THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF VAN LIFE (and Kiki’s new clothes!)

‘Van life.’

It took a while for me to get used to that phrase, and indeed used to the concept but it’s very quickly grown on me and now Kiki is part of the family.

Initially, van life as an idea was something I was keen to be part of , but in reality, I didn’t think it was for me. Packing light, no electricity, no running water and no toilet facilities; all things I could do and enjoy for short periods of time, but all things I knew I wasn’t very good at for any length of time!

The first few trips away in Kiki were for one night, and these were generally one night of very little sleep and anxiety. The idea was to go away to a remote location, do something (walk, run, climb etc), cook food and then completely relax. Now, I know I am not the best at relaxing anyway; it takes a lot for me to completely switch off, but I certainly wasn’t very good at it an in environment I was unsure of and had no real knowledge of the ‘etiquette’.

Fast forward a year or so, and progress has been made. I can now pack well, use a camping stove with ease and actually cook pretty decent, nutritious meals in one pot. I can also feel clean enough using only a packet of baby wipes and occasionally a kitchen basin and a bar of soap. Oh, I can now poo outside too and feel comfortable doing so. Yes. I said it! I’ve also learned how to relax and can safely say, I switch off and forget about real life for a period of time. Life without a phone is something everyone should do at least once a week, and in fact, after our most recent trip, we have now introduced periods of ‘phone ban’ whilst at home. Let’s face it, how many of us get caught up in social media without even realising we’ve just wasted an hour of our lives. We all do it, but who cares what someone you haven’t spoken to in real life for over a month had for their dinner, or how your best friends Mum took her first selfie? Van life encourages you to forget all of that.

There’s still something bothering me, amidst all the relaxation and learning and that is where we set up camp. Now, until recently, my main concern was that Kiki didn’t have any curtains. I never liked the idea of parking in a car park with other vans or being on a campsite with other vans and tents. People could see in, and we could see out. The fishbowl effect and lack of privacy made me feel uneasy. I always liked the idea of parking somewhere so remote where nobody else would even think of going, and that is what we did. This came with it’s own exposure though and as I lay in the van, looking out into the woods or down towards the sea or whatever beautiful location we’d eventually found after driving around for hours consulting with the OS Map app, darkness falls and of course, I let my mind wander, completely relaxed and find myself thinking about what might be lingering in the darkness. I think I watch too many crime dramas and these locations just look like somewhere a body would be hidden or someone would be attacked. Poor Mat just couldn’t win with the choice of location so thinking this was something that I thought I could change easily which would make the vulnerability of being exposed disappear, Kiki got herself some new tartan curtains.

The most recent trip away for New Year came with the surprise of being on a campsite. One with running water and showers (albeit cold) but in the lead up to our planned 3 day hike with only sleeping bags and bivvys, it was welcomed. We were also in the company of the Stathams; who with their palace of a van (VW Transporter) and baby Oliver, we brought in the New Year. Kiki’s new clothes (the curtains), did their job extremely well and it was the first time in van history, I could safely say I was 100% relaxed. Not only did they do their job in taking away the fish bowl effect, but they gave Kiki some insulation and created a cosy and ambient atmosphere. Complete with battery operated fairy lights and a bottle of red, it was bliss!

On returning from our wet and windy expedition in the Welsh mountains, Kiki again, was my saviour. My love for van life was growing and as the thought of going home and back to work loomed, I didn’t really want this holiday to end. Until the journey home!

We had decided to break the journey up and travel back to Scotland over the next couple of days. Wales to Peak District then Peak District to North Yorkshire/Lake District then home seemed a lot less stressful than the M6 for 7 hours in one go. We decided to avoid campsites for the first night and so scanned the OS map app for some options. Feeling chilled about this, knowing that we have the protection of our tartan curtains, I, for, the first time, got involved in the decision making. A quiet carpark set back from the road with what we thought would be lovely views was option 1. It was a building site. Moving on to option 2… another small car park next to a reservoir with a close by sailing club. Again, nice views and the sound of water always wins points. On arrival, about twenty cars, public toilets and clearly a meeting point for lots of people. We agreed a running club, to make me feel better, but I am still convinced they were meeting for other reasons.

So onto our final option, a secluded car park next to another reservoir and the start point for a woodland trail. By this point it was dark and we were hungry, so seeing the empty car park, surrounded by trees and a small waterfall, I decided it would be the perfect place to park. Mat did say again, just in the passing, that he sometimes thinks busier carparks are better because nobody would bother you. He also mentioned that it would be a weird place for people to come at night, but I, thinking I had found us a perfect spot, started making myself comfortable. Another spot with zero signal and slowly dying batteries so we cooked food, wrote in our van diary (more on this in a bit) and listened to a podcast, with the curtains closed of course. Again, complete bliss!

Just as we were getting ready to go to bed, I see the light of another car shine through the curtains. Thinking that someone was just turning, or was lost, I tried not to think about any other reason for them to be there. However, the car parked over the opposite side of the carpark, turned the lights off and just sat there for about 15 minutes. The inside light remained on. Yeah, you guessed it, my relaxed state soon turned to my wandering mind and an irrational list of reasons why they were there. We couldn’t see inside the car, and so I had no idea how many people there were, what they were doing or even if they were still in the car. We decided to go with kids having a smoke and as they left, I tried to absorb myself back into the podcast. Mat, trying to help me relax again, explained that kids would be more scared of us in a van than we should be of them. Then, half an hour later, another car appeared, parked up in the same spot, turned all of the lights off, inside too, and stayed there for an hour! In that hour, I honestly think I wrote a best selling crime novel in my head, helped by Mat, who by this point, had his axe in hand, my knife next to me and was neighbourhood watching so bad that Kiki’s new curtains were twitching. That night, I think I may have managed to sleep for about 3 hours and in the morning, suddenly I felt less relaxed than I did at home. Not only had I been re writing my crime novel, but my brain was full of work, lists of things I had to do and the chilled feeling I had wanted at the end of our holiday was some how sucked away, leaving me feeling anxious and tired. I think it’s safe to say that Mat may have had a point about quiet spots and I think I will leave the decision making up to him for a while at least. Now that Kiki has curtains, what difference does it make, right?

After that night, and to be honest, the weather played a part in our decision, we went for breakfast in a hotel and then started the drive home. We had planned to stop and do the Yorkshire 3 Peaks but we decided that in order to give it our best shot (we’ve got goals for this challenge!), we should go home and come back another day. The thought of our own bed, a shower and a few days of chilled, slow pace working, rather than one day of manic, stressful and rushed work was more appealing and probably the best way to start our busy 2018 schedule.

The growing love for van life continues and I am already excited about our next adventure. Kiki now has a van diary and our aim is to fill some pages at least once a month with details and stories from our adventures. Spending more time in the van, and making time for at least one trip a month will really help keep our batteries charged and stress levels low in 2018. Who knows, maybe I’ll share some of Kiki’s diaries on here!?

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