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The troubles of living the Vanlife

I’m not moaning (I’m far too positive a person to subject you to all that!) however living the vanlife isn’t all the heady filtered photographs you day dream about on instagram! Don’t get me wrong, living in a motor home has been a dream come true for us and given us so much freedom compared to our previous lives renting a ‘conventional’ house but if you’re really interested and so you can better prepare yourself for a life off-grid, let’s lower the rose tinted specs for a minute or so and take a look at what has become more difficult for us:


Laundry isn't something that you can put on and forget about.

Without electricity and water on demand someone needs to be around to tend it. When we don’t have access to a conventional ‘household’ washing machine on a site (or if we don’t want to pay the often extortionate prices!), our washing machine is a twin tub hand-fill variety requiring human intervention throughout each of the stages, at least I get 15 mins to do other things whilst it's timer runs a cycle but I can’t expect to get much else done on laundry day.


If we don’t want to fire up the generator to run even that basic machine then it’s back to hand washing in the sink instead, detergents and the act of wringing clothes can be brutal on the hands.


You have to find alternative cleaners & whiteners.

Neat bleach is far too toxic to let run down the drain directly onto land or into a septic system that relies on organisms to break things down so get used to the smell of lemons or vinegar!

For the record Hydrogen Peroxide is a more biology friendly whitener if you really need something that acts like bleach without the ecological disaster.


Hot water takes careful planning.

Kettles take time to heat up and can only contain so much. You may have a gas or electric water heater but it's probably not left on 24/7 (unless you like wasting gas and money!) so you need to plan in advance to switch it on in time for showers and washing up etc.

Needless to say it took us a long time to remember and to find our routine when we first started our life on the road, and I’ll be willing to bet now that (since we’ve been parked a while on permanent hook-up) we’ll forget about it again when we get back out there!


Mains running water is a distant memory.

When your off-grid or on the road, every drop used means a drop you have to haul from somewhere so you have to use it wisely. You get used to juggling bottles, hoses and other containers and soon learn exactly how many litres certain processes requires.

When we're on the road it's a constant challenge to find somewhere to fill our tanks, and misjudging the levels can mean running out mid-shower! When visiting on-grid places it's a surprise to be able to forget about levels, though you may find yourself turning off dripping taps wherever you go... ;)


A workout means sweeping the floors.

Without the latest Dyson and an open expanse of floor you have to get physical! We have a brilliant little battery vacuum cleaner but it still means getting down on the floor to use, and it requires charging in between uses requiring mains power. It's a great vacuum but my little broom is still the star player when we’re out and about!


You have half the clothes of anyone else.

Off grid usually means a smaller home, and FAR LESS storage space for clothes and shoes. I’ve never been the kind of person to have that many to begin with, but it’s still been tricky to find the right balance of things that cover all the seasons and activities and pack them all into our tiny cupboards. If anything Ryan has struggled more than me since mens clothes tend to be bulkier construction than womens!


You miss most TV.

Off grid aerials tend to be fickle, especially if you're nomadic since it will likely need repositioning each time you park up. The chances of catching that program at the exact time you need to are slim, plus the TV despite being 12V still eats into our battery power which is a limited resource.

Streaming and downloading TV and movies on demand has been our favourite method of receiving some ‘mindless’ entertainment but even that is reliant on a decent internet connection and data plan.

A rummage in the discount DVD bins can usually give us something interesting to break out when we feel like it which usually wind up being donated to a charity shop along the line. Luckily when none of the above is working out, books and crafts are always ready to entertain and arguably much better for your mind!


You hold on to trash.

With no weekly collection the rubbish bags soon build up. You'll likely find yourself making things out of junk just to get rid of some of it which can be useful! ;) We try our best to reduce our plastic and waste where we can but in this day and age it often seems there’s no escaping it! If you’re planning to live full-time in your van don’t expect that a tiny door bin is likely to cut it.

We have a set of sliding bins by Simple Human which gives us a good long time to fill up our main waste bin and a pile of recycling before having to search out somewhere to get rid of it. When it’s built up enough we take it all to the nearest waste recycling centre or make use of the recycling bins in many supermarket car parks.

Yes we could just put the recyclables in with the non-recyclable and be done with it but that’s not who we are. Out of sight is not the end of the problem.


Convenience food really isn't convenient!

Never mind the long trip into town to get it in the first place, or the fact that the nearest pizza delivery probably won't find you, but it lands you with yet more waste to have to deal with! 

Freezer convenience and ready meals also mean that first of all, you need a freezer (we do but space is extremely limited!) and some means to re-heat it – no microwave on board Waki...


You have to lie about where you live.

Drivers licences, banks, insurance, and voting registration all require a listed address with a postcode and that often isn't possible at an off grid location, and is especially tricky when you travel like we do. I wish there was a way that we could truthful about our living situation but at the moment there isn’t.

Our legal stuff is registered to a family members 'real' house instead so we need to visit regularly to collect important post – at least it keeps us social!


Next week, to tip the scale, I promise I’ll look at all the things we LOVE about living the vanlife… If you have anything to add or a question leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!


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Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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