This is one of my favourite 'adventures' to date, from April to August 2011 I lived in a van. However, not just any old van (insert Marks and Spencers advert background music), this was a 1987 water-cooled Volkswagen T25, plush interior with oak laminate worktops and an exterior drizzled with rust patches. This was my van and she was called Millie.
I've sadly now sold my beloved Millie after 2 years of loyal service. We got on like a house on fire, she was my left-hand woman (my right-hand woman is girlfriend Natty) and a very trusty steed. Sure she had her problems mechanically, but don't we all. Millie and I managed just under 20,000 miles together, more than she'd done in the previous 10 years under various owners put together. She went North, South, East and West and always provided a bed and cup of tea when most needed. She had 4 smelly boys living in her for a week whilst cycling the Three Peaks challenge, she managed numerous laps of Cornwall sight-seeing with Natty, she stopped me getting hypothermia after swimming in many lakes, rivers and puddles and she's been the most inviting bed after a few nights out. But, most memorably she was the roof over my head during the summer of 2011.
The reason for living in the van was primarily to save money. Living in Oxford doesn't exactly make it easy to pay off debts and save some money. I knew I'd need money for my biggest adventure to date, The Search for Gold 2011 Expedition (a trip to some unknown depths of the Ecuadorian Andes and Amazon - more to follow at a later date). I was given the opportunity to join a team which went on to investigate the myth that an enormous stash of Inca gold is hidden in the Ecuadorian mountains, studying wildlife in one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet and climbing one of the world's most active volcanoes. Naturally, nothing was going to stop me going but in order to make it I would need to save some money, this meant one of two things - sell Millie or stop paying rent. The decision was easy.
I arranged a sublet for my room in Oxford and packed the van. Now because this was going to be for a while I sensibly decided I would park up on a campsite where I would still have electricity and a hot shower (I needed to maintain hygiene for my day job). I was willing to trade my services as a general helper for a campsite pitch just about anywhere in Oxfordshire. After sending out 20+ emails, I got one response. It was meant to be. Now due to being there rather illegimately and to protect all parties involved I shan't be naming people or places (get in touch however and I will recommend a perfect holiday destination), just be rest assured that this was the most welcoming, supportive and happiest place to stay. I can't overstate how nice it is to meet other people willing to trade the old way- 'favours for favours'- and I'm sure I was more of a burden than help but it was good to feel useful again and see the bank account wobble back into the black each pay day. Pitch 1a was my lot for the coming months and before I knew it I had a couple of pot plants and camping chairs (from the bin) forming a pleasant little garden area beside Millie.
Now, this wasn't a permanent camping holiday, I was working for the opportunity of a lifetime and that was going to take some effort. I had a crusty old bike which I'd cycle 10miles to work, I'd work a full stressful day (+ some overtime), cycle home, carry out any tasks required at the site (digging trenches, bar work etc...), fit in some training for a couple of half marathons, cook dinner (in a van remember), call my (incredibly understanding) girlfriend and get the bed out. These days were long, beyond tiring but I don't want this to sound like a complaint; these days were often full of fun (except when I'd get a puncture) and beyond everything I had a very visible goal that gave me that extra bit of energy needed. If you don't like getting soaked in the rain, sleeping in your kitchen or having to make a dash to an outside toilet in the middle of the night then this isn't the life for you.
Beyond the lifestyle changes it's also important to consider the practicalities of living a vw van. 1) If you're over 6ft you can never really, truly, fully stand up, so be sure to practice tilting your head from left to right every few minutes. 2) 'Having friends over' - consider thoroughly. Adding someone elses stuff to your organised chaos in such a small space is genuinely a test of your mental health. 3) Your doormat is also your living room rug, mud is a friend not foe. 4) Peeing in a bottle is acceptable, don't let anyone judge you for doing so. 5) Position your underwear draw wisely, they will smell of that curry you cooked for dinner wherever you place them but selecting the right cupboard can reduce the extent to which other people notice. 6) Rain will get in somewhere, have electrical tape handy. 7) Once arranged for sleeping, the van is very unsafe to drive, mugs will fly, pans will fall and even if it is raining, getting wet on your bike is quicker than opening all the curtains. 8) Get a remote control for the radio so you can operate it from bed. 9) Extra blankets, this is England people, even in June prepare for snow. 10) Remember you're in a tin box, when it rains there's no way you'll hear the stereo. 11) Park wisely, preferably inline with the prevailing wind otherwise you should get used to nights spent on the high seas as it wobbles you to sleep. 12) Forget all of the above and dream of doing it as soon as you've moved back into something more hardstanding.
What an adventure. I will always look back fondly on that time I lived in a van. Below are a few pics of Millie in a state she was rarely in, imagine this homely clutter-free van with a 25year old males life exploding in it.
Thanks to my landlords, thanks to Natty, thanks to my gypsy heritage, thanks for friends coming to visit, thanks to Millie....that reminds me, time to look for another van.
The kictehn/dining area
Lounge, bedroom, wardrobe, conservatory...
Only lost the keys once, fortunately I always left the boot unlocked