so could refill our water. We know there are many people out there who think camping should be all about the off-grid experience, not worrying if gadgets run out of battery life and learning to enjoy just being. However, we’re not on a camping holiday, this is our normal life. And we like having a phone with internet, and a laptop for entertainment. Call us spoiled if you will…

Lovely free spot in Luxemburg

It was our first time watching a movie on an iPhone! We always assumed it would be a bit painful watching a whole movie on such a small screen, but with a decent speaker it was surprisingly ok. Whilst in bed, we rigged up a little system to mount the iPhone on our ceiling. Involving clips, and magnets attached to screws, a photo probably provides a better description. Wonder if we should patent that?

Genius?

It was one of our’s first time having a proper toilet-in-the-woods experience! Enough said about that.

As always, you can check out more photos of our travels on our Instagram account, and stay posted here for more blogs! Apparently there are some rainy days coming up, so we might write something a bit sooner than usual.

Minimalism – how to fit all your stuff in a van

Apparently, #minimalism is another trend sweeping the Western world. Or, at least, doing the rounds on social media. There are books, videos, and even workshops now teaching people to assess their belongings, get rid of unnecessary baggage and organize what remains in certain rigid ways that promote some kind of conscious appreciation of what you have.

When deciding to move into a van, one is somewhat forced into downsizing possessions. This stage is both liberating and stressful in equal measure. Our process of doing so did not involve self-help-type YouTube tutorials or advice from Marie Kondo on the best way store our crap in the tiny space that is our van. It started with the realisation that pretty much EVERYTHING from our flat needed to go, and ended in a car park, packing the van ready to leave with one of us angrily throwing beloved items onto an ever growing pile that “we’ll just have to f*cking dump now because NOTHING FITS IN THIS VAN”.After our year’s anniversary of van life, we went through all of the things we had with us in the van and found we were able to throw quite a few bits away that we simply had not touched through the year. The first, kind of obvious, rule of minimalism is thus: if you do not need it, do not own it. Being brutal with this rule however leaves no room for sentimentality, so there will always be a few things that aren’t necessarily needed, but will still remain in our van. And a few more that we will keep stored with our nearest and dearest.

We bought our van already in its camper version. This meant we were saved a lot of hard design decisions, and knew straight away what storage space we had to work with. We basically live according to four boxes, which is how the benches in the van are arranged:

Coffee is an obvious essential, and we don’t use the sink so it’s great extra storage

  • Box 1: Clothes – his and hers storage spaces are allocated within the box, and that’s all there is. If we get new clothes, we have to sort out our area and get rid of something in its place. One pair of jeans will have to do, one pair of work trousers, one good winter coat etc. Shoes have a separate area, and there is one pair of boots, one pair of trainers, one pair of sandals and one pair of wellies per person.
  • Box 2: Kitchen stuff – pots and pans, cutlery, bowls and cooking utensils are here. So is some of our dry food. Who needs plates for eating? We serve straight from the saucepan and each grab a spoon. With just two gas hobs to cook on and no oven, we don’t need a great deal else. And who wants to wash up a load of cooking utensils, plates and cutlery when you live in a van?
  • Box 3: Tools – we are slowly but surely carving out life as mobile handymen (handypeople? handymen/women?), which means we need to have a few bits with us to be able to work. Since our van is more than 40 years old, we also want to keep the basics on hand to be able to knock him back into shape when he needs it. Tools may not be an essential for all van lifers, but they sure are for us.
  • Box 4: Miscellaneous – this is the random area for a few books, handcrafty and hobby things, towels and blankets.

We have a very useful cupboard that houses our gas bottle, a wonderful fridge that can run off the gas or electricity supply, and a cute arrangement of small shelves which is where essentials like coffee cups live. Added extras crammed into random spaces are a few cleaning supplies, a hammock and an air sofa. We did plan and want to fit a chair or two into our lives, but they were discarded in the carpark fury mentioned above and actually it turns out that they are not so needed.

It is true of course that when people have space, they tend to fill it up. We are not so enlightened to claim that should we return to a stationary home somewhere that it would not end up full to the brim with stuff we don’t use. But for now, we really love the fact that everything that we own and need is stored and carried with us in our tiny little home. It is a different way to live of course; at the moment we definitely wouldn’t change it.