Rumours of Van Life’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
If you’re looking for a trip away as the world emerges cautiously from a period of restricted travel, perhaps you’ll look to the flexibility and practicality of a van trip.
Maybe you’ll opt to stick around home, staycaying, until all this properly blows over. Perhaps you want to go further afield to Europe, where a van offers you the chance to chase swells and weather windows, changing plans at the last minute to get the most of your trip.
And whether you’ve opted for the Mexican blanket, dashboard cactus and cute tinted single in content-centric interior, or are roughing it with little more than a sliding door and spartan, parcel delivery van style surrounds, the open road, and the many many sparkling lineups located along it, beckons.
But that’s not to say it’s all gourmet coffee dawnies and craft beer sunsets after days of tubes with new found friends between.
Van life, like all life, can only be possible with an element of van death.
On the ground, the authorities are coming for van lifers, mainly due to them collectively turning the green verges near every parking spot into an ever-growing latrine. In the bigger picture, even the notion that diesel vehicles themselves are being phased out suggests a finite time limit on van life as we know it.
The number one threat to your van life experience, might be number twos. Whilst making like the proverbial bear in the woods might feel perfectly natural, soothing and the smart thing to do on a finite planet (versus flushing away your biomass with drinking water) alas it seems there are often too many bears for too small a copse. As a result, otherwise enjoyable, green patches of undergrowth are turned into coprophilic crime scenes strewn with paper eviscerated in the brambles.
When we reached out to Portuguese van legend Vasco Caracol (Portuguese for snail – as he travels with his house) for the latest on the van scene at the bottom of the Iberian Peninsula in the Algarve, he echoed the code brown threat. Not only a vet of the van scene, Vasco has also driven all the way around the world for a documentary, so he knows a thing or two about the road. “In Portugal, it’s getting really tough nowadays, the police are cracking down. The problem is when you get a bunch of vans parked up anywhere but particularly in the south, then you look there’s just toilet paper everywhere, it’s just turned the coast into a big toilet.” Poo, it seems, has led a legislative push to restrict vans only to designated municipal camping areas, a bit like SW France in summer.
In terms of options, other Euro van vets like Kepa Acero have recently taken to promoting the use of a porta-potty style device that you can use in your van.
Otherwise, you could take to walking a bit further than the very first bush, and burying your business with a trowel, or, for the more confident, going in the sea.
Van Strife / Size Matters
All sorts of advice is imparted from all different van owners and van trip survivors, much of which tends to relate to particular events or circumstances during their trip, often the weather/swell experienced. Guess what? If the weather’s nice and the surf’s good, things tend to go well. Otherwise, otherwise.
But one universal theme that seemed to affect van trip outcomes more than anything else was the size of the vehicle itself; specifically, whether you can sit up in bed.
“There’s a big difference between an actual campervan and an estate car with a mattress thrown in the back,” said one contributor to WL who wished to remain anonymous. “I did a trip around Australia in a car that just wasn’t big enough, with my then girlfriend of three years.” He says ‘then’ girlfriend for a reason; the insufficient volume of the couples’ vehicle would ultimately become their undoing, in his view. “Just tell your readers not to try and save money by getting too small a wagon” he added, voice cracking “unless they want their heart broken.”
Cooking Not Kooking
Once suitable considerations have been made concerning toileting, space and comfort, meal preparation comes to the forefront of van trip planning.
“Most of the time when you’re surfing and camping, you kinda just can’t be fucked to start cooking pasta after a long day of purposeful mid face trim” said van owner and WL Editor @lugarts, in an uncharacteristic boast of his own disposal income, “Much better to just go to a restaurant and eat there.”
He’s got a point too. While you might start out with the best intentions of saving cash by preparing your own meals over a gas flame, in reality, you can easily get bored of van cooking. Once the generally overcooked carbs have been eaten and stunk out your van and clothes, then there’s the dishes to do, often in the dark.
I once sought van advice from UK pro surfer Reubyn Ash, who at the time was pushing a very well appointed T5 van around France. His tips was not too worry too much about having a kitchen inside the van, rather opting for a cooker that you can set up on a table easily and cook outside. It might be the very finest advice I ever had from a pro surfer.
Cover photo: @lugarts