Vanlife - What's it all about anyway?

 Back in May 2019, we attended a small independent festival known as Camp Quirky. The festival is described as the only festival in the UK focused specifically on handmade campervans and all things vanlife.

 Being new to campervan ownership (see our previous post) we thought this would be the perfect place to explore the culture that is known as #vanlife. We returned with more questions than answers, so decided to find out more by interviewing 3 families who are living "The Vanlife Dream".

1. Thank you for sparing the time. Please introduce yourselves

Rainbows on the Road:
 We are Laura, Carly and Agnes AKA Rainbows on the Road, or The Rainbows as many people refer to us as. Currently, we are in the Orkney Islands on a special mission to find the location of a photograph Carly’s Dad took the day before he unexpectedly passed away here on a fishing trip nine years ago.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 We are Yellow Van Diesel, a family of 4 plus the dog, who travelled around west Europe for 10 months in our VW T5 (plus trailer!). It has been a challenge and an adventure! Now we are back in the house, we’re looking to upgrade to a larger van and keep going on shorter trips and adventures.

The Ormsby family:
 We are the Ormsby family from Sydney, Australia and we are travelling around the world on a family gap year. We hired ‘Saul’ the Quirky Camper for two months and travelled around the UK and Ireland.

2. Camp Quirky was certainly an eye-opener to this alternative way of living. What does #Vanlife mean to you?

Rainbows OTR:
 Vanlife means having a deep appreciation of vans, living simply and appreciating nature and our environment. Seeing beautiful or interesting places and meeting likeminded people.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 Vanlife can be so much... for us it meant the freedom to roam, move on from place to place. Staying when you like it, moving on if not. It's meant living a lot more in nature, and in tune with nature. Our personal setup meant we lived with the sun, going to bed rather early in the winter months!

The Ormsby family:
 For our family, it was an opportunity to explore the UK & and get to off the beaten track places. We travelled over 3000 miles and I don’t think we would have explored as broadly if we flew in and out.

3. Tell us a bit about your current life, how do you live now? How long have you lived like this? How do you finance your travels? What type of vehicle do you own?

Rainbows OTR:
 We moved into our van on October 1st, 2018, exactly one year to the day from when we bought the van. We are currently travelling up to the Orkney Islands in our Ford Transit Luton.

 Laura works remotely part-time as a programmer- this funds our travels and the sale of our house paid for the van.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 Our lives prior to living in the van was a rather standard one. Dad goes out to work while mum stays at home with the kids. We’d be strapped for cash sometimes, borrow money to fix up a car, we would buy new white goods on the Argos card to be paid off later… We bought the VW campervan with some inheritance money to go on outings and holidays in the UK more. It was also my daily driver as we couldn’t afford to run 3 cars. The idea to go travelling came on gradually when I found a few accounts on Instagram. I never considered it for us, then I found the Instagram Raised on The Road, a French family who were planning a set 2-year trip before returning “home” - and so the idea was born! I hadn't considered that you could do this as a temporary lifestyle, with views to return to house life afterward. To finance our own trip, we would rent out our house and live off the rent.

The Ormsby family:
 I’m taking a gap year and travelling around the world with my husband and girls aged 10 & 5. We hired ‘Saul’ from Quirky Campers. We live in Sydney, Australia and we started our adventure in South America, through the USA, UK&I, Europe, Asia and back home in time for Christmas. We are homeschooling our oldest daughter.

 We’ve funded our trip with savings and rented our house out while we are away. It’s surprisingly affordable when your mortgage is more than covered and we don’t have to pay $1000 per week for childcare and high cost of living in Sydney.

4. How easy was it to take your children out of school and how are they finding life on the road?

Rainbows OTR:
 Pretty straight forward for us, her school was very supportive – even the Head Teacher came to have a quick peek inside our van and said he thought what we were doing was inspiring. Agnes seems to love this life (we ask her a lot!), this slower pace of life suits who she is.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 Our two (aged 2 and 5 at the time) were never in school, to begin with, so that was not an issue we encountered. Our 2-year-old was not very aware of what we were doing, to be honest, but our eldest knew we were going on a long trip to see places and meet people. He was concerned about not seeing his friends for such a long time, but we figured we’d make it work through messages and postcards. I think they’ve enjoyed life on the road for the most part. They’ve pretty much just asked for parks, pools, and beaches! They really had the best time when we stayed on a site in Portugal for a month, they really got to know the place and people and would go off on their own to see whichever children were camped out too at the time!

The Ormsby family:
 We chose this time in our lives for minimal disruption to school. We are very lucky in Australia that distance education and homeschooling is well established. My daughter must complete about 10-12 hours of work per week and most of it is submitted through an App with a scanner, video recorder, and audio. All of Chloe’s classmates are all over the world and there are only teachers present at the Sydney Distance Education School.

 We are keeping up with the curriculum, but they are learning so much more about history, geography, agriculture, and culture than any child could learn in a classroom.

5. Do you follow any type of curriculum or schedule for schooling?

Rainbows OTR:
 We don’t follow a curriculum and only have a loose schedule such as reading daily. Currently, she is working towards a Wild Tribe Award run by Durrell Zoo, she does regular maths work using the Khan Academy app and has recently chosen to learn sign language.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 We’ve pretty much always been on board with what is called “unschooling”, which is where you simply facilitate your children’s interests and learning. We see life as a school because we are all always learning and there are learning opportunities everywhere. So, when we left to live on the road, it became “road schooling”, talking about the places and people we met, reading books, climbing trees. We find it very freeing to trust in the innate ability that children are always learning, you just must be there to help them out, finding books or organising outings on the subject of their interest!

The Ormsby family:
 The curriculum is in line with the Australian School standard.

6. What difficulties do you face on the road and what do you think it takes to overcome them?

Rainbows OTR:
 Van breakdowns are very challenging, we’ve experienced two both of which resulted in us having extended stays on the garage forecourt. Being static for so long can have a big impact on us and makes simple things like shopping and laundry more of a challenge. We focus on the future and where we’ll go when we’re ‘free’ and we also spent many nights talking about where we’ve been; discussing our favorite and worst places.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 I think this really depends on the personal situation. We were acutely aware of safety because of the children. Where we might have spent the night in a lay-by if we’d been a couple, we couldn’t do this as a family. So, finding park-ups hasn’t been the easiest, and it definitely got harder for us in the UK where there are no such thing as “Aires” providing for motorhomes. Europe is well set up for those!

 Another thing that struck us rather later in our journey, is when the van breaks down, you become homeless. We were lucky to be able to stay with family, but those were equally tricky days having to adjust to someone else’s routine! We would not have had the budget to stay in paid accommodation.

The Ormsby family:
 Lack of space is probably the biggest one and getting our 5y.o behavioral problems sorted out. We’ve certainly bonded so much more as a family. We introduced a weekly reward board that has jobs and expected behaviors set out for the kids. Each day we had the star award ceremony. This has worked a treat with our youngest and both the girls can now wash and wipe up (when they want to earn stars). There have been some screaming matches in the confined space in the mornings, but we’ve quickly bounced back. We also spent a lot of time discussing our next stop and if we free camp or caravan park.

 Both my husband and I work long full-time hours at home, so we’ve really been able to unwind and appreciate nature again.

6. What do you miss about being a house dweller and would you ever return?

Rainbows OTR:
 Probably the only thing we really miss is knowing you won’t run out of water and showers. We don’t ever want to return to a house if we can help it!

Yellow Van Diesel:
 We did miss a lot and have returned in the end! It was always part of the plan as we wanted to expand our family. Living as 4 people and one large dog in a VW T5 has been extremely challenging. We missed space the most. Four of us sat there at dinner is cramped. When bedtime rolled around, there was no more floor space. The dog slept on the front seat folded down, which would join up to the bed with our only worktop surface. I missed having a fixed bed, we missed having a fixed dinette. Don’t even get me started on if it was raining and we had to do all of the above!

The Ormsby family:
 A real toilet! Haha. We had a portaloo and tried to keep it to ‘number ones. The other thing is being able to have some downtime and watch a bit of TV. I’ve missed out watching the netball and Rugby League.

 We have a large 5-bedroom house at home, but we’ve learned to get rid of the stuff and that we really don’t need that size house to be happy.

 We have our heart set on trading our family car for a VW T5 when we get home to Australia. So that we can continue adventuring on weekends.

7. Where do you see yourselves 5-10 years from now? What are your plans for the future?

Rainbows OTR:
 Hopefully having some land in Portugal or Spain or somewhere we fall in love with. We’ll keep our van either on the land as a static dwelling or continue to travel in it.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 As mentioned above, future plans are to expand our family first. We have a little one due in November, so we are focused on getting back to the “grind” and bringing the little one earthside. After that, we will be looking at selling the T5 in favour of something the size of a minibus and convert that for our growing family! We have visions of fixed double bunk beds, a small wet room, a little kitchen with an oven, and that little dinette so we have somewhere to sit after the kids have gone to bed! We don’t have plans for such an extended trip again but hope to do lots of short trips and maybe a few month-long ones!

The Ormsby family:
 My mum and dad are retired and spent a lot of my inheritance on a fabulous van (good on them) I’d like to find some land and have horses and be surrounded by nature again. My husband and I will be looking at some more time in a campervan when we retire or come out and do 3 months around Europe with the girls another year.

8. Which #vanlife bloggers/vloggers do you follow and why?

Rainbows OTR:
 Oh, so many! We do love fellow Luton owners (who doesn’t get excited to meet a van like their own!?) and some of our favourites are @wanderrustuk, @the_big_yellow_van, @haroldthehousetruck, @eternallytransit, @vanlifeyuki and @the_kraken_adventures.
We also love following other families like @babybusadventures, @wearethoseweirdos, @5_go_wild, @thedixietribe, and @wild_wandering_tribe.
Then, of course, we do love seeing van dogs and van cats so we love @life_beyond_bricks, @thomas_and_marv, @fulltimingfelines and @adventuresofsyl

Yellow Van Diesel:
 (This is solely Emilie’s answer as Antony does not do social media!) To be quite honest, I follow a lot of people… Usually, those are either European families or van builds. Both a great for inspiration! Throw in a few American Skoolies and that’s pretty much it! I like accounts that keep it real, showing the good and the bad. It can be very hard when accounts look like they always have great park-ups, always have a great time… You can’t help but compare your own journey, but it’s important to remember not everyone shares the bad sides of their journey!

The Ormsby family:
 We jumped on the Facebook groups for general tips. I found that some groups are friendly and one, in particular, is full of whinging English people who complain about most things. My first travel bloggers who inspired me were The Bucket List Family. They are a young American couple who are positive, environmentally conscious and great storytellers. They really helped me to start the conversation with my employer, Ernst & Young, who granted me a gap year from work to adventure around the world.

9. What advice would you give to a potential van dweller or traveller with children?

Rainbows OTR:
 Do it!! We love this life, it’s not always easy and not always pretty scenery but it is always our choice.

Yellow Van Diesel:
 Our advice is to go for it! The world is out there to be discovered! If we hadn’t done it, there would always be that “what if”. Just make sure you do it in a van bigger than a T5!!

The Ormsby family:
 All kids are motivated by different things, but what worked for ours was to give challenges and recognition. Give your kids some jobs that they are responsible for in the van and start a visual reward board. You’ll soon find that they can’t wait to help prepare dinner, wash up, make beds, clean floors, etc. Ours also decided their rewards and how many stars they needed to earn an ice-cream, time on the iPad or gift.

 We also made a commitment to leave any site better than we found it. So, we would pick up plastic from the beach or garbage from the car parks.

 My final comment is good luck, you won’t regret it and your kids will learn so much more about the world by exploring.

 Thanks to everyone that took the time to answer these questions, if you would like more information on vanlife, unschooling or travelling with children please check out the below links:

#Vanlife - Is it possible in the UK

So you own a campervan

Our first Ad-Van-ture

Other sites

Quirky Campers

 If you are interested in hearing more from our 3 families please check them out on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Our campervan Ron at Camp Quirky


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