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FIRE'd - now to dream or to do?

At the beginning of each year, I set myself some targets. There are 12 for this year, some are fun things, others a little aspirational, a few are closer to chores and others are designed to help me stay fit and healthy. Some are dreams, even if they're a little irrational. At the end of the month, I check my progress. If I'm ignoring something, it's a chance to jump back on it.


Could this be me?

One of my irrational dreams is my #vanlife idea. It's been on my mind for three or four years now so, this year, I've made a target to finally figure out my campervan plan. So that's what I'm trying to do now.


If you've previously visited my blog, you may think I've already done this post. About a year ago I wrote about a project to convert a cargo van into a camper. That post was supposed to be me committing to the idea, to actually do it. The reality, progress since then has been precisely zero.


So almost a year down the line, it's past time to decide one way or the other what I'm going to do. Put less nicely:


It's time to piss or get off the pot!

...to figure this out, actually get on with it or consign the idea to the trash. So let's try to make a decision!


My original van plan - Plan A

A practice trip in 2019
  • I look at the cool #vanlife pictures on Instagram. Young, active, good looking people - who wouldn't want to be like them? I'm pretty sure that if I build a campervan then I'll become as young, good looking and cool as they are😎

  • My original world trip travel plan (which hasn't entirely gone to plan) included travelling through North America in a campervan. We haven't done it, but I'm not ready to let go of that idea just yet.

  • One of the things that Sally doesn't like about travelling is the frequent packing and unpacking. A camper solves that (kind of), your temporary home on wheels, with your stuff inside, moves with you - no unpacking and re-packing required!

  • I can use my "if I had a van" Spotify playlist that I've already made.


Problems with Plan A

  • Sally's not up for a one year camper trip through North America. I'm not willing to give up on this idea, but accept that it's not for now.

  • Re-inheriting the family cats makes travelling difficult, especially longer duration travel.

These two points effectively rule out my original plan at this time.

  • In addition, I've no real idea if vanlife is for me. In an earlier post, I wondered if maybe it's only 30% or 40% a good idea.


Is there an alternative - a van plan B?

  • Part of my world trip plan was to travel in Europe - despite being originally from the UK and currently living in France, I've hardly explored Europe. Plan B could be that a campervan is an ideal way to explore Europe.

  • We only have a 2.1 metre high parking space: Plan B could be a smaller van that fits within the height and width restrictions of our parking.

  • We also only have one parking space: Plan B's smaller van could double as a daily driver allowing us to sell our current car and eliminate the one parking space issue.

  • We have nowhere to do the self-conversion in France: Plan B could be an already converted van. It also avoids the challenge of complying with the various French campervan conversion regulations.

  • I'm hoping that having a camper will make us go places, see new things, and do new things too. Arguably we can do that without a camper, but I don't think we will, at least not nearly as much. I fear falling into a life of laziness/doing little and I'm determined not to let that happen.

  • In fact, plan B can answer the question of what's going to be our next adventure? Touring Europe by camper (albeit in a series of shorter trips) could fit the bill nicely.


Problems with van plan B

  • It's not true to my original plan. The geography, Europe instead of North America is different, the van isn't the same, it's smaller, and we wouldn't be doing the conversion ourselves which I always considered part of the adventure.

  • It's not the image I was aiming for. Instead of the self building, free roaming, Instragram posting van adventurer that I imagined, Plan B feels closer to something Sally's parents might do. They're great guys, but imitating my in-laws is not the image I was aiming for!

  • Is it realistic for the van to double as our daily driver? To have a chance, it must be comfortable, reliable and safe - in other words, quite new and that translates to expensive. I like the idea of a classic VW camper, but that wouldn't tick the comfort, reliable and safe boxes.

  • A smaller van has less living space and will be less comfortable. In fact we looked at some today, they're really small and there's very little storage in them. The toilet situation is also remains a big question!

  • Having recently chatted with some "van people", taking the cats on trips will be difficult as it can get very hot. Perhaps possible during the cooler months, but not all the time.

  • We need to double check that even a smaller van can manoeuvre within our parking garage - it's a tight space.

  • I'd prefer to get an electric van, but I think it's a few years before they become more common and have the range we'd require.

  • #vanlife is crazily popular now which means prices are similarly crazy!


So what's my decision?

If I'm honest, I'm still not certain, which is precisely why I've been procrastinating. But I'm not letting myself sit on the fence anymore, it's past time for a yes or no decision. If it's yes, it has to be a yes that gets implemented, if it's a no, then the idea gets put away, at least for the foreseeable future.


David says YES - despite the doubts, let's go for it, because:

  • I don't want to live with regrets. If it turns out to be a mistake, at least I'll know I gave it a go and won't look back saying "I wish..."

  • A campervan is an ideal way to see Europe. There are so many countries and places to visit within a relatively short distance. I know we could do this without a van, but I don't think we will.

  • If we had a camper, I'd feel obligated to use it. It would stop me becoming lazy, force me to explore the interesting and beautiful places that Europe has to offer.

  • Although it's expensive, we can afford it. And even if we find it's not for us and sell at a loss, we can afford that too.

  • But on the other hand, I remember saying in my earlier post that this might only be 30% or 40% a good idea? In which case, why do it? That's when I come back to:

    • Because I don't want to look back in the years to come and say, if only...

    • Because I'd rather make a mistake trying something than not trying it at all.

    • Because I think we can have some fantastic adventures.

    • Because I just want to give it a go. I'm working on the basis that not everything in life has to make sense!


But it's not all about me - what does Sally think?

We both have to be on the same page to do this, so if it's not right for Sally, then she can veto the idea without any complaint from me. She must decide based on her own preferences, not on what she thinks I want to hear. So what does she say? For a start, you'll be relieved that she's briefer than me:

  • She's not confident that we could convert one ourselves to a good standard. She thinks it would cost a lot of money to get it right and get a good finish. The thought of doing the electrics and other specialist items worries her too.

  • She thinks getting a van that's already converted to a camper is a better idea.

  • She wasn't initially keen on the one vehicle/daily driver option. Driving a van around town isn't the image she'd worked hard for - she doesn't want to look like a hillbilly driving a van. Plus she's worried that a van is too big and cumbersome to drive and park. But having seen the newer and smaller campers, she thinks having it as the daily driver will be OK.

  • She wouldn't want to go away in it for 3 weeks or a month - thinks it's too small and we'd get on each others nerves.

  • The toilet situation isn't ideal, but probably manageable.


And her conclusion, Sally also says YES - I wasn't expecting that!


So what next?

It seems we have a decision. While we both have uncertainties about the idea, we'd rather try it than look back with regret saying we wish we'd tried it.


It's time to go shopping for sunsets like this

And for the record, Sally could definitely build a kick-ass camper, even with me trying to help and getting in the way, so the self build camper and the North American trip isn't disappearing from my wish list. It just isn't for now.


What is for now is to look for a small, already converted, ready to go van, before we get cold feet and change our minds. That may be just as difficult as making the decision in the first place, there aren't many available and on first look they're not quite what we're looking for. But when we do find one, whether it's next week or in six months time, we'll be ready for our next adventure. Exploring Europe, here we come!

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We look forward to hearing the stories of how your campervan plans develop.

We for the first time last summer hired a campervan for 3 weeks in Portugal.

Although we really enjoyed it, there were some surprising learnings in "Van Life" . We would be interested in your experience and others. Our learnings were as follows. We will still try this again in a different location - maybe we were just unlucky this time ( but overall it was a good time)

- A proper mattress is essential, the hire vans mattress with plastic cover did not compare to a good nights sleep in a bed and we did not sleep well. Its also hard to regulate the temperature.

-…


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Hi Mike

Not too negative, these are the realities that we will either need to get used to or find ways to avoid. I think the more remote areas is a good tip for some times and I also think it's OK to spend some nights on proper camp grounds and to enjoy the facilities that they have. When we tried it in Germany in 2019, we had a mixture, one proper campground, one free place and a couple of cheap places that were somewhere between the two - €5 a night by a lake and with toilet and shower facilities was the best win.

Initially I think we'll try shorter trips to get the hang of things. That's a…

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Hi David

I found your blog a few months ago. Always an interesting read, keep it up!

I’m about your age and hoping to quit in 5 years or so once the kids are through uni.

Me and my wife are on our second VW California and can’t recommend them highly enough, we will buy a new one when we retire and tour Europe - factory built & 5 year warranty....

Having done several 2 week trips with kids and dog in tow, we have always said having it to ourselves will be luxuriously spacious. My wife has used them both as daily drivers for over a 100k miles now and they work well, fitting into normal parking spaces and…


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Thanks for the feedback, I'm taking your experience as a vote in favour. The VW's are crazily expensive, but they definitely have managed to retain the "cool" factor. We met someone the other day who thought his van is worth more now than what he paid for it! The cool factor won't be the only part of our decision on what brand of van we get, but I won't pretend that it doesn't feature somewhere in the mix. I haven't checked, but I imagine the waitlist from VW for a California's is huge...but maybe I should check just in case

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racheledale
racheledale
Mar 13, 2021

I really enjoy your blog and thoughts . Thanks for sharing . We are a similar aged British couple living in Zurich and during lockdown in a ski resort close by

we are inspired to also retire early and had a van plan. To check it out we bought a California as our car and had it for 2 years as our main car. Conclusion after several European holidays is we prefer the tent car option, so we now drive a mini. It was super cool for phots and what looked like an idyllic way to travel. The reality is it’s hard to keep organised in such a small space, on wet days your car gets super muddy, on …

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I won't show your comment to Sally as she'd love a Mini - she had one when we lived in Dubai and she was upset to sell it when we left. Given a choice between a campervan and a Mini, I suspect I know which she'd choose. Thank goodness we've only discussed a choice between a camper and our current Nissan Qashqai!🤣


Does is sound strange that although Sally has given a green light for the camper Plan B, I don't think she'd agree to the camping idea at the moment. We used to go when the kids were smaller, but not in the last 17 years (one desert camping trip being the exception, accompanied by scorpions!).


If only my…

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ps...its not cheap!

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Exciting times ahead whoop whoop!


Our friends have one of these below which they also use as their day to day vehicle and absolutely love it. They took it to France for a 3 week trip in between lockdowns last year and said it ticked all the boxes. And its pretty damn cool looking so may tick that box for you guys too....hang loose! (I'm sure the cool kids still say that right?)


Greg


https://www.volkswagen-vans.co.uk/en/new-vehicles/california.html

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I was thinking about it on my run this morning...what I figured is that what it's most about is the places that the van can take us to. That's more important than the van itself, although of course it's a bonus if that's cool too! As you say, "cool" comes at quite a price, less cool Fords or Renaults are in the mix too, maybe more sensible and affordable, just to confuse things🙄

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