The ten lessons I have learnt from living in a campervan

It has been a full two months since Clay and I officially moved into a campervan and it has been a steep learning curve. In all the excitement of travel – discovering new places, enjoying the weather and time with friends, planning where to go next – and in all the stress of actually making it to our first destination in the first place, I haven’t really addressed this huge change in my life, but it has made me appreciate some things I have taken for granted all my life.

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years wild camping, and I have always cherished the opportunity to surround myself with nature, away from everyday comforts. But this is not the same, not even close. The main difference is I don’t know when I will live somewhere with four walls and a ceiling again. It’s exhilarating, but it is also frightening. But whatever is to come in the future, the lessons I am learning on this journey will stay with me forever. So here goes…

Lesson 1

We really don’t need to use as much water as we are using every day of our lives!

During the recent water shortage crisis, Cape Town restricted water usage to 50 litres per person per day to try and save the water reserves from running out. We regularly live for three days on around 45 litres of tap water, plus around 10 litres of drinking water between the two of us.

Of course, this excludes having showers and washing our clothes, but more about that below…

Lesson 2

Consequently, the second lesson: we really don’t need to take long showers every single day. It is a nice-to-have, but not a must-have. Even when climbing every day in the Greek heat, we haven’t had the opportunity to shower every day. (And sometimes, even when the opportunity was there, we were just too lazy).

Of course, we were lucky that we were almost always right by the sea and could jump in to have a wash and a cool off. And now, we have finally acquired a camp shower, which is a nice change from a bucket and flannel! But we still only use 7 litres of water between the two of us, even though the shower can take up to 20 (luxurious!).

Lesson 3

Of course I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I miss being able to have a proper hot shower whenever I liked. But when we manage to have one, it feels like the biggest luxury every single time. In Leonidio, we were lucky to have a great shower block, with hot water most evenings, right by the beach where we often parked for the night. Yes, they were public showers, so sometimes they would get filthy. But it was still heaven!

Who knows how easy it will be to find places to shower in future destinations. One thing I know is I will never take it for granted again.

Lesson 4

Not having a toilet in the campervan can be extremely daunting! Especially when we are parked in densely populated areas, within towns or cities, or simply surrounded by lots of other campers. Some places we have parked are really flat and it’s hard to find somewhere to hide behind. It can get pretty stressful at times and I much prefer camping in remote places (or near a toilet).

Lesson 5

It is perfectly possible to survive without an oven. I really did think I’d struggle, but it hasn’t been that bad. At home, I used to cook 90% of my meals in the oven, such as baked vegetables, fish or chicken, fish pie, etc.

Of course, now we’re eating a lot more bread and pasta than I have in a long time – it’s easy, cheap and fast. But we have also cooked soups, curries, homemade humus, stir fries and potato cakes, and even made cheese toasties on the cast iron pan!

Lesson 6

When transitioning to a life supported by a 12 volt electrical system, you suddenly become much more aware of how much electricity you are using and what appliances you can and cannot run. For example, hairdryers are out of the question. Our inverter is rated to 1000 Watts, and most hairdryers are a good 1500W.

Similarly, we have to be aware of how low the voltage on our leisure batteries drops, having already burned through one relay that was rated too low. We are now waiting for some solar panels to be delivered so we can worry about this a little bit less (at the moment all our electricity comes from the vehicle’s alternator).

Lesson 7

Laundry is often quite expensive, inconvenient and very time consuming. In Leonidio, we did our laundry at the only campsite which charged us €5 per wash, though we were allowed to hang up the washing there to dry.

We are now in Croatia, and we have found a campsite that allowed us to wash our clothes for a similar price, with our own washing powder, plus the same price for drying. We figured we would do most of it by hand from now on, and only use the washing machine for bulky items a couple of times a month.

Lesson 8

Implementing a no shoes in the van rule is crucial to keep the place from becoming a total pigsty. But even still, I find I have to sweep the floor a couple of times a day to keep it remotely respectable. Not that I do it that often, of course. I don’t know how, but the dust and grime makes its way into the van, shoes or no shoes. Equally, brushing our hair in the van is also not allowed!

Lesson 9

Campervans get really, really hot when it’s hot outside and especially when cooking inside on the gas stove. And if you’ve insulated it well (like we have), the heat will struggle to escape throughout the night, even if the outdoors gets much cooler. The choice is this: suffer the heat or let the mosquitoes in. With the summer only just beginning, it seems we need to invest in a proper mosquito netting and hang it over our bed, or get loads of mosquito coils and put them EVERYWHERE.

Lesson 10

And finally, if you’re clever about storage, there is quite a bit of space in a campervan. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get infuriating trying to find that one pair of shoes that’s hidden somewhere at the bottom of the storage container and failing!

As with all travelling, with campervan life less is more. Take the essentials and leave behind the rest, because it will just get in the way. I am definitely guilty of taking too much stuff with me, both when we went backpacking and this time around.

*Featured image attributed to @clayclaydon

I would love to hear from anyone else who has experienced this journey! What have you found hard and what solutions did you come up with?

One Reply to “The ten lessons I have learnt from living in a campervan”

  1. I have never lived or traveled by a campervan but it seems like a unique kind of experience. These are some very valuable lessons which I will definitely bear in mind. I love your tips that less is more!

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