Ten Problems For Ten Months

Life on the road. What’s it all about?

Pop culture’s take on the subject is sometimes ironic, often glamorised and occasionally realistic – but hardly ever relatable. Nomadic living is a complicated subject – not least because we live in a society that sentimentalises #vanlife and simultaneously condemns those in traveller families and communities. I’ve been living fulltime in a van for almost a year now, and hope to share more of my perspectives on the lifestyle and its offshoots in the future:  hopefully this post is a light-hearted one.

Stade Magazine recently published a 500 word piece I wrote about the ups and downs of full-time van life. I really enjoyed writing it all out, and you can read the piece here. The upsides to ‘a life on the road’ are generally quite obvious – though not for everyone, nor without their compromises. Interior space is sacrificed for the convenient closeness of the great outdoors; rent bills are a thing of the past but countered by more frequent fuel stops and vehicle check-ups. Home is where you park it, but home is also where you break down. Here is a list of the more memorable times it didn’t quite go to plan:

1) The time I completely ran out of fuel in the Lakes; and had to coast to a passing place, stop and remove my auxiliary fuel tank for the diesel heater, gently and single-handedly pour the remaining 3L of diesel into a container and then again into the van’s tank, and drive as gently as possible up and down 25% gradients to the nearest garage.

2) The time that our sliding door handle disengaged with the pulleys in the van door and we couldn’t open the door from the outside.

3) The time that the sliding door completely fell off while I was away, and poor Willow had to pick the entire door back up and re-install it completely by herself as several bystanders sat and watched. Once it was back on, we had to keep the door shut and locked in case it fell off again, until we replaced the door runners; so we had to climb over the back seats every time we wanted to get in or out.

4) The times (many times) that one of us (usually me) knocked hot coffee/pasta/sauce/rice off the stove and all over the floor and sofa. This is worse if we are parked at a slight tilt, because it runs right under the bed if we aren’t quick enough. Also means we have to re-make coffee/pasta/rice.

5) The time we were woken up at 06:00 in the morning by a knock on the door and asked to move on.

6) The time our van broke down on a motorway slip-road en route to a concert three hours' drive away. We were rescued by a recovery vehicle whose driver took us to the gig and diagnosed the break down for us, successfully solving the problem with some cable ties – which did the trick for another 600 miles till we could get a garage appointment. We arrived at the gig with minutes to spare, having struggled to find parking for our huge broken down van. We found a lay-by 1.5 miles away from the venue, and ended up running that distance to the gig, in the dark in crocs and just about made it. Because we have an RAC membership, the whole rescue cost us nothing and we actually saved fuel for the ride; but it could have been much, much worse.

7) The time that some friendly ticks hitchhiked into bed with me.

8) The time that our central locking completely stopped working and we were driving around with a home on wheels that was permanently unlocked for a fortnight until we got it fixed.

9) The time that we got grounded on sheet ice and had to flag down another van and use our slackline as a tow-rope.

10) The time our heater broke during lockdown and the heaviest snowfall in years, and we had absolutely no heating except a kettle to boil water.

These are some of the more printable bumps in the road we’ve experienced since February. Ten months, ten incidents.

It’s pretty scary looking back at it all. Is it worth it? There’s so much risk! What will my mum think?

This lifestyle is inherently risky; any one of the ten things listed above could have quite easily been so much worse, some more so than others. I’m very lucky they are now no more than funny stories and lessons learned. But everything we do involves work, compromise, and setbacks. We learn more, and grow more, with these things than without. And that is, by and large, a good thing.

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See you soon, Tim.