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Two Years of Full-Time Van Life In The UK

A Hymer b564 and a Kawasaki KLE 500 pitched on a campsite. Full time Van Life UK

The 17th of August 2023 marked two years since my Staffordshire Terrier and I set off on our long-term photography project to document as much of the world in images and video as possible.

It's been 2 years of ups and downs. Many memories have already been made, both good and bad. Many lovely people met and laughs shared. Lots of time spent feeling lonely, especially so during the Winter months when no one really comes out of their campervans or motorhomes.

What I've learned about van life

What I learned very early on in my journey is that social media is full of crap! The carefully curated images you see posted on Instagram and the edited videos you see on many of the YouTube channels don't really give you an honest look into what it's truly like to live full-time in a van.

I'll admit, I was a little naive when I set off. My plan was to travel on a very regular basis. At least moving location once a week. However, the reality is that constantly being on the move is not really feasible if you're doing van life long term.

Not only is constantly being on the move expensive from a fuel and wear and tear perspective on your vehicle, but it's also quite stressful constantly having to make micro decisions every day can wear you down.

I've also made, what I thought were great decisions at the time which I'm now reconsidering. One such decision was the purchase of a motorcycle and trailer to tow around. The idea behind the purchase was to find a site/somewhere to park up for a week and then use the bike to explore the surrounding area, get shopping etc. Basically, I use the motorcycle for getting around rather than having to pack the van down into a driveable state each time I need to head out to explore or visit shops etc.

However, having now towed the bike around for well over a year, I find that it's actually quite stressful. I purchased a second-hand EasyLifter trailer because it can be dismantled and easily stored under my Hymer when I'm pitched/parked up. The theory is great. The practicality is that there is just nothing 'Easy' about the Easylifter, especially if you have a larger bike and have to load and unload the bike on your own.

Let's face it, at 50 I'm not exactly 'old' but at the same time, I am no spring chicken. The EasyLifter components are NOT light! And with a dodgy back and knees, it becomes a serious mission each time I have to load up the bike to move to my next location. In addition, on several occasions now, despite using 6 ratchet straps to secure the bike to the trailer deck, I have arrived at my destination to find that the bike has shifted significantly on the road. In one instance it moved so much that the handlebar was actually hitting the back of my Hymer! This is due to the combination of the front wheel 'holder' not being adequate enough to secure the front wheel in place and the seriously dodgy roads in the UK! I have hit potholes and bumps in the road where the entire trailer, and therefore bike, have come off the road surface! This has introduced anxiety into my life each time I face the prospect of having to tow the bike any significant distance as I'm constantly on edge that the bike is going to fall off the trailer!

Income during van life

Another thing I was probably naive about is securing a steady income whilst being a digital nomad. I have been self-employed since June 2019. Initially, I started up my photography business but thanks to Covid-19 that was quickly put to rest before it had a real chance of getting traction. Photography is a hard sell when you are on the move so I shifted my focus to providing website design, SEO consultancy and Social media management to startups and small businesses. Whilst I am now starting to get some decent traction in this business, it is still not consistent. There is still more work to do from a marketing perspective to get to the point where I have at least 2 clients per month.

There are of course far easier ways to secure an income and many ways a vanlifer can do so. From being self-employed to working for a company that allows fully remote work, to working on a campsite, or as a pet sitter and even creating goods or artwork. But I'll dive deeper into this in a separate post. You can also check out the video below for some ideas of earning an income as a vanlifer

For now, just give serious thought to how you are going to earn a steady income whilst living in a van full-time. Especially if it is your intention to travel around on a regular basis.

Some vanlifers have no interest in regular travel. In fact, I met a couple of vanlifers who have lived on the same campsite for 10 years. That is a far easier vanlife lifestyle as they have jobs in the local area, registered with a doctor, dentist and local hospital. All things that are considerably harder if it is your intention to move around more regularly.

Loneliness during van life

Whilst I am very comfortable in my own company, and do have my elderly Staffordshire Terrier, loneliness can creep in from time to time. Especially if there are prolonged periods of time where I've not spent time with family or friends. For me personally, evenings are the worst for this as generally during the day I'm too occupied with things to feel lonely. Although sometimes when I'm out exploring I do think to myself, "Self, it would be great to experience this with someone."

So if you are someone who craves the company of others, or is easily bored, you may want to consider if van life is truly the best option for you.

Breakdowns and van issues

I've had my share of van issues since setting off. I had a blowout on a tyre 2 months into my experience. Which the RAC then came out to fit my spare. Said wheel and tyre then decided to depart my motorhome and race me down a motorway just 80 miles after the RAC fitted it! This caused significant damage to the chassis, shock absorber, wheel arch and exhaust on the motorhome. A court case is ongoing for the RAC's tort of negligence resulting in a risk to life to not only myself and my pooch but also other road users. I was just lucky that day that there was not a car next to me when the wheel came off as the Hymer swerved into the fast lane from the rear falling down. Had there been a vehicle next to me at the time it would have been a very different outcome. It took almost a month to first find a garage willing to work on it and then get the work done! So a month where I was unable to travel and a week where I did not have my home. Fortunately, a friend offered that I stayed in his home for that period of time. But it's worth giving some thought to what you will do in the event of a vehicle issue. The longer you're travelling for, the more likely you are to experience an issue so have a plan in place!

Here's to the next 2 years of van life!

Whilst van life has certainly had its challenges, some of which have been my own nativity or decisions I've made (for example getting the motorcycle and trailer) I have absolutely no regrets in my decision to do this! I consider everything that has happened as simply a learning curve into an alternative lifestyle. For 48 years I lived a 'conventional lifestyle'. Living in a house, growing up and pursuing a career. Purchasing a house. Raising kids. Then to suddenly move myself and everything I might need on the road into a motorhome with a footprint of 14m2 is definitely something that takes getting used to.

I have no intentions of calling it quits on van life or my long-term photography project. In fact, I haven't even really touched the surface of all the countries and places I want to visit. So far, my travels have been purely within the UK due to my elderly dog and not wanting to put him through the stress of ferries, hot temperatures abroad etc.

So I'm looking forward to what the next two years will bring. One thing is for sure. There will be some changes made so that I can travel more freely without the anxiety caused by towing the bike on the EasyLifter trailer. This may mean having to invest in a different trailer that is easier to load and secures the bike better for the UK roads or it may mean deciding to ditch the motorcycle altogether and just use my power-assisted bicycle to get around (although that's not particularly useful in more rural locations). Be sure to follow my journey to see what the future holds 😊

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