Vanlife: here are five things we have learned about life lived on the road

Cars

According to Vanlifer André Johnson, vanlife is cool, but it has its ups and downs...

Vanlife is cool.

Vans are the perfect accompaniment to your suite of lifestyle choices. They promote you well across social media. They hashtag your life wondrously. You get lifestyle envy every time you key in hashtag van life. Beautiful people. Beautiful locations. Beautiful wagons. But hold on a minute. There must be some other sides to this one dimensional coin. Truth is that there is a significant cost to buying, running and living in a van for any amount of time. There are huge plus sides, a ton of benefits. But it’s not all roses. What follows is a breakdown of the swings and roundabouts of an extended life on the road with a van.

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You can develop an emotional connection with a Van more easily than a hatchback
There is one truism about vanlife that is undeniable. Once you’ve envisioned, created and have lived in a van that is perfectly calibrated to your life, then it becomes more than a simple hunk of metal on wheels. All great vehicles form an emotional, physical – almost spiritual attachment to the people who drive, own and live with them. This isn’t easy to do in a fifteen year old Mondeo. But a fifteen year old Van that you have lived, loved and laughed in for a few seasons will become a very real repository of memory for you  and – if you have one – for your family too. It won’t be long until pictures of your van will appear alongside those of your children, your holidays and your favourite holiday spots. The truth is that the van really is a vehicle through which you explore the possibilities of the road and of life itself.

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Owning a Van doesn’t mean you are a free spirit
All our lives most of us have certain things drummed into us. Work hard at school. Turn up on time. Get your qualifications. Then more qualifications. Get the job. Get the spouse. Get a mortgage. But at one point does this version of the middle class dream become a nightmare? Our education system is calibrated for ongoing attainment and teaches us to regulate our desires and plan our pension plans. But for what? Surely swapping bricks and mortar for steel and rubber and heading literally out on the highway of life is a way to get away from all that? There’s a nugget of truth in this cliché, of course, but here’s the thing about vanlife. It is expensive. Even the most basic newish white van, unless you opt for a beater with a six figures on the odometer, will cost you around ten grand. If you opt for something straight out of the factory, something like the latest VW California, then you’re looking at more like £50K. There are a whole load of options between these points, of course, but unless you are either a mechanical, design or boatbuilding genius then you are going to have to drop some significant coin to get a van that is not only reliable, but comfortable, economic and legal. When it comes down to it, you have to have either worked like a dog to afford a decent reliable van – or have been blessed by the gods with inheritance, a lottery win or…crippling repayment plans. There’s the rub. This is why there are more weekend warriors out there than full time vanlifers. Work hard play hard is the mantra here.

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Vans DO NOT drive like sports cars. Or even cars
If you like cars, like driving, then a van is not exactly going to satiate your lust for dynamic movement. Everyone says that the best vans out there now ‘drive like a car’. This may be true if you’re clocking up endless hours on a highway, which is probably what you’ll be doing a lot of the time if you choose to throw yourself into vanlife. But if, like many of us, you are a driver because you want to be, that nipping out to run errands in your motor is a joy rather than a chore, then vanlife can get a little frustrating. Having made the heavy investment in a lifestyle van it’s pretty likely that you’re going to have to use it as at least part of your daily drive. You can add all the driver aids you like onto your Long Wheelbase Transporter, for example, but struggling down lanes, up steeps, around tight urban centres and supermarket car parks can lead to intense annoyance. Get out on the mountain twisties or even the dual carriageway heading out of town and you might be frustrated in being beating off by the 21 year old in the Type R. Your van costs as much as a Caymen S! You might sit back, turn up the stereo and enjoy the view – but if you’re a driver this is tricky to get your head around. You can of course, leave the wagon on the drive and opt for budget runabout, but the same problem applies.

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There will always be someone smugger than you
The wild rise of vanlife, the coolness of ‘lifestyle sports’ like surfing and climbing etc and the relative easy availability of automotive credit has led to an arms race-like situation. Just head down to any coastal car park that faces the Atlantic Ocean (or any camp site or touring park for that matter) and you will see a huge fleet of wagons ranging from crusty conversions to full blown motorhomes worth six figures. And the thing is, no matter how good your van is, there will always be a better van than yours. You see, no matter how tricked out, souped up, cleverly rendered your ride is – there will always be a bigger, cooler, more tricked out kid on the block to make you feel inadequate. How many times have that cool-looking couple stepped out of their stealth wagon to reveal a panelled bed/kitchen/studio setup worthy of World of Interiors magazine? You might be living the dream, but these guys are living it harder than you. That’s a seriously deflating feeling. The only solution to this is to calibrate your van for your highly specific needs. Ignore what everyone else is doing and think outside the box. Work out exactly what you need in a van and make it happen. This makes other people’s rides pale.

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Vans CAN set you free
When someone came up with the idea of sticking an internal combustion engine onto a carriage, their idea must have been to promote liberty. The whole point of motorised vehicles was to afford the owner freedom. Freedom to travel. Freedom to explore. Freedom to live, work, pursue, aspire. No other genre of vehicle available to you performs this function as well as a van. Modern vans, moreover, offer a super reliable, sometimes affordable and comfortable means to get out there and explore. You can pull up and sleep. If you choose to you can live, work, eat, love, laugh and do whatever you like in a van. None of the other stuff matters.

Get one.

images via van-life.net

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