I write this journal entry sitting in the Linn of Dee car park in Scotland on day seven of my new life. Living the van life. A phrase that has became more popular recently as it once was in the 60s. Those uttering it may or may not be qualified to do so. After over a year of weekend adventures and now permanent residency, I at least have an insight of what routine van life involves.
Van life certainly isn’t for everyone but perhaps I can give you an insight of what life could be like for you. One things for sure. Base camp, Harvey the RV, has been the perfect point of return after long munro bagging hikes into the Cairngorm and beyond.
Early morning sunrise
Sun light illuminates the roof at 5 a.m. and my eyes flutter awake. Free of feeling the groan inside my head from the fear of the 9 to 5 grind that once consumed my life. Perhaps the novelty of waking up in the roof of a camper van amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the planet will wear off. Till then, I will enjoy every minute of lush green trees, rushing rivers in full spate and soaring birds cruising high above. A quick stretch of the legs and it’s time to hit the morning routine.
Living the off grid 9 to 5 routine
The truth about van life is there is still routine. Whatever anyone tells you this isn’t a glamorous existence. Youtubers and the instafamous won’t tell you the truth. Overnight you are transformed into a full time resource gatherer.
On some level you no longer see people and places. Like Neo in the Matrix, you see a cascade of code indicating water sources, cheap food or free toilets. Your conscious self still has time to appreciate the immediate surroundings but your sub conscious is focused working away in the background. Survival is now the new 9 to 5.
Maximising the morning light
Typically a morning not hiking into or munro bagging is spent revolved around these key elements. You can take this as an insight into van life as a taster for all it entails or a warning to stay at home.
Water collecting routine for off grid living
For collecting drinking water I rely routinely on the Sawyer Mini. I’ve also heard good reports about the MSR water filter. Fortunately parked up in the Scottish Cairngorm mountains there isn’t a shortage of rivers. Collecting drinking water takes around 15 minutes out of my day to provide around 4 litres of crystal clear filtered water. I use large 2 litre sized gym bottles as they are tough, leak proof and can be easily carried up mountains.
For spare water or the van’s sink supply I use straight up river water. To that I add in water purification tablets that don’t taste too great (thus why I separate drinking water). Filtering using the Sawyer mini would take too long for larger quantities. In the interests of time sacrifices on flavour must be made. Refilling these larger containers once per week and the smaller bottles daily, provides more than enough for over a week of van life resources.
Cleaning dishes daily routine
Collapsible silicon buckets have changed my life. Not only do they fold away into a tiny space they can hold a huge amount of gear. Two of them in tandem do the perfect job of collecting dirty dishes, washing and rising them. Rivers are again my source of water. It’s now completely obvious why most of major cities sprung up around them.
A reliable water supply just makes life easier for everyone. At the moment I’m still using left over detergent to break down grease. I don’t feel completely happy with the impact of that on the environment so will be researching eco friendly alternatives.
Washing clothes out in the wilds
Munro bagging can be a sweaty business. Mountains are usually surrounded by bog or murky river beds. Keeping clothes clean has become a real challenge while out in the field. At the moment rinsing in water gets an extra use out of them.
Research of traditional cleaning methods will need to be carried out to keep them smelling fresh longer. For now, fortnightly trips into civilisation will be needed to provide a constant stream of dry clean socks. Clean clothes are the new off grid gold. Bitcoin RIP.
Generating power off grid for van life
Before living full time van life I spent time weighing up options for generating off grid power. I’m pleased to report so far my choices have been successful. A split relay charger powers my leisure battery, either while the van is moving or plugged directly into an AC source. While parked up, the roof mounted solar panel has been enough to keep the fridge running 24/7.
I’ve been conscious to be careful with power use as I have water. Charging of everything beyond small LED lamps has been done from usb battery banks or foldout solar array. In the future it would be great to have additional solar panels or multiple leisure batteries. For now I keep a watchful eye over power levels and hope they last until moving location.
Food glorious food
You need to get inventive when cooking in a van. The hob seems to have only two power modes, nuclear or lukewarm. Toaster racks or well designed pots can help but your imagination is the key. With limited off grid power its not a good idea to rely solely on refrigerated foods.
Tinned foods like; fish, soup or vegetables, are cheap and last for months. Into this I’ve mixed in fresh fruit and veg that has a longer than average shelf life. Carrots, onions and potatoes are easy to keep and can make a tasty meal.
Talking of tasty, don’t forget to have a condiment collection. A little bit of hot sauce or similar can go a long way to turning a bland dish into a flavoursome feast. If your gas supply should run out a curry flavoured rice dish even served cold, could make a delicious meal. Experiment with different herbs, spices or whatever you can lay your hands on. Just understand you will be leaning heavily towards quick to prepare dishes.
Do you have what it takes?
Living the van life isn’t for everyone. It does provide great freedom to make your own schedule. See the sun rise or go late night star gazing. Work still needs to be done to keep life going on the open road and with that comes a little routine. For now the novelty hasn’t worn off yet, I don’t know if it will. Till then I’m going to enjoy those early morning starts and collecting every drop of fresh water I can.
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