One month in – 10 lessons on vanlife

Last March, in a locked down moment of clarity,  I acquired a 2010 LWB Renault Master (with 45k miles on the clock) and decided to jump fully into #vanlife. Thinking it all looked rather ‘interesting’ one decided to convert the ‘bus’ with the help of an excellent local carpenter and an electrical engineer friend. My role in the conversion was design, project management and procurement. Basically, ordering the wrong things off Amazon and asking lots of mystifying questions on 12V systems. Spending ~10k on the van and ~7k on the refurb I’m now one month in and here are my 10 lessons on vanlife to date.

barge life.

Having owned and ‘converted’ a glorious 40 foot, 6 tonne, Piper narrowboat back in the wonderfully pre-mask year of 2018, one would assume vanlife would be no great sweat. Being clearly an accomplished nomad, a wandering poet and a trapped free-spirit ready to awaken his inner Lord Byron.  Albeit, I had to sell ‘Grayswood’ due to there not being any canals in Surrey….. apparently. Missed that memo.

The idea of a more minimalistic lifestyle, hopeful spiritual self-discovery and working/living on the move had a degree of Shelley-esque romanticism about it. The freedom of the open road, new beginnings and a simpler life awaited. Long evenings writing poetry and being enchanted by nature and all her rhythms. Sharing fireside philosophical musings over a bottle of Argentinian Malbec and early morning ‘Wim Hof’ swims in the Lynn Peninsula with my pedigree black Labrador (not yet bought) all sounded rather spiffing. I would dangle sunkissed out the back doors, newly wash-boarded and looking exactly like the people in the 1.7m Vanlife Instagram pages, albeit 3 stone heavier and a lot older/balder.

Campervan vanlife uk

I would meditate regularly, learn to paint, become a yogi and travel to new and amazing places everyday meeting my new community on the way.

One month in I’m embracing another mid-class, mid-aged, mid-life crises and here are my 10 lessons on vanlife, so far.

Lesson 1 – Parking fines

Day 1 – ‘Deadpool’ and I made my way down to Surrey from long term parking in Staffordshire (my Dad’s drive) cruising along the M40 at 52 miles every hour. Once I’d cleared the farewell bunting from the windscreen I decided to break for a 6 quid coffee at Oxford service station. With all the excitement of driving a mini bus that looked like a fire engine, I subsequently fell asleep for over 2 hours, later receiving a hefty fine. Note to self – set an alarm when snoozing. Hey Siri…..

Lesson 2 – Sleep hacks

I have only stayed on campsites and driveaways. The first week you don’t sleep well. Your senses are super tuned to all noise, even your own sleeping bag moving wakes you up. Now I wear a facemask and earplugs and sleep 8 hours. Ignorance in a van is bliss. Like most of life what is first strange becomes the normal. Sure, sleep next to an axe but ultimately you adjust. I’m not ready for sleeping on the roadside, yet. If I wanted to save myself a bundle that would be the ticket. See our blog on vanlife costs here and try our Campsite Finder friends at Jetcamp for your campsite or Park4night

Lesson 3 – Storage

When you leave somewhere you have to pack up your stuff up. Do check your van before you drive off as I often spend a lot of time clearing up broken things off the floor and listening to the cupboard doors banging whilst driving to Tesco. I have now discovered a myriad of different tapes, bands and velcro for sticking things down. I padlock my Howden’s kitchen doors and have acquired many large plastic boxes for storage. There are now many newly acquired skills on storing things. You will become fascinated with storage and space saving.

Lesson 4 – Wi-Fi

Make sure you have decent WI-FI. Ok, if you are parking up in the one borough of England that hasn’t banned overnight public parking then this might be more challenging. Good wi-fi or 4G equals company of an evening after you’ve put your poetry book down. You also need it to work. Get yourself a dongle with your service provider and of course check the campsite for WI-FI services (most have now). Sure I cook and watch the sunset some nights but that novelty wore off pretty quick so get yourself decent communications, Peaky Blinders and Chill.

Vanlife mobile working

Lesson 5 – Get comfortable

Maybe its my age but I wee in a saucepan now at 4 am. Keep it near your bed. I have kicked it over once so make sure you empty it first thing on waking, or buy a cassette toilet or even better buy a motorhome with a bathroom (I am seriously considering this option). Either way get comfortable being uncomfortable. I simply smile now at the saucepan visits. Use a steering lock and hang your keys on a hook near your bed (the same place everynight) so keeps you organised with peace of mind.

Lesson 6 – Exercise is a must

Working out at the gym is now a Herculean, logistical challenge so I now use resistance bands, do yoga or run every day. Daily movement is crucial so do it for decent mental health, adapt and improvise. No excuses.

Lesson 7 – Eat well

Staying on healthy food is a little challenging as it’s easy to not cook, live on cereal and protein bars (read crisps). Only having a small fridge needs some management of shopping / diet but actually a massive bowl of oats and some fruit tides me over to my Asian ‘Fusion’ dinner. This is the same incredibly tasty dish every night now, with the odd pasta ‘surprise’ to break it up. I have shifted some weight and I am loving cooking simply and healthy dishes and experimenting with new recipes. Basically, no excuses. And get to love avocado.

campervan cooking

Lesson 8 – Stay tidy

Clean the van and make your bed daily. No excuses. Tidy house. Tidy mind.

Lesson 9 – Socialise

Maintain a social life. You still have friends. You can make new friends. Don’t become lazy and live on social media. Buy a Brompton (or cheap alternative off Facebook Marketplace) and get it fixed up at Halfords so you can whizz to the places and the local train station. Use buses. Learn to walk places. Plan your travels around other social events. Go to Campervan festivals, Summer festivals and sporting events where you van will be far more useful than a tent.

fold up bike vanlife lessons

Lesson 10 – Plan!

Plan – The adventure of visiting different places and campsites is much more enjoyable when some research has happened and you are looking forward to things! Be flexible but have an idea how you will spend your free time when you aren’t writing blogs on vanlife. Join the National Trust  as I’ve had some superb days out and visited 7 (of the 500 places) around Surrey and Kent, and it’s only 7 pounds a month! You can walk, relax, park and generally enjoy incredible places for next to nothing. Don’t drink alocohol in your van at night. It’s bad for you, won’t solve any problems and prevents you finding true purpose.

Campervan Knole Parkvanlife exerciseeast preston beach


See what’s happening locally using apps like Meet up or Eventbrite for example and check out TripAdvisor and local facebook pages for things to do locally. There is so much to discover it’s incredible if you open your mindset up and take a leap.

Last of all. Enjoy the adventure. I have learnt so much already from the process of the conversion and now spending more time living simply and embracing a new way of living.  I’ve visited 5 campsites in one month and you can find them on our blog (Best Campsites near London). Enjoyed some beautiful sunrises, sunsets and met some funky people. I am more relaxed with how things unfold and making the most out of this experience.

Things take time, there are challenges sure but I am finding my vanlife stride…..and it’s been a wonderful adventure so far, saucepans and all.

How could we potentially help you?

We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. You can find more helpful campervan travel trips here, some ideas on vanlife costs or some great roadtrip ideas and more campervan blogs on our website.

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