The van

When I first thought about this, I worried I might lose friends, then I realised it was the right thing.

 

“Imagine that money wasn’t something you had to worry about – what would you do?”

Once you figure out the answer, you’re meant to head down the most efficient path there. Working ‘to get rich’ when you’re seeking to ‘have a happy family life’ may not be the most efficient route for you. It’s not a new concept, and worth reflecting on.

Today, I want to share with you how I’m answering that question.

The Plan

Parking the van at work
Parking the van at work

The plan is to buy a van, convert it into a live-in stealth campervan, and live in it. By June ~30th 2015.

Current status: I have bought a Mercedes Sprinter 2008 long wheel base 311 CDI 2.1 with ~150,000 miles – should go to ~300,000. It’s in fairly good nick.

This is my first car, and first thing I’ve driven on my own, so driving around Manchester is fun at times.

Instant FAQs

Where will you park it?

On the street, in different places – wherever we want to be at that point in time.

Will it have internet?

It’ll have 12V onboard electrics powering a 3G/4G wifi router. 25GB of data on EE these days is £30/mo on a one month contract.

What will you do about a toilet?

There will be an onboard Thetford c200 cassette toilet with SOG (so we won’t have to use chemicals). We will be using grey water from the sink for flushing.

What will you do about showers?

Not having them onboard. Showers exist in modern office buildings, swimming baths, sports centres etc.

Who’s going to do the conversion?

Me (with help from my girlfriend Clara).

What van conversion skills do you have?

Ability to read instructions, a nice powerdrill, blind optimism. You only learn when you try.

Why not buy a readymade campervan?

  • Most campervans are built for weekend trips away to caravan sites – where you get an electric hookup, and are never designed for constant use.
  • Parking up in a city, we’d prefer to look “stealth” – just like one of the unmarked white vans you saw today – that you didn’t give a thought to.
  • We dislike the 80-90s retro interior design of the campervans we’ve seen. The white/grey plastic makes me want to vom.
  • When you build something yourself, you value it more highly, so we think building our home will make us better appreciate it for what it is.

Why not buy a house?

You can’t drive a house to another place.

Why not build a house?

You can’t drive a house to another place.

Why not live in a canal boat?

You’re limited to canals, and travelling at about 8mph. So spending a week in the Lake District is kind of hard work.

What will you be doing about washing clothes?

Somehow, laundrettes still exist. Also, lovely friend’s houses. :)

What will you do about an address?

My parents live relatively nearby. That’s a good place to direct snail-mail to.

How will you power your electrics?

Initially, from leisure batteries and a split charge relay from the alternator. I’d love to have solar panels for charging the batteries, and as soon as I have time/money/energy, they’re on the agenda for the roof.

Once I can afford a Tesla Powerwall, and it’s easily available in the UK, it’s of serious interest to me.

Will you be on your own? (How will you ever get a girlfriend?)

My girlfriend Clara has been helping me with the CAD plans and seems open to living there with me.

How does she feel about it?

Clara says:

“*shrug* – it sounds like an adventure. If it’s not a fun adventure I will move back to my place in Sheffield. I’m super happy for my lovely boyfriend to do what makes him happy.”

How much will this cost you?

Hopefully less than a house, and less than rent, and more flexibility. I bought the van for £5,500.

I know someone else who’s done this!

There’s an entire community about it at /r/vandwellers

How did you get this idea?

I took some inspiration from VanDogTraveller and my friend Dan Woods who lived in a van during his University years in Manchester. I also listened to (and sometimes ignored) suggestions from Matt Bibby, Dave Crossland and others. I’m really grateful for their inspiration and advice.

In the ’50s, when my mum was little, she and her family lived in a converted double decker bus.

In the past I had an idea to travel around the country, spending a month in different AirBnBs. When I had the van idea, it felt more efficient and became the plan.

Won’t you be very cold in the winter?

Hopefully not. It will be chilly, for sure, and we’ll have to look carefully at how things are going as the temperatures start dropping, but we’re fairly optimistic that we can make it work. Staying warm in bed should be fairly straightforward, and one of the nice things about a van is that it’s a much smaller space to heat than the average house. We’re going to insulate it well.

Won’t you be very hot in the summer?

This could be an issue. The van is white and we’re planning to insulate it fairly well. The UK is hardly Morocco though. We count our very hot summer days, when it reaches 20C+, on one hand. If the van is unbearably hot we will go and enjoy the sunshine outside!

Aren’t you just demonstrating how incredibly privileged you are?

Yep. I’m a white well-educated, cis male, from a well-off background, with a great job and supportive family, in a first world country, with a social welfare system and a nationalised health service. I have to acknowledge that in almost everything I do. I have a lot of people to be grateful for, and I must be mindful not to take anything for granted and to do what I can to help those who’ve been less fortunate in the privilege lottery.

Aren’t you worried about what people will think?

In short, “no”.

I gave this some thought, I was worried my friends might instantly unfriend me. I realised that my friends don’t judge people by their living arrangements, but by what they’re like as a human being. I plan on being the same person, and anyone who wishes to pigeon-hole because of my living arrangements probably doesn’t know me.

Is this forever? Will you never get a house?

I may get a house in future. Who knows? Let’s figure that out when the future arrives.

I wouldn’t do this.

That’s absolutely ok!

Background:

Since about 2008, I’ve noticed that the internet has helped me geographically distribute myself. I noticed I didn’t seem to get homesick because the things I cared most about tended to be accessible via the internet.

(NB. This doesn’t apply to pets. I wish I could have emailed hugs to my dog, and got licks and snuffles by SMS.)

I realise about myself:

  • I love travelling when it seems like the right thing – I love mountains, outdoors, sea sides, long beaches, camping and exploring.
  • I also love technology, though perhaps that’s less obvious – I post fewer photos of it, try to avoid being relentlessly gushing about it – and yet, me and it often work hand in hand every day.
  • I’m fairly independent – I’ve never been in debt and I’ve been financially independent since I got my first job when I was 18, but I’ve been supported and effectively self-directed for sometime before then. For better or for worse, I don’t seem really be afraid of blazing my own path on my own, even if it turns out in the end just to be an interesting footnote.

Realisations:

  • I’m 24. I can make mistakes. I should make mistakes. I should make mistakes NOW.(I don’t seek to make mistakes, just be aware that they provide the most powerful opportunities to learn from, and that it’s easier to make bold decisions when you support fewer people.)
  • If this turns out to be a terrible idea, the downside is not fatal. It allows for learning. In the context of my life, it’s a small bet.
  • I feel that most of my relationships with my friends and family are location agnostic. Sure, I need turn up at my friend’s party, just like I should be at a family wedding – but the rest of the time? I’m not convinced physical proximity is super important so long as you’re there at ‘the right’ moments.
  • Being in one fixed location is less relevant to day to day job than it ever was. Most of my work is conducted over email and phone calls, and last summer I spent three weeks, working remotely from Bulgaria – more recently, close online collaboration in a distributed team seems to be working well.
  • I don’t want to buy a house, until I know I want to live there for ~10+ years. I don’t know where I want to be living in ~10+ years time, so I don’t want to buy a house.
  • There are two unfulfilled ambitions I think I have: one is to travel more, the other is to build something big.

So what’re the next steps?

I’ll be blogging, tweeting, facebooking about it as much as I can as we build it. You can also follow the github repo which contains the the CAD plans (or the cartoon simplified version) and things we’re working on.

The next step is for me to stop writing this blog post and insulate it! :D

The Van
The Van

I’d love to hear from you! Any thoughts? Any unanswered questions? Well wishes? Stories? Things I might want to think about? Let me know in the comments!