‘Our phones have already replaced our cameras, our calendars, our computers and our alarm clocks. We must make sure they never replace our family’
For a really long time now, I’ve dreamt of owning a classic VW Camper van. As a person, I’ve never been particularly impressed by designer labels, or expensive jewellery but have yearned to experience as much of the world as possible whilst I’m here. This is of course massively down to our families personal situation with Huntington’s disease, and that constant reminder of how precious life it. One of my biggest regrets (although I wouldn’t change the course my life has taken) is that I went balls deep into my career at the age of 20. I failed to see how I had my whole life ahead of me and was keen to start making something of myself at work from a young age. Looking back, I had such freedom to travel and explore, but I remember not wanting to move too far from Mum anyway, so perhaps it wouldn’t have happened even if my career wasn’t a priority.
The last year or so I’ve noticed more and more people taking to the road to explore beautiful places. I think the speed and chaos of the modern world is trigger to this, many wanting to escape a world that never logs out.
My first taste of living ‘off grid’ if you like, was back in October when we went away for a long weekend to celebrate a mates 40th. Longlands in Devon is a row of luxury treetop tents that provide you with the perfect break away from the madness. The signal is questionable, you only have hot water after lighting the fire for a good hour and you are surrounded by fields and woodland for miles on end. It was something I was nervous about, not being a natural to outdoorsy life. I’d no clue how to light the fire and sought out the plug sockets for the hairdryer and phone charger sooner than I care to admit! But I have to say, after a day in, broth warm from the hob, tea in my hand and and a happy Freddie being bathed in the sink, I thought ‘I could 100% get used this!’.
This May, as many of you will know, my family and friends cycled the length of the country to raise funds and awareness for HD. I spent 5 days solid in a motorhome, which was a first for me. During those days, despite my messy hair, questionable cold weather attire and the fact I was living amongst 13 boys, I felt really happy. There’s something about getting away from the day to day chaos that reconnects me with exactly who I am (gawwwd how deep is that!). But it does. There’s no time for comparison or internal negative dialogue because you’re preoccupied with activities that seem more natural to human wellbeing. Getting fresh air, taking in new surroundings, rallying round to look after one another. It’s all quite instinctive.
One of the lads who took part in the cycle recently converted his own van for him and his girlfriend (and beloved dog) to travel around in at the weekends. It’s literally the coolest little set up I’ve seen, and I got to chatting to him about how much it cost. He did the lot for a really impressive £2500! That’s buying the van and doing it up. Naturally, that price is due to him doing 100% of the leg work but it got me thinking, perhaps my dreams of owning a van like this weren’t as far fetched as I once thought.
I spoke to Kev, and we talked about what we want for the kids as they grow up and we both said the idea of taking them to see beautiful places and spending time outside and as a family is something we both want, but to do this with hotels on a regular basis was just not attainable. Kev is fairly handy which means the potential to do up our own van wasn’t out of reach, and with a little research we soon found that many had done this from scratch with little to no skills as so many YouTube tutorials provide step by step guidelines to almost every step of the way. We were sold and decided to give it a go.
When I posted about our plans becoming a reality on Instagram I was amazed how many of you either already live the van life or likewise, dreamed of doing the same. It seems I’m not the only one keen to hit the open road. If our situation was different (no kids yet and parents in good health) we said we would have looked into living out of a van for 12 months to travel as far and wide as possible. Many do this and I think it’s a great idea. As promised, below are answers to a few of your questions, some (many), still up in the air. But I promise to keep you updated throughout the process and take you on a journey with us.
Oh, and I’ve decided I’m going to call her ‘Jenny’ after my mum. Seems fitting that the adventure that’s set to show us what life is all about is named after the very person who taught my the importance of that.
I can’t wait!
What are your essentials for the van?
Ok, so this may well change as the project unfolds of course, depending on spends and perhaps changing opinion as I learn more but currently my must haves are:
- Double bed for us
- Comfortable proper bedding for the kids
- A kitchen that functions inside and can be taken outside. We are currently of the mindset we will use gas and take a portable cooker that can be placed indoors and out. Debating an oven and still to decide on this
- A fridge rather than a cool box
- A shower
- A portable loo
- Safe legal seating
- A permanent awning
- Decking for the cage up top
- A square cut into the cage up top to allow the sunroof to open
- A pull out area built in to extend the kitchen space when weather is nice
Why a camper rather than a caravan?
Safety I guess. Kev isn’t overly keen on towing a caravan. We also like the idea of camping wild and being in a van makes this a little easier I think
What should be professionally done and what can you do yourself?
I guess the best way to answer this is to say that anything you’re not qualified to do, is best getting a professional in. Certainly any additional seating, and then gas and electrics should be done by a professional too. Kev is lucky enough to have a whole host of skillsets that come with his job as an air conditioning engineer, and we’ve a big old group of pals with jobs in various sectors happy to do us a favour in the knowledge we are about if they need us in the future for things we can do. That’s how our circle works but I’ve no doubt there will be points we call in certain pros.
Most things such as building kitchen cabinets, a frame for a bed and insulating the van can be found on YouTube with step by step tutorials and there’s no reason why you can do this yourselves.
What are the rules around owning and driving one?
As far as I’m aware, as long as it’s under 3.5 tonnes it won’t affect anyone driving it. If you passed your test prior to 1997 you can drive anything but anyone after that date has this limit. You can take a test to cover you if this is the case though. Bear in mind that a mini bus full of seats factors in the weight of it full of people. If you are taking out 17 seats, you will lose that in weight so it’s worth looking into this. You of course need to tax, insure, service and MOT it like any other vehicle.
How do you plan to fit two children and a dog in there too?
Good question! We are still toying with various ideas. The most space saving way I’ve seen is to create a double bunk bed at the back with the kids up top and the grown ups underneath. This leaves the rest of the space for extra seats and a kitchen. However, I am keen to avoid this as I really like the idea of sitting with a brew in bed, van doors open, overlooking a gorgeous view. I’ve seen lots of gorgeous conversions work that way, and it’s absolutely a must for those with larger families. This was just one of the favourite parts of getting a van so unless it becomes necessary I’ll likely avoid it.
At the moment we are still to rip out the insides, once we do with will get a clearer view of the space and can play with some measurements, but currently we are thinking of a rock and roll bed behind the driver. This will acts as the kids seating and also a double bed for them. A kitchen behind that along one wall, and our double bed at the back. We plan to raise our bed up so that underneath it we have a heap of storage we can use. The other wall will have an air con unit on it which we will box in with some wood, and provide us with hot and cool air. We will get a shower which attached to the back of the van. You open the doors and theres a cube of shower curtain that you lift up which hooks on to the door, and you simply pull the shower head and cable up to there too. Here’s a few ideas I’ve seen with children’s bed, although I’m yet to find an example of what we are planning!
How will you make the most of storage?
This is something I think we will plan once it’s been ripped out, insulated and cladded. Without seeing the shell of it I can’t quite visualise how to make the most of the space. The bit at the back under the bed will be used for our main bags I imagine. I’ve been told a spot to store your shoes when you kick them off is really handy too. I guess with such a small space, it will be seconds before it’s filled up with crap. I’ve posted a few pictures below of my favourite storage ideas. I imagine these will change as the months go by!
I also like to think that unless it’s arctic or chucking it down we can extend our living space using an awning. I’m not sure what the done thing is but I’d personally like a permanent one that fixes to the side which we are currently looking for second hand, and then one we can take if the weather looks more questionable with sides too. See below.
Finally, what is all this costing?
I think this was the most common question I got. Of course, I am more than happy to share these details with you. In an ideal world, I’d like to do the lot fo £6k. Van, reno, EVERYTHING! To be able to share how to create your own holiday home for a family on wheels for under 6k would be great! I do however, worry I’m being a little optimistic! I know that certainly this is possible as a couple, in fact I’d argue it’s doable on an even lower budget (nearer 3.5k) as a couple. But throwing kids in the mix does make it a little pricier. There’s a bigger vehicle needed for starters and then there’s the issue of legal extra seats along with designing it in such a way that a family can fit and live in it successfully. Options are just a bit more limited when doing it on a budget. I promise to keep an itinerary of every single minor cost, and where we manage to pick up bits for cheap/free through mates I will do my best to work out what the cost would have been.
Overall, I’m excited. I’d love to think we will get this done by next summer so we can escape to the coast for a little sunshine but we’ll see!
If you have any further questions please feel free to fire away. I feel excited to be channeling my energy into a new project and after eleven years of driving new businesses it’s nice to work on a project centred around living life too.
Here’s to exciting adventures……