Thinking of selling up for a life of van travel?
Selling up to live in a motorhome or campervan is a HUGE step to take, and even if you’ve spent a long time thinking about it, making the final decision is tough.
Having sold up and quit the rat race to spend years living in a motorhome and travelling Europe, we share the good, the bad and our tips for selling up for a life on the road.
Back in 2015, life was pretty good. Heading towards our fifties, we were half way through a house renovation in southern England, the third we had tackled.
Phil had been out of the Army for three years, after a 25 year military career, and was working as a building inspector for the local authority.
I was climbing my way up the corporate ladder, working as a senior operations director for a large care home company.
We were earning good money, took fantastic holidays and drove good cars.
The house renovations were going well, but then I was made redundant. It was a real blow, but I was soon in a similar, but wider ranging, ops role for a start-up, buying and developing land for new care homes.
Probably a year or so in, I realised I’d made a big mistake. The people I was working for had different values to me, and I didn’t actually like them very much.
To cut a long story short, in 2017 we decided, after a random conversation in the bath, to quit work and travel Europe in a motorhome for a few years.
That day, it had just clicked. If we didn’t have the house, the cars and the lifestyle, we didn’t need to jobs to pay for them. It took a while to process and accept that realisation – that the model most people, including us, base their life on, is flawed.
With that clarity, we could see we were running and running, just to keep still and it was exhausting. The more we earned, the more we spent, and the more we though we needed.
Having a job, a house and possessions are all things society say we should do. But what if all that stuff doesn’t make you happy? What if all that stuff traps you instead?
Decision made, we realised the only feasible way to achieve this was to sell the house we had completed renovating, and though we’d live in for at least 20 years.
We had no savings, all our money had gone into the house, and we didn’t want to rent. We wanted to leave all our responsibilities behind.
Reading these first few paragraphs make it sound like it was an easy decision. Believe me, there were many sleepless nights about whether we were doing the right thing.
But what we did realise was that we wanted to look back and know that we had lived life – instead of wondering “what if”.
We’d grown up in the Thatcher years where unemployment was part of the landscape – could we really head off into the sunset for two years and then pick ‘normal’ life up again?
We decided the only way to move forward was to own the decision and make it happen. Within a couple of weeks the house was on the market.
Within a couple of months we had bought a motorhome and a couple of months more, the house was sold. One sunny July morning, we stepped out of the door for the last time, and into our new life.
The feeling of freedom was indescribable. We had both started working in our teens, and never stopped. As well as having jobs, we also renovated houses, so life really was a bit of a treadmill.
Not having to get up and go to work was, and still is, an amazing feeling.
The opportunity to try new things with no time constraints has been fantastic. We’ve kayaked our way around France, Phil has learnt to kite surf, we made our first forays into social media and we started this motorhome blog.
We’ve met amazing, incredible and fascinating people on the road, and made friends for life. Our social life pre-travel was limited, to say the least.
We were always busy, they were always busy, and friendships just seemed to fizzle out. Now, everyone we meet is on our wavelength and gets our mind-set, and we get theirs.
We’ve changed for the better – we are still the same, just slightly better versions of us. Stripped of the stress and intensity of work which I often felt defined us, we are more relaxed. With that comes time to look around and see the wonder and diversity of our world, and patience to understand what before was just different and mis-understood.
And of course, the places and destinations we have visited that we never would have travelled to before, have wowed us. We feel so lucky to have visited so many diverse locations in a world that is rapidly changing.
Van life can be tough. Once you take away the feelings of escape and freedom, which become pretty everyday feelings after a while, the daily routine can feel boring and a bit lack-lustre. A bit like ‘normal life’, but with less space!
With that, comes the inevitable “did we make the right decision?” type of questions.
The first year, when the clocks changed we were in Portugal, and I had a massive slump. Maybe a bit of SADS at a time when the thrall of travel was starting to wane a bit.
I wanted to lie on my sofa in front of my wood burning stove and watch my big TV, before going to sleep in my large kingsize bed, and of course not forgetting the warm bubble bath beforehand – all things camper vans don’t have 🙁
I sound like a right spoiled brat, and at times I felt like one! I seriously started to think we’d got it wrong when we came home for Christmas that first year.
In fact, we realised after two weeks in a house in the UK that we missed life on the road and couldn’t wait to get back.
We had set a budget before heading off, but really struggled to stay within it. Living in a van cost more than we thought it would.
We probably could get by within budget if we lived really frugally and ate soup (homemade of course) for lunch every day.
But, if you’re having a rubbish day, going out for a pizza and a glass of wine can help you put the world to rights. Van life didn’t teach us to be more restrained, that’s for sure!
We had some real humdinger arguments, which is hard in an enclosed space. Not having doors to slam, or a drive to squeal down in a fit of temper when things overheated made the frustrations of being cooped up on wet days even harder.
On one occasion, we were staying in an aire in France and I did decide to take a walk during a row – I ended up having to ring Phil because I got lost, and he had to come and rescue me!
What would we do differently?
To be honest, not that much!
We tend to chuck ourselves at whatever we are doing and I think, because we owned the decision and gave it 100%, we managed to overcome the initial hard times.
After about nine months, we realised that our plan of travelling for two years wasn’t going to work. We loved being van lifers and wanted to keep going, keep exploring and never go back to work. I use the word “work” but in reality, I mean the lifestyle we had.
We also wish that we’d taken longer to get the right van to live in. We both grew up in and around campervans, tents, caravans and motorhomes and thought we knew what we wanted, but ended up with an expensive van full of stuff to go wrong – gizmos and gadgets we just didn’t need.
A year in we swapped that beautiful and shiny van for a much older motorhome that we were a lot less worried about damaging as we went off-grid wild camping.
If we were having a beer together…
this is what we would say;
- Adaptability is key. You need to have the right mind-set and be willing to change and do things differently.
- Make sure that your home on wheels provides what you need. Whether you’re traveling in a Mercedes Sprinter van conversion, an expedition truck or a motorhome, it’s got a big job to do. Things like solar panels, water systems and great wifi make life on the open road much easier.
- Take off the rose-coloured specs. The van life movement is cool for sure, but much of life and day to day living is the same wherever you are. The boring, stressful and downright tedious bits still happen – they’re just easier to manage when you don’t also have a stressful job to contend with (and maybe an incredible view as you practice a bit of stealth camping!)
- Make a budget and see a financial adviser if you need to. Understand how you will fund your travels and be realistic about costs – yep, it will probably cost more than you think. We share a blog post about our own campervan costs here, and top tips on how to save money when you travel in a van.
- You need to be solid in your relationship with your fellow traveller. Hitting the road in a motorhome won’t heal your woes – it will just magnify them.
- Take your time – you don’t need to rush around ticking off every country in Europe in 12 months. Slow travel and savour, learn and enjoy the experience. This one of our top travel tips!
- Connect with others already doing it. Try Facebook groups (our FB group is the best of course!), or internet forums. With different perspectives and a place to ask questions, you’ll be able to sift through what resonates and is helpful.
We get that, this is a big step to take …a leap of faith. The key here is to research, research and then research some more.
Talk to your family and friends and make a list of pro’s and con’s. Be really honest when you do this and think beyond the excitement of setting off, to the reality of full-time van life.
Perhaps talk to your employer and ask for a sabbatical for three or six months, so you can dip a toe in the water and see how it feels.
Don’t take any major steps that cannot be undone, such as selling your house or quitting your job, until you are certain that you are making the right decision, that you’re ready to own it 100%.
Check out the experiences of others who have shared their stories in The Gap Years Travel Series, you may find just the inspiration you need!
Good luck if you decide to go ahead – we’re always happy to answer questions, just drop us an email and tell us your plans!