Waking up, you rub your eyes and stretch your legs while letting out a sleepy yawn. “Vanlife feels great” you whisper. You can feel the warmth of the morning sun gently heating the van up. A plethora of birds are chirping, singing their morning song. You slip a leg out from under the duvet and the rest of your body follows. With the kettle filled and hob lit, you start contemplating your new fantastic life in your van. Your soul feels rejuvenated, the fire has been poked and the day ahead has been certified “ready to go!”
You pull back the curtains to gaze out of the window while you sip your freshly brewed artisan coffee and suddenly you’re brought back down to earth harder than a Space X Falcon landing. You had forgotten where you’d parked last night. The view out of the window is less than exhilarating, in fact, rather deflating.
Mere inches from your window is a lay-by hedgerow, strewn with litter. Sad little pigeon nests hang by a thin twig-like structure, just about clinging on for dear life. A carrier bag flies past your window at warp speed in the wind making you jump. A door slams hard and in the corner of your window you see a trucker letting out the morning’s steam up the side of his lorry. A rat sits on the path tucking into a discarded kebab. It stares at you as it chews, daring you to make a move.
However, you suddenly realise that you don’t actually care! You draw the curtain again, pop on Absolute 80’s and sit back down with your coffee. For with the curtains closed, you could be absolutely anywhere in the world! Anywhere! It doesn’t matter. You’re safe in your little cocoon of warmth and well-being. Your head is in the best place it’s been for a very long time. You are at one with yourself. Vanlife has changed your life and you couldn’t be happier!
But, is it the same for everyone? How many people have turned to vanlife as an escape from the brutal realities of a conditioned and predetermined life and have discovered it’s still thwarted with its own problems and challenges? How many of us still battle on, through the cold harsh wet winters with only the thought of a warm spring sunny morning to get us through?
Let’s take a deeper look into this growing trend and what people are experiencing.
How Many People Live In A Van In The UK?
Unsurprisingly, there are no official figures for how many people live in a van in the UK. Researching this has turned up some wildly varying guesstimates from 12,000 (Crisis charity: 12,000 people are estimated to live in cars, tents or abandoned buildings) To 500,000 (an extreme estimate from a vanlife website blogger).
Whatever the “official figure” is, it will be in the 10’s of thousands for sure. There is a good reason an official figure will never be available and that’s because many live vanlife for autonomy. They’re doing their best to escape the system so the last thing they want is to be noted on some electronic file in a grey boring office somewhere and labelled as a statistic. This makes it impossible to get an official figure as any guess would be a wild guess at best.
After a bit of research, I’ve found that one is more likely to be labelled as homeless than houseless under the government’s labelling procedure.
What Is The Most Common Reason For Choosing Vanlife
There are many reasons to choose van dwelling as a life choice. Me? I chose to live in a van as I simply couldn’t afford anything else. PTSD and the depression that goes with it broke my marriage down and left me pondering life on the streets. At the time I felt that living in a van was just one step up from homelessness but a much better alternative than a cardboard box mattress and shop doorway shelter. But I soon realised my mental health and general well-being were vastly improved and for the first time ever, I will publicly admit that my van quite literally saved my life.
I was a street dweller for a couple of years as an adolescent and the thought of returning there had my depression sink to an all-new level. With such low self-esteem on my mind, I thought about alternatives. Sharing a house was out of the question, as was affording my own place. So a van seemed like a decent alternative to those dark contemplations, and I am very glad I did make the choice! It has changed my life and put me on a new path destined for a sunnier future.
So what about others? Well, it appears that the most common initial reason for considering living in a van is housing costs. Everything from mortgage, rent and utility bills to food shopping and fuel has risen exponentially over the last year and shows no signs of slowing down. But as people research more into alternative ways of living they soon discover there is more to vanlife than just another way of surviving.
Some, however, have already discovered this seemingly dreamy way of life and planned to sell their house or flat to use the equity to buy a plush motorhome or custom-built van to suit their needs, finances and future plans.
Selling up your home to live in a van is considered risky business by some as there’s no plan B per se. What if you don’t like living in a van? What if things don’t go to plan? Questions like this are a good thing to ask yourself before taking the leap. If you were forced into living in a van, then you have no real choice but to make it work and that is part of the journey.
Some people have simply decided they’ve had enough of conforming to modern life. The fast-paced ways of today are extremely tough on us and that makes us feel fragile. At the end of the day who says we must buy a house, live in it until we can’t anymore, and gift it to our children when we die so they can sell it and have a good time with the money? There is no law. There are plenty of prohibitive factors though, you’ve just got to find a way around them. So maybe vanlife is one of those ways.
So pinpointing what is the most common reason is a pretty difficult task because those reasons change as time goes on but one thing is for sure, vanlife is fast becoming the new normal.
Why Does Vanlife Seem So Attractive?
There are so many reasons why vanlife is so attractive. For instance, the ability to change your view at any given time is incredible! The feeling of freedom, the travel, the meeting new people, the stories told and heard. These are highly attractive points and worthy of a mention.
For some though, this isn’t as high up on the list as you’d think. For those that were pushed into vanlife for financial reasons, the attractiveness is the low cost of living. One doesn’t have to work so hard to survive. Once the van is set up to suit your needs, it needs little cash flow to sustain a comfortable life. Of course, if something drastic were to happen like engine failure then a big chunk of cash would be needed in most cases. But that aside, the general day-to-day living cost is vastly decreased by living in a van.
Then there are the health benefits, not just with your mind but with your body too. With open countryside available with the push of a pedal, you’re more inclined to get out and explore than you would be sat at home on your sofa, comfortable and warm, knee-deep in season 7 episode 19 of the latest binge-worthy tv show.
For me, it was a necessity so it was a long time before I started to recognise the benefits. I had many dark moments before I realised that vanlife was trying to fix me, not break me.
Instagram Versus Reality
Well, this seems to be a growing trend but what does it mean? Instagram is where you’ll mostly find images of scantily clad bodies frolicking in the sunshine with their van perfectly positioned to capture everything that’s good about vanlife and its ensuing hashtag.
The reality can be far from that picture-perfect scenario. In fact, it rarely is anything like that. Yet still we (and we are all guilty of this) arrange and construct the most eye candy-styled shots we possibly can! Why do we do this though? Maybe we’re trying to justify our time in the sun conveniently forgetting about the time we knocked the coffee onto the bed or the times we’ve spent sitting inside a cold damp tin box while the British weather does its British thing.
I expect that some are initially drawn to vanlife from seeing this media and only focussing on the thoughts of basking in the sun and sipping cocktails on the beach or spending all day every day swinging in the hammock hanging from the doorway.
One thing is for sure, it most definitely does not depict the true side of living in a van. Perhaps this is why some fail in their quest to live the perfect life while travelling around the UK. The real side of vanlife is far from the fairies and pixie dust images of Instagram but the majority of us adjust and adapt to the hard times and push through them.
There are of course those stunning vistas available at a moment’s notice. These views and moments of clarity are everywhere, just not every single day and least certainly not for everyone. You need to be aware of that and prepare yourself for parking in a lay-by or on an industrial estate more often than you’d wish.
Is Living In A Van Good For Your Mental Health?
For the most part, yes! The good parts far outweigh the bad but it’s about learning how to deal with the bad. If you let the bad times, and they will come there’s no doubt about that, drag you down you will suffer. The vanlife community is huge though, and there are many groups out there that you can join and seek answers to your personal problems. Many of these people have experienced the strange emotions you may feel, and are only too happy to have a chat to reassure you everything will be ok.
So why only for the most part? Well, I’m not a qualified psychiatrist and vanlife isn’t a certified prescribed medicine. But from personal experience, I am a different man completely to whom I was 2 years ago. I am calm, collected and at peace with myself. I quickly realised that I needed to learn who I truly was, how to love myself and how to acknowledge having faults is ok. I have met people that have changed my life and thus will stay in my life forever. Complete strangers have pulled me up from the deep dark depths of despair on more than one occasion. I was contacted by a wonderful lady who was a qualified EMDR therapist and she offered me free sessions of EMDR therapy until my PTSD was under control. It took a long time for me to accept this but in the end, I went for it. If it wasn’t for this shining example of a human being then, well, you know…
So for me, 100% yes! Vanlife is good for my mental health. Moreover, I am positive that for countless others it is good for theirs too and is also likely one of the reasons why so many are turning to vanlife in 2022.
Is Vanlife A mistake?
That is a challenging question to answer. If it were asked to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to scream NO! It absolutely is not a mistake. But others will answer differently. They may have had a horrible time and wish with all their heart they’d not done it.
In retrospect though, there are 1000’s living their absolute best life and can’t see themselves living any other way. There’s only one way to find out and that’s to go for it. Just ensure you’ve done what you can to minimise the chance of things not working out.
Let Us know Your Thoughts
What are your thoughts on why so many people are swapping their lives for vanlife? Have you already made the change? Let us know in the comments below.
Calamity Shane’s Brutally Honest Vanlife Blog
I have an alter ego – Calamity Shane. The Saga Of Calamity Shane is a popular, brutally honest blog about my own full-time vanlife where I talk about men’s mental health including my own, the harsh reality of living in a van, and all of the calamities that happen to me on an almost daily basis. You will laugh, you will cry. You may even learn how not to do vanlife.
Website blog: www.calamityshane.com
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