After close to two months of living out of a backpack, Leah and I decided to bring our plans forward and buy our first home. No, we haven’t given in the travel life, it’s not a real house on a piece of land, but one with 4 wheels and a motor. Yep, were now living the van life. We’ve gone from everything we own in a suitcase on our backs, to now rolling round on 4 wheels. It feels like a bit of an upgrade. All our belongings can now be moved around with us and somehow we’ve accumulated a whole lot more shit. We left Outlook festival in Croatia tired and hungover and headed back to London to start the hunt. Even though every van buying experience will be different, ill give you the low down on how we got ours.
First of all we needed a van, without a van you can’t live the van life dream. We had a vision of what we wanted and this is key. Without a vision it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack. Something tall enough to save our necks, long enough to have a decent bed set up and possibly a cooker. A sink and fridge, we weren’t too bothered about. After looking on Pinterest and Instagram we had our vision. We headed down the “stealth camper” track. It’s basically what it sounds like. A camper which looks like your everyday tradie van but inside is a whole different story. As cool as it would have been to copy what my mum did 30 years ago, we shy away from the classic VW camper.
We got onto Gumtree UK, eBay and Autotrader. These three sites were the most recommended for buying what we wanted. We also tried Facebook to see if anyone by chance was selling a van when we needed one. Soon enough I was spending every hour I had spare, looking at vans on Gumtree. It got to the point where Leah started saying I had two girlfriends.. And the other one was called gumtree… Interesting name for a girlfriend but I’ll take it. Gumtree seemed to be the most user-friendly of the three sites. Numerous amounts of vans popped up which we thought suited us but actually getting them to be in London around the same time as us was almost impossible. We settled for 3 different vans to look at, in all different conditions and price ranges.
Our last option was a ford transit long wheel base and high roof. It had been semi converted into a camper by some bloke. Awesome we thought, lets go check it out.. Only one problem. It’s in Wales. Sick as a dog from Outlook, I decided this could be our only option so away we went, 3 hours on a train to the middle of nowhere. First time I’ve been to Wales, where my old man is from and it’s for no more than 3 hours to buy a van… Don’t worry we’ll be back. Meeting the owner in a small town, I had arranged for a mechanic to check it over. He spotted a few minor problems which worked in our favour as we could barter the guy down. Realistically we dont need to fix anything, but it’s a good way to put the pressure on and get a bargain and better yet, the friendly Welsh mechanic only charged us £10 for a box of beers. Bingo. We had our new home and a vision for how we could mod her up to suit us. Meet Cassy, the new home of free & addicted.
Next we had to sort insurance before we could even drive her off. Being in the UK and Europe, insurance is compulsory so no matter what, it has to be done. We weren’t prepared to try to convince some Spanish-speaking police man to let us off with a warning. We lined up Downunder Insurance which specialise in exactly what we were doing. Kiwis Campervaning Europe. They were also the cheapest quote by £80. You could also try HIC Insurance for another option. Both companies made it easy to do over the phone and you can just use a contact in the UK (if you have one) as an address. Another must is vehicle tax, which is similar to what NZers call a rego, so we dropped some cash to make it all legit. Once that admin was out of the way, we filled her up with diesel and hooned back to London that same day.
So we were sorted with the base of a van chur! After giving it a good look over in London there was heaps to be done. Probably a lot more than we planned but hey, with no jobs we were excited to actually do some hard work.
Some things we did before hitting the road:
- Painted the cupboards and changed the door knobs
- Installed a safe hidden somewhere you won’t find
- Replaced the rear door seals – it leaked everywhere the first time it rained so although it was expensive, this had to be done
- Organised all our clothes into baskets
- Fixed a few rust holes in the roof with silicone
- Removed the rear bulk head so we can open the rear doors and see out
- Installed storage for cooker, table chairs spare tyre etc.
- Installed battery-powered lights
- Put in homeware pieces to make it feel like a home – Leah is about to write a blog on this so stay tuned
- Changed the bed layout to suit us. Added a mattress topper so it’s a full-time bed
- We still have a few things to do like changing the curtains and adding some artwork to the walls. Eventually we want to timber-line the walls and roof to brighten the room up, this will cost a fair bit so all in good time.
Things we purchased for the van:
- 12v and 230v cooler box which plugs into the mains or cigarette lighter
- Everything for the bed – pillows, duvet, sheet, duvet cover, cushions etc
- Cutlery, utensils and all cleaning stuff
- Decorative things, candles etc.
- Bluetooth speaker for driving and chilling
- Camping chairs, table, awning
- Cooker and lpg bottle + a kettle
- Miscellanies stuff like a mirror, laundry bag, door matt, spice rack, hooks etc
- Buckets for dishes
- A rope for a washing line
- Socket set and tools in case of repairs
As you can see, we spent a fair bit of money and time setting the van up. We really wanted to make it feel like a home as we’ll be spending a lot of time travelling around in it. Luckily the UK is pretty cheap for these things, Leah lost her mind in IKEA and I went crazy at B&Q (hardware shop). However, being in London to do all this was hard, with car park availability, expenses and regulations. Painting the cupboard doors on the side of the road attracted some funny looks. So, we decided it was time to pack up and leave as soon as possible. We booked the car train from Folkestone, UK to Calais, France and at long last drove away from London.
That night before our train, we stopped off at Folkestone to spend the night. Somehow we found a car park near the port and parked up there for the night. We made friends with an army vet who could have yarned our ears off all day long about his battles in Timor, but we had work to do. We spent close to 5 hours working on the van, pulling shit out, putting things in swinging the hammer and cooking in the rare September sunshine. A well deserved beer or three went down a treat. Up at 4:30am to catch the train and we set off for France.
After more than a week in the UK, buying and modding our new home, we were finally doing the van life thing. Now that it’s set up the way we want, it’s time to kick back and enjoy living life on the road. First stop, Soorts Hoosegor, a 13 hour drive to buy a surf board and shaka it up. Let’s hope the old girl Cassy makes it. Keep an eye out for more posts to come as we make our way around France, Spain, Portugal and the UK, chasing the sun, surf and the end of the European summer. Let the good times roll.
Bryn | free & addicted
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