Van life for beginners
I'm no expert but I was fortunate enough to taste van life a few times.
Three of my friends own Volkswagen T3 cars from the 90s (I think, could be older or newer).
Our longest trip was for a month and we had to survive in different conditions.
I wanted to write this little guide of what you need to think of when traveling in such an amazing vehicle.
Most people would probably sleep in hotels/hostels or campsites. We didn't do such things. Our beloved place to sleep was everywhere. Wild parts of each country or less wild ones. Most of the time we slept close to a sea, ocean, lake, river. It didn't matter, we needed to be close to some kind of water source. We had tents but we didn't use them all the time, sometimes more appealing was lying in sleeping bags on the beach or car park.
Options we had: tents, inside the cars, on top of the cars, sleeping bags on the ground and hammock. On top of the vehicles was the most comfortable way to spend a night, you're sleeping under the stars but far away from the ground so wild animals can't reach you. Hammock is for people who don't mind being bent like a pretzel for the whole night. Whichever option you choose, you're already a winner because most of the time you'll wake up in nature and probably at the prettiest place you've ever seen.
You need to have a sleeping bag of course and a pillow, I used the travel pillow (the one you use on the plane) which was ideal for me. I also used it when sleeping while being on the road.
The most problematic part. If you're disgusted by doing your ‘business’ in the bushes, this is not for you. We usually used petrol station toilets but when we camped somewhere wild, there were no such things.
Kupari (one of our favorite spots from 2017 trip) was the best, lots of local people visit that beach during the day and there are working toilets and a beach shower so we loved that place a lot.
When you're planning to use bushes as your toilet, remember to take toilet paper with you or eco-friendly wet wipes which you can use to clean your hands afterward if there's no water near you. It's disgusting, I know, but what can you do?!
As I mentioned previously, we always tried to camp as close to a water source as possible because if there's no shower, you can at least swim and 'wash' yourself that way. You need to be prepared that sometimes you won't have access to a proper shower for a good few days.
Some beaches have showers with salty water so this won't help with washing your hair or anything. If you have access to a toilet with a sink and no shower, a good idea is to bring a big water bottle, make little holes in its cap, and shower that way (the very cheap way).
Of course, there are better options like buying a proper portable/camping shower, it doesn't cost a lot but we weren't that good with prepping ourselves, the water bottle should do, or a bucket, just like the old times.
Portable gas cookers designed for camping! There are a lot of different options on the market and they're all quite good. We had big, standing ones, small ones with one burner and bottle filled with gas which is quite small and fits everywhere and of course you can fill them up or buy new ones as often as you need to. You have to remember to bring pots. Few of my friends had this cool option with two pots made especially for trips like this, you put them on top of each other and they give you plastic cutlery (the good kind, you can use many many times). If you have those, you won’t need a pan. They’re quite shallow but you can boil stuff inside. You could also just use normal, small pots or big ones if you have lots of space. Totally up to you!
Bring also proper knife, plate and maybe a bowl, small chopping board could be useful too. Fridge, we’ve tried one, it was supposed to be electric and work but it didn’t so you can survive without it unless you want to spend some good cash and buy a good one. When buying food on the way, remember to get stuff that won’t go off quickly or if it does, just eat it soon. It’s good to get canned food and when cooking for more than one person you’ll use the whole thing which won’t leave any smells in the van. Jars are okay but remember, they can break easily. You don’t want to spill some smelly goodies all over your stuff.
Think of different food options, more stuff that’s easy to prepare so you don’t use up all gas on one meal.
For cleaning dishes, bring a bucket, washing up liquid (preferably eco-friendly), and a brush or sponge.
5. Laundry Bring some washing powder with you and whenever you think you’ll be stopping somewhere for a longer period (could be only one full day) do your laundry. You can use a bucket with water adding some powder or sink at a petrol station. It sounds stupid but we washed everything at petrol stations. Also remember we traveled during summertime, it’s different in winter when drying clothes.
Some people say it’s good to have some cash from each country you’ll be visiting. It could be useful for sure but having an account with an online bank with lots of currencies available is the best way for me.
Revolut is one option. I’ve been using it for the past couple of years and it never let me down. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that when I did those road trips but I used my UK debit card and didn’t have any issues. Most banks (especially in the UK) when they notice your card has been used in some strange places, they send you a text message to check if it was you. And you HAVE TO REPLY! Otherwise, they’ll block your card and if you don’t have another one, you’re screwed! And to call to UK and explain it was you, it can cost you a lot of money, so just reply to that text. So get a Revolut or any other card good for traveling and just exchange money on your phone (rates as usually better than any money exchange place). You can also bring your currency and exchange it in that country but it takes long to find a place where you can do it.
Most of the time you need to be prepared for a long drive. Our T3s didn’t have air-con and only windows by the front seats opened. So we had them lowered all the time and people at the back could get some breeze. Things to remember:
! Don’t take too many clothes! You won’t need them and if you take plenty, you’ll have a lot of laundry. Also, don’t take too many shoes either. If you’re going to a country with rocky beaches, it’s good to invest in proper shoes which you can use in water and rocks or strange creatures won’t hurt your feet. ! Don‘t take makeup kit with you (girls!), or if you want to, take only a few most used things. It‘s usually way too hot to put anything on your face. ! Bring sunscreen, you’ll probably be on the beach most of the time so you’ll need some protection. A hat could be useful too, be smarter than me and get one.
! Get plenty of wet wipes, they’re good for the ‘toilet’ or used as a shower. ! Dry shampoo is cool but I’m not the biggest fan. ! Invest in a small first aid kit with the most necessary things and some tablets you may need like painkillers and something for fever.
! Charged powerbanks! We were fortunate to have plugs in our vans but you can mainly use them only when driving so it's good to have a couple of powerbanks already prepped.
It’s good to know when traveling in a bigger group you split most costs e.g. petrol, fines, drinking water. And if you discuss it with someone who has the same food taste, you can cook together and split those costs too. I did it with my friend and it was great. Especially when you’re hangover and don’t want to do anything, your amazing friend can cook for you.
Living in a van is the greatest and weirdest experience even if it's only a coupe of weeks.
It’s not for everyone but if you’re that person who doesn’t care where sleeps and loves traveling, this is an adventure for you.