There are many reasons why you shouldn’t live in a van. The relatively small and sometimes confined space. The lack of constant flowing water, gas and electricity. The absence of a fixed abode, with a postcode and mailing address. Vehicles, especially ones who have seen a few too many winters, have a tendency to break down, fail to start and give up the ‘proverbial ghost’. Finding yourself in spots that are far from the warm beaches you were hoping for, supermarket car parks, back streets and industrial areas. Being woken up by the police or local residents, angrily beeping their horns as if to say ‘how dare you live next to me? even for a night’. I don’t know where to start with the food, canned soup, UHT milk, anything with an artificially prolonged life. The hours or boredom, no phone or 3G signal. In this day and age?
Myself and my partner Lauren have spent the past 6 years jumping between two lives. One that has a postcode and a constant water supply. Electricity at the flick of a switch and all of the other simple amenities we have come to expect in a house in the 21st century. A life in which we work, we sometimes go out for meals to see friends, we run a small business and enjoy the majority of work life. Sometimes we prosper, the bank account is in the plus and the sun shines on our small part of England. Other times we struggle, money is tight, rent is due and we find ourselves looking longingly at old photographs, Instagram feeds and at the vivid memories left in our minds from trips past.
The second life, the one that we are proud of, promises nothing but the potential to see the world. The chance to sleep under new skies and wake to a new dawn chorus. When we forget what date we left, how long we have been on the road or where we are headed next. We forget the bills, the emails, the phone calls. The clients, the nosy neighbours and the local council asking us to cut our hedge. The van, or ‘The Rolling Home’ as we know it, has become an old friend, the 3rd companion on this hapdash voyage. One that needs attention, checking of oil leaks and tightening of belts. The carrying of more tools than clothes. A joyous cat and mouse game of fixing parts as they break under the strain of miles travelled.
The van is filled, meticulously so, with everything we need. No spare rooms to fill with clutter, no forgotten cupboards or kitchen drawers that fill with un necessary objects that will be useful on day. The minimum needed. Surfboards on a rack on the side of the hightop, 30 litres of fresh water in two tanks behind the small kitchen. Two gas burners, a basic fridge. An L shaped seat that slides out to give us a bed. The drawers smell of vanilla surfboard wax and oiled pine.
We have maps in the van, maps of every corner of Europe. Dog eared and sun bleached, the pages covered with small pencil crosses, notes of our favourite locations. Empty beaches in Northern Spain that we discovered after months of travelling back in 2013. Hidden sand tracks that weave through the thick pine forest of South West France. We stumbled upon these back in 2010. We were surely not the first to discover the empty waves that lay at the end, but we were the only ones on that particular day. So why not believe they were ours? Our back garden for the day. Areas in Southern Germany where we camped with new friends. In Sweden we fell in love with a country that let us sleep for weeks in untamed wilderness, and spent our coldest nights yet in our little van.
We are ‘off grid’. We feel the absence of connection in the first few weeks. The zombie like reach for our phones. But this habit breaks quickly. The view of mountains or beaches, rivers creeping through valleys or thick forest. These are the images that fill our minds. Falling asleep to the last few pages of a favourite book. Waking to check the surf, not the latest posts on social media.
Cups of tea and biscuits, our one comfort from home. But where is home? I guess by now we have forgotten. Fresh meat and local vegetables from the market in a small Portuguese fishing village. Spending the price of a takeaway coffee back in the UK, on two bags full of the freshest food imaginable. What small amount of money would have payed for a day of existence in the UK, sustains this life for weeks. The BBQs, these are legendary. Grilled courgettes, sticky blackened ribs, salsa verde that fills the van with an unmistakable incense of mint and Garlic. Laughter! and full bellies and stinging eyes from wood smoke. Camp chairs and wine sipped from cups instead of glasses. Clear nights and stars through our hightop windows. Waking up early, leaving Lauren to dose for a few more hours in the sun that creeps up over the horizon. Riding my push bike up the hills and over the dunes, board in hand. Empty dawn surfs where half of the session is forgotten in a blur of near perfect waves and aching smiles. I ride back to the van and we sit with dark coffee, fresh toast and avocado.
Our friends, they park next to us. We spend days, weeks, months travelling with them. Taking photos and shooting film. All in an effort to document these times. We never once long for home, we know the small towns that we grew up in will not change, too much.
We choose to be here. I think you should too; after all, there are many reasons why you should live in a van.