So, you’ve sold up all your junk, quit your job and moved in to a van.
Adapting to a new life on the road can be challenging but, played right extremely rewarding. Having lived on the road for around six months now, I’ve learned a few things. These are my own experiences but hopefully there’s something useful in this for others too.
1. Finding a good spot to stay
This for me is the best part of living on the road. You get to choose where you sleep! When living in England I was lucky in that my work location was rural and I could rotate my park ups between beachside, Cliffside and common land spots all fairly close by.
If you work in a town or city it could be harder to find somewhere quiet and where authorities won’t tell you to move on. Try parking at the end of dead end roads or in park car parks. Check all parking restrictions prior to parking up. If it’s not possible to find a place long term think about contacting the local council to explain your situation and try and come to an arrangement. Alternatively, people sometimes offer their driveway for casual hire on pages such as gumtree.
If like me, you’re travelling constantly in your van it can often be tricky finding a quiet spot in a strange new area. I’ve found using Google Maps really helps me scale a large area quickly. I usually look for places away from as many houses as possible as well as away from main roads and train lines. Try to find a park up before it gets dark as in my experience, driving around in the dead of night looking for somewhere to stay can turn something fun in to something quite tedious.
2 . Laybys
Whilst they might seem like an easy place to stop over for the night on long journeys, in reality they’re rarely a good idea. No matter how minimal the traffic, you’re likely to hear it all and probably feel it too as you’re van shakes and wobbles with every passing vehicle.Another factor to consider here is your exposure to passers-by. Not just criminals but police asking you to move on or concerned locals worrying they’ll wake up with a traveller’s camp on their doorsteps.
People often stare at me in my big blue van as I rattle around country lanes and squeak through remote villages. It’s probably a combination of being in a bright blue foreign van and a curiosity of my lifestyle. People tend to be suspicious of anything that’s not conventional, so expect to get stared at from time to time. The best thing to do is smile. This either relieves their genuine concerns of your presence or makes them realise they are staring obviously in your direction and feel awkward enough to turn away.
4. Staying somewhere too long
When you find a great spot to stay it can be really hard to prize yourself away. We have certainly been guilty of getting too settled in one place over the summer. However, residents and law enforcement could start to notice you if you’ve been in a spot for too long and cause issues. Staying too long could cause you to outstay you’re welcome, especially if local residents start to complain. Wild camping is a great thing, if we respect the communities we stay within, it will be less of an issue to locals and police and we will all reap the rewards of greater freedom. We’ve also found moving regularly keeps us motivated to explore more as well as the added bonus of meeting more travellers.
5. Free water
Water is an essential for cooking, washing and drinking. Fortunately, we have a large water reserve on board so when we find water, we can store plenty at a time.
Water is cheap enough to buy by the bottle in shops, sure. But did you know that water is readily available for free in the majority of towns and villages around France, Spain and Portugal? Most cemeteries have taps somewhere on the grounds that is free to use. We were a little unsure at first but there have never been any problems when we’ve filled up. One lady who worked at the cemetery even left the gates unlocked after hours so we could continue to fill up. We’ve never drunk water from these taps, but it’s fine to be boiled and cooked with and for washing clothes.
Spain and Portugal go even further and provide drinking fountains and taps in the majority of towns and villages. Particularly in mountainous regions also, there are fresh spring water taps sticking out of walls everywhere. The water here tastes better than any table or tap water you could drink. Ice cold too, even in the height of summer. For an extensive list that is regularly updated, click here.
6. Knowing where you can stay.
Wild camping in a motor vehicle is a bit of a grey area. You will find lots of contradictory answers and lots of arguments in forums. I tend to think common sense and respect goes a long way with wild camping. It’s best to camp away from urban areas and away from popular tourist destinations in peak seasons, as more often than not, there will be local laws enforcing parking restrictions. Always try to check the area for signs that may signify any overnight parking or camping limitations.
Ensure you don’t leave anything outside the van. In Spain and Portugal, the police will tend to leave you alone if your camper is parked without showing signs of being lived in. This means that leaving out chairs and tables as well as awnings could lead to a knock on the door. Never allow waste to leak from the vehicle. Whilst it may only be a bit of water emptying from the sink, people walking by will probably assume it’s something less innocent. If you respect your surroundings, and adhere to all parking regulations in the area as well as remembering to move on every day or so, you shouldn’t have any problems.
7. Enjoy it.
We’ve learnt so much over the last six months about living in a small space together, adapting to life on the right hand side of the road and finding a new place to call home several times per week. It’s a completely different life, but one we wouldn’t change for anything!
Do you have any tips to share? Comment below: