8 things we learned so far about Vanlife
The Ocean, where everything started
It’s been over a year since we bought our VW T4... we named it after the city of Campeche in Mexico, which is where we actually met 3 years ago.
For those who don’t know, Chloe and I (Gürkan) met while backpacking in Central America. She’s French and I’m Turkish. I was hitchhiking from Cuba all the way down to Patagonia whereas she was in Mexico for 6 weeks, then she had to go back to France to complete her graduate program. Long story short, 3 months after she had returned to Paris, I came back to Istanbul. She visited me in Turkey and by the end of 2016, I moved to France (It wasn’t as simple as it sounds, but we will spare you the paperwork issue).
We travelled across Europe by bus, train, flight... but our main challenge remained to find a way to go surfing in the weekends. The carpooling/Airbnb combo wasn’t that convenient and cheap after all. In the meantime, we encountered many surfers travelling in their campervan and the idea started to rise in our heads. By that time, we had no idea of the whole vanlife thing going on.
We’ve now been weekend warriors for a year, meaning we would leave on friday evening after work, drive 3 to 5 hours to reach our spot by the ocean, spend incredible weekend far from the city, and be back at the office by monday morning… We also had an amazing 6-week roadtrip across Spain and Portugal last summer.
Few weeks ago, I decided to quit my job in an advertising agency to become a freelance Art Director for our own creative studio… We also bought our new camper van, a 1985 Mercedes Hymer 602D, and decided to move full time in it to save up money and kick off our studio activities.
Most importantly, we haven’t been that excited in a long time and we hope you will continue to follow us on this journey. As for our very first article, we wanted to reflect on the things we learned after a year of van life. Enjoy!
What we learned after a year of Van Life
#1 There is no one way of doing vanlife
Either you’re a weekend warrior, making a roadtrip across Europe (or any other destinations) for a year, working on the way or even living in your van without moving (on a land or in a city)... there is a ton of ways to live the vanlife, and each of them come with their owns advantages and drawbacks.
We just love the freedom you get by living on a rolling home. Many people talk about downsizing while living in a van, but for us it felt quite the opposite. The van gives us so much space to carry our daily life gear compare to backpacking, and thus the happiness to do all the activities we adore like surfing, trekking, slacklining, reading… whenever and wherever we might be able to.
#2 The vanlife community is awesome
Even tough it might sounds a little bit cliché, the vanlife community is incredible… We are lucky enough to be in Europe, which is among the top destinations for living the vanlife. Either on the road or through Instagram, we encountered so many like-minded people that made us feel we were at the right place. Your neighbour of the night could be a digital nomad couple, a family of four living in a VW T3, a solo female traveller doing some permaculture woofing… coming from all over the world. Each of them having their own story and pathway to vanlife, this will definitely broaden your horizons.
#3 It’s not that cheap
As we said, no two vans are the same, and so is the budget. As for us, we bought our VW T4 for 3 500€ and didn’t worry much for the security while going on a roadtrip in the since we’d always carry our valuables items (mostly technological gear). However, now that we moved full time in our Mercedes Hymer that we just got for 10 000€, we already tend to be more picky regarding the security system - like getting a GPS tracker - knowing that it’s our home. We also know that our car is so old that it won’t be so easy to fix it if we end up at the garage.
This being said, we just felt like we could remind you that Vanlife is an alternative lifestyle but it doesn’t mean it’s cheap.
#4 Your consumption will shift
When you live in a flat or visit an hotel, it’s easy to hang out in the shower for 20 minutes without eve noticing how much water goes down the drain because when it disappears down those tiny holes, it is out of your mind. Same goes when someone else is emptying the bins you throw your trash into, the amount of waste you produce may seem small.
All the resources you took for granted while living in a flat will soon become part of your daily concern. Where can we refill the water? How much energy do we have left after 3 days of rain? Will we be able to have internet for working in the middle of nowhere? How can we have such a big trash bag after only a week? We’re so grateful we got to experience this consumption shift, and then reflect on our current habits to aim for a zero waste lifestyle.
#5 You will experience slow travel
In our fast-paced world, which glorifies bucket lists and instant gratification, travelers often forget to pause and live in the moment. When you’re in the driver's seat, you have the opportunity not just to see your final destination, but also the “in-between”. You know, the small towns and unexplored spots that you’d never venture to stop by, You’ll drive on small roads and get glimpses into people’s lives as you pass by, giving you a more complete, more authentic experience than you could ever get while going from A to B by flight. You’ll come to appreciate slow travel and the beauty of a day that doesn’t move too fast along with the opportunity to become part of local life and to connect to a place and its people. We genuinely felt like the most memorable travel experiences are enjoyed when we stop moving so quickly. They occur in the tender moments when we strike up conversations with strangers or in those hours we wander aimlessly.
#6 Showering and eating healthy is easier than you think
“How do you shower?” might sound familiar if you’re already living in your camper van. Despite contrary belief, there are so many ways to get clean, and it’s actually easier than you think.
You can either count on your gym access, use the campground/public utilities, have a proper heated-shower within the van… or use a 12V portable shower as we do. Showering outside facing the ocean and breathing the salty breeze, how does that sound?
Same goes for the food. It turns out to be quite simple to remain healthy on the road and cook amazing veggie food. We’d bought fresh fruits and vegetables to local markets and store them in our fridge. Even if we cook each meal outside using a camping setup, we'd wake with the sunrise and light our MSR camp stove to make coffee and banana pancakes. Not that stressful after all, just a different routine.
#7 There is an app for everything
Finding your way, your spot for the night, where to refill your water and most importantly… where to go surfing or trekking, there is an app for it. Hereby is our selections:
We mainly use the satellite map and google streetview of Google Maps to investigate places to sleep. Park4night is also pretty a must-have to find a spot for the night. We’ve been using maps.me for years to get around while abroad: you can download the maps and then use them offline. Waze is very convenient for the traffic informations (very useful when you’re heading back to Paris on sunday evening). WeTap helps you to locate the spots where to refill you water around you.
Magic Sea Weed and Wikiloc only apply if you love surfing and trekking as much as we do. We discovered very nice hidden places in Spain and Portugal thanks to this two.
We don’t say that using applications is the ultimate answer for everything. It does offer a little bit more confort on the way, but it won’t replace the little talks with locals and other travellers.
#8 It won’t always be perfect
Don’t think of vanlife as the ultimate dream life since it isn’t. You will encounter some issues on the road, a car breakdown being one of the most common problem. Only your troubleshooting attitude will get you through it. Last year, while driving to a music festival in France, our clutch broke down. There was not much to be done since it was already friday night, so we left the car (in the middle of a random village), hitchhiked to the festival (we were about 7 kilometers away) and enjoyed it anyway.
There was another time in Portugal where we tried to park as closed as we could from the ocean, but it was getting dark and we didn’t realised the path was over until we found ourselves stuck in the sand. We were already so tired from surfing the whole afternoon, yet we had to collect small rocks and dig into the sand for 3 hours to get us out of there, with absolutely nobody around to help.
There is nothing so bad about it, those experiences are part of the adventure, and now remain as memories on the road.