Traveling by Van and Camper

Traveling by Van and Camper – Tips for experiencing an adventure on the road

Traveling by van or camper is an experience that allows you to live in snail mode; a road trip without having to pack and unpack, having the possibility to stop where you want and when you want. Respecting permits and private property, obviously.

Mindful of a van adventure in Ireland, and thanks to the pandemic which makes travel rather unsafe and risky, after 8 months of stopping, we decided to try to make a change in our lifestyle, and therefore also in travel.

We have found the right compromise between travel, safety, independence – we are not dependent on canceled flights, airport closures or suspension of public transport – and the possibility of working exactly as we have always done.

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The van gave us all this: freedom, independence and possibility of safe movement.

I have thus entered a new phase of life.
Traveling but, paradoxically, with a certain stability.
A microscopic little house that follows me, where I return every day, even if the surrounding scenery changes, and which forces minimalism.

It’s not all rosy. The van is a lot of work, just as many worries, things that perhaps you hadn’t even thought about before: when and where to flush the toilet and dirty water? Where to find the gas cylinder? It’s a car and therefore there is never a shortage of unexpected events.

I want to share with you what I have learned so far, with the new column VanLife.

A way of traveling that, before trying it, I would never have believed could be for me.
Forced by the pandemic today, a lifestyle that could last long into the future.

It’s VanLife!

Why travel by van?

Some will turn up their noses at the mere thought. In fact, even explaining what makes van travel so special is difficult for me.
This choice certainly is ideal for those who love freedomthose who want to move and are not afraid of the unexpected.
For those who live life in a minimal way, or want to try. For those for whom the journey is aimed at discovery, mobility and contact with nature.

The van is certainly not for everyone, it forces you to spend a lot of time outdoors given the limited spaces, or indoors if you travel in winter.
On the other side allows you not to necessarily make plansof booking hotels and not having the possibility of changing itinerary along the way.

You can sleep in nature, on campsites, in rest areas. There are so many options, you just need to have the right tools to plan your trip every day.

Is it cheap to travel by van/camper?

If on the one hand we save on some expenses, for example the most obvious one is food since we are not obliged to go to the restaurant every day, on the other we must consider constant expenses such as: petrol (obviously a van or camper consumes more than a car), the various costs of electricity, parking and various necessary services (possible for a fee in rest areas, campsites or the same car parks if blue lines), cylinders, solar panels and much more.
The costs that arise to take care of your little gem are always discovered along the way.
On the other hand, other necessary expenses if you are not self-sufficient are amortized especially in the long term.
Estimating costs is quite complicated, but if you rent, costs per day can vary between 100 and €150 per day.
Clearly it depends on many factors that are difficult to predict and which vary from traveler to traveler but also the country in which you are travelling, travel itineraries and much more.

Rent or buy a van/camper?

Buying a van or camper is an important investment.
They are very expensive and, especially vans, do not depreciate much and are difficult to find second hand.
Precisely because they cost a lot, it is worth trying this experience first and then, if convinced, possibly thinking about buying one.

There are also modified vans, or they can be modified, but this too requires commitment and some extra knowledge to be able to think of everything necessary.

Definitely not for us who are not familiar with the subject and still wanted to try the experience before trying our hand at something bigger than us.

In the end. How long do you want to travel by van?
If rental is sustainable for a trip lasting a few weeks, in the long term the costs could instead have a significant impact, a possible purchase and then resale could be the right solution.

But if you want to try it in the meantime, rent one, or more than one to understand how you feel about it and which model is right for you, and give yourself some time. A van is like a house. You don’t buy the first one that comes along!

van life

What to choose between a van and a camper?

A camper is larger and more spacious than a van, although vans are of different sizes, starting from 5 metres.
Instinctively, when seen in a car park, the larger and more spacious campers have their charm, but when on the road the difference in size becomes noticeable and risks making you regret having exaggerated the length.

We have always opted for vans no larger than 6 meters for many reasons, in particular the following:

  • You can park easily in car parks and therefore easier to use when looking for place (especially in cities)
  • They are easier to drive and of a size suitable for typical European roads which can be quite small, especially secondary ones
  • The bathroom is small but comfortable, even taking a shower is not a particular problem
  • It’s more discreet if you go wild camping

The camper is obviously more comfortable, in particular the bathroom generally has more space but is larger, more obvious and less easy to park in the city or public car parks. It forces us to exclude parking spaces in cities because, especially in some countries, they are difficult to find.

My choice has therefore always fallen on the diesel van, and since I have lived in one I must say that I can’t find any flaw that would make me want to have something else.

Useful applications for those traveling by camper

Clearly when traveling in a camper/van you can sleep in many places.
There are those who prefer camping, those who prefer an itinerant trip and, where possible, want to do Wild Camping.
So how can we find the right places and not incur sanctions or various problems?
Not only that, if you drive a lot, perhaps you want to know where it is best to get petrol and find the refueling stations with the best prices, or, if you drive in the mountains, it becomes important to know the state of the roads and snow.
To answer all these questions that we ask ourselves almost every day, the applications and websites I use are the following:

  • Park4Night – My favourite. There is a lot of information and it allows you to leave reviews or indicate areas in which to park
  • IOverlander – This application also allows you to discover and add places where you can park. Beautiful, useful and easy to use
  • FreeRoam – Like the other two sites, it is a very useful and well-made app for finding parking lots and rest areas for campers and vans. Excellent if you are traveling to the US.
  • Fuelio – Knowing petrol prices and finding the stations with the best price with this app becomes child’s play. Select the area you are looking for and view the distributors and their prices.
  • fuel – It’s a Bulgarian app that works very well, you have to select English as the language, and it shows petrol prices.
  • Weather and radar – Application to check the weather situation, especially important for those traveling in winter in mountain areas and with snow

Remember that you must always make sure that it is possible and there are no specific prohibitions.

Is it always all sunshine and rainbows?

Certainly not. Life/holiday in a camper or van forces minimalism.
The spaces are small, unless you opt for a gigantic motorhome, and you therefore have to really select the useful things from those that are not. A bit like when you have to pack a backpack.

When on the road there are also many things we need to pay attention to:

  • How much water do we have available?
  • When do we have to fill the tank? Can we fill it up afterwards?
  • How full is our gray water tank?
  • Where we will sleep tonight
  • How much electricity do I have available? Does the van have solar panels?
  • Where to find the gas cylinders if they are running out (I will write an ad hoc post on this because it is more complicated than you might think)
  • Where can I clean the toilet bowl?
  • I need to order something online – where can I ship it and can I get it back?
  • Something broke, what to do?

Living in a van for a while still means there is something to take care of every day, just like if you were living at home.
But for me the effort is worth it.

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