Vanlife | 5 things you need for an epic first road trip
Vanlife has exploded across the travel scene over recent years and the phenomenon has become one of the most sought-after travel experiences for young wanderlusters. Perhaps it’s the endless freedom or the return to a simpler lifestyle that appeals. Or perhaps many have just realised that living in a van can give you a way of travelling long-term on low costs – it sounds pretty appealing right? I hear it all the time, from people who have travelled a lot, to those who have barely seen outside their home town. So many have this beautiful dream of converting a vehicle into a home and of taking off and seeing the world. Whether it’s driving across outback Australia, travelling across Europe or even just driving around the UK – it’s a great way to see a country in a new light and to experience a level of freedom you can’t even imagine.
I’ve always loved road trips, but I never really experienced living in a van until I met my boyfriend. He had previously spent years driving and travelling around in his own van across New Zealand and Australia, so naturally, I joined him on an epic road trip just a week after we met. We travelled over 4,000km together on that trip and have since had more amazing road trips across Australia and Europe. Our most recent was a few months ago when we spent 3 weeks driving across Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and France in our newly converted Sprinter. You can read all about our van conversion here. And, you can read all about the plans for that trip here. It was an amazing trip and I’ll be writing more about it over the coming weeks/months, but first I wanted to start off with a post about the 5 things you should focus on when planning a road trip or converting a van. It’s an exciting and daunting task, but one that could pay off hugely if it gives you the freedom to travel.
Comfort and storage
SUCH an important thing to remember when planning your Vanlife travels, by investing in both of these you will make your life so much better once on the road. Consider whether you will need to weather-proof your van and need to make it suitable for winter as well as summer, you may need insulation for the colder months. Make sure you spend time on making your bed and don’t just go for a cheaper/easier option. We were lucky and had an old slatted bed frame donated by a neighbour which we cut to fit the wooden bed frame we built, this gave extra support and a big of suspension so it wasn’t just a hard box. We used a big section of foam and cut it to size for the mattress, then filled our bed with pillows and warm duvets. Don’t forget, no matter how warm it is during the summer, it does get chilly at night and is always better to have too many layers than not enough. We also made our bed frame removable so we could have more floor space in the van if necessary by removing the end section.
When it comes to storage, more is always better. Plan your van design around storage, it’s great to build it into the frame and design so everything remains compact and tidy. There’s nothing worse than living in a tiny van that is just a mess of stuff, at the end of the day you want to be able to crawl into bed without having to move everything. We created so much storage that we actually never had to store things on the bed. We had a massive section under the bed with big boxes where we stored food and cooking equipment, then along the side of the bed we had a big section for camping gear which we could also use as a bedside table. Behind the drivers’ seat, we also used smaller crates stacked on top of each other which we picked up in IKEA and screwed together and into the floor. These we used for clothes, toiletries and other bits and bobs which meant we didn’t have to leave things lying around for security. Plan well and you’ll never find your van crowded or too small, trust me, it will change your whole vanlife experience!
Being a gal who never travels without her phone, camera, iPad/laptop and music, I need access to power to charge items and I never want to worry about running out of juice. Particularly on our Europe trip, I loved being able to practice more photography and to edit photos in the evenings by the campfire. There are lots of ways to make sure Vanlife doesn’t mean living with your battery on red. One thing I wish I’d had when we were in Western Australia was a solar-powered battery pack, it was 40 degrees daily and constant sunshine so it would have been a great way to recharge. For our Europe trip, we invested in a power pack for the van which, after being installed by a mechanic, would recharge as we drove using power from the van’s engine. We could choose when to recharge and once fully charged, it would run for days depending on how much power you used. It was expensive at around €500, but an investment for us because we know we will be using the van a lot and long-term.
Looking for a more budget fix – why not invest in some really good portable power packs? I was sent the Juice Extreme, a fast charge power bank which is designed for life on-the-go and works perfect for road trips. It stores 2.5 full charges for an iPhone 8, Samsung S8 or Android phone and is great for a day of exploring a new city. It proved a lifesaver for me when exploring Vienna and Prague this summer, or for long afternoons of driving and needing a quick boost for directions. With a strong rubber coating, it’s dust and waterproof which is great for travellers like me who love the beach, and it even protects against impact damage. Finally, it has a tiny LED torch which is handy when you’re trying to find your camp spot in the dark! Retailing at £24.99, it’s a great investment and I never leave home without it in my handbag.
Stocking up on Vanlife supplies
Depending on where you are travelling, one benefit of living in a van is that you can prepare all your meals yourself and don’t have to waste money on eating out. It’s worth stocking up before you travel on basics like pasta, rice, beans, and breakfast items like muesli. Having a good basic store of these things mean no matter where you are, or even if you break down in the middle of nowhere, you won’t go hungry. The same applies for things like water and toilet roll, it’s worth getting a tank of water with a tap for your van, we never travel without one and it means we have lots of water for cooking/drinking. Going prepared will also mean that you don’t get caught out with expensive shops – in Western Australia shopping was expensive so we always waited until the bigger towns to pick up essentials at larger supermarkets. Likewise, in Switzerland, we avoided the shops altogether because of the extra expense, instead we stocked up beforehand in Austria.
Permits and Insurance
Insurance is an obvious one, but be sure that yours is comprehensive, covers all your drivers and third party damage. Also be sure you know what your breakdown cover includes so if the worst happens, you know what to do and who to call for the best support. Always make sure you take the vehicle for a service or do all appropriate checks before a big trip, read this post for a list of top checks to perform. When it comes to permits, be sure to check if you are driving through several countries, which permits are required. For example, when we were driving through Austria and Switzerland, we had to get special permits from petrol stations along the road but they were tricky to get. Be prepared, it’s always better to do a little vanlife research before you travel, than to get a huge fine when you return home.
For us, this was a huge part of making the van our own. We were so proud of the building work and the bed frame, but it was the decorating that really got us excited and started to make it a home. We wanted it to be as cosy as possible, our own little cave to escape into. We visited some of the vintage and Indian shops here in the city, where we picked up some great Vanlife decorations. We found a colourful chakra tapestry which we used to cover the roof of the van, with some huge black pashminas to add some great little storage pockets and tassles hanging down by the windows. My boyfriend picked out some Nepalese flags for a little travel inspiration and some more colour, and we picked up lots of fairy lights from IKEA and Primark to make it cosy. And I picked up a few extra pillows with nomad-style prints to make it extra comfy. I still love everything about our van – it’s a colourful mish-mash of our personalities and the places we’ve been, it tells a story. And even better, we had so many compliments on our epic ride as we travelled around Europe. I already can’t wait for the next vanlife experience!
Have you converted a van – how was your vanlife experience? Have you always dreamed of travelling in a van across the country?