Considering living in a campervan or motorhome? Not just a road trip, but actually calling it your permanent home for at least a few months. Although it’s still pretty niche an increasing number of people are giving it a go.
If you are seriously thinking about full time vanlife, and you’re wondering if it’s the right decision for you, then read on. The quick guide below looks at some pros and cons of living in a campervan full-time and highlights a few other considerations you’ll need to think about before you take the plunge.
Living a mobile life
Vanlife means you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. Turn up, enjoy the views or whatever the location has to offer, then move on to the next place when you’re ready. You could stay for a day, a week, a month or a year. It’s entirely up to you, as long as you have somewhere suitable to park up.
You can go practically anywhere in the UK and abroad, knowing that you have a bed to sleep in at night wherever you are.
You can stay in incredible places, with all the freedom that full-time vanlife allows. You could find yourself taking your morning coffee overlooking Edinburgh Castle, lunch in the lake district and a fish and chip supper on the North Yorkshire coast. OK, it’s a bit of a punishing schedule for one day, but you could if you wanted.
Some vanlifers move around with the season, like classic nomads, making the best of certain locations at certain times of year. This flexibility is probably the main reason people choose to live in a van.
What does the law say about living in a campervan full-time?
At the most basic level, the only requirement is that your vehicle is road legal. It must have a current MOT certificate and be insured for road use. There are no UK laws that we know of to stop you from living in your campervan all year round.
That said, there will be some restrictions on where you can park your van, and for how long you’ll be welcome. Unfortunately, you can’t just park up anywhere you want so you’ll need to look into this for the places you want to visit.
Restrictions on where you can park
Local authorities around the UK and Europe have differing restrictions on spending the night in vehicles in laybys or on the roadside. There is often signage in car parks and laybys to clarify the rules, but it can be less clear on the roadside. You would be well advised to check online for the area in which you are staying.
There are also legally enforced safety rule for parking overnight at the roadside. For the UK you can find these in the Highway Code https://www.highwaycodeuk.co.uk/parking-at-night.html. Here are the main rules:
Highway Code – Parking at night (248 to 252)
You MUST NOT park on a road at night facing against the direction of the traffic flow unless in a recognised parking space. Laws CUR reg 101 & RVLR reg 24
All vehicles MUST display parking lights when parked on a road or a lay-by on a road with a speed limit greater than 30 mph (48 km/h).
Law RVLR reg 24
Cars, goods vehicles not exceeding 1525 kg unladen weight, invalid carriages, motorcycles and pedal cycles may be parked without lights on a road (or lay-by) with a speed limit of 30 mph (48 km/h) or less if they are
- at least 10 metres (32 feet) away from any junction, close to the kerb and facing in the direction of the traffic flow
- in a recognised parking place or lay-by.
Other vehicles and trailers, and all vehicles with projecting loads, MUST NOT be left on a road at night without lights.
Laws RVLR reg 24 & CUR reg 82(7)
Parking in fog. It is especially dangerous to park on the road in fog. If it is unavoidable, leave your parking lights or sidelights on.
Parking on hills. If you park on a hill you should
- park close to the kerb and apply the handbrake firmly
- select a forward gear and turn your steering wheel away from the kerb when facing uphill
- select reverse gear and turn your steering wheel towards the kerb when facing downhill
- use ‘park’ if your car has an automatic gearbox.
Overnight parking under the influence of drink or drugs
Even if you are legally parked you may have a problem if you are under the influence of drink or drugs. It’s illegal and you can be prosecuted for being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle, even if the engine is off.
It doesn’t matter if the keys are out of the ignition and you’re not in the driving seat, you could face a fine and a maximum of ten penalty points. So, get off road if you can.
Living in a small space
Let’s cut to the chase. The biggest difference between living in a campervan and living in a house or flat is the space available. Obviously, there are different types of van or motorhome, so that will make a difference, as will the number of people staying in the van.
Some people like their space and the occasional bit of ‘me-time’. If there are a few people who will be sharing your campervan, there isn’t going to be much ‘me-time’. You will probably have to share one small bathroom, and the beds are likely to be close together. Put simply, if you want time and space by yourself, full-time motorhome life probably isn’t for you.
Although typical vanlifers are portrayed as freethinking rule breakers, day to day life probably suits organised types even better. Unless it’s kept under control, untidiness can become more of a problem because of the space restrictions. And, this will be exacerbated if there are a few people sharing the vehicle. Mess and lack of storage space for possessions can quickly become a bone of contention.
The positive side of living in a smaller space is that your household chores should be correspondingly small. You can probably clean and tidy the inside of your campervan in a few minutes a day, which means you’ll have more time for fun and relaxing.
Driving your van
For experienced drivers, this isn’t going to be an issue but for the less experienced, campervans and motorhomes can be challenging to drive around. If you’re not very confident driving larger vehicles, you may wonder if vanlife is for you.
If you have the budget, there are a number of van driving courses available if you want to improve your skills. A few simple tips can really help you feel more confident. See https://festivalvanlife.com/tips-for-your-first-time-driving-a-campervan-or-motorhome/
Make sure you have the right license
Larger vehicles will require you to have a category C driving license. If you’ve passed your driving test before 1st January 1997 and you’re not yet 70, you are automatically allowed to drive vehicles as heavy as 7.5 tonnes.
However, anyone with a standard UK license can drive motorhomes and campervans under 3.5 tonnes. Because of this, most new motorhomes are manufactured with a Maximum Allowable Mass (MAM) of 3.5 tonnes.
For the UK use this site to check which vehicles you can drive https://www.gov.uk/vehicles-can-drive.
The cost of living in a campervan
You have living expenses wherever you live, whether you are in a house, flat or a van. There’s no getting away from that but living in a van will include some different costs that you may not have considered before.
Generally, it’s fair to say that day-to-day living in a van is going to be cheaper than a house. Utilities, like gas and electricity will be less and there’s no council tax to pay. Maintenance of your van is also likely to be less expensive than the upkeep of a house. It’s not easy to have access to expensive services like a phone, broadband and cable TV in a van and the alternatives can be cheaper.
Rent is another expense that will most probably go down significantly. Some of the time you will live rent free and if you do park up on a campervan site for a few days, it won’t cost you the earth. Most campsites are reasonably priced.
If you stay in one area for a long time, your petrol costs won’t change much. Obviously, if you go on some long tours then that will change so budget appropriately.
The biggest cost of living the vanlife dream is probably the cost of the van itself. They can be quite expensive, especially if you want a newer model. However, compared to the cost of a house, it doesn’t seem so expensive.
Your insurance might also be higher if you’re living in it full-time, as opposed to just using it for a holiday every now and again. Be sure to check with your insurance company and make sure you have the right cover for your circumstances.
Some of the issues faced by full time vanlifers
There’s no rule book and no right or wrong way to experience van life. Typically, vanlifers will visit lots of different places in the UK and abroad. Vanlife allows you to live life as an adventure and meet new people and experience different ways of living. This flexible lifestyle is not without some difficulties though.
If you are used to having friends and family close by, you won’t have the support on hand that you have relied on in the past and it obviously means that you’ll see less of them generally.
Not having a fixed postal address can make things complicated when it comes to receiving post, filling out forms. It is important to have a postal address because your van insurance company will require an address and they won’t be the only ones.
These days, things like online banking do help with this issue as you can do things like check your credit card bill and pay it without seeing a paper bill.
You could get your post delivered to a relative or friend. This is a popular option as it allows you a safe and trusted place to receive your post. That way, if you receive an important document you know it won’t go missing and your relative could always send you a photo of anything urgent on your phone. Don’t tell me you would attempt full time vanlife without a phone.
Alternatively, if you don’t have the option of a friend or family address you can use, you could consider renting a virtual mailbox. Some services will receive, scan and email you your mail confidentially so that you can receive your postal correspondence while on the move.
Your right to vote could be affected because you can’t register on the electoral roll. If you are going to get your post sent to someone who lives alone and, therefore, pays a reduced council tax , adding you to the electoral roll at their address would increase their council tax.
You may find it difficult not having access to local services like a doctor or dentist that you know and have confidence in. Living in a van means that you will have to manage without the convenience of these local amenities.
Earning a Living
If you’re lucky enough to have enough savings to live off, then you have no worries. For the rest of us, we’re going to need money to cover food, and other costs.
This can be one of the most daunting aspects of transitioning to full time vanlife. You don’t want to dive headfirst into vanlife without some kind of financial plan but with a little creativity earning a living on the road is entirely possible.
There is an abundance of answers to this problem and it’s not possible to cover all of them but there are few common themes that crop up consistently once you get chatting to vanlifers.
Some vanlifers hold down normal permanent jobs and just live in a van. A full-time job is probably not what most people would think of as the vanlife ideal but part-time work, a few days a week, could be a good compromise and leave some time to enjoy travelling.
Jobs that don’t require your physical presence and have flexible hours seem to work best such as freelance web design or content creation. You’re going to need a reliable mobile phone and internet connection though or it will be frustrating to say the least.
Seasonal work is an approach that some van dwellers take. Turning up at the right place at the right time of year for things like harvesting or fruit picking. You may not get rich, but you may be able to make a few months’ worth of money to suit a vanlife budget.
A similar approach is taking casual bar or restaurant work every now and again to top the bank up before moving on to the next location.
Keeping warm in winter can be a challenge in a campervan. The choice and build of vehicle is important. First and foremost, your vehicle needs to be well insulated but even in a well-insulated van you will use more gas during the winter if you don’t have electric hook-up.
It’s not a bad idea to book some campsites when it’s cold so you can get mains electricity. It could work out cheaper, as an electric heater in a van can maintain a nice temperature even on a very low setting.
Take care of your water tanks. In most modern motorhomes, your water tanks are located underneath the vehicle but with a kind of heated flooring to prevent them from freezing. If they aren’t protected and are located under the vehicle, they can be prone to freezing.
Is full-time vanlife right for you?
Hopefully this article has got you thinking about what life on-the-road might be like for you and highlighted a few potential issues that you can make plans to deal with.
Taking the plunge into full time vanlife can be a big step for many so trying it out for a shorter period might be the best way to transition.
If you do choose to give it a go, we would be delighted to hear about your experiences and possibly even publish some of your stories. Happy travelling.