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.
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
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.
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!