What’s it really like living in a van?

by Kate Moran

As I sit here, on the edge of the bed, looking out into a run-down caravan park. I thought now would be a great time to explain… what’s it REALLY like living in a van?

Instagram is so great at showing the best of travel, especially “#VanLife”

But there’s something missing about truth behind the everyday life in a van. 

Lets’ begin, space is the obvious issue. All items in the van need two purposes, cushions that turn into pillows, and to a bed that can be made into a table.

The inside of the van is made up of two long chests, one each, which holds our personal belongings, ie clothes, shoes. The chests are quite large, so its a great way of keeping our clothes clean and dust-free. 

Dust-free is a must. The red dirt here in the north of Australia is UNREAL. It gets everywhere and unlike sand that’s coarse, its soo fine, it spreads and stains everything. 

Inside the chests, our clothes are stored in fabric storage cubes. These things are a godsend. All my tops, shorts, pants, and dresses in their own cubes. (And of course, rolled, to make more space and less crinkly). The lids to the chests then extend to become a full-sized bed, (YAY).

Our kitchen unit was made bespoke to our design and measurements, thanks to Charles’ brother in law, Chris, who works for as kitchen cabinet maker! 

On the left-hand side, we fitted a sink with a tap. The sink was actually a small stainless steel salad bowl from Kmart. We had to drill a small hole to fit the plug and attach the wastewater pipe. Under the sink, the cupboard holds the kitchen products, ie kitchen roll, soap, tea towels, and cleaning products (yes, Zoflora is there). The majority of space is taken up by a 20-litre water tank, that holds our drinking water for the tap, and a smaller 10-litre waste water tank from the sink. 

The middle of the kitchen unit holds all our food, which is mainly all tins and dried food. It’s hard to keep food chilled even in our electric cooler when the outside temperature doesn’t drop below 20 degrees.. ever. 

The bottom shelf is where we keep all our toiletries, surprisingly we still have 30 products, that between us, we use every day! I guess we aren’t too minimal when it comes to toiletries! 

Finally, the right hadn’t side of the kitchen, is the boring part. Two new (very expensive) batteries, and all the wiring to do with the solar panels and electrics. I stay out of this cupboard… however our electric cooler sits perfectly outside this door, and as we don’t need to get access to this, we kind of just forget all about it.

That’s all that really exists in our little van, of course, there is usually our bed linen, duvet, and blankets that lives on the bed constantly.

The bulk of our things that we need but don’t use too often end up on the roof, like our travel backpacks. The roof of the van has become a mysterious place. A land of lost toys essentially.

Daily routine:

Our daily routine starts by unmaking the bed, the bedsheet comes off, and the lids of the chest back into place. The mattress cushion that gets added to the end, gets moved to the side of the bed and a ‘backrest’. This gets done while we are both still inside the van and onto the top of the bed. So it’s a lot of ‘lift your legs up’, ’roll to this side’ and ‘do you need to get into your chest?’.

When it comes to getting out your clothes, now is the time to do it. I normally take my clothes out the night before and place them on the side, so I can leave Charles to figure out his daily outfit in the morning. This means I access my storage chest once a day and Charles needs to get into his about 10-15 times.

Clothes. We don’t own many, and the clothes we do wear are off-white T-shirts, (too expensive to do a white wash AND a dark wash), also doesn’t help with the red dust mentioned earlier. 

I normally stick to dresses, it’s cooler and I don’t have to think about matching anything, plus its less to hang dry after a wash… we don’t have many pegs, storage and all.

Next, we get dressed.. yep, normally no shower… it’s true but life on the road doesn’t always provide a daily shower so the sea, lakes, gas station showers and wet wipes are now your best friends. 

Getting dressed… sounds easy, but you can’t stand up in the van so you have to get dressed laying down on the bed. 

Once the bed is packed away, we need to move the electric cooler into the back. This either lives on the passenger seat or on top of the kitchen unit at night. The fridge won’t fit on the floor when the bed is extended.

And then everything needs to be packed away ready for the drive, the camping chairs and the table get packed away (if left out overnight), they belong under the bed. The middle section of the bed is all storage when the bed isn’t made into a table. 

Other items under the bed, includes our beach bag with towels, two skateboards, the table pole, a carton of beer (essential) and our dirty clothes bag. 

Before the drive, any loose objects need to stored away, normally this would mean cleaning up after Charles. A few occasions, he will leave his toothbrush or a bottle of water/soap on the side and after a swing around the corner, they wouldn’t be on the side much longer. 

We do have curtains inside the van, but since its’ been so warm in the North, we sometimes just leave the side door open with a fly net. The flies and the mosquitos are everywhere and annoying, however, it’s the spiders and snakes you got to worry about, no net is going to stop them. To block the light, we have the sun reflectors on all windows, a new cheap addition thanks to Kmart.

But if it’s cold, our curtains contain a thermal liner keeping it warmer inside.

It’s defiantly the simpler life living in a van, there are a few things we miss. I really miss a toaster and kettle. I love toast, and although we do have a camp toaster, it just makes the bread dry not actually toasted… it’s weird. 

Another point to mention: Don’t buy any glass items. Bumpy roads and glass do not mix well. I usually empty the glass coffee jars, into sandwich bags, plus it’s better for space in the cupboards. 

Also, I have a thing about dropping eggs. I reckon I’ve dropped over half a dozen eggs INSIDE the van. Sometimes I need to take them out of the cardboard casing to fit them inside the cupboard. I usually place them inside a cup/mug or travel mug, for safekeeping. Although, all the driving throws them about the place and they roll on the floor. Ever cleaned up an egg? Ever tried to clean up an egg while on a slope? It’s such a mess. 

It sounds like our daily routine of getting the van ready from sleeping to being on the road is time-consuming. But in under 10 minutes, we are ready to go! Depending on how much we unpacked and set up the night before. If we know we are staying in the same spot for a few days, we will get the chairs and table out, and set up the awning. But if we are only staying overnight we will pretty much keep things as they are and just set up the bed. 

What do you think? Are you living in a van or would you like too? 

Want to see our van in more detail? Check out our previous blog

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1 comment

Tony August 29, 2019 - 9:38 pm

Hi Kate just read your blog funny as, about the egg situation you can buy from camping stores a plastic container for the eggs , just looks like a normal egg box but plastic so they don’t break whilst on the move enjoy your travel and all the lots of nasty bitey things we have in Aus oh yes sorry meant to mention before you left here about the Red Bull dust up north yes it wrecks everything

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