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

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Lady in the Van II

I have just finished reading The Lady in the van-even though it’s a tiny book- and I have mixed feelings. I wish I had met her, even though she had some strange (and disgusting) habits, such as urinating in plastic bags laid over sanitary towels then leaving the towels to dry over her stove. She must have reeked but she was certainly a true eccentric. Unlike Reg and I, who are just normal, boring people trying to get through life without spending all our money on rent and bills.

I highly recommend anyone planning on living in a van to read it, if only to get a feeling for other peoples’ views of those who live in vans. Not that I think everyone assumes we must use plastic bags instead of a toilet but because she would not have made half as interesting a story had she been an eccentric old lady who lived in a house down the road. What was lovely was how well she was tolerated and even looked fondly upon by the local community.

I did buy some heels today by the way, and it was a bit harder than usual to get into the van whilst wearing them.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Heel

Since attending the first wedding of the summer I have been thinking about high heels. I haven’t worn heels since 2000 and even then I only wore them for a few hours before taking them off and walking home barefoot. So it seems strange that I would choose now when I’m living in a van to reconsider the heel. But after seeing almost every other female at the wedding strutting their stuff with their elegant pins I am thinking that this may be the time.

I like crushing stereotypes. Why should I look scruffy just because I live in a van? I have spent the past thirty years looking scruffy (with a brief interlude in my teens where I actually ironed my hair and wore makeup), so this seems like the perfect time to make an effort with my looks. I have even started brushing my hair on a daily basis. Tomorrow I might go shoe shopping.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Life on the Outside

Living on the outside of society is something I am familiar with from my time of living abroad, struggling to learn languages and understand local customs. But living in a van feels as though we have stepped out of a society that is completely familiar to us, and that can feel strange and a little lonely at times.

We both almost feel as though we are doing something shameful when we speak to certain people. Both of our bosses know where we live yet we try to avoid discussing it at work. Friends and family laugh at us. I’m not offended though. Life is an adventure and this is part of it. One thing I have learned is that I don’t want to live in a van for the rest of my days. This is not a new way of life.

Reg met a man in his sixties who spent three years living in a van but recently decided to get a contract on a flat. He absolutely hates it and I can understand why he would. But I am certain that when the time comes for us to live in a flat again I will be very happy. Like life, happiness is a delicate thing which can be destroyed in an instant by the repercussions of tiny changes. One minute you can be spouting off about how wonderful everything is and the next you are questioning it all. At least that’s how it is for me.

We went to a wedding yesterday (lovely ceremony and party Davey!) and where did I get myself ready? The gym changing room of course. And a very nice changing room it is too.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


One of the best things about living in a van is the motivation it brings. We are both in the habit of getting up early to go to the gym almost every morning. I don’t usually stay long: 20 or 30 minutes is usually enough of a workout, but it is the consistency that is important. If you ever fancy spending a summer getting fit but don’t think you have the motivation just move into a van on a roadside somewhere.

When things are difficult we tend to value them more. Showers, toilets, ovens…what wonderful inventions! We had a picnic in the park this evening with bread, cheese, smoked salmon, pasta salad and Kentish strawberries. This is the sort of food we tend to live on so a hot meal is a real treat. I wonder when my next one will be?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


Finally summer has arrived in Brighton. It is now 8.30pm and I’m sitting in a bar looking out at the sea and it’s still broad daylight. Every winter I find it hard to believe that the sun really stays out until past 10pm on the longest summer days and just how every summer I forget just how cold and wet the winter months are. I have not been swimming in the sea yet this year and I’m not sure whether I will. I used to love that shocking punch of cold water but after having been in tropical heat for so long the thought unnerves me. And I no longer have a nice hot bath to go home to.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Lady in the Van

I have been leant a book by Alan Bennett called The Lady in the Van. It is the true story of an eccentric old woman who lived in a van in Camden during the 1970s which I have yet to finish. She is described as painting her van with unmixed gloss paint until it looked as though it had been ‘given a coat of badly made custard or plastered with scrambled egg’. When she is given a statutory order for being a risk to public health while parked outside number 63, the way she shruggingly moves all the way along to number 62 is hilarious, but somehow I think this attitude would only be tolerated in a peculiar old lady.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Compromise

My grandmother died on Saturday and at first it made me think positively about living in a van. Life is too short not to do the things we dream of doing and I will never lie on my deathbed wondering what life would have been like living in a van. Life is an adventure.

But having spent the weekend in and out of various family members’ houses, surrounded by things that have always around it was hard to come back to the van which contains none of life’s comforts. As always life is one big compromise.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


It is lovely hearing how other people dream to do what we are doing. It just goes to show that we are not that strange after all. I think many people yearn for a simpler way of life but I have to say van life is not simple. We are considering getting a static caravan next year. Then we would not have the hassle of wondering where to move to, thinking about emptying the chemical toilet and speculating on whether people are offended by our van.

I am almost certain that I will never do this again, love it though I do. Of course, it would be different if we were to stay on sites all the time. Our current mission then is to find a local site or two that offer affordable accommodation. Most of them seem to allow stays of up to three weeks, so if we could move from one to the other we would not be breaking any laws or offending people…the search continues.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Yesterday I posted a message on moneysavingexpert.com with a copy of the first page of my blog at a friend’s suggestion. I wanted to share my thoughts but was aware that I may get some criticism. I was greeted with a barrage of insults, the first few written by people who assumed that neither Reg nor I work and are scrounging off the taxpayer in some way. Here is an excerpt of one of the replies followed by my answers:

“Unfortunately, your writing gives the impression that you are a pair of middle class individuals who look down on the people who have less than you, claim to eschew material possessions but are quite happy to buy overpriced delicatessen food (and tell the reader all about it), pay for gym memberships, go off to India for the entire winter and within days of going out on the road (well, off Madeira Drive) are considering buying a different van, whilst still feeling envious of those wealthier than you.

I've spent time living in a van. Certainly not some insanely priced behemoth, a birds eye pea green 1975 Commer camper van, to be precise. It led to some positively idyllic moments usually involving big surf and open fires (and quite a lot of old music brings it all back ). But it was only ever an extended, cheap, holiday. To pretend it was a socio-political statement and not a lifestyle choice, when I headed back to the great indoors within a fortnight of the first frosts (never mind India), would have been hypocritical”.

To be quite honest, I don’t have a problem in spending money on food (surely one of the greater pleasures in life) and gym membership (we are healthy living people and we cannot wok if we don’t shower) when we are saving money on rent and bills.

This life we have chosen has not been designed as any sort of statement. We are simply trying to live an interesting life while not spending too much money.

As human beings we are all judgmental. The only question is do we talk about our prejudices openly or do we lurk in the dark recesses of internet chat rooms waiting to launch attacks on posts we find controversial?

You can read the thread on: http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?p=33826919#post33826919

Monday, 14 June 2010

Stuff and Nonsense

"It is not about having what we want, but wanting what we have."

The Dalai Lama

Living without clutter has made me think about ‘stuff’ and its impact on our lives. Running a Google search on clutter I am overwhelmed by just how many sites and blogs there are dedicated to how to de-clutter our lives so it seems that I am not the only one who is bothered by ‘things’.

Having lived in east and west I am always shocked at the sheer amount of things people collect in the west and feel they cannot live without. I do not mean to preach. Everyone should be free to live how they choose but I cannot help but think that people are more able to appreciate things when they have less.
I do not want to romanticise poor nations. Everyone always wants more. I believe it is a human condition rather than a western one but it seems that the more we have the more we want, so perhaps it is better never to have that desire satiated in the first place?

All I know is that it is inexplicable how much I love van life. I thought that we would travel every weekend and spend every other night in a different place and that’s what I was looking forward to. But because of our gargantuan van we hardly ever move. It is the having nothing that I love.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

In Retrospect...

I think I was in a harsh mood when I blogged last night. It is not true at all that most people who live in vans do not wash. The German man who spent three years in Cornwall seemed clean, as do the people who live in horseboxes by the King Alfred swimming pool in Brighton.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Community

I have said that there is no community of van dwellers but that is not exactly true. I am sure that if we were to hang around for long enough, we would meet a lot of people but those that we have met all seem to fit the stereotype of people who live in vans much more than we imagined they would. Or are we now discriminating in the same way that we reproached our family and friends for doing?

It is hard to say but people who live in vans seem to wash less frequently than most and spend their nights drinking heavily. I don’t mean to be judgemental. I have spent as much time off my face as any other Brit but it’s not something I’m interested in any more. And I don’t really care how often people wash, as long as I don’t live with them.

In Laos we briefly lived with a man who had not used soap in five years. He was proud of this fact and thought that people who bought soap were suckers. What were his reasons? Not that he was a peace-loving, soap-dodging hippy, but that he was miser and hated spending money on what he saw as useless items. He liked to think he smelled sweet and natural, but get too close to him on a tropical afternoon and you’d see that his greasy skin would exude a nasty wet dog smell reminiscent of a sweaty, windowless gymnasium.

But I digress. Honestly, I pride myself on being open minded and I will give anyone a chance, even if they do smell like a wet dog in the tropics. So, anyone who lives in a van in Brighton whose primary interest isn’t getting trashed please get in contact...I’d love to meet you.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Highs and Lows

I have just bumped into the lovely but secret Melanie and she asked me about the highs and lows of van living. The highs are easy: I think my favourite thing is owning nothing. If you live in a house or flat full of stuff you cannot imagine what a relief it is to get rid of it all. I had just picked up the last few weeks’ mail that has yet to be redirected and there were about thirty letters for us, most of them junk mail. So that has to be the other great thing about van life: no mail. No bills for that matter.

But the lows are harder. What don’t I like about my new life? Well, I know that I do not want to do it forever because I have dreams of having a garden in the countryside some day, but for the moment, there is nothing I don’t enjoy. Reg is another matter and I think his job has a lot to do with that. He bumped into a very good friend last week just as he was coming out of the van, and although she knew where we lived, he says he felt embarrassed.

Melanie wondered if that was because as a male he feels that he should be the provider. Perhaps all men have an inbuilt need to have that role but that is not the life for us and both of us believe that pride is a thing to be gotten rid of. So we are currently trying to find Reg’s pride, yank it out of him and stamp on it.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A Leisure Battery

We were given a quote today for a leisure battery: £90 for 110 amps and £20 for a battery box. Installing a battery would be great, but as soon as the 110 amps had run out it would be dead. So we need a split relay box which costs £35 and means that the battery can be charged whilst on the move.

The amount of amps a battery has means that it will take the same number of hours to charge when driving. So it will take 110 hours of driving to fully charge. Considering you can drive to Scotland in 12 hours, we will have to do a hell of a lot of moving around for that to work. The only other alternative is to get a charger for £150 which enables you to fully charge the battery in an hour on site.

I also asked about installing a skylight and apparently it is easy to do yourself. The prices range from small £60 ones to huge, take-over-the-whole-of-the-roof £450 ones. We have not come to a decision yet but it is good to know what our options are.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Where Are They?

I thought that when we moved into the van we would meet a lot of like-minded people but we have yet to really meet anyone. There are those fleeting exchanges of good mornings with passers-by as I dangle my legs from the door, looking towards the sea and eating breakfast. The there are the times that we pass other van dwellers along the seafront and stop to admire their homes. But in my head I imagined that van life would be automatically community spirited which it is not. There are a lot of vans parked along our roads but I hardly ever see their owners. Where are they all?

Van life suits me better than it does Reg. I have a part time job which I don’t have to look particularly smart for. The rest of the time I am a writer and I float through the streets as casually as I please. Reg on the other hand gets up early every weekday morning, goes to the gym to get a shower then puts on his trousers and shirt to do a ‘proper job’. I am guessing that most people who live in vans do not have proper jobs.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

We Are Waterless

We have had no running water for a few days now. There seems to be a problem with the battery but we do not know what it is. Reg changed the fuses but it did no good. I am not keen on not being able to wash my hands easily and the toilet not flushing. Of course we have a lot of water, but it feels like camping to constantly have to pour it into bowls. At least we will appreciate what we have more when the running water comes back.

Friday, 4 June 2010

People React in Different Ways

We have not made any progress on finding a new van, mainly because we have not looked at all. But I did meet a man who lives in another van-our neighbour if you like-and he said that putting in power steering is not too difficult. It only took him three and a half days to do himself. Not being a mechanic, I don’t like the sound of that and I’m not letting the Reg near it but it is definitely something to consider.

I got my hair cut yesterday. I’ve known my hairdresser for about five years but I only see her sporadically. She is absolutely lovely but when I told her that I live in a van she went all high pitched. The tilt in her head said it all. She was thinking: I like you and I want to continue to like so we are not going to discuss the fact that you live in a van. She asked a couple of polite questions and that was that. Our friend came round yesterday evening and was full of praise. On his way out the door he gave me a big hug and said “Well done. Well done!”

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Our Winter Plans

One thing that I have not mentioned in this blog is that Reg and I do not plan to spend the winter in the van. Call us wimps if you like but we long for warmer climes when the icy weather sets in. After having spent full years at a time in Asia we always miss our friends and family back here so we have finally come up with a compromise. we plan to head to India for the winter and return in spring. It is the best of both worlds for us.

That is not to say that people do not live in their vans full time. There is a Mexican/Spanish couple who have lived together in a tiny van for three solid years and I met a German man last week who spent three years in his van in Cornwall. He had gas heating and his van was not particularly well insulated. Still, he said that as long as it was only cold he was warm; if it was cold and windy it was not.

To be honest, it would make us miserable but that is just the way we are. Perhaps we are not the hardiest of folk. Or perhaps we were simply built for hotter places. Last year we lived in the tropics and I cycled around the city in 36 degree heat. I was hot, but it was amazing how my body adjusted. I used to shiver in 20 degrees. I am not sure that I would adjust that easily to minus temperatures.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Some People Are Snobs

We got onto the campsite this evening and I heard one of the men who work here making snide reamrks about our beautiful prison van. Two of his female colleagues stood up for us though. "It's just the young travelling round" they said. T made him shut up but he didn't look happy about us riff raff lowering the tone of his site.