Was #Vanlife All It Cracked Up To Be?

It goes without saying, but having a possum shit on your tin roof top in the middle of the night is less than ideal…

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I’m currently sat in Taipei airport, waiting for my connecting flight to take me back to London, whilst listening to the relentless, seemingly never-ending PA announcements whining above me in Chinese.  With a heavy heart I flew out of Sydney last night, sad in the knowledge that I won’t be back for at least a couple of months, remorseful that I’ve left poor old Vinny holed up in a mechanic’s yard in a tiny rural town near the NSW/QLD border.  ‘Lucky’, the Indian mechanic with the scariest and stinkiest dog I’ve ever been repeatedly licked by, assured me he would take good care of him, but I still worry.

As I sit here, bleary-eyed, hopelessly knackered, but unable to sleep because of those fucking armrests on the departure gate chairs, I’ve found some time to further (and deliriously) reflect on #vanlife.  In my last post (link here) I may have inadvertently painted the nomadic lifestyle in a somewhat glamorous light.  I realise this, because a substantial number of people messaged me to say that it sounded like a fantastic lifestyle, or how they were envious of my newfound freedom.  As such, I think it’s only right that I provide a balanced perspective by sharing a few of the downsides that I observed living this way:

A) As anyone who grew up in a large family with only one bathroom in the house knows, there is nothing good about waking up and not having access to a toilet.  Living in a van which does not have a toilet, and occasionally parking on streets with no public toilets is not ideal.  As a man, number ones aren’t such an issue, but number twos are a universal issue when it comes to WC unavailability.  Number twos don’t care if you’re a man, a woman or something in between, it’s all inclusive. #needapotty #oraspade

B) Public toilets.  Nuff said. #wipethatseat #waywardspray

C) I mentioned this in one of my Instagram stories; one night I woke up the sound of stones landing on the roof of the van.  These ‘stones’ continued to rain down on me for a good half an hour before I gave up on getting back to sleep and opted to park up elsewhere.  It goes without saying, but having a possum shit on your tin roof top in the middle of the night is less than ideal.  #possumshithappens #faeceslikerocks

D) Dating and sex – Okay, so let’s be honest, I’m not really in a dating ‘space’ at the moment; I’ve been living in a tiny van, moving from place to place, and now embarking on a two month trip to Europe, it’s not exactly conducive to developing anything romantic.  It’s not something I’m giving much thought. #celibatenomad

E) So what about something more ‘casual’?  That van is barely big enough to sleep me, sure you could squeeze another person in there, but it’s mighty snug, and the mattress is not exactly premium comfort.  It’s also a van with bouncy suspension, so if someone’s getting ‘jiggy wid it’ inside, anyone walking past outside will know about it.  Neither of these are necessarily showstoppers, but it is worth considering when you’re staying on a campsite populated almost exclusively by the over 65s, or trying not to get caught illegally camping on the road by the police. #slidetotheleft #slidetotheright #crisscross

F) Further to point ‘D’ above; 90% of the people I’ve met have been over 65.  I’m all for appreciating the beauty, grace and wisdom of an older woman, but come on, that’s pushing it.  #cougartown #denturesnogs

G) There is only so much canned fish a man can take.  I quite enjoy mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon, even anchovies, but there’s definitely a limit!  Also not conducive to points ‘D, E or F’ above. #fishyaftertaste #giveusakiss

H) I lose stuff constantly, I swear I spent half of my #vanlife month looking for stuff, if it wasn’t my wallet, it was swimming shorts, or book, or the potato peeler.  It’s incredible really, I’m an organised person and haven’t lost my wallet since a drunken night in 2003 (touch wood), but there is something about living in a tiny van that makes it nigh on impossible to keep track of where you put stuff down.  #scatterbrain #thosepotatoeswontpeelthemselves

I) Closely linked to ‘F’ above; Car keys – I constantly fret about losing the key to the van, as not only would I lose access to my vehicle, I’d lose access to my home.  I reckon I check my pockets to make sure I’ve got the key at least 60 times a day.  In a life largely without stress, it’s probably one of the most stressful aspects. #whereisthebloodykey #rightwhereyouleftit

J) The authorities don’t want you living free and simple on the street.  It’s simple really, if you’re not holed up in a concrete box (aka apartment, house, etc), you’re a nuisance that the powers that be would rather stamp out.  Society has definitely created a model that says “you should live this way, only this way, any other way is unacceptable and we will not allow it”.  It’s been quite eye-opening, and to be honest, a little scary.  The old timers hark back to the ‘good ol days’, the time when you could park up pretty much anywhere and people would treat you with warm and welcoming neighbourly friendship, not distrust.  I’ve met a few people who live full time in vans, and the message is always the same; they love the lifestyle, but they feel persecuted.  It seems the authorities don’t want slightly tatty vans sat in prime spots, with their inhabitants crawling out in the mornings to brush their teeth whilst surveying the sunrise, the dirty travelling scoundrels.  I found it quite sad to hear the stories.  #blamethejobsworths #justpaytherentandshutup

K) If you sleep in your vehicle in public spaces in Queensland, Australia – you are breaking the law.  Granted it’s not widely enforced, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll receive a criminal record for doing so, but the fact remains the same, you are a dirty criminal and an outlier of society if you choose to live this way.  Late one night I had a council official wake me up by banging on the side of the van and shining a torch in through the windows.  I played dead and waited for them to go away.  In the morning I woke up to a warning that I would receive a fine for $667 if I was caught sleeping in my vehicle.  Actual WTF – I’m not hurting anyone, causing any disturbance or leaviny any trace I was even there – why is this a punishable offence?  #bigbrotherishere  #orwelliannightmare

L) Isolation – I touched on this in my last post – living solo in a van you’re essentially on your own for at least 90% of the time.  I’ve been surprisingly okay with this, I’d even go as far as saying I’ve loved the solitude, turns out I am great company.  Or at least I think so.  BUT, as I entered my third week of the trip I definitely started to feel occasional pangs of loneliness.  I’ve traveled on my own in the past, but such trips have been shorter in duration, or involved hostels, tours and expeditions that meant long stretches of being sociable.  I’ve had the fortune of meeting up with friends along the way on this trip, which has kept me sane, but long term it’s definitely not enough, I know myself to know that I need way more community and interaction in my life than this lifestyle can offer. #oohvanfriends #whereforartthou

M) When your car breaks down you get towed to a garage and then head home, hopefully with a replacement courtesy vehicle.  When your van breaks down, as Vinny did, you lose your vehicle and your home.  It’s very inconvenient to say the least. #getwellsoonvin #Iwillbebackfor you

N) Here’s the kicker… ambition.  I’ve probably glamourised #vanlife in my instagram posts, and yes, it is a steady stream of golden beaches, epic sunsets, national parks, wildlife, bbqs, and early nights.  It is a VERY instagram-friendly experience.  There is a rich sense of freedom to be had from living this way, and I’ve loved every minute, HOWEVER, it is a very distinct form of freedom.  It’s the type of freedom that says ” I can do whatever I want to do”, but in reality that means you wind up doing very little, mostly just satisfying your most basic human needs.  Trust me I know, I’ve done remarkably little this past month.  I think to be truly free you need to work hard at it.  I’ll explain this a bit further: to have the freedom to play a musical instrument really well; in the way that Elton John can play the piano; or Phil Collins can play the drums, you have to place restrictions on yourself to obtain such freedom.  You have to spend thousands of hours practicing that instrument before it becomes second nature.  The same could be said for financial freedom – in order to obtain financial freedom, unless you get lucky on the lottery or inherit a large wad of cash, you’re gonna have to work bloody hard to achieve it.  Maslow’s famed ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ places self-actualisation at the very top.  A painter must paint, a singer must sing, a teacher must teach, a doctor must save lives, etc.  Now I guess a #vanlifer may place living in a van as the thing that realises their life’s ambitions, but I’m not sure that’s me.  Personally I know that I could not spend the next 40 years living in a van and then lay on my death bed and state “well, I gave it the best crack that I could”, there has to be more. #vanlifeisnotforlife #gimmegimmegimmemore

In summary, it’s been bloody great.  #Vanlife is perfect if you’re in need of a long break to check out for a while and reset.  I only did a month long stint, but I could definitely go for a longer period and adequately maintain my sanity.  You ease into the slower pace after a while, and start to appreciate things you would normally ignore.  I have spent hours watching bird politics as they fight for territory and protect their own, this lifestyle provides you with something that many of us are short of: time.  With the increased allowance of time you suddenly have the space necessary to truly observe the incredible world that surrounds us.  It’s a wonderful thing and I loved this aspect of the trip, it’s second only to my newfound love affair with the sun #offtosleeponthefloor #cantwaitforaproperbed

1 comments on “Was #Vanlife All It Cracked Up To Be?”

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