A movement that has gained a lot of traction in recent years, each ‘vanlifer’ having their own reasons for taking on full-time van living. From adventure to a cheaper cost of living, it’s an alternative lifestyle that isn’t for everybody but for us, almost three years on, it’s still working & is (mostly) pretty darn wonderful.
We’ve explored off-the-beaten path places in both the UK & Europe, built our online business on the road, gotten married along the way & have even sat out the pandemic from our tiny home on wheels.
Early last year we travelled to Manchester to talk ‘Van Life For All Seasons – Living In A Motorhome Full-Time’ with Presenter & Chef Andrew Dickens at Destinations – The Holiday & Travel Show. We had so much fun & it was not only an absolute honour to be able to tell our story but it was also great to be able to share all of the practicalities around exactly how we have made full-time van life work.
With searches on Instagram for #vanlife delivering over 9.8 million posts (up a whopping 450% from 2017) – van life is only getting bigger. So, with that in mind, we’ve updated this post to include tips for recent times.
You’ll also find the answers to all of the questions we were asked by the audience at the north of England’s largest show dedicated to finding & buying your first motorhome.
Disclaimer – we may receive a small fee for any purchases made via this post. Learn more.
Post updated by The Wilder Route on 5th May 2021.
The Possibility Of Full-Time Van Living
For those of you that haven’t visited our blog before, we are Kelly & Adam & we have lived in our motorhome, a Bessacarr E560 named Barnaby for almost three years now, so we are living proof that yes, full-time van living is possible.
At the time of updating this post, living in your van in the UK (as we do) is completely legal, so long as your vehicle meets all requirements & is road legal (we’re talking tax, M.O.T., insurance) however at this point we’d like to bring your attention to a bill which is currently going through the motions in parliament called the ‘UK Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill’ – you may have heard of it, it covers a lot on rights to protest, etc. but it also, in short, looks to threaten the very way of life for anyone in the UK who lives nomadically. Bloggers Van Monkeys have done a detailed write-up on it with action points & a link to sign a petition opposing the bill, all of which you’ll find here.
Ok, we won’t delve too much more into the freedoms our government is looking to take away. What we will say is, the UK, although at the moment our currrent base, is not the only country that we wish to explore & that’s the joy of van life, exploring is (pandemic aside) what van life is all about.
Why live in a van?
We’re not gonna lie, this life we have chosen is not always easy but we bloody love it because…
- Living in a van can (& certainly for us does) mean more time in nature – something which has been scientifically proven to improve memory, fight depression, & even lower blood pressure.
- The benefits of owning less stuff are stacking up, which is something that is a given when living in a tiny space – less stress, more time & being better for the environment are just some of the reasons that less is more.
- Choice & autonomy (which this lifestyle brings) is more directly related to happiness than having lots of money – giving options to pursue true meaning in life.
There are also other things to take into consideration when asking yourself “why live in a van?” for which recent studies have found…
- The average cost of a van conversion in the UK ranges from £500-£40,000. £500 for a basic build where you do everything yourself using recycled/second-hand materials, & up to £40,000 for a fully professional conversion to a luxury van – making a van a super affordable option for building your own home Source Camplify
- Only 4% of vanlifers surveyed in the US report that they’re retired – meaning that you don’t have to work for thirty-plus years before driving off into the sunset Source Outbound Living
- Unlike cars, campervans can hold their value & many people will make their money back or even make a profit when they come to sell them – so trying this life for a little while or using it as a stepping stone to something else is possible Source Monia Scott for Admiral
Ok, now we’ve caught up on the latest, let’s take you back to our talk in Manchester (operating under our former brand name of Destination Addict) where we stood in front of a packed audience (gulp!) & answered questions on everything van life.
It seems strange right now, with events having been off for over a year to think about that day which we loved every second of. There were people there who already owned their campervan or motorhome & others who we’re thinking of buying them.
So, watch our short trailer video below then get stuck into the tips we shared & the answers to those full-time van life q’s.
Facebook on Wednesday, January 13, 2020
What’s our secret to full-time van living?
For us, two things are key – preparation & balance. We love to be spontaneous, therefore our plans change quite a lot. At the start of our journey we didn’t prepare for this spontaneity, sounds strange right? But hear us out…
Because we weren’t preparing for things to be flexible we found that everything became too overwhelming & that’s when the balance had to kick in. For us being digital nomads & living & working from our motorhome means that we have a lot to juggle & we’ve found that since we’ve added little preparation into the mix, the balance has flowed a lot more easily.
Is it difficult to live in a motorhome year-round?
We have found that this question does tend to pop up a lot & we honestly believe that it is due to mindset. Motorhomes & campervans have only fairly recently started to be seen as something that someone could live in full-time. In fact & as mentioned at the start of this post, the whole #vanlife thing has become quite the trend but when it comes to committing to living permanently in a van we would say the mental approach that you take will make all the difference.
Yes, full-time van living comes with challenges, somedays for us these are challenges that can make us feel a little deflated but would we swap our tiny home on wheels for anything else? Absolutely not!
We just remind ourselves when we are stuck in the snow or are struggling to find a place to fill up with water or gas that’s it’s all part of becoming more self-sustainable & we also always remind ourselves why we started on this journey.
How Full-Time Van Life Started For Us
You may have gathered by now that we are lovers of nature & the outdoors, so after a year of travel together & our love for the natural world & each other growing deeper (we got engaged on that trip), we decided to choose a new (& very different) life for ourselves.
For us leaping into living in our motorhome full-time was a simple choice of including a lot more of what we love to do in our lives – van life was & remains a way to gain more freedom & to be able to live life on our terms.
What made us set the wheels in motion?
The Wilder Route (formerly Destination Addict) was started at the beginning of our travels & within that year of travelling, we had not only built an awesome community but we had also learned a ton of new skills. Combining those skills with our past experience not only helped us to start turning our blog into a business but also helped us to set up two more businesses that continue to support us both.
We didn’t plan & save for years, we didn’t even know we were going to get a van until just a few months before – what we did do is take one big leap of faith, we worked hard & we remained (& remain) committed to our goals & dreams.
Van Life Costs
The big question is how much life on the road costs. Obviously, this varies from country to country & one’s personal needs but overall van life costs can work out considerably less than living with rent or a mortgage.
How do we afford full-time van life?
We have multiple income streams, which for us brings more peace of mind & stability. As well as this site you are on right now, our van life, adventure & nature blog we have our own natural & sustainable clothing range Nature Threads & have a very happy client base for websites & social media at The Green Thread.
When we started this journey we never imagined that we would be working online full-time let alone running our own digital business. It just shows to go with hard work & commitment, anything is possible.
Do we really earn enough money on the road?
Adam was working as a freelancer at live festivals & events in the UK before we met & continued to pick up enough money from this whilst we built our income to what it is now – enough to sustain our lifestyle.
We are currently working on building everything up to the next level & growing a team to help us with various aspects of our digital business. Money is probably the biggest concern for anyone looking to live a location-independent lifestyle but we are proof that earning a living wage doing this is possible.
How much does living in a van cost?
Firstly our spending habits have changed drastically since we moved into our van. It might have something to do with having to sort through 30 years worth of belongings & pack them into a tiny space or with not feeling the need to consume so much after quite a big lifestyle change.
Either way, we are happier & we are spending less so it’s a win: win. On average our costs are around £800 per month for the 2 of us including food, any campsites, activities & other things we spend on. This varies from country to country but to give you a more detailed breakdown you can check out our costs for a month in France.
Staying Healthy On The Road
Staying healthy & creating a routine for us, is key. We both have chosen ways to keep our minds & bodies well. Kelly’s is yoga, meditation, journalling. Adam’s is running & listening to music. We also share a love of adventure including hiking, wild swimming & cycling.
Do we have a wellness routine?
We wouldn’t say it is a set routine so to speak but we do include all of the things mentioned above in our day-to-day. It can be tricky if we are moving around a lot so we have found in that sense is vital to remain mindful of taking time to do the things that keep us well.
In with this we make sure that we take regular breaks from digital including one digital detox day per week as well as not using our phones or any electronics for at least an hour before we wake up & go to sleep.
How do we cook in our van?
Food plays an important role in keeping us healthy & we love to try new food wherever we go. Most people are pretty amazed when we tell them that we have a full-sized fridge, oven, grill & four ring hob & even a microwave – in addition to this we have a small fire pit that we cook on outside.
The Practical Side Of Full-Time Van Life
As well as the incredible adventures there are other things to think about when it comes to full-time van life, we were asked a lot of questions about the finer details of our lifestyle by the audience in Manchester.
What do we do about an address?
We are both registered at our parent’s addresses for personal mail etc. & have a registered office address for anything business related.
How do we keep warm?
Our motorhome is equipped with a full combi boiler, meaning it runs from both gas & electricity & when running keeps everything pretty toasty.
Two things we would highly recommend firstly to keep the heat in, in winter & sun out in summer are some insulated motorhome covers for your windows & secondly to keep your feet nice & warm (as even with the heating on the floor of a van stays considerably cooler) is a heated blanket – we have the MaxKare electric heated throw blanket.
What about electricity?
Sometimes we will park up at a campsite or when not in the UK we will choose places where we can pay a small fee & plug into electricity such as an ‘Aire de Service’ in France – this will all depend really on how much work we have to do. We can keep ourselves going for around 5-7 days without recharging our batteries if we don’t have to charge laptops etc. We also have a solar panel that keeps everything topped up nicely.
Where do we do laundry?
As a general rule, we save up enough to do a big load in a laundrette, where exactly we find these will vary from country to country as in the UK for example machines are starting to pop up more & more in petrol stations, in Spain & France they can normally be found around the big hypermarkets.
Getting Off-The-Beaten Track In Our Motorhome
We are pretty intrepid & love to explore lesser-known places. After spending our first few months of van life in the UK, we headed into Europe to explore off-season so we could make the most of places being less crowded. One of our favourite drives was through Spain’s Bardenas Reales a semi-desert & an absolute wonder to explore.
How do we manage to stay off-grid & work?
This very much depends upon the weather or should we say sunshine to top up the solar panel that enables us to charge when we are off-grid as well as getting 4G signal. Plus side is if things aren’t working out we can, & do, just move. There are some places that we have been to, where we had the feeling of being ‘off-grid’ but are actually in a municipal car park plugged into electricity. At the moment we don’t have multiple solar panels or a generator but these would most definitely make off-grid working a lot easier.
Do we plan a route?
Because we are in our van full-time restrictions with time etc. are not as much of an issue for us. We normally plan or map out roughly where we’d like to go & what we’d like to see but remain flexible from there. When it comes to driving to more remote places we check out the route we are going to take & make sure it’s suitable for our van (& what we mean by that is will it fit through the roads or are there are low or narrow bridges that we need to avoid).
Van Life As A Couple
As romantic & adventurous as van life as a couple is, it comes with its challenges. We aren’t, however, the only couple doing this. In fact, a quick search on Instagram for #vancouple & you’ll find over 44 thousand posts.
How do we live in a van as a couple?
This is a question that we get asked a lot. Living in a motorhome full-time is one thing but living & working as a couple from a tiny space – how do we do it?
In a nutshell, the answer is a lot of love, balance & boundaries. If you are interested in learning more about how we do this check out our 14 Tips For Van Life As A Couple.
Our Favourite Van Life Apps & Online Resources
In 2005, when Kelly worked in France for the summer & interrailed around Europe afterward, smartphones weren’t even a thing. Nowadays it’s so much easier to plan, navigate, travel & network with like-minded people whilst you are on the move. Here are some of our fav ways to do that…
Free to use – just download your maps on WIFI & offline you’ll be good to go – Maps.Me is user-populated so has lots of hidden spots marked & works all over the world. We’ve written loads more about this offline maps app right here.
Details of thousands of free (& some paid) spots to park up at in your van, around the globe. This app is user-populated & includes user photos & honest reviews.
Similar app to Park4Night, however with a lot fewer spots. The good thing with CamperContact is more details are included & they even have some locations marked for laundry & other services. We paid £5 to upgrade to the pro version which is worth it.
For more on connecting with others whilst travelling check out our van life community post.
Get Social With The Wilder Route
Of course we share regular tips & inspiration on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & YouTube so please feel free to come get social with us. You can also hit play just below to view our 18-months of van life slide show that we shared at our ‘Living In A Motorhome Full-Time’ talk in Manchester.
Facebook on Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Final Van Life Tips
By now you will have gained some more insight & will hopefully feel a lot more confident in knowing whether or not full-time van living is for you. Before you get ready to drive off into the mountains though, we’ve got a few more van life tips to help you…
Embrace the seasons
Fighting the weather, or complaining about it a lot won’t make van life enjoyable. We have found that we appreciate & embrace the seasons for what they are since we started full-time van life.
Prepare yourself for winter
Preparation is key for the winter months & there is a lot to think about. Check out our winter van life essentials for all of our tips & tricks on this.
Get a refillable gas bottle
This is something that we invested in early on & are so glad we did as we haven’t had to source a new bottle in every country we have been to. We got ours from Gaslow, more details can be found on their website.
Make your van feel like home
Making your tiny home on wheels feel like yours & all comfy & cosy will ensure that you settle in nicely.
Try before you buy
If you are not sure if you are ready to take the plunge into full-time motorhome life why not try renting one first? Did you know that some companies will even negotiate a deal based on their need to get a campervan or motorhome back from hire locations? For example, travelling to Italy to drive a campervan back to the UK for a company could be an option.
So there you have it, the in’s & out’s of how we have made this lifestyle work for us. We hope you have enjoyed this post & have found it both useful & inspiring. If you have any questions that we haven’t answered here, please feel to leave them in the comments section just below.
Thanks for reading & happy van life-ing,
Kelly & Adam x
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