We took our minimal viable van and went on a tour through Europe for 3 weeks trying basically everything. From 4-star big campings with swimming pools and bracelets in tourist area's to parking the van in the middle of know where. What did we learn, does vanlife suit us and will we do this for a year?
These are our learnings which might apply to your family as well. And since we are now doing our version one build, a perfect time to incorporate these lessons learned.
We use energy for everything. From the logical stuff like our smartphones, tablets and handheld gaming consoles (which we might go a few days without), to the practical stuff: our lights, e-readers, laptops and cameras.
Where we know we are a very digital family, the world simply has batteries in everything nowadays. And combined with the internet, these devices also tell us what the weather is going to be like, which routes we can take for this hike, where we can go next and how we are going to get there.
Where we can go without the internet, going without power is just very impractical. Mark really wished he had built in a battery that could be charged on 230v and that could sustain us for a couple of days. It would have enabled us to stay in even more rural area's which would have been a nice extra test. It would also have been one less thing on our mind during the trip and it would have meant we had a lot less moving stuff from "staying" to "driving" mode.
We love being travellers, but we hate being tourists. A traveller is a guest, behaves as such and thus is treated as such. A tourist is treated as a money machine or a nuisance and sometimes behaves like one. We felt uncomfortable on the touristic spots and in the culture it embodies.
We loved small camping's and we ended up at camper spots more often then we would have thought. You often find them in surprising places and they bring a different more open atmosphere. The Park4night app really helped us out here.
The van totally works in the rain but we love the sun. The sun makes outside living easy and the sun makes active days easy. We feel more alive on active days and it makes each day an active day by going for a run in the morning on the "chill" days. The true active days are fueled with hikes, rafting, climbing or playing in and near the water.
A water spot is a big plus for the kids and adding mountains makes it even better because it enables easy hiking and exploring.
These factors combined make us live a lot healthier when we are on tour. We go to bed earlier and just move around a lot more.
We also need to take time to chill. Travelling still feels like "work" especially to Mark which makes him cranky and taking "off" days really help set the holiday mood. It gives us time for reading, writing, editing and playing games.
We also noticed we don't mind not knowing where we are going next. We just looked at the weather forecast for various area's and let that be the guide to our journey. We noticed we prefer short stretches of 2 to 3 hours to 6-hour stretches, and leave early arrive early is more important than our morning run. And if an area does not feel good, you just stay one night and continue the next day maybe even planning a hike in between.
When we are in the middle of nowhere for a longer period, food is not the issue and neither is water. For us, it was actually breakfast. We eat a lot of bread and having enough of it and keeping it good is an issue. A freezer will help as will a bigger fridge so we can stockpile more yoghurt, milk and others to create more breakfast variety.
A lot of stuff that in this piece of writing is input from the kids but we also have a few things that are kids specific.
The one thing they miss is their friends and making new friends. Julian and Robin do speak decent English taking their age into account, but other kids in Italy, Tsjech or Slovenia just don't. That means they do more together, on their own or with us as parents which they love, but it is a thingy.
They love to genuinely contribute. With everything. So we have to let them help which we sometimes forget. Whether it's the dishes, building camp, cleaning up, doing chores, finding the route or searching for the one foreign provider which does have 4G they simply love to help. It makes your own life easier, but it makes them feel useful and valued as well and you see them grow when they feel that way.
It's one of the reasons we wanted to try the van live: to spend more time together. And they really love it as do we <3
We borrowed an electric Scooter step from a colleague which made life a lot easier a few times. We are going to try to get two folding bikes into the garage preferably electric. It's great for doing shopping or going out with one of the kids to area's that are further away than a long hike.
The kids really dig the table while driving but Yvanka and Mark liked it folded in when we wanted to relax. That means the table should be foldable and it can also be a little lower and less deep. The kids try to store everything on the table which means stuff hitting the floor a lot while driving. We need some area to stow their stuff and we have a thingy with pouches at the back of the driver seat, but that van not the best spend of € 50,- because the pouches are weird and don't really work.
Since we will do school stuff here as well we need some storage solution.
We were expecting to miss air conditioning but even with it being 35c outside, driving was fine. Windows open, blowers on and we won't have to get used to the weather once we get out of the van.
At nights we were lucky. We never really had warm nights with temperatures above 22c in the mids of the night. We often slept with the doors open and would love some kind of locking system for it, so it can stay open in a secure manner. The rooftop fan and window are really going to help too.
The kids had a mosquito net above their bed and we as parents will have to have a similar type of solution. Another option is to have screen doors, but that might get be difficult to install and keep shut, but it's worth an investigation.