Deciding to leave our established lives was something that didn’t come overnight. The longing and drive to change our way of lives had been building over the years and after about 4 different road trips in our little Vauxhal Astra we finally started to think about making it a permanent trip.
It was my Dad that first sparked the idea for living in a van after he acquired a rather run down Renault Traffic 1980’s campervan, he said it could be ours. As it turned out we started to look into self building and became captivated by the idea of building our own tiny home on wheels. Being an artist, aesthetics are important to me, so these off the shelf 80s beige looking campervans (which would have been all we could afford at the time) were a no go for us. Our budget was small but our bodies willing to build something new, something unique and totally ours.
At the time, we were living in a small 1 bed ground floor flat with a shared driveway and a tiny patio garden. The first step before even considering what van to buy was somewhere we could park and work on it. So the search began for a suitable place around the town of Maidstone we both worked in. In the end it was a semi-detached bungalow that we chose for 3 reasons; 1 a driveway you could easily get a van and more on, a big garden with two sheds (for the materials to build the van) and it was all on one level as our cat at the time was aging and ailing and couldn’t face stairs.
With the van we had two requirements, 1 you could stand up in it and 2 it wasn’t too much bigger than a standard parking space. Although we ended up going for a van that overhangs a car parking space, it isn’t too excessively big that it’s a nightmare to park. So with these requirements we looked for a second hand van that was as new as we could get, as we theorised the newer the engine the less things to break and better the mileage and emissions. You could spend months trawling the private ads for vans but after much searching it was decided that Mercedes sprinter vans would be the best, it was a toss up between that or Ford Transit vans but we considered that Mercedes being a European make there would be a greater chance to find parts on the continent should we need them. The private sellers could get us a relatively cheap van but with very little guarantee of the state of the van so in the end we went to a dealership that resold ex DPD delivery vans. Their vans came with a full MOT and health check and we managed to grab a 2011 LWB high top sprinter for £6,000 plus the trade in value of our Astra. Our savings were £10,000 at the time so we had £4,000 plus anything we could put away each month from our earnings to make this delivery van our new home.
I worked as a sales assistant for Flying Tiger 3-5 days a week earning minimum wage. The days I didn’t work would be spent making art and selling occasionally on Etsy. Joe was the primary earner working full time at a solicitors as an admin and IT assistant. He had also started a successful webdesign company with friend from work and bought in sporadic amounts from a few clients a year. It was because of Joe’s ability to earn money without being chained to a desk that made our plans for van life more of a reality. I could also add to the funds through selling art online. By this point we were stagnating in Maidstone and reached the end with our jobs, we wanted out and we wanted it now. Saving for months, even years, and then eating away at the money slowly over time was not an option for us, it would take too long. So leaving with a small pot of savings and the ability to top up our funds as we travelled was the perfect option. With this plan in place we could focus on the van building.
It took about a year to completely renovate and transform the van into the home we are living in now. The transition was made all the more difficult as we had to get rid of all the possessions we had acquired through our lives and 7 different rentals that we couldn’t take with us in the van. It took 2 boot fairs, about 20 charity bags, ebaying all our furniture and giving away the rest to clear what we had managed to squeeze into the bungalow. It felt like if we hadn’t decided to move into a van we would need to get a bigger house just to home all our possessions, and it dawned on us what a trap that could be: working our soul destroying office and retail jobs just to earn more money to get the bigger house to home all the stuff we didn’t really need or make us happy.
For our families it didn’t become real that we would be actually leaving until the moments before we left. It was a difficult goodbye for all but with smartphones now we probably stay in more regular contact than we did when we lived in the same town as each other. Most of our friends were supportive and looked forward to hearing about the trip and even meeting us in various countries. Part of leaving also meant leaving certain people behind and unfortunately we had a few that we realised were tied to our old lives and could not follow us into our new life on the road. Uprooting your life and changing the very way you live day-to-day was always going to be an upheaval but the emotional impact is one you can never prepare for. You end up asking yourself is it all worth it..? And every time we would always answer yes!
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