5 things we learned in our first few weeks of vanlife

5 things we learned in our first few weeks of vanlife

Travel

After selling our home and moving into the van fulltime, here are 5 of our top tips from our first few weeks of vanlife in the UK.

1. Keep an eye on your resources:

We first moved into the van during a very cold snap in January. The temperature at night was below 0 and during the day it was often not creeping much above 3/4 degrees celsius. With the van now being our home and travelling with the dogs, we both decided not to let the van's temperature drop too low, even if we were not inside. In such low temperatures, this required a lot of gas to keep the van warm using the Truma 4E combi boiler. As we got low on LPG, we found a petrol station in the town we were planning to visit and figured we could easily just top up when passing through. A couple of days later right as we were running out entirely, we arrived at the petrol station only to find the pump was out of order, and the next closest LPG fill-up point was over 30 miles as a round trip. We'll now keep a closer eye on the gauge and ensure that when we are getting to half full, we know we need to plan a route to include a refill. Luckily we also have an Autoterm (Planar) diesel heater fitted in the van, which we are now running in the daytime to conserve on LPG and just switching over to LPG in the evenings and overnight whilst off grid.

Vanlife in UK winter
Vanlife in UK winter

2. Travelling with pets:

A few days into our new adventure, Rory managed to tear part of her dewclaw which resulted in a nasty wound and a rather unhappy dog. We found a local vet and managed to make a booking on the same day without any additional fees for registering. We are now more aware of looking out for vets whilst driving through towns, and looking up local options if staying in the same location for more than a few days. It is important to note that some vets can have upfront fees if your pet is not registered at that location, so it's worth researching multiple options if you need to access one.

Vanlife with a dog
Vanlife with pets

3. Scout your parking locations in advance:

It's great to be spontaneous and take those tracks that look slimmer than the width of the van, but sometimes life's just easier when you spend a few moments planning ahead. We discovered back in the first summer of owning the van that it can be really beneficial to look up or find parking spaces prior to arriving at a destination. This is particularly important during busy tourist seasons or in areas that attract a lot of traffic. These could be areas of outstanding beauty like the gardens at Stourhead or iconic landmarks like Wells Cathedral. This is something you don't really consider when you've been driving around in a car your whole life but a 6m+ van or motorhome changes the game slightly. We recommend using Google Maps aerial view to find areas where you can overhang the van to park in 'normal' spaces. Supermarket car parks can be good too, we have found most have a 1 1/2 - 2 hour limit for customers and they are often based in or close to towns you might want to visit. Lastly, check out apps like Searchforsites or Park4night and search in areas that you are planning to visit. We found a great spot just 10 minutes walk away from Wells Cathedral thanks to Park4night which meant we parked up with ease and no stress.

Shaftesbury Gold Hill
Wells Cathedral

4. Always keep some offline content:

Even with our permanent motorhome WiFi setup in the van, we're still at the mercy of the phone masts to provide signal to our devices. In the first few weeks moving into the van, we've done really well for signal using an unlimited data EE SIM in our Huawei router but we've had several instances in the past where we simply get nothing on the router or our phones.

When it's blowing 30mph, the rain is beating down on your solar panels and all you want to do is watch Netflix whilst inhaling a bag of popcorn, it can put a real downer on your day to see that spinning buffer wheel or 'no signal' in your status bar. Once you've been in this position a couple of times you'll appreciate downloading some films or TV shows whilst you have a data connection.

Our best tip to combat this issue is to plan redundancy into your vans setup. You can do this by using or having access to different network providers/SIMs. We run EE in the router and Three on our phones, both on unlimited plans.

Projector for van conversion
iPad mount for vanlife

5. Embrace the freedom:

It sounds corny (it probably is) but it's also true. In only a few weeks we've already visited woods, hills, towns and lakes that we would have otherwise just passed by on route to another destination. Living in the van has genuinely made us feel like there is more time in the day and that we are getting more out of life. Despite having the same daily chores (cooking, cleaning, laundry etc) we're no longer trapped in the same routine, visiting the same town, doing the same walks with the dogs and it's invigorating. We hope this feeling lasts! Our favourite tools for finding new places to visit are ordnance survey (OS maps), Google maps and the National Trust app. If you're going to be based in the UK and love the outdoors then we highly recommend signing up to become a NT member. At the time of writing, memberships start from £6 a month and can include all of the car parking costs and access to over 500 sites.

Stourhead National Trust Gardens
Somserset by drone, DJI Air 2S
King Alfreds Tower
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