In January 2016, Mat and I spent 16 nights living in our van whilst doing our Day Skippers qualification with the Royal Marines.
We did it for 2 reasons.
Firstly, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income to spend on accommodation.
Secondly, we liked the idea of getting to grips with compact living, especially during the cold January winter, in preparation for our Atlantic rowing challenge.
Admittedly, I wasn’t really looking forward to the experience. I was worried about the cold and living in such a small space during an intense learning period.
But Mrs Pegasus, my van is 2m long by 1.5m wide, is a lot bigger than the cabin we’ll be ‘living’ in for 2 months on our ocean rowing boat, so it felt spacious in comparison.
Despite my hesitations, we loved the experience, learning a lot about ourselves and each other.
Here are our 11 top tips for a successful and enjoyable #vanlife.
1. Comfort Breaks Strategy
Toilet habits are no longer determined by bladder and bowel movements, but more by your vicinity to a toilet.
Mrs Pegasus does not have a toilet facility (thankfully), which meant planning our ‘convenience stops.’
Use restaurant, cafe, pub, supermarket and public facilities even when you don’t need to. You’ll often be pleasantly surprised and thankful later.
2. The Local Laundrette
Laundrettes aren’t as popular as Eastenders makes out to be, so staying on top of our laundry meant washing our smalls in the shower with us. No-one wants a bag of
Fortunately, because we visited the Marines gym before sea school, we had the benefits of a hot shower every morning so was able to stay on top of our laundry game. It’s not glamorous, but neither is living in a van.
How to dry the laundry? The van looked like Chinese laundry with pants, knickers and socks hanging from everywhere, on the dashboard drying over the window heaters : )
3. Electric and Charging
Charging our devices with Peggie’s single AC plug when on the move wasn’t realistic. The simple life still requires iPhones, laptops, phone chargers and Go Pros (how else are we meant to record awesome adventures?)
Be on the lookout for plug points all the time. Even if you’re sitting down for just 5 minutes. Plug everything in! It’s as important as breathing ….. and finding toilets. It feels cheeky at first, but you’ll get used to it. Welcome to #vanlife.
4. Supermarket Food Bag Thief
Who knew those little, clear, supermarket plastic bags were so useful? You know, the ones you put your apples, oranges or kiwis in. And no, before you start thinking “The Lady In A Van”, I’ll stop you in your tracks. There are no poo bags in this story.
These little bags are great for rubbish. They are the perfect size after an evening’s cook up and they fit well into a nearby bin.
They are also good to use as a temporary lunchbox, keeping food fresh for a day or so, as well as preventing spills.
When you’re in the supermarket grab a massive handful!
Living in such a small space required us to be extremely well organised and tidy! Within minutes, Mrs Pegesus would go from compartmentalised-tidiness to a bomb’s-site chaos.
Mat and I took only 5 bags of belongings away with us for 2.5 weeks. Each morning and evening, we had a routine meaning we always knew where everything was. We moved about the van fulfilling our chores like synchronised dancers ready for the next day.
Every few days, we’d have a deep clean, taking everything out, having a full anti-bac and sweep, then repacking everything in its perfect and tested position.
6. WiFi Hunter
There’s only so long your mobile data allowance will last when living in a van, along with your patience for getting work done using your phone as a hotspot.
Once we’d found a cosy place with wifi, we’d order a pot of tea (always go for the teapot!) and sit for hours tapping away on our laptops.
Remember – sit near a plug point!
7. Nervous Laughs
Our adventures on the road sometimes meant going a day or so without a shower. It’s a bit gross but there are worse situations.
On occasions, I’d head into the ladies WC at a service station armed with my soapbox, toothbrush, toothpaste and a small towel and get to work with a bit of face and tooth admin. It always amused me some of those around me would laugh nervously. Perhaps they thought I was homeless, or a hippy or something…..
It makes me chuckle every time. I suppose it’s not normal behaviour to wash your face whilst visiting a petrol station, but come on, it’s not as though I’m washing my bum at the sink…… or my smalls. I’ll save that for the shower.
8. Less is definitely more.
Mat was extremely strict with me on how much I was allowed to take for the
Afternote: After living with so little during our van adventures, on my return, I cleared about 30% of my belongings as I knew I could live (happily) without them.
9. Have a permanent supply of the following in your ‘home.’
- Bottled water – for drinking, cooking, face washing (when you don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable at service stations)
- Wet Wipes – for face, hands, spring cleaning and washing up. They work wonders on dirty pots, plates and cutlery. No water required.
- Anti Bac Gel – for cleaning hands, housework and washing up. I’m sure it’s not designed for the latter but works a treat teamed with Thirst Pockets when wet wipes
- Thirst Pockets Kitchen Roll – Keep to the branded stuff! See below.
10. Thirst Pockets are King!
Saving money on baked beans is fine.
Doing your shop at
Buying own-brand Thirst Pockets is 100% NOT fine.
Don’t do it, don’t think about it, don’t even look at the cheaper brand. Spend your money on the finest kitchen towels money can buy.
Thirst Pockets are the BEST!
You’ll find so many uses for them, primarily mopping up condensation from the inside of the roof of the van each morning, unless you’re all posh and have a
One morning, I thought it was raining inside the van. Perhaps the roof had a leak? Oh no. The roof was covered with millions of microscopic droplets of Mat & Laura evaporation. It sounds gross and it kind of is. We’d bought a roll of own-brand kitchen roll and it literally fell apart looking at the moisture.
Thirst Pockets are like the Hob Nob of the kitchen towel world. Does anyone remember that Peter Kay sketch?
Spills, serviettes, plates, chopping board, flannels, emergency convenience stops, housework. Crikey! Thirst Pockets
Ha! Can you believe I just wrote so much on that one subject? Thirst Pockets are King!
11. Enjoy The Simplicity
With so few belongings cluttering our life, we were able to enjoy the simple pleasures.
We rotated 3 outfits each throughout our trip.
We only bought enough food for us to eat that day, keeping it basic and nutritious.
With no TV or radio, we were able to enjoy the peace and quiet of our location.
We made a conscious effort to stay off our mobile phones, not only save the battery life but to also enjoy each others company and relaxation.
The best bit of the trip was falling asleep when it was raining. We’d lie in our sleeping bags, snug as bugs, and enjoy the sound of the rain hitting the roof and gently drift off into a deep sleep.
The trip was beautiful.
Something I would definitely do again
I loved it so much, I’m going to chuck in a bonus tip.
12. Which Car Park?
You have the choice to stay wherever you want every evening.
We stayed on the beautiful Plymouth coast, overlooking the sea one evening with the gorgeous starry sky above.
Another evening, on the peaceful shore of a reservoir.
But it doesn’t always go to plan …..
If you can get a heads up on which car parks might attract the local dogging community, it’ll definitely improve your quality of sleep, depending on your preferences and desires of the trip, of course?
One evening, I think we stayed in a ‘dogging’ car park. It was a beautiful beach side location and I was so excited to spend the evening listening to the sea. When the ‘local activity’ aroused, I was so petrified I spent the night quivering in my sleeping bag making sure the doors were locked every few minutes. It made Mat laugh so much as I thought someone might come and knock.
We didn’t go back there again.
Here is a little section of my favourite #VanLife pictures:
To see the full Van Log Photo Album, please click here.
And here are my Van Log Diaries:
Van Log 001
Van Log 002
Van Log 003
Van Log 004
Van Log 005
Van Log 006
Van Log 007
Van Log 008
Van Log 009
Van Log 010
Van Log 011
Van Log 012
Van Log 013
Van Log 014
Van Log 015
Van Log 016
Van Log Conclusion
I’m not sure what happened to Van Log 008! – oh well.
Have you lived in your van? Have you used any of these tips? Do you have some tips of your own? I’d love to know what they are.
Come and find me on Twitter and let me know.