Aa, two weeks into VanLife and we have been conquering (and accepting) one road block after the next. From the chilly weather, to not being able to order parts and supplies because we have no address for them to be shipped to + the post office doesn’t do general delivery + Amazon is not as fast or affordable here as it is in the states and Prime does not carry over globally. With that being said, we knew there would be challenges (in fact, challenges were part of the appeal of this adventure!), but we are doing what we do best – making the most out of everything.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to watch our video on Surviving VanLife Week #1!:
It’s funny, as newlyweds, to think that our first home together is this #tinyhouse on wheels… and it’s even CRAZIER to think about how much love can fit into such a little, tiny space! A lot of thought and research went into manifesting this dream, and as with most dreams, it has required a bit more work than expected. While we may not have all the answers, what we can offer is a bit of insight into how we’re making this dream a reality.
1. The first thing we did was buy two one-way tickets to England (video here)!
We were super stoked because we had never bought one-way tickets before! BUT, those excitement bubbles were quickly popped (sad face) the moment we got to the airport. Due to visa restrictions, Customs (and airlines) requires you to show that you are leaving the UK, and returning to your home country within 180 days (as Americans that’s the max amount of days we’re allowed to stay in the country per year, without a Visa). So, in order to keep the dream (and honeymoon!) alive, we purchased two fully-refundable flights back to the US, on the spot. Bonus: They upgraded us to 1st Class 🙂
Let’s backtrack real quick. Why the UK? Why not someplace warmer/sunnier, or someplace that sells automatic cars with the driver’s seat on the lefthand side of the car? Well, we had our sights set on exploring Europe and being that we aren’t 100% familiar with technical, van-buying verbiage in any other language, we decided that it was the best/smartest choice, and it truly has been.
2. Next, we needed to line up a place to live whilst we traveled around in search of our van. The best choice? Renting a #glampervan from Quirky Campers! This way we had our housing and mode of transportation taken care of at the same time!
3. Phones/Wifi. We kept our American cell phone numbers by “Porting” them to Google (make sure they’re UNLOCKED first), meaning we disconnected service from our major carrier and enabled Google Voice, which allows us to receive texts and voicemails via email, while also saving our old numbers, brilliant! But how do we send and receive calls? For the most part we use our tep wireless device to call/text through Skype and WhatsApp, but we also decided to get a local SIM card through Vodaphone (which we were able to do because our phones were unlocked), and this has proven to be absolutely vital throughout our van purchasing experience. From communicating with van sellers to providing a UK number in various situations, it has made life MUCH easier.
Our tep wifi device has also proven itself invaluable in helping us navigate from place to place, not only throughout our travels, but in trying to get from van to van throughout our search. Life without tep looks like this:
4. When to look? We had been researching available campervans in the UK while we were still in America but the market has such a quick turnover rate that we realized it wasn’t really worth our time until we landed. While Winter is definitely not the most ideal time to move to England to try and live in anything without central heating, it is off-season for the campervan market, meaning that you are likely to find an awesome deal! If possible, we recommend waiting until February/March to limit the length of cold weather you’ll have to endure before enjoying the relief of spring. Otherwise, you can wait until April/May when everyone will be listing their beloved campers, but they will likely be listed at a premium simply because the demand is high enough and they can.
5. Where to look? We had been recommended Auto Trader, Ebay and GumTree and after just 2 weeks, we found our whip on the later. Everyone we met was extremely kind, accommodating and helpful and it was really interesting to see the different kinds of vans offered in a new country! We even looked at a “Vanbulance,” an old Ambulance converted into a camper… but that was a little too weird/eerie for me. Again, you’ll need wifi AND phone service, as most listings on GumTree require you to call/text and most sellers likely won’t have WhatsApp.
6. The technical stuff, aka. INSURANCE. While this definitely isn’t the most exciting topic, it tends to be the biggest roadblock for many people looking to take #vanlifeabroad, therefore it must be covered – don’t worry, we’ll keep it short and sweet.
For health insurance we use World Nomads. This covers all health emergencies and after researching, we discovered that they have the best comprehensive coverage for adventure related incidents, from yoga and paragliding to bungee jumping and (tandem) kite surfing! Our fave.
Our Renters Insurance in the states covers all of our belongings inside our vehicle, worldwide! It’s best to film a video showing all of your rolling home’s contents, as well as writing out a complete list of all items. You may also want to make a list of all the things you forgot too…
Campervan Insurance. This one was a doozie. We reached out to: Scenic Insurance, Adrian Flux, Alan Boswell, HIC, etc., but because we had not lived in the UK for more than 6 months and/or did not have a 3 year track record in the UK showing that we had auto insurance and had not made any claims (“no claims bonus”)… they would not insure us. So then what?
Thank goodness for the Down Under Insurance Company, created for Aussies and other outsiders + VanLifers (like us), looking for a way in. It’s much more expensive to get car insurance abroad, but they offered a fully comprehensive package and quite honestly, we didn’t have many other options… at all.
7. What about road-side assistance? There are 2 options out there: The RAC (Royal Automobile Club) and AA. Besides the RAC having a really cool name, they also offer a cheaper rate BUT the kicker is that you have to return to the UK every 90 days, or you can pay more and only have to return every 180… neither one of those works for us. With AA the rate is outrageous, nearly double the rate of the RAC, and they don’t cover a large number of countries that we are planning on venturing to, so that doesn’t work for us either. For now we are going to wing it and see what makes sense in the moment – more info to come. Below is a photo of us with our Quirky Camper, Hector, who had RAC coverage which came in handy when our battery died:
8. How do you clean the van + where do you get supplies + what if you have questions about how it works or why it doesn’t?!
The photo above is Drew with a really kind local who told us about and DROVE US to Halfords (the super-handy car shop) when our car battery died. Without the kindness of strangers, VanLife would not be possible, which is why it’s important to not be afraid to reach out for help – whether it’s a local, a worker at a store, or someone at a cafe, asking questions has proven to be the best solution for just about everything. It’s amazing how such a short interaction with a stranger can leave such a lasting impression on your life, and heart. Meet Jim O’Neil, an incredible Irish lad who told us where to find THE BEST fish and chips in all of Europe (coming soon!), AND let us park our campervan at his B & B! Opening your mind and heart is the key to finding the best of the best.
As far as supplies, between Halfords, ASDA (same company as Walmart), B & Q (sort of like a Home Depot) and TK Maxx (UK’s version of TJ Maxx) we have been able to find just about everything we need. There are still some specific campervan parts that we are in search of, like a swivel seat, but we’ll just have to keep popping into the various campervan shops that we discover along our travels until we find what we’re looking for. Here’s a photo of Drew grilling from the swivel seat in our American campervan below:
9. IMPORTANT: You will NEED a local address where your new registration/documentation of ownership can be mailed (luckily we have a dear friend who allowed us to use hers). Information on how to get one if you don’t have one is at the very end of this post 🙂
There is such a huge campervan culture here in Europe, though caravans (known as “fifth wheels” in America) are even more popular. This makes it a wonderful place to purchase a camper because there is such a smorgasbord of options when buying + the locals tend to be quite welcoming, curious and understanding of other VanLifers, granted that you are being respectful of the land and grateful for the fact that they are sharing their beautiful home with YOU… We have A TON more information on this topic (including insight on how to get that local address) that we would LOVE to share and help make YOUR international VanLife dreams a reality! In order to honor our time and knowledge, we have compiled all of this information into an extremely handy, well-organized PDF that will answer any burning questions and ease any lingering concerns you may have, which is available for purchase here.
Along with our guide, you have the option to become a member of our VanLife Mentorship Club! So many exciting developments lie ahead, but for now we’re off to Cork, Ireland to enjoy a real Irish Saint Patty’s Day!! We overheard someone telling a joke in the cafe this morning: “Why don’t you want to iron a four-leaf clover? Because you should never press your luck!” 😉