First time away in a VW Campervan

Last year we had our first time away in a Motorhome, we did a 4 week tour of the UK, seeing friends and family along the way. It was a beautiful time of clarity and joy in an otherwise dark year. The mental health benefits of being on the road, bringing our beds with us and enjoying life outdoors were brilliant. It wasn’t all amazing wonder. We had grumps and tension as you would in any 4 weeks of life. But it was a pretty amazing adventure.

This year lots has changed, we are no longer in a Motorhome, we went crazy and bought our own little VW Trident, who is 20 years old but still a little beauty. We aren’t on a 4 week tour but a 2 week jaunt up to the Lakes, across to Northern Ireland, back to the Lakes and home again. The shorter timescale is doing odd things to my head. I keep thinking it should be a perfect holiday experience and not just normal life in a different context, doing the things we know are good for us- outdoor fun, no screens, lots of husbandface time but with a bed for him to retreat to.

The reality is that it’s hard work to take two small boys away in a van. But then again it’s hard work to manage two small boys anywhere. Especially when I have very little reserves left in the energy tank. It’s not a ‘holiday’ in any sense of that word but it is time away from the normal, which must be a good thing, right?

Anyway, as you can probably tell I’m struggling to love this trip. I’m struggling not to gaze at couples sitting drinking wine outside their vans in envy. And yes I know if I was them I’d be wanting children for some insane biological reason, and life wasn’t perfect wonder before two slightly annoying boys came into it.

Right now I just wish I wasn’t so frustrated with them. I wish I had limitless patience and understanding to love them well. I wish I had the energy to care more and not just grumpily snap at them.

Anyway. Moaning aside. I thought I’d list what we are learning this trip and how smaller van life differs from Motorhome life.

1) Smaller is better for the tiny roads in this country and especially for finding parking spaces in towns. I am a whole lot less scared about driving our Gracie compared to the 7m long Motorhome.

2) Smaller is not always better. There is more work to be done internally in the van. We have to make up the beds when we want to sleep and when husbandface has his downtime. That isn’t always a bad thing but it does require more effort and more patience from the boys whilst we do that.

3) Smaller is harder in rain, there isn’t much internal space to hang out in the van. That’s ok if we are on a campsite with the drive-away awning out but less fun if we are trying to picnic in the rain.

4) Smaller actually means bigger when it comes to our drive-away awning which gives us a massive space to eat in, hang out in when it’s raining and have room to breathe.

5) Smaller means no toilet on board at the moment, not much of an issue except at this first campsite we are staying at which is much more set up for caravans and Motorhomes and the toilets are a few minutes walk away. We do have a Porta potty at home but I still think it’s not all that useful as most of the places we’ll stay will have toilets. The boys aren’t really old enough for wildish camping to be safe in the UK – we’d be happy rocking up to a lay-by as a couple but it feels a bit too crazy with the boys. Right now campsites with easy access to play parks and fun woods for them to explore feels much safer. It’s great helping them explore for themselves and grow in independence.

All in all the van experience is just very different from the Motorhome experience. I don’t think I quite realised that and it’s taking a few days to learn the art of van life. We are new to working out our awning, new to the sleep thing, new to how to navigate each other in a tiny space. That’s all ok but it’s harder than I thought.

So why aren’t we going home? (aside from ferry tickets and family awaiting us in Norn Iron). It is hard but it’s also a whole heap of fun.

We are outdoors all day. We are closer to the joys of camping but with more comfy beds and facilities. We are learning. We are enjoying our pretty world. We are loving seeing the boys engage with nature. They already love scrambling over rocks, making logs into pirate ships and the sense of achievement a good walk with a map can bring. We have a place for husbandface to sleep in during the day when we are out and about. We have the ability to make tea and coffee where ever we go and we never have the ‘have I packed that?’ feeling because we are carrying around all we need.

I think it’s good every now and again to do things that help us look at life in a different way. We walk to get water, we walk to toilets, we take longer to do everything. We are slow. It’s no bad thing to have to take the slow road. I’m reading Matt Haig’s Notes from a Nervous planet at the moment and it echoes much of why we are doing this trip. Slowing down is good for our mental health. Slowing down and disconnecting from the stuff that crowds our world is good for us. And even though I’m tired and weary I still would rather be learning how to adventure this way than anything else right now.

Right, I’m off to play some cards and reassure the husbandface that I’m not about to do a runner into the woods. I quite like this adventure after all.

Coming up later in the week… I’m thinking of writing a beginners guide to campsites and useful stuff to bring camping either in a tent or van. Mainly so I’ll remember myself.

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