A couple of weekends ago, Sporty and I rented a campervan and headed out of town for a couple of days.
Taking a break was part of our plan, but the main goal was to see if living in a van was for us.
We’re all about lifestyle experiments.
However, we’ve learnt from past experience that it’s prudent to test the water before diving in. This is especially important when you’re considering a move that requires a significant financial outlay.
We didn’t think before we leapt (at least, not a lot) when we agreed to house sit a permaculture farm. Nor, for that matter, did we consider the finer details when signing up for a four-month pet-setting gig in Oudtshoorn.
Neither adventure blew our hair back, but we did come away with some great memories and stories. Sporty also learnt that large-scale gardening isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Having no romantic notions about the lifestyle myself, I was not disappointed.
In the end, the break from the city did us the world of good. It ate into our nest egg a little more than we’d have liked, but it also showed us that permaculture farming isn’t for us.
Were it not for that foray off-the-grid, we may well have ended up co-investing in a a hippie-run eco-village in the middle of nowhere.
*Breathes a sigh of relief*
From Location-Locked to Living in a Van (Maybe)
The idea of living in a van is intriguing. We just assumed we’d have to wait until we’d stopped working and didn’t have to go to an office everyday.
Then lockdown happened and everything changed. Suddenly, everyone was working remotely. Employers began to see the benefits of not having a fixed office space.
Sporty and I have always insisted on living in the city. Not having a car, it made sense to reside in close proximity to work, gym and grocery stores.
Being holed up indoors for so many weeks showed us that we could live anywhere there’s a decent wifi connection.
We found workout routines online, work continued uninterrupted from our couch and groceries were delivered.
With the possibility of living in a van on the table, we began talking about where (and how) we’d like to live. We watched a gazillion vanlife videos on YouTube and eventually arrived at two conclusions.
Firstly, we wanted our life on wheels to be as simple as possible. The van builds we’d seen were impressive, but as Sporty pointed out, they were all trying to emulate life in a bricks and mortar house.
It didn’t make sense to us to spend so much money and time on something so vulnerable. Also, the more moving parts there are, the more things there are to go wrong.
Some might say it’s a doomsday way of looking at things, but we like to think of it as being practically positive. Cons aside though, for us it comes back to simplicity.
The second conclusion we reached was that we needed to experience living in a van firsthand. Watching other people living the vanlife was great for getting ideas, but we’d never know if it was for us unless we tried it.
Vanlife Test Run: Our Weekend Away
It was time to rent a campervan and give this lifestyle a try. After scouring the interwebs (and making a comparative spreadsheet), Sporty narrowed it down to Lekker Camper in Somerset West. We chose our van, settled on a destination and high-tailed it out of town.
I say hightailed, but it was more of a meander in our early-90s VW Microbus.
Apart from being a heap of fun, our mini escapade revealed a number of other reasons to give living in a van a go. Even if it’s only for a weekend here and there to begin with.
1. Feng Shui is Super Easy When you live in a Van
Sporty and I are Feng Shui enthusiasts. But, approaching it with a minimalist mindset can be tricky. We invariably live in shoebox-style apartments. When space is at a premium, your layout options are minimal.
This is problematic because the Feng Shui Bagua Map is very specific about where you need to place your furniture to ensure a happy, healthy and abundant life.
When we rolled into our campsite at Greyton Twin Rivers Camp, all we had to do was park our campervan in the correct direction. I’m oversimplifying things slightly, but you get the point.
If you take the time to lay out your van correctly to begin with, you will almost always have the perfect Feng Shui setup. I say almost, because you won’t always be able to position your van the way you want.
Still, it beats trying to fix a Feng Shui mess in an apartment. (Take it from us, living in a duplex with a toilet above the front door is a financial disaster.)
2. Vanlife Changes Your Perspective (And Your View)
Living (or vacationing) in a fixed abode limits your perspective. You map out your surroundings in accordance with your home (or hotel).
Venturing out to explore from a fixed base has the potential to keep you anchored. Both in location and in mindset.
This is especially true for Sporty and I. We have the tendency to do the same things, go to the same places, and so on. Maybe it’s human nature, maybe we’re just lazy, I don’t know.
It was refreshing to note how much more open we were to new experiences and situations during our vanlife experiment. Our perspective shifted along with our view. Rather than aiming for a destination, we settled into the journey.
Super clichéd, I know.
3. Exploring Alternatives is Always a Good Idea
A big part of our lifestyle experiments is the desire to explore alternatives. Life has a habit of carrying you along if you let it.
You look up and a year has passed, but not much has changed. I’m not saying you must decamp to a monastery in the Himalayas, but it is a good idea to try out different ways of living.
Habits have their place for sure. (How else would we remember to brush our teeth?) But, you don’t want to go through life on autopilot.
Placing yourself in new situations grounds you in the present moment. You have to think about what you’re doing, because nothing is familiar.
Before long, it will be familiar and you’ll find yourself back on autopilot. When that happens, it’s time to find something new to do.
We’re exploring entertainment alternatives at the moment. Instead of watching vanlife videos on YouTube, we’re learning to juggle and play chess.
4. Vanlife Essentials (You Don’t Need a Lot of Stuff)
Going back to Sporty’s epiphany that vanlife needn’t replicate a regular house, it’s interesting to note just how little you need to be comfortable.
Our campervan had a lot more stuff than we felt necessary. Of course, the company we hired it from is catering to vacationers, not weirdo minimalists who’d rather eat out of the cooking pot than wash an extra plate.
That said, being overly kitted out was a good thing. It gave us a much better understanding of what we need. And honestly, it’s not very much.
We narrowed down the essentials to a place to sleep, something to cook on, a cooler box and a table and chairs. (The latter because sitting on the ground is overrated.)
Since we’re not planning to venture too far off the beaten track (not to begin with, anyway), we’ll be able to find anything else we need at the campsite.
The plan is to start with the least amount of stuff and add as we go. We’d much rather do without something initially than have our van cluttered up with things we don’t use.
5. Living the Vanlife Indulges Your Inner-Child
There’s something about living the vanlife that makes you feel like a kid again. Without your creature comforts at hand, you’re forced to make do with what’s available.
Kind of like building a fort or a treehouse, you improvise as you go. Plus, you’re sleeping in a car. How cool is that?
We spend so much of our time behaving like the responsible adults we (mostly) are, it’s great to do something fun and not super grownup.
Except maybe for the drinking wine part.
Let’s Talk About the Meaning of Vanlife
Vanlife means you’re living in a vehicle. But, that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Some do it by choice, others are living in a van because they have no option.
The documentary The Meaning of Vanlife quickly dispels the notion of a stereotypical lifestyle. Featuring nomads from all walks of life, it offers a revealing look into the vanlife community.
In her book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder shines a light on America’s new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older adults living in RVs and modified vans.
In sharp contrast, YouTube is awash with vanlifers depicting a carefree and easy lifestyle. Something that this Outside Online article claims is not necessarily that accurate.
A quick search online yields people from all walks of life: old and young, single and coupled, with kids and without. Their vehicles are equally diverse, ranging from buses and vans to SUVs and fully kitted out RVs with all the bells and whistles.
Any question you have about the lifestyle has probably been answered in detail by someone. Looking to build your own van? Want to know what toilet to buy? Wondering if you’ll save money? Ask Google.
What’s Next for Us (And Maybe for You, Too?)
If reading this has piqued your interest, you may be wondering what to do next. I’d definitely suggest renting a basic campervan for the weekend as a jumping off point.
Pick something simple rather than a fancy pants vehicle with running water and a flushing toilet. It’s just easier. With less to think about, you’re free to use your mental bandwidth for fun stuff.
Choose a campsite that’s well appointed and in a picturesque location. It doesn’t have to be 5-star, but it should at least be clean. (You’re sharing ablutions, after all.)
We got back from our trip fired up and ready to take the next step. Hopefully you feel similarly, but if not, at least you found out now and not after purchasing your own van.
As you’ll see on Nate’s channel, alternative living options abound. If living in a van doesn’t float your boat, try something else.
Our plan moving forward is to find a cheaper apartment outside of the city. Reducing our monthly expenses will enable us to buy a starter van.
For us, this means something like a VW Kombi, which can double as an everyday vehicle as well.
We’ll keep things super simple, folding down the seats to sleep and investing in a small cooker and cooler box. This approach will allow us to go on regular adventures and get comfortable with living in a van.
Here’s to livin’ la vida loca. Wherever, and in whatever, that may be.