By Cath Wild
To truly understand any great adventurer, I believe you have to know their origin story; their driving force and their motivation. So before we talk about my big adventure, I want to tell you how I came to be on it…
My name is Cath (leen, but only when I’m in trouble) I’m a 30 year old left handed, gluten free vegetarian, feminist. I’m from South Yorkshire, I have 2 dogs who I treat like my children and 1 husband who is also my best pal. I am an avid reader, an entheusiastic albeit ameteur knitter, ex-charity shopper and upcycler and a general enjoyer of being outside. I currently live in an VW campervan with my other half Nick - 31, more interests than toes, logical thinker, depression survivor, guitar builder, ex-horder and vehicle enthusiast - and my 2 dogs Ruby (9 y/o Jack Russell, Rescue dog, ball/stick enthusiast, feisty, fearless) and Tig (5 y/o lurcher, Rescue dog, loved his humans too much, mad excited or very scared about everything).
Around 8 months ago we left our full time well-paid jobs, we sold our 3 bedroom detached house, sold/donated 90% of all our possessions and moved into our campervan. It is something that we had discussed regularly over our 10 years together but the timing never seemed right, and so we trundled along down the “normal” path of buying a bigger house, getting promotions and growing our collection of “stuff” like goldfish into our bigger bowl. But by early 2017 the cost of the life that we lived no longer seemed worth it, and we made the big decision to “go for it”. As we had tangled ourselves well and truly up in a “grown up’’ life, it wasn’t an overnight change and took until September 2018 (the day after my 30th birthday) to set off on our journey.
The big decision came about from lots of little straws that finally broke the camel’s back, the main question that kept coming up was “Why Not?”. Having children has never been in the plan for us, and as a lot of people around us set off on the adventure of parenthood, we started looking at what ours would be. Nick’s job had caused a bought of depression which resulted in him leaving a 10 year run in a “job for life” at the steelworks and really made us face into what would come next - vanlife seemed to make sense. I loved my job, but it was increasingly taking more of my time, effort and energy and leaving me with the pitiful remains with which to live my non-working life. All of this compounded with the realisation that we had unintentionally bought a house that we could potentially live in forever, pushed us off the teetering edge of “certainty” and into the unknown. So we went for it, and here we are 8 months later, living the vanlife dream (and sometimes nightmare).
So now you know the “who, what when where and why” I think you should know the “how”. How does it really work living in a campervan? The answer, we found, is that it works surprisingly well. We built our van to suit our needs, based on 8 years of owning vans and about a million different layout options. We have a pair of bench seats facing each other that sit behind the bulkhead - this converts into the bed which we can sleep on width-ways as we are both 5ft not much. Our “kitchen” has a sink with running cold and hot water (heated when we drive), a 2 ring hob and gas oven for cooking, and a 12v fridge. Opposite that is our kitchen cupboard with drop down worktop space, with a cupboard underneath for all our clothes. These are the IKEA storage units with the plastic tub drawers - really useful for storage and really versatile. At the back by the rear doors (which we use as our habitation door rather than the side one) we have a small bathroom with sink with hot and cold running water and a composting toilet. By the backdoor is our “porch” area which has a shoe box, coat hooks and a shower head to rinse the dogs down if they are particularly sandy/muddy.
In terms of how it works people-wise, it’s a big exercise in compromise but well worth it. Squeezing 2 fairly independent adults together in approximately 96sqft of living space, each with our own opinions on how everything should be done, and each with our own priority lists - is never going to be a breeze, but eventually you learn to meet in the middle, and that at times one person’s “thing” has to take priority over the others’. For example, I am currently writing while Nick is working on one of his canjo’s inside (he builds guitars out of tins and cigar boxes from his workshop at the back of the van). I am repeatedly getting up to pass him things from by the back door, because I am closer and he is penned in by equipment and dogs - annoying? Yes, but the logical solution. We have also unintentionally slipped into very old fashion roles; Nick does all the driving and van maintenance, so I do all the cooking, washing and cleaning. We play to our strengths, I am a much better morning person, so first dog walk is my domain; whereas when I’ve inevitably nodded off at night Nick will do the last one. We are also good at finding ways to be separate even when we’re in each other’s space - one person might take the dogs for a walk to put a bit of physical distance in, headphones are great for transporting you into a different place and when the weather is nicer we use the cab as a little conservatory - just being the other side of the bulkhead can make all the difference.
Vanlife has certainly taught us a few things, one thing we learnt fairly quickly is that preventative action is key to making vanlife work. We try to fill our water tanks up wherever possible rather than let them run out, always stock up on food/essentials when the opportunity presents itself and we empty all waste (bin/toilet/water) when we can. It has also taught us the kindness of family, friends and even strangers when it comes to support and a helping hand. We are never stuck for drive space, showers, washing machines and food when we are “back home” and generally everyone has been so supportive of our choices. We’ve also learnt the true pleasure of living simply, with less money and less “stuff”. How the hell we thought we needed enough stuff to fill a 3 bedroom house, a double garage + loft and a shed I’ll never know! Living more simply, being more frugal and less wasteful, and being more environmentally considerate are all things I will take with me into whatever comes after vanlife. Another big lesson for me has been to realise that while you need to have a plan (otherwise you’d just be driving around aimlessly) you also need to be able to roll with the punches, grab opportunities when they arise and always be prepared to have your plans change. And finally, the whole experience has taught me to be brave, follow your heart and your guts, and have some trust that you can achieve anything you set out to.
To anyone considering Vanlife, or any kind of change to alternative living I’d say absolutely do it. Be prepared for hard times, including the journey to reach your dream, but stay committed and amazing things can happen. Also, make sure you’re happy with who you’re taking the leap with, nothing makes you look harder at your relationship than confined space, occasional difficult circumstances and the looming knowledge that a divorce will now leave you with half of bugger all. Having said this, it has been the most rewarding, exciting, scary and brilliant thing I have ever done so far and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
This post written by Cath launches our MEET series, where I will post about anyone who has a story to tell. If you would like to feature in the MEET series then please get in touch.