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It seems there is a “movement” of late, of wandering souls taking to the road in their vehicles in pursuit of a nomadic lifestyle. Why not? Modern technology has made the world a much smaller place and working remotely is merely a click away. Van life is the common moniker thrown around to describe this present day itinerant lifestyle. Indeed the hip connotations of van life belie the reality of this burgeoning trend.

Man on rock formation using a laptop computer.
Work From Anywhere!

This post is certainly not a a “how-to” guide with the answers to all of your pop-up, (nay pop-top), potential scenarios for living in a vehicle. Nor is it a series of journal-type entries, rather it is just a bunch of observations from 12 months, and counting, of living in a van.

Introducing Little Elvis II

Before we set out we spent months planning, organising, writing lists and completing all of the checks on our lists. We already had the most fundamental component of our imminent adventure – Little Elvis II, our van.

Burgundy Volkswagen Eurovan in front of the sea with ruins in background.
Little Elvis II

Little Elvis II is the most basic of basic model VW Eurovans. He boasts a back seat that folds down into a bed, albeit a bit of an uneven bumpy one, and a small table. That’s it! No cooker, no fridge, no sink, he doesn’t even have working air conditioning! Apparently we did not anticipate driving in triple digit temperatures for days on end. L.E. II’s thermometer did diligently let us know when we hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Mexicali, Mexico though.

Grey interior of a Volkswagen Eurovan.
Pre-Trip Photo of the Interior of Little Elvis II
Bed lined with a sleeping bag in a burgundy Volkswagen Eurovan.
Pre-Trip Photo of Little Elvis’ Fold Out Bed

Minimalist Versus In Need

In the heady days of planning, keeping things cheap and simple also meant keeping a vigilant eye on space being a premium. We chose to forgo a camp stove in an effort to conserve precious space. In hindsight this was not the smartest move. Even a single burner camp stove would have sufficed just to boil water for that all important cup of tea/coffee.

We opted for a power inverter and a couple of travel immersion water heaters (120/240V). Quite simply the premise of plugging the inverter into the cigarette lighter went belly up when we tried to plug both water heaters into the inverter – they fried the fuse. Instead we had to boil one cup at a time which took almost an hour. This proved to be our first and last attempt at making a cuppa in the van.

The immersion water heaters have proved indispensable though when we have stayed in hotels and will definitely be part of our packs when we continue on our travels minus Little Elvis II.

Yellow coffee mug with a heating element plugged into a power inverter.

Home is Where You Park It

Online sites are filled with photographic travelogues of beautiful young folk, often with their beautiful dog in tow. Typically they are found in some restful, dreamy repose in their equally stunning vehicle which is usually equipped with an interior finer than a penthouse apartment on 5th Avenue.

For the purpose of separating reality from fantasy (social media), “The Hashtags” shall represent the escapism of online content.

The Hashtags

Man sitting on roof of van looking at stars.
Typical Hashtags – #vanlife
Modern, minimalist custom interior of a van.
Typical Hashtags – #vanbuild, #vanlifeideas #projectvanlife

The reality of the matter couldn’t be more different for us. Now although we have found ourselves camping in a few beautiful, isolated spots over the last year, the harsh, sad reality of life found us typically overnighting in Walmart parking lots or truck stops.

No swirling cosmos here!

The Reality

Burgundy Volkswagen van in front of Home Depot, La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico
“Home Depot” Parking Lot, Mexico or … Home as we Called it.
Burgundy Volkswagen van with doors open in front of a grey semi-truck.
Our Typical Camp Spot/Lot

As for the interior…

Burgundy Volkswagen van with side door open and a woman writing inside.
Our Workspace
Rear door of a burgundy Volkswagen van filled with boxes in front of Home Depot.
We’re Not Hoarders, These Are The Essentials
Burgundy Volkswagen van with door open and a backpack on the seat.
Van Life!
Burgundy Volkswagen with side door open and firewood stacked on the floor.
Gathering Firewood, Just in Case we Get to Camp – Our “Suspension of Disbelief”!

A View to Die For

Following in this vein of “home is where you park it”, what about that priceless view from your carefully selected makeshift camp? Sometimes that careful selection is based on a desire for tranquility and a oneness with nature, often times it’s based on a need for wi fi or necessity to just park for the night. Either way it will come with a view.

The Hashtags

Looking out the rear door of a van at the blue Sea of Cortes.
Typical Hashtags – #vanlife, #homeiswhereyouparkit
Volkswagen van overlooking the sea at sunrise.
Typical Hashtags – #vanlifemovement, #vanlifers, #vanlifeexplorers
Rocky coast of the Sea of Cortes.
Typical Hashtags – #ipulledoverforthis, #vancamping, #vanlifestyle

We were already aware we had some dubious company when we reluctantly spent the night at a truck stop in Las Vegas. Surprisingly the night passed without incident. The following morning brought a whole new reality show with it!

It’s amazing how much can transpire in mere seconds. One minute you’re sitting there begrudgingly complying with filling in your travel journal, and the next you’re gathering yourself after instinctively ducking in reaction to the boom that has taken place just outside of your vehicle. In these milliseconds the smoke is already clearing from the distraction smoke bomb detonated by the SWAT team, who are now standing there weapons drawn and trained on their suspects.

Soon you have your own front row seat to a take-down complete with FBI, DEA, and ATF agents. Hashtag suggestions anyone?

The Reality

FBI agents with guns drawn on a subject in a grey car.

FBI agents with guns drawn on a subject in a grey car.

FBI agents with guns drawn on a subject in a grey car.

Feed More Than Your Soul!

There is a somewhat esoteric camraderie amongst vanlifers. You have all given up pretty much the bulk of your worldly goods in order to live a simpler, freer life in your vehicle. Vanlifers throughout the world are feeding their souls with experiences instead of material goods, but what about real food? How are they nourishing their bodies?

The Hashtags

Charcuterie board filled with meats and cheese in front of a campfire.
The Charcuterie Board – A Must for Camping! #vanlifemeals

The Reality

A can of sardines and a large can of beer on a cooler.
Countless Tins of Curried Herring
Beans, tortillas, Cholula sauce and Pacifico beer on a grey table.
Cold Beans Smeared on a Tortilla

Soul/Cell Mates

Vanlifers are comprised of families, single folk, friends, siblings and all manner of human variables. However I would hazard to say couples make up the bulk of nomadic ramblers out there.

Living together in such close quarters 24/7 is certainly one way to find out how compatible you are.

Soul Mates

Ah yes, we are all familiar with these dreamy hand-holding couple photos as seen everywhere on couples inspired travelogues. Typically one partner is leading the other into an edenic landscape of bliss.

The Hashtags

Woman in white shirt leading man by hand into the sunlight.
Typical Hashtags – #travelcouple, #coupletravel

However the reality of living in a van brings with it the same set of monotonous chores that plague all walks of life. Cleaning, shopping and laundry are all part of the routine. They just don’t make for tantalisingly, exotic locales for a photo shoot.

The Reality

Woman in green shirt leading man by hand to clothes drying machines.

Cell Mates

The term “cosy” in this case can be both subjective and objective, depending on how you look at it. The “Hashtags” would have us look at it in a subjective way – the vanlifers happily gazing at each other in their confined yet delightful enclosure (their vehicle). They portray the ideal of vanlife.

The Hashtags

Man and woman relaxing in front seat of a van.
Typical Hashtags – #vanlifecouple, #travelingcouples

The reality of our vanlife is cosy alright! It is like solitary confinement… for two. We have a whopping 26″x28″ of clear space in the entire van in which to stand or move. This is the immediate area just inside the sliding door. Neither of us can stand upright anywhere in L.E.II and then I am only 5′ 1″.

Our first time inside a house after 5 months on the road found us repeatedly standing with our arms outstretched in awe of how much space we had. You can’t even begin to imagine the thrill of being able to stand upright and move around without bumping into each other.

The Reality

Man trying to stand upright in a burgundy Volkswagen van.

Romance Versus Reality

The romance of the open road versus the reality of the open road in a vehicle whose vintage is of a former millenium (1999), are two very different things. All vehicles no matter how old can break down, however the older the vehicle the more likely the need of mechanical attention. Let’s remember these vehicles have been around the block a time or two.

Vanlifers choose this nomadic lifestyle fully aware of the potential mileage they may rack up. Adding miles adds wear and tear to a vehicle and it’s components. Most vanlifers can also tell you of the repair costs they have racked up, regardless of whether a mechanic has fixed the problem(s) or if the van owner themselves was handy enough to resolve the issue(s).

The Hashtags (Romance)

Yellow Volkswagen bus driving toward red rocks in the desert.
Typical Hashtags – #openroadlife, #homeonwheels, #homesweetvan, #vanlifelife #vanlifeculture

The Reality

Man holding 2 starter motors in front of burgundy Volkswagen van with the hood up
Jerry Replacing the Starter in Socorro, New Mexico.

Fortunately for us, Jerry is very adept at dealing with the majority of Little Elvis’ maladies. However we do have one short anecdote which relays the paranoia sensitivity that comes with driving an older vehicle.

Early into our trip last year L.E. II began having electrical issues – the wiring controlling power windows, locks and mirrors was cracked and frayed. As a result of which these wires were shorting out and needed attention sooner rather than later. We attempted to have it looked at professionally but the wait times and the estimates we were quoted were incentive enough for Jerry to undertake the issue himself.

A bunch of taped wires on the front door of a burgundy Volkswagen van.

After several hours in a Walmart parking lot and Jerry’s perseverance we were on the road again with a fully operational electrical system. Erring on the side of caution we even invested in a fire extinguisher,  just in case! Happy to be back on the open road we cranked up our tunes and rolled down the windows, (just because we could).

The joy was short lived. Soon we were exchanging furtive glances with each other at the uncomfortable realisation of smoke appearing in the van. As we pulled over to the side of the road, ready to bail with fire extinguisher in hand we made another realisation, it didn’t smell like smoke. It didn’t smell like anything.

Such was our relief to be driving again, it had put Jerry in a foot stomping kind of mood, keeping beat to our tunes. This rhythmic time keeping disturbed the residing dust in our floor mats, which came to eerily resemble smoke. Given our recent electrical episode we can be forgiven for jumping to such conclusions.

Van Life, The Future

So what does the future hold for us and Little Elvis II? Unfortunately the time will come when we shall part ways with L.E. II, when exactly we do not yet know. Our van life experience has been quite the learning curve on so many levels, but in a nutshell we have enjoyed it. Perhaps the most valuable lesson we have learned is that we are looking forward to travelling as we have done in the past – hitchhiking and public transport. We realise it will be a massive adjustment.

We certainly would not discount van life again at some point in our future and we would be so much wiser next time around. However regardless of how equipped your vehicle is, there is one daily question which is always a constant – “Where do we park tonight”?


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8 Comments

  1. Having just read this blog and cried laughing I had to read about you. I should have known you were Irish. The wit is in your blood sure. Thanks.

    • Louise,

      It has been an incredible journey in the van for the last 14 months, crazy moments aside. Thanks for letting me know it hasn’t taken the Dub out of me…yet!

      Thanks a million for reading along, Louise.

      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  2. Hey Jerry and Fiona,
    Thanks for the view of van life. You two are on quite an adventure ðŸĪŠ.

    • Ronda,

      It has been quite the difference from getting picked up from kind people like yourself and Jeff during our hitchhiking days. Writing this post was fun – we can look back on how crazy van life can be! Currently we are enjoying house life as we have a 5-month house sit in New Mexico.

      It is always so good to hear from you! Thanks again for being part of our past journey and for following along on our current adventures!

      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  3. Thanks for that guys, it actually made me lol 😀 I am constantly craving for something true-born when browsing through the endless abyss of traveling van life couples. Tear down the facades, and say it as it is. It’ll make the gems we now and then discover shine even more. #It’sallaboutthejourney 😉

    Cheers from NZ,

    Toby & Anna

    • Toby & Anna,

      So happy to know this post has made you laugh! These silly moments of van life we experienced made us laugh as well. The entire experience was a positive one, even though the food came from cans and the sleeping arrangements were often parking lots. In all seriousness, the feeling of having your own wheels, total freedom and an open road ahead of you is a difficult one to laugh at and anyone who can make that happen is fortunate indeed.

      So, as you both roll around New Zealand together in your van we wish you the best, safest and most enjoyable journey, for it IS the journey that counts – as you both know.

      Your Drifters,
      Fiona and Jerry

  4. Jen McConnell

    For the police action: #Busted times tres

    Hysterical you guys!!

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