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April 23, 2021 5 min read
Ditching normal life for nomad life has become increasingly popular in the last few years and since travel bans are starting to be lifted around the UK we wanted to know more about life on the road. We’ve been chatting to Charlie and Dale from climbingvan, two Bristol based climbers who have just written ‘The Van Conversion Bible’, to talk about their experience converting and living in their Mercedes Sprinter van, Ringo.
Why did you get into van life - was it always a life dream?
Even before we met, we both always dreamed of living in a campervan. We're both climbers and van life is really common in the climbing community, as a campervan means you can follow the weather and have a little base to go back to when you're tired after a day of climbing. It always made sense to us - we love spending time outdoors, and we don't have loads of material possessions, so it was never a worry trying to downsize into a little 7 square metre van!
After all of your research how did you decide you were finally ready - was it a case of just do it or did you have a goal in mind to reach before starting?
We are both big planners by nature - we spent almost a year planning and designing our van before we bought Ringo! We were in the process of renovating a house when we were planning our conversion, so we wanted to try and make sure we finished the house before starting on the next project!
Were you always planning to live in your van full time or did it start out as more of a weekend adventure for your climbing?
We always knew that we wanted to live in our van. We'd originally planned to take a year off and do a year long trip around Europe, but over the past 12 months that idea has slowly morphed, and now we know that we want to do this longer term. Van life allows you to rewrite the way you live and go against the grain. Even though we've only been living in our van for about a month now, we can't imagine having to go back to working 9 to 5 office jobs! For us, the flexibility that van life offers and how it encompasses 'living simply' is something that's really important to both of us, and something that we can't imagine giving up after only a year!
What have been the biggest challenges in building and living in Ringo?
Converting a van is a big undertaking, especially a big LWB Sprinter like Ringo! One of the challenges was keeping up the psyche to work on the van every single weekend, especially in the summer once it's sunny and your friends are off having fun. We ended up taking a 4 month hiatus in the end when we were halfway through our build, as we just felt like we needed a break from it! We still used the van a lot when it was partway converted which was quite fun - we actually went to my cousin's wedding in Cornwall just after we'd finished insulating which was like sleeping in a tinfoil spaceship!
What helped you adjust from living in a house and were there any home comforts you just had to have in the van?
For us having a comfy bed was a must! We have a full size double bed with a super comfy mattress, and seeing as how you spend a large chunk of your life asleep, that seemed pretty important! We have an outdoor shower which is powered by our gas tank and a little composting loo under one of our bench seats, but we didn't feel the need to include a full bathroom cubicle as it would take up so much room in what's already a tiny space! Apart from that, our belfast sink is probably our most ridiculous luxury! We totally don't regret it though - it's big enough to do the washing up, wash all of our clothes, and wash our hair too if it's a bit too cold and wet for the outdoor shower!
I’ve seen a lot of people who are building vans who are designers, creatives and engineers or joiners. Do you think you need to have these skills to convert a van?
I don't think you need to have those skills, but it certainly helps! When converting a van you learn such a diverse range of skills - from planning and designing skills to help with creating your layout and functionality, to manual skills in carpentry, plumbing, electrical and upholstering when doing the physical conversion. Having some of these skills already will obviously help and speed things up a bit, but it's super unlikely that someone will have all of them, and lots of people don't have any of them! I don't think it's a blocker, as you can learn everything you need to know along the way.
Were there any unexpected positives to living in Ringo?
The slower pace of life! We are both the kind of people who are always running at 110%, spinning lots of plates and never having quite enough time. Van life has given us the opportunity to slow down and address our work-life balance.
Did you find it difficult at first to know where to park overnight? Are there any tips you could give on finding locations?
It can be tricky to know where to park, especially in the UK. Over in Europe, it's much easier to find secluded spots away from inhabited areas, but in the UK, there aren't so many spots like that about! We usually check an app called @park4night which has lots of spots on a map with reviews from other users, and we also just scour Google Maps satellite view for quiet looking park ups! It's always important to not park anywhere with 'no overnight parking' signs, so you need to be prepared to drive somewhere else if your first spot doesn't work out.
Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of starting van life?
Our top tip for anyone thinking of starting van life is - just go for it! So many people say "I'd love to do that someday". We read a quote that really captured this for us recently, "'Someday' is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you." The best thing you can do is decide to go for it.
Another tip would be to practise responsible van life. The rise in popularity of campervans has unfortunately seen a few irresponsible people giving van life a bad reputation. But the overwhelming majority of van dwellers are a force for good, and so it's important to have a positive impact wherever you go. Park responsibly, leave any areas you stay better than you found them, and give back to the van life community in whatever way you can.
To find out more about Charlie and Dale and ‘The Van Conversion Bible’ visit their website and follow their adventures on instagram @climbingvan . Or you can pop by our Edinburgh store to get your hands on it.
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