FAQs

Things I have been asked about living in my van, arranged in order of frequency:

1. How do you go to the toilet?

This is actually the most frequent question I get asked! The answer is quite simple really – I park near a cafe, restaurant, the gym, supermarket etc and use their bathroom. I keep a bottle on board that can be used if required, then emptied into a drain or toilet (best not to use a clear bottle), and I have have small folding camping toilet that can be used in emergency situations.

2. How do you shower and keep clean?

Most days I go to the pool in the morning and have a swim, sauna, and then a shower there. I have a gym membership and they have nice facilities there. Its actually a great start to the day, and it gets me up and active. Its possible to have a sink & flanel wash in the van which is really refreshing, and my van has an extendable shower head that can be used outside at the back, in warm weather. You can purchase a hanging shower cubicle as well that attaches to the back door.

3. How economic on fuel is your van? What is the mpg of the van?

This model of van is pretty economic for a motorhome type of vehicle. Its listed at around 28-32 mpg. I have recently achieved 29.5 mpg on a long trip, so I'm happy mines within the vans specs, and thats with the camper conversion and all my belongings on board including a sea kayak and a bike.

4. Don’t you get lonely or bored in there?

Well, no more than you do if you spend time alone in your house. In fact, since I don’t have the choice to simply stay indoors all the time, I am less likely to feel this way. Also, I have all the entertainment I need in the van, running from my solar system: stereo, laptop, internet. I even have a guitar in the van. If I visit friends they often like to come out and sit in the van to chat, or go for a drive somewhere by the sea. Also, with the internet and modern communication being what it is, social life is only a click away if I’m on the road.

5. Where do you usually park at night?

There are a number of choices of where to park, each with advantages and disadvantages. Usually I park in a built up area, but in a quiet street among other parked cars, somewhere a camper van parked does not look out of place. I tend to keep the lights off in the main cabin after dark and not play music or TV loudly. I sleep in the hi-top where I can have lights etc with passersby being unaware. I also have friends that welcome me to park at their places, but I tend to keep this to a minimum, as people often still feel a sense of obligation to offer me things, and I don’t want to impose. I also have arranged some camping spots in rural areas where I have a place in a field for the night in exchange for a little gardening or similar. People often enjoy the experience of having a self-contained visitor and are interested in talking about this lifestyle.

6. Are you ever disturbed by anyone or asked to move?

In all the time I have been doing this, it has never happened, so confidence grows as time goes by. I have been disturbed by noise at night on a few occasions, before I knew how to be more selective about my parking places. The only people ever to have come and knocked on my window (in daytime) turned out to be camper van enthusiasts wanting to chat and ask questions! Warning: Places that are beautiful and peaceful nature spots by day are the last place you want to be spending the night – certainly near cities anyway.

7. What about the police, have you ever had a knock on the window from them?

I have never had any encounters with the police, probably because of my parking choices, and keeping things as discrete as possible. The police are too busy dealing with illegal activities to take any interest in a seemingly empty parked camper in a residential area. For example avoid parking in a big empty car park, or industrial estate at night (in a camper van or motor home.)

8. Isn’t it illegal to sleep in your van unless you are in a camp site?

Certainly in this part of the world the only laws concerning this are related specifically to the ‘travelling community’ – they would tend to move about in groups of vehicles and make their presence felt. County councils may have ‘draft’ legislation about overnight stays in cars/vans etc, but it isn’t well developed or enforced. Since my vehicle has the appearance of a tourist camper, and there is growing tourism here, I am likely to be left alone by the law. Some areas actually encourage motorhomes to use their car parks to encourage people to stop and spend money in their town, especially when there is no nearby caravan park. Stay below the radar, and its highly unlikely there will be any trouble.

9. What do you eat? How do you stay healthy living in your van?

Having a two ring gas hob, means I can pretty much cook anything I could in a conventional kitchen. Healthy food is easy to prepare, and I have all the utensils that one needs in a kitchen. I have discovered I can use my non-stick frying pan with a lid as an oven, so anything is possible. Just put it on low gas (no oil) and cover – it takes about the same time as in the oven at 180 °C. Having a fridge is great in warm weather, but its not essential to stock up, as living in a van its very easy to stop at a supermarket. I do keep some tinned foods in the van to save me shopping sometimes.


10. Where do you do your laundry? Isn’t that a hassle?

At present I am lucky to have access to a washing machine through my job and I can do some laundry about once a week. If this wasn’t the case I would incorporate visits to the laundrette into my weekly routine. Friends sometimes offer the use of theirs, but I don’t want to impose – unless I am on a journey maybe. When travelling its often a good idea to book into a camp site once in a while and use all the facilities there, setting up a homestead for a few days.

11. Isn’t it expensive paying for all that diesel fuel when you live in a van?

Actually, unless you are actually travelling a lot, less fuel is needed than when you have a car and commute to work. I tend to park quite near where I am working, so little fuel is needed, and I have a bike on the back of the van too. I can locate myself in one spot for a number of days if the weather is good, and use the bike for transport. The van electrics stay charged up from my solar panel, since good weather = bike = sun too! I cook and run the fridge on propane gas. At the present time I have been using the same cylinder of gas regularly for seven months. They cost about £20 to refill when its needed and there are dealers everywhere. I also keep a folding camping gas stove and some gas in the van in case I run out and need to cook. I am also planning to get a small wood burning stove and a skillet, so that in the event of no gas being available, it will be possible to cook outside using whatever fuel is at hand.

12. There isn’t that much space in there. Where do you keep all your things?

Simplicity is what living in a van is all about, and is one of the main reasons I chose this lifestyle. I have reduced my belongings to a minimum, but I do feel that I live very comfortably, with all that I need right here. Having said that I have plenty of clothes, and all the necessities of life in plenty in the van. I keep a small basket of books, and all my music is on the laptop and iPod. There are plenty of things in the van that I might need but rarely use – room for things that ‘might come in handy’ – but I try to keep these to a minimum. I also still have some things in storage in a friends garage. To date I have got rid of all my furniture and don’t have many belongings left in storage. I plan to condense these down to what will fit into one chest of drawers that I can easily store in a small space somewhere.

Update (May '13) - I've now got rid of everything except for a couple of boxes of sentimental items.

13. Don’t camper vans break down all the time?

I’ve been asked this question quite a few times. I think the reason must be be because like all well loved vehicles, people tend to keep them on the road for years, and especially the old VW buses. Well vehicles from the 70′s are going to have worn out parts, and have breakdowns, so the myth developed. What is a camper van really? Well, its a modified commercial van or minibus, the same in essence, so they are no less reliable than any other van that keeps the economy going transporting goods everywhere. My van is almost twenty years old at the time of writing, and I have never had a breakdown. I have had to replace/repair some components due to wear and tear (rubber hoses etc) but thats to be expected. The body work is in excellent condition on my van because its a Japanese import, and in Japan they use chemicals, and not salt on the winter roads, so vehicles do no succumb so easily to rust.

Update - I have had some mechanical problems with the automatic gearbox in the last year. One problem I fixed myself, and the other I had to take it to a specialist. I'd recommend thinking carefully before buying an automatic with a reasonably high milage, even if the bodywork is in immaculate condition - mechanical parts do wear out, and a regular gearbox is more dependable.

14. Where does all your post get delivered to?

This isn't such a tricky one really. Since I've been living in my van, a friends have let me use their home address as my official address i.e. the one my bank account is registered to. Anything else can be sent wherever I choose, fort example I've had eBay purchases sent to my workplace when that was convenient. If travelling, its possible to have things sent ahead to a campground or post office in another town for example. It is important to have a main address for the bank account though in actuality most transactions are done online these days anyway.

15. How do you get internet?

Living in a van its actually very easy to get free wifi access. There are many free hotspots around most towns and cities. McDonalds all have it, and you can park within range of it easily. Here in the UK Tesco also has wifi in the car parks of their bigger stores. Some of my friends have also given me their wifi passwords as week so when I'm nearby I can log on.

The second way I get online is through having a 3G connection form my iPhone. I have a contract that allows me to tether my laptop to my iPhone and go online that way. Its as good a connection as wifi internet, and I can go online form anywhere the signal reaches. I pay about £25 per month on the '3' network.

16. How many people can sleep in there?

In this Hiace camper I'd say it'd comfortably sleep three - a couple on the lower double bed, and one person in the bunk. You could sleep two kids in the top bed though.



17. Is it not freezing in there on cold nights?

No, its actually usually warmer in here than in most peoples living rooms in the winter! I have tried a few methods of heating the van, but I've settled on a small 1kw propane heater. It keeps a small space like this very cosy, though its important to allow some ventilation and have a carbon monoxide alarm just in case. (mine has never gone off though) Over the winter I learned that sleeping in the top bunk kept me warm all night without having to have any heating on in the van. I got a good all seasons sleeping bag as well - mines a Mountain Hardware Lamina 0. Its roomy and very warm, and doesn't shed feathers in the van. I can also recommend buying a lightweight down jacket for living in a van in the winter if you want to save even more on propane.

18. What if someone breaks in?

I've never had this problem, though I do always chose my parking places carefully, especially when leaving the van unattended. I did have one incident where someone damaged the side door panel when I wasn't in the van. I think I'd chosen a bad place to park it.

19. You do Zen. How do you have space to meditate in there?

Here's a link to the blog post I wrote on this: Hiace Hobo - Living in a Toyota Camper Van: Van Zendo - Zen ... I hope that helps.

20.  I want one of those.. Where did you get it, and how much did it cost?

If you take a look here you can check out the latest Hiace campers listed on the Vans for Sale page.

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