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.

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?


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.

From Slovenia to Austria

It’s been a few weeks since we last wrote anything here, so this entry may read a little bit more like a diary than some of our other blogs. Then, by the end of it, all you interested people will know what we’ve been up to, what we’re currently doing and a little outline of our onward plan!

So, as we said at the end of our last blog, we drove to Slovenia. We found a really lovely spot to park up for a couple of days before we navigated our way to the next work project. We’re getting bettter at finding free parking/camping as we go along, which we’ve decided it a really useful skill to hone since the hobo life is not one full of disposable income. We use a handy app for this most of the time, called Campercontact for anyone that’s interested. After some failed attempts at using this to find parking, here’s our tip for fellow campers/van dwellers that might want to give it a go: check the review sections of any potential parking spot. If there are no reviews from the past year/few months, chances are the place doesn’t exist any more, keep on searching! Likewise, if there’s a contact number offered, it’s always worth trying that, at least to see if the number is still in service.

Anyway! This time the app found us a cracking spot and we enjoyed some relaxation. Then, undertook the journey into the Slovenian wine country (read: extremely small roads, steep hills, hairpin bends and vertical drops along the sides. One of us did not manage to keep her eyes open for the whole drive) to arrive at our hosts’ place. We found this job using Work Away, which specialises in work-for-food arrangements for people travelling around on a budget. Hosts write a description about themselves and the work they can offer, and potential volunteers can search by country and see if there is something appealing. There is every kind of work advertised here, from dog-sitting to construction, so with a bit of time taken you can do some research and find a project to suit.

Not the worst landscape

The work here was physically challenging to say the least. We’re both used to hard work, but the terrain of the vineyards and temperatures above 35 degrees made for tough conditions! With a lot of effort and many litres of sweat lost, we were able to do a huge amount of land-clearing work here that was desperately needed to turn a bit of a waste land back into a useable garden again (well, useable if you enjoy walking around an incredibly steep hill… which the humans didn’t really seem to but there were 6 dogs that appreciated it!). It was a two week effort, after which we bid farewell to the project and decided to return to Austria a little earlier than originally planned. On the journey back, we made what was possibly the best diversion of our trip/lives so far and headed to a tiny village called Thal bei Graz to visit the most important museum in all of Austria – Arnie’s childhood home! It’s impossible to describe how epic this was, so suffice to say that you should all just go there. September is the month we have been waiting for. It is the time of reckoning for our beloved home, as the MOT is due. But with some time to kill before then, we lined up some more work to do! By fortune, after sending out a couple of messages and not really expecting to find a ‘proper project’ that we could sink our teeth into for 2-3 weeks, we managed to land exactly that. An old friend had some rennovation work planned and a contractor that had just cancelled on her, so we were able to step in and take the job!

We were tasked with the re-painting of one room of a huge, old house – all walls, plus indoor and outdoor windows – with a side project of turning a massive old set of doors into a shabby/chic table. We’ve had our own private field in which to park up and turn into our current home and generally feel like we totally landed on our feet after changing plans a bit last minute. Everything worked out pretty perfectly – and we can now add ‘painters and decorators’ to our CVs. And ‘door rennovators’? ‘Table-makers’? ‘Furniture restorers’? Maybe we’ll stick with ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.

We’ve a few more jobs lined up in Austria, plus THE MOT as previously mentioned. Perhaps the next blog will be an update on the state of our van… please keep all your fingers crossed for us and send our old timer all your best thoughts for smooth running, minimal rust and no total breakdowns. And of course, follow our Instagram feed for little updates in the meantime!

4 Weeks on a Farm

We’re now in our fourth and final week on the organic chicken farm and for the first stop on our trip, it’s been all round pretty awesome. Here are some things we have learnt:

  • When chickens are alarmed, like when you approach them too quickly, they spread their wings and squat in place. It’s as if they think “if I’m small and don’t move much, no one can see me”. It’s adorable. So we’ve been scaring chickens quite a lot for our entertainment during the last month.
  • Turkeys are a bit stupid (always suspected but now a proven fact).
  • You can’t fix a broken tool with a broken tool.
  • Sleeping in a car during gale force winds is like being on a boat.
  • Heaters are by far the best things to have been invented in the 20th century.
  • The police that keep an eye on the royal family at Sandringham are highly suspicious of hobos parked on the side of the road rolling cigarettes.
  • Local farmers are a bit tricky to understand when English is your second language.
  • There exists such a meal as a 12oz steak with a side of lamb chop, and extra bacon.
  • Air hockey is still fun.Another joint goal of ours was to work on jobs that only needed attention during working hours – that evenings and weekends wouldn’t be overshadowed by the niggling stress of things that needed to be done, or things that went wrong that day, or looming work problems sure to crop up in the next days/weeks/months. So far so good on that front! We’ve been able to plan our days here and enjoy some hard work in the lovely English elements, but when the day’s work is done, it’s done, and our evenings and weekends (and coffee breaks and lunch breaks) are our own.

    Norfolk has been a lovely place to spend some time, and we’ve made the most of our weekends with trips to the coast, treats in B&Bs and hosting family guests from both our Austrian and British sides. Fish and chips have become a regular meal, ideally consumed sat outside looking at the sea of course. Our van is a wonderful flat, and we’ve got the daily transformation from living room to bedroom perfected. After a few days off when we plan to thoroughly de-chickenshit all of our belongings, we’ll be on to the next job, which will probably be when we write the next blog. In the meantime, get sneak previews on Instagram as always, and leave us a message in our guestbook if you want to say hi!

The Journey So Far

Getting on the road was not the easiest process. Big shout out to the ÖAMTC for creating a lot of unnecessary stress and just a touch of panic when their 20-something year old mechanic diagnosed our beautiful blue bus as being completely un-road-worthy without €3000+ worth of essential repairs. As it turns out, they are just ignorant as to the workings of older cars. However, it took them more than 2 weeks to admit this, during which time we were fast approaching the end of the tenancy agreement on our flat. Luckily, we were able to find an incredible mechanic who fixed up every little issue our van had and we had it back in our hands with two days to spare! It was then a busy time emptying the flat (hello to anybody reading this who picked up one of the goodies we left for free on Reindorfgasse!), after which we bid a fond farewell to Vienna and hit the highways.With a maximum speed of 50mph (85kmph), we’re never going to be able to be in a hurry to get anywhere. But that suits us just fine; we don’t need to be rushing around any more! Slowly but surely, we plodded along the highways of Austria, Germany, Belgium and France to catch the ferry to Engand from Dunkirk. The police in Germany weren’t too happy with our van and assumed we were hoarding drugs or weapons in there somewhere. After taking a good look around and admiring our lederhosen, they were satisfied that we were just happy hobos and let us go on our way. Germany also dumped a few centimetres of snow on us on our first night, and treated us to minus degrees while we were camping, but other than that it was easy travels.We arrived in Somerset in plenty of time for Christmas and enjoyed festive family time and piles of food. We were also really pleased to see temperatures touching double digits again, as we were banking on some milder temperatures for our first winter on the road (for the English wimp in our party; obviously the Austrian is used to snow and minus degrees). In Somerset, we savoured our last few days of relaxation before making the journey across England to our first job – working on an organic honey and free range chicken farm. Our next post will tell you all about it, or get sneak previews by following us on Instagram!