I am not a hippy. I’m not a crusty. I’m not a gypsy. I work for a living. I pay my taxes and I am a responsible citizen. I believe in recycling. I do not litter. But I want a simple life and so with my husband I’m moving into a van. Maybe we will hate it. Or maybe this is the beginning of a new life.

In search of another life

"They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn..."

Jack Kerouac

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Beginner's Guide to Living in a Van

As we are new to van life, we are still working things out as we go. When looking for a van, people we met were pretty consistent in recommending we buy a Mercedes. The engines are built to last and they are easy to get parts for. There are a lot of them around in various conditions. Another option would be a Hymer with a Mercedes engine. They are purpose built to be homes and so are well insulated.

We thought long and hard about buying a ‘project’ van-one that ran smoothly but needed to be customised to live in. We chose against it as we wanted to move in straight away, and knowing our DIY skills (minimal), it would just have sat on a road empty as the months ticked by.

A lot of people who stay on the seafront in Brighton have converted horseboxes to live in. They are beautiful and spacious but I suspect they must be cold in the winter. Most of them have been fitted with wood burning stoves which are lovely but probably invite more irritation from people who hate those who live in vans. They are hardly inconspicuous.

Ours is not inconspicuous either. It is big and it has windows:it is obviously built for people to live in. But it is the compromise between massive hippy van and subtle windowless white van.

The other main point to consider before buying a van-one which we completely ignored-is whether you are legally allowed to drive it. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the law regarding large vehicles changed in 1995, so those who got their licence before then can pretty much drive anything, while those who passed after need to be more careful.

Our van cost £3850 and as of yet we have not had to tax it. It cost around £300 to insure it for a year. Since buying it, we have not had to fill up with diesel, but it does around 25 miles to the gallon. Converting it to run off chip oil is definitely something I would consider in the future but not this year and I have no idea of the costs. It would be pretty expensive I imagine.

There are a lot of converted vans on eBay and other seller sites, but it is important to have a look at the van before agreeing on a price. This advice was given to us by numerous people, and I believe it to be a sound recommendation. Photos can make conversions look incredibly well done, but it is important to check things like insulation and gas and electrical appliances, especially if you will be living in the van during the winter.

We currently have a three way cool box, which means it runs off electricity, gas or the battery. When parked on the road we leave the gas on, so the box is cool and we can use the stove. We have two thirty litre bottles in the back of the van which give us running water in the kitchen area and another bottle attached to the bottom of the van which collects the waste water.

We plan to check on to a caravan site every ten days or so to empty waste water, fill up with fresh water and charge our electrical appliances. This is the time to eat a good meal as there is plenty of water around for washing up.

We are considering buying either a generator or leisure battery. I would rather get a leisure battery which will cost around £150. It can be charged on the caravan site but in the future I would like to get a solar panel to charge it.

There are other costs to consider but they really depend on how you want to live. I still want a shower every day and to wear clean clothes. Gym membership costs around £35 per month and laundry costs around £8 per week for two people in a laundrette. Caravan sites cost between £16 and £20 per night. Because we choose not to cook very much, we spend slightly more money than we did before on deli foods but that it not a hardship for me. It just makes life more simple and beautiful. No washing up!

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