We have had lots of questions from interested folk about what the reality of family van life is actually like? I guess there are a lot of amazing shots out there that make van life look beautiful and perfect, yet people sense that not everything can be rosy all the time and want to know the other side of it too!
In reality some days are hard. Just like in any other walk of life there has to be a balance to all those beautiful moments in the sun and the amazing boundless sense of freedom.
So for any of you out there considering a similar leap we thought we’d try and share the other side of it too. The reality of living in a van with your family…
To have freedom from a 9-5, it takes some serious budgeting (which inherently we are terrible at!) Some weeks we run out of money and have to choose between fuel or food. We used to get really stressed about it, but we have learned it makes no difference to stress. We simply adjust our expectations of what we were going to be doing that week, find a quiet free spot somewhere, buy food (clearly we choose the food!!) Cubby down, do yoga, practice a language, read books, explore nature, do crafts with the children and enjoy what we have. Back in our house dwelling days, running out of cash would have induced complete panic that something terrible might happen. These days however we tend to take it as a little hint from the universe to slow down a bit to balance out all this living we are doing!! Perspective is everything after all.
We started out having a shower every third day when we first moved into the van. Now we mainly wash wild in lakes or the sea (we haven’t used chemical laden shop bought toiletries for years anyway even back in the house…water is all we need!) The only concession; A weekly hair wash of conditioner and detangling those crazy curls (usually at the sink in the van) as I haven’t found a no-poo method that works for our hair yet. Once or twice a month we might treat ourselves to a full wash down day at a campsite and a shower.
We wear the same clothes all the time, till they break! Clothes storage is limited, so you can only pack what you really love or need. All of my jeans have knee holes (apparently back on trend now, so I’m officially cool!) At least three of my t-shirts have rips or tears. My favourite cardi has a seductive peep-hole in the arm pit area (which I keep meaning to sew up). Collectively we have unsuccessfully tried to super glue at least three pairs of flip flops back together in the last four months. Clothes are there to give you comfort and warmth, as long as they still do that…we’ll keep wearing them. It helps our budget, helps us consume less…plus we really just aren’t that bothered to go shopping these days unless we really need something. When you are living outdoors everyday, nature doesn’t care what you look like.
You will absolutley get sprayed with shitty water when emptying your porta potty. There is no technique to master, you are not doing it wrong. It is just an inevitable occurance. You can try being organised and having a set of old gardening gloves ready for the task, it won’t make any bloody difference! The best bit is having no instant hot water on board so getting clean after is always a mission. Sometimes you just gotta suck it up and get on with life.
If living in a van with your family, occasionally a child falls out of their bunk bed on to you, in your bed, whilst you are sleeping, in the dark. Sometimes they don’t even wake up to say sorry, they just carry on snoring peacefully till the morning.
The puppy hates kites and trys to murder any who she thinks might be after her. This can be a bit inconsiderate, especially when you find some idyllic hideaway, the kids are happily building sandcastles and you could otherwise be just lying down on the sand, reading your favourite book.
We do a lot of driving to unknown places, often getting really excited, sometimes driving for hours to reach a new horizon…Only for it to turn out to be not at all what we expected. It can be disappointing, sometimes you end up in some down right weird places. Often we end up learning a lot about ourselves and the world at these times.
We eat a lot of vegetable rissoto and leek & potato soup. Like a lot.
We have encountered certifiably crazy people on the road. Like the one guy we parked near to on a beach, who owned a chainsaw. He needed to cut a lot of wood, within touching distance of our sliding door, but a good 20ft away from his van. He also talked a lot about chain saws being handy when you got sick of your wife.
Sometimes things break in your van and you have to figure out elaborate ways of getting things fixed. Or learning how to get things sent out to you by amazing friends, to which ever country you happen to be in. Even though you have no fixed address, no idea how their postal system works or even how they write addresses. Some of the random questions we have typed into Google at these points whilst travelling would make for hilarious reading.
Sometimes when travelling, you forget your PIN number to your bank card, get blocked and your bank offers to send out a new card and PIN to your old UK address, within 3-5 working days. No one warns you about that moment! Always have extra bank accounts, cards and pin numbers written down stashed in various safe places incase anything happens to your main account.
You have massive misplaced parent guilt when your children spot a campsite with kids running round, or a new toy/boat trip/cafe/swimming pool and you need to explain we are living on ‘small money’ and need to wait until we have ‘big money’ before we can do these things again.
Sometimes when your porta potty is full and you can’t find anywhere to empty it you have to do emergency wees in your toddler’s potty and decant it into a lay-by hedge, all the while smiling at passers-by who think you are emptying your child’s bucket of wee.
Trying to stick to food principles on a small budget whilst travelling is tough, we have relaxed a lot of our ideas in favour of just enjoying what is available.
Sometimes you get really tired, or hot, or sticky, or even cold or sick and you just want an easy way of getting warm/clean or dry. Off grid living is beautiful but nothing about it is instant.
One time you might catch your four year old announcing ‘my brother is really freaking me out and making me angry, so I need to have some space to calm down’ as she climbs into the cab of the van and pulls the flimsy blind down behind her. As a family you learn to share everything…every new view, every tear, every meal, every smile, every sunset, every poo, every crazy new experience, every bump in the road and every sickness bug! If you are uncomfortable sharing bodily functions, raw emotions, sleeping space or thinking space with your nearest and dearest then seriously consider whether van life is what you want. The flipside is as a family it has helped us find better ways to communicate, get our needs noticed and met and be honest and more comfortable with our feelings.
Van life definitely has the same ups and downs of everyday family life but intensified in a goldfish bowl.
You have the exact same moments of bliss or disharmony that you would experience in house life. Nothing about Vanlife is boring, the pendulum reaches far both ways yet even the stressful times can teach you so much about yourself if you are willing to be open to the experience.
At least with van life when you are done clearing up the puppy sick, having a family disagreement or searching for the exact sock that your toddler is willing to wear that day… you get to step outside & breathe! Take off outdoors with no further effort involved. You don’t have to pack the kids in the car, drive off anywhere special, you are just there together as a family, out in the big world. At that point it usually makes us realise just how little everything else really matters. We can go to bed that night with a relaxed, sleepy sense of everything is actually ok, we are exactly where we need to be and we have everything we need.