An early morning yoga session, deeply inhaling the fragrant scent of fresh pine followed by a short hike over earthy, volcanic terrain. A late afternoon swim in sun warmed pristine, glacial fed lakes accompanied by a campfire dinner as the sun sets over great snow topped ridges.
With the freedom to create your own adventure like this every day, it’s no wonder #vanlife is so hot right now. That’s why hundred’s of people all over the world are quitting their 9-5’s, selling off all their possessions and trading in their brick and mortar home for a home on wheels.If all this sounds like living the Vanstagram dream to you and you’re thinking of making the transition here’s some practical advice that we learned the hard way.
Stealth over Style
Whilst there are tons of posts out there stressing ‘what to look out for’ when buying a vehicle (covering the mechanical aspects a lot better than we could) we’re here to talk about aesthetics vs practically.
In an ideal world, we’d all like to have the perfect little Pinterest camper that we can park up wherever we please without fear of getting a ticket or – worst case scenario – becoming victims of an opportunistic thief.
Following our NZ adventure, we’re opting for stealth over style. This way we’ll feel safer all the time we’re in and out of the van. Plus from what we’ve learned it should give us more freedom over where we choose to spend the night.
Have an emergency fund for mechanical work
If you’re considering buying an older van or simply don’t have the mechanical know-how I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Unexpected repairs can take a huge chuck out of your well-earned Vanlifer fund even potentially wiping you out if you’re on a super tight budget.
For instance, in the space of a mere three months we had a busted starter motor, a loose catalytic converter shield, a flat tire, a speed sensor fault and a problem with our radiator pump. All-in-all these problems cost us hundreds of dollars to repair in such a short space of time.
You might think we were just the most unlucky people in the world. Nevertheless, as a result of this – even with planning ahead – we had to tighten our budget for a long while after to compensate.
Consider your essentials carefully
Are you a vacation planning pro or someone who leaves everything until the last minute? Either way, you’ll want to take some time to consider what you don’t need and what you couldn’t possibly live without.
When it comes to amenities, will that shower cubicle just end up an expensive space hogging storage closet? If technology is a huge part of your daily life will one 125Ah leisure battery be enough? Between public bathrooms and the great outdoors do you really need that $200 chemical toilet?
It’s important to think long and hard about this. Although you might find you’ll only realise how little you actually need – and discover the things you can’t live without – once you’re on the road. That’s why van life has taught us to save some space (and extra cash) for those things and to not be afraid to ditch the dead weight.
Be prepared for the bad days
It’s safe to say that living in a rolling home turns every day into a new adventure and along the way you meet so many inspiring, like-minded people but we’re here to tell you it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
There are days when everything goes wrong. Days when it rains non-stop and your van breaks down again immediately following a costly repair. When you fork out 40 bucks for a campsite with hot showers only to find they’re ice cold and someone has stolen all your toiletries.
It can sometimes be hard to stay positive on the bad days. Especially when you’ve just discovered you’ve paid $220 for a recovery guy to simply whack your starter motor with a big stick to get you going again. Nevertheless, the bad days come with the good and it’s all part of the van life experience.
If staying connected is important – plan ahead!
Whether you have a deadline to meet or you simply want regular contact with those important people back home – if your style of travel means you regularly rely on public internet access you’ll want to plan ahead.
During our tour of NZ, we got stung when we discovered Wanaka library – unlike many others – did not provide free unlimited access. In our case, this meant changing our route at the last minute and traversing the South Island to meet an important deadline.
Although van life could mean sacrificing access to reliable (or affordable) internet access don’t let this deter you. Whatever the reason you need to stay connected – with careful planning – even the most remote locations are accessible and it is often those locations where the greatest adventures are found.
Thinking about building a van conversion?
So you’ve got your van and you’re ready to start your build, but like any big project designing and planning is key. In this section, we’ll cover everything you’ll want to consider when making your conversion plans in 5 simple steps.
Many of us tackling a van conversion – or thinking about it – aren’t willing to shell out for a shiny, brand new van straight from the manufacturer. If you are then we’re not going to pretend we aren’t a little bit envious of you. The truth is, most of us are buying pre-owned, which means buying all the shelving, rust, paneling and filth that comes with it.
It’s no surprise choosing the right van is an essential part of making conversion plans. It’s a huge decision. Making the wrong choice could potentially make or break your project, but we’re not here to tell you which van you should buy. Instead we’ll cover everything you’ll want to consider when making a choice that’s right for you.
Do you value stealth over style or staying connected on the road? What do you consider your essentials, bad days or mechanical disasters?
Let us know in the comments below or get in touch if you think we’ve missed something.
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