The Campervan Diaries - Climbing Van Edition

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How exciting! This is the first chapter of the new mini-series we want to share with you, where we will be interviewing different vanlifers across our community, offering you an insider view of what it is like travelling in a converted van in the UK and Europe. Our friends at Climbing Van have dedicated their time to share with us some insider knowledge about their experience so far. Keep tuned!

Meet the proud owners of the Climbing Van

Hi! We are Charlie, 26, and Dale, 30, from the UK. In April we both quit our full-time jobs and moved into our van Ringo, and ever since then, we have been travelling around the UK and Europe. Over lockdown, we wrote a book called The Van Conversion Bible, so we sell this to make money on the road. Since we moved into our van we’ve also started an electrical system design service called Nomadic Energy, so we typically work around 3 days per week and explore and climb for the rest of the time!

Sounds dreamy so far, what led you to the place you are in now? To this lifestyle?

We are both climbers, and van life has always been synonymous with climbing. Living in a van allows you to follow the sunshine, so if it’s raining or cold somewhere, you can just keep driving until you find the sun again! 

We also love the simplicity of living in a van, reducing everything we own to fit in a tiny 7 square metre space and having everything we ever need with us wherever we travel to.

We converted Ringo (our van) back in 2019 and finished it a week before the first UK lockdown which was pretty rubbish timing! But this led us to write our book and start our own business, so in a way, we’re kind of thankful for it, because we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for everything that happened! Life will always have a few “speedbumps” for us. 

Did you guys have any previous Vanlife experience before Ringo?

We didn’t have van life experience, just a lot of camping experience and some car camping! When we first got together, we both lived in different cities so we used to drive every weekend to see each other, usually somewhere far away where we would spend the weekend cooped up in a damp tent or shivering in the back of our cars! So van life is a definite upgrade for both of us.

You would hope so! How long did it take you guys to convert your van?  

We were both working full-time when we converted Ringo, so it took us just over a year, but that included some breaks when we just used the van half-finished because we were fed up of working on it every weekend! It works out as the equivalent of every weekend for 3 months, or about 1,000 hours between us!

What is the most important feature a self converted campervan should have? 

The most important features a van should have will vary from person to person, because a van is so personal to you and your lifestyle. For us, a fixed bed was important so we could fit all of our climbing gear underneath, and also a big space inside so we could get work done even if the weather wasn’t so good. But for others, it might be an indoor shower, or a big seating area for entertaining guests. The great thing about converting your own van is that you can build whatever you want, so each van is completely unique to its owner.

Is there anything you don’t have in Ringo that you wish you had? 

A dishwasher! Haha. Unfortunately, that isn’t really an option in a van as they use so much water and electricity, but that’s definitely our creature comfort that we miss most from living in a bricks-and-mortar house.

What’s it like being a Vanlifer in the UK? 

Van life in the UK is can be difficult compared to van life on the continent! There are so many restrictions and it can be tricky to find a place to spend the night as there are so many ‘no overnight parking’ signs popping up in the past couple of years. We spent a few months in the UK this summer and Scotland was by far the best spot for van life! The rules in Scotland are a lot more relaxed, so you can camp wherever you like and there are a lot more facilities available such as water fill points and recycling. The only downside is all of the rain!

Are there any particular van life places in the UK that really blew you away? 

As we mentioned previously, Scotland is definitely the best place by far for van life in the UK, just because it’s so much easier to find beautiful camp spots, and it really is stunning. There are beaches there that look like they’re in Barbados and not the UK! The Outer Hebrides in particular have some other-worldly landscapes.

Have you ever felt unsafe while sleeping in your van? 

We’ve never felt unsafe - if we ever pull up to a spot that either of us feels uneasy about, we leave and drive somewhere else until we find somewhere that we’re both happy with. It’s really important to make sure that you feel comfortable before you stop and stay the night so that you’re not worrying. Equally, you should also make sure you’re considerate about where you’re staying and you’re not making other people uncomfortable with you being there.

Do you have any tips for first-time van life in the UK?

Give yourself enough time to find a good park-up. You might drive somewhere you’ve seen on Google Maps and find out there’s a ‘no overnight parking’ sign, so leave yourself plenty of time to find a spot so it doesn’t get stressful.

Travel with a water filter. This will allow you to fill up from places that have water advertised as ‘not drinking water’. This is pretty important in the UK as it can be really hard to find places to refill other than campsites, but a lot of petrol stations have ‘no drinking water’ taps, so if you have a water filter this makes things a lot easier!

If you’re nervous about wild camping, find a beautiful campsite and spend some time getting used to van life without the stress of finding somewhere to stay. There are so many beautiful campsites in the UK, so for a lot of people, especially not full-time van lifers, this is a great option.

And of course, leave no trace. It’s so important to live by these principles wherever you are travelling. Make sure that when you leave an area, there’s no sign that you were ever there, and if you can, try to leave it better than you found it.

Is there a large Vanlife community in the UK?

There is a massive van life community in the UK! In the past couple of years, it’s really exploded and become much more popular. In the climbing and surfing communities, it’s always been really popular - pretty much every climber we know has a van! But more recently it’s become much more mainstream, and the standard of vans has gone up a level. 

What was it like taking Ringo to Vanlife in Europe? What places are on your to-visit list?

So good! France and Spain in particular are so easy for van life - so many places to fill up water, do your recycling, and so many beautiful park ups, it’s always so easy to find an amazing spot for the night. Plus there is so much more sunshine than in the UK, winter in Spain is such a treat!

We are looking forward to spending some time in Croatia and the Balkans next year, and we also can’t wait to go and explore Sardinia which looks like a climbers paradise!

3 things you can’t live without in your Van? 

1 - our outdoor shower (nothing beats a shower under the stars!)

2 - our high spec electrical system (allows us to work remotely on the road) and

3 - our camping chairs (so we can work outside in the sunshine!).

Why is van life a great way to travel for you? 

Van life allows us to live a slower pace of life, climbing and working and following the sunshine. We have everything we need in our little 7 square metre home, so if we’re not enjoying spending time somewhere or it starts raining, we can drive for a few hours and find somewhere completely new to explore. Our overheads are so much lower living in a van than a house, so it allows us to spend more time exploring and enjoying ourselves and we don’t need to work as much as we would otherwise. It’s also given us the opportunity to start our own business and work whichever hours suit us best.

You can follow Charlie and Dale’s adventures on their website or on Instagram:

We hope you enjoyed this exclusive insight to some real Vanlifers, and would love to hear your feedback if you have some! Send us a message on social. Stay tuned for new chapters to come!

Joseph T

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