We have been living in a van full-time for 12 months.
We are a family of 8 living in a van. Not your regular family. Two humans, myself Danielle & my love Luke, one four-legged furry canine called Bodhi, and the 5 most wonderful cat companions. Mother Mushroomz & her kittens (nearly a year old now, born in the van) Champiano, Shiitake, Chestnut & Buttonz.
Only 16 months ago we had zero fury friends and no thoughts or plans of ever living in a van or travelling full time. We were renting in Spain as we came out here for alternative medical care after I had a cardiac arrest, clinically died for 2 minutes only to be revived by a defibrillator. However, I came back paralyzed in my right leg, with complete body weakness, brain-damaged, and many memory issues. I was in a wheelchair on morphine and told by Drs I’d never walk again. I am very happy to say my memory has improved, I’m out of a wheelchair and getting stronger every day. The impossible is possible!
It wasn’t ever in our plans to live with 6 animals and it certainly wasn’t ever in our plans to live in a van. But we wouldn’t change it for the world. As you say, van life rules!
Let me take you back to the day we decided we were going to live in a van. I was searching YouTube for healthy plant-based recipe ideas and I came across a video titled “what our family of 3 eat in a day”. And it turned out to be a family of 3 living in a van. They’re a very popular couple in the community, named Jinti and Chris, maybe you’ve heard of them? I was instantly inspired by the attractiveness of their minimalist lifestyle, their beautiful smiling faces, the location they were in and the food they ate.
It instantly stirred a thought in my mind. Could we live in a van?? Our rental agreement was due to run out in 6 months, plus it would be cheaper living in a van and it would give us more freedom. The excitement started to run through my veins and as I was just starting to walk again, anything felt possible. It would be just the two of us and the open road, all we needed to do was get a van, build it and sell nearly everything we own.
I first mentioned it to Luke moments later, slightly hesitantly, “could we live in a van?” he instantly replied, “yeah that will work”.
I was shocked at his non-resistance and instant expectance to this new lifestyle change, but it reassured me instantly that we could actually do this.
That very day we both started our search for a van, trying to get an idea on price, models, mileage etc. We knew nothing about vans.
Our first guess or should I say hope was to find a van for about £2000 and spend £6000 on the build. We had to do a lot of research into vans and van builds, we watched endless vanlife videos at every spare moment we had. I had actually owned an ice cream van many years ago but I didn’t build it or needed to know too much about the van itself, more the ice cream and the business side of things. From our research, we decided a Mercedes Sprinter is what we wanted, mainly due to its reliability. And within just two weeks we had found our perfect van!!
It’s a Mercedes sprinter 308 long wheelbase, ex minibus 2000 reg with 220,000 miles on it, that Luke found advertised online. It was also part converted. I was not instantly convinced as it was half converted, with high mileage and over budget – £5500. But Luke was convinced, he said it could run to 400,000 miles and as the parts and part of the labour was already done, it would make up for the extra cost and save him a lot of time. He assured me this was the one and I’m so grateful he did. There was however a few minor obstacles to work around. Such as the van was currently being sold in England and we were in Spain, we had no way of getting there to see it as I was currently learning to walk again. I had only been out of a wheelchair for about 6 months and not walked further than a couple hundred meters unaided. So we were unable to travel to view the van let alone work out how we’d even get the van back to Spain to convert it. We took a gamble and we paid a £1000 holding deposit on the van without viewing it. The owner was astonished and didn’t quite believe we would complete the transaction or thought we were crazy at least. Within that week Luke’s dad was able to collect the van and store it in his garden for 6 months! While Luke learned how to become a builder, I learnt how to walk and let go of all our possessions.
The 3 main points that led us to our decision on this van were:
1. It has double sliding doors on both sides of the van. Important for us because we knew we’d be travelling through Spain for the majority of our first
year, and in Spain it gets hot! reaching +40°C throughout the summer.
2. It has windows all along both sides. Perfect to enjoy all the wonderful views we knew were to come.
3. Due to its size this meant we could build a separate full en-suite bathroom, with separate shower, toilet and sink. This was most important above all. Because I have endometriosis and fibromyalgia my periods are long and I wanted private space as I can spend most of my days in this room.
Also, a big selling point for Luke was that it was already partly converted. It had the insulation and basic electrics and plumbing already done. So All we needed to do was add solar panels, build a kitchen, bathroom, living area and make it our own.
We paid £5500 for the van itself and in total to date we’ve spent £7,500 on the build to make it into our home. So total to date is somewhere just over £13,000, a little more than planned but worth every penny.
There are still some things we’d like when we have the budget. Like more solar panels and a second leisure battery. We currently have 145 watt total from our solar panels, which is hooked up to a single leisure battery. So we can’t charge multiple laptops cameras and phones at once but it’s sufficient enough.
We have an 8 l gas boiler to heat up our water which is fantastic for hot showers through the winter. And 50 l water tank. We also have a separate “Berky” water filter for our drinking water, which has been amazing and it’s definitely one of our favorite items in the van.
We’re currently filling it with lake water which we are parked feet away from. It provides great peace of mind knowing it filters out the water so well and we don’t have to move so often. It was one of the more expensive individual purchases in our van, about £300, but we use it every day. Also some other indispensible items are our electric USB fans and our amazing Fiamma vent with electric fan that also works as an extraction fan (perfect when cooking). We put ours above the hob and grill so it extracts the heat and smells when we cook.
For heat, through the winter months, we have a diesel heater. I love it as I get cold very easily and don’t see how I would live through the winter without it.
The bathroom as a whole is one of my favourite parts of the build. Luke’s is the shed in the back. We have two opening rear doors – one opens for us to enter into the bathroom and the other opens to storage for all our tools (every tool used to build the van), outside chairs, extendable ladder and table and even a full-size sunlounger fits in there. So much stuff fits in such a small space. The bathroom has an internal door which leads into the kitchen and the main room. We put a cat hole in the door that we can close off when needed. This works wonders for when we need to go to the shops or drop rubbish off, so we don’t have to worry about the cats exploring everywhere we stop.
We built the van in Spain, using as much of our existing furniture as possible, breaking down drawers for wood and hinges, and we bought whatever else we needed from a few shops. The build was tough as we were on a time scale to not only build the van, but get rid of everything that wasn’t going to fit in it… which was quite a lot and our tenancy agreement was coming to an end soon. While we built the van we also had people coming to view the property, as well as people coming to buy items that we had listed for sale.
I advertised a sort of open house garage sale, selling what we could to help towards paying for the build. I focused on this while Luke built away day and night. In the last week before we had to move into the van and vacate the property we were really behind schedule. Luke slept every other night to get more time to work on the build. He’s very glad that’s over. What we didn’t sell we donated to a few charities which felt great, they were very appreciative of this. We built the van in 10 weeks, but we are still making the odd little adjustments and renovations on the road as we travel. Luke’s least favourite thing in the van is his van build list, it seems to be never-ending. There’s always something needed to be done, but that’s no different to a regular stationary home for sure. It was interesting, to say the least when we first hit the road, the first speed bumps and potholes, wondering if anything would fall apart… It didn’t and hasn’t in 12 months of driving, minus the 3-month lockdown of course, which like everyone else, we were unable to go anywhere.
So we’ve explained how we ended up living in a van but I guess you’re still wondering how we ended up with 6 fury companionships on board with us right?
Well, it can happen easier than you may imagine.
Bodhi was our first furry friend, he found us while I was doing my first long-distance walk unaided, just a month before Christmas 2018. We were walking through the countryside in Spain when this little gentle-looking pup appeared, he was skinny and timid but very curious of us. He followed us for a couple hours and then all the way home. We were so looking forward to just the two of us travelling so we didn’t adopt him straight away. We left our gate open for him to leave if he wanted, and he did, but every day for 1 month he visited us, he accompanied us on walks too, this was great motivation for me to walk further and push myself harder each day. I was on mission to get well and fast. I needed to be able to walk and get in and out of the van on my own if this was going to work.
I was walking and exercising on days I was able and I was continuously trying to up my distance each time. He was a little angel that kept me going. We decided we would take him to the vet and see if he was microchipped, maybe he was someone else’s dog, but he had no chip so we accepted this great gift of a new companion for our journey. What’s one little dog going to do but add more love and value to our experience. A couple months past and he was loving being part of our family and we loved having him. Then one day while I was at a cafe doing the last advertisements, one month before we moved into our van, a stray, slightly mangy cat came and sat with me. She sat on the chair next to me for a couple hours, the cafe owner then told me the cat is a nuisance to the business and the vet is taking her in a few days to terminate her! It felt so horrible to me as I was enjoying her company so much. I wondered ‘could I save her?, could she live in a van?, would Bodhi eat her?
Luke came to meet me at the cafe after a long days build on the van, and I shared my new great idea. Luke looked at me and knew I wasn’t joking. We had only just taken on Bodhi but we both agreed that a little cat would be possible if it meant saving her little life, and even if she escaped at least she lives a little longer. So that very day we took her home with us. And we named her Mushroomz.
At first, Bodhi was sure this little cat was his dinner. So we sectioned off a part of the house to keep them separate for a week whilst we trained Bodhi and got them used to living in the same house. In no time at all Bodhi began to understand that she was also now part of our family. And in no time at all they began to enjoy the house & garden space together. With just one week till moving into the van I knew I had to train them both to be ready and make sure they knew that the van would be their new home. So I fed them their daily meals in the van from that point on to get them used to it. And I also trained Mushroomz to walk on a lead. The following week we hit the road (van not nearly finished ) but ready for our new life ahead. Bodhi and Mushroomz took to living in the van immediately, both coming back to our whistle when we called them inside. Mushroomz was very homely and liked to be with us a lot. But something had started to change, her little nipples didn’t look so little anymore, was she pregnant?
We took Mushroomz to the vet the very first week of being in the van to have her microchipped, and we asked the vet for their opinion. The vet reassured us that she was NOT pregnant but likely she may have given birth recently. They estimated she was about 12 months old. But Week by week she began to show more signs and I was convinced she was indeed pregnant. By the end of our first month on the road it was clear she was and as cats are pregnant for just 9 weeks we knew we didn’t have long until the birth. It was the middle of summer 2019 and temperatures were reaching in the 40’s. Our little family of 4 was about to get bigger and so we made a special place for her to give birth in the bottom of our shower in the van. On July 21st it was
mine and Luke’s 6 year anniversary, and Mushroomz gifted us with a litter of adorable kittens!
We have been on the road for 1 whole year now and the kittens are 10 months old already. We travel to the most beautiful locations in our tiny home and always surround ourselves in nature. Be it at the beach, a lake, or in the middle of a forest. We always park close to trees which gives the kittens security if we are ever joined by other travellers who may have dogs. But it’s rare as we usually find the most remote spots so we usually don’t have to worry so much with all the kittens roaming free outside of the van. They are trained to walk off the leash. Their longest hike to date was 2.5 hours. They really are amazing and totally unique. They each have very different colours and markings on their bodies. And even their eye colours are all different from one another.
Our little “Champion” the smallest kitty just learn how to swim. She loves water, a lot.
They all come to our whistle when we call them and I honestly think it would be strange for them if their little house didn’t move. It’s all they know, and they love to explore the world as much as Luke, Bodhi and I do.
Our monthly running costs for the van are just £150 per month. This covers Road tax, Insurance, M.O.T and Breakdown cover. Then it’s just the cost of diesel and our own personal expenses on top.
If we had to do it all over again quite honestly there’s nothing that we would change except add more solar and battery storage. We love our little home on wheels with double sliding doors both sides and a full on-suit bathroom with separate shower and toilet. It truly feels like a real home.
All the little finishing touches like featuring bamboo throughout, and our perfectly painted cupboards that wipe clean with ease,, make it a joy to live in.
The hardest part of living in a van for me would have to be dealing with a breakdown of the vehicle, and Luke’s is being away from his family and friends. But we have made some great life long friends along our journey so far. We’ve had two breakdowns in the first year, but with sufficient insurance, we were taken care of and temporarily re-homed into an Airbnb while our van was being fixed at the garage. The only tricky part was finding a place that allowed all the cats & Bodhi to be with us.
The van is 7 meters long and a high top, just over 6 foot from the floor to ceiling inside the van after installation etc. Luke is 6ft tall and he did not want to be bent in half inside the van. We also built a bed for Mushroomz high up and a scratch post for her and the kittens to climb that’s actually taller than myself, I’m around 5’3. It’s great to look at other conversions for inspiration but no one’s home will ever be as unique as your own. And it’s the finishing touches that make it at a real home.
We love this lifestyle and can’t see it changing for a while. I certainly won’t be going back to my old lifestyle. I used to own property in London and lived a very different life, to say the least. Working in finance, teaching hairdressing and interior design were just a few of my jobs, but overworking to pay a mortgage lead me to a cardiac arrest. I never envisioned a life of such freedom as it was a world away from the one I knew. We truly love this lifestyle and I honestly can’t imagine living in a house again anytime soon, but in the future when our family extends for sure I think we may, although I think we will always have a van too.
This year we have some big plans that we will be sharing very soon, something very motivational and life-changing that’s off-topic from vanlife but will be exciting for all. Actually, It will be very moving and we know will bring hope to others and change lives around the world for the better.
You can find us and follow us at @bodhi.diaries (Danielle) & @lemonadevanlife (Luke)
YouTube and our website will be done this year. We’ve documented on video our whole journey including the birth of the kittens, build of the van and selling all our possessions. We look forward to sharing this and giving back to the community as many people who shared their build and story helped us greatly.
And we would be very grateful and interested to know what other people
would like to see and hear from us, as we have so much to share.
Danielle, Luke, Bodhi, Mushroomz, Champiano, Shiitake, Chestnut and Buttonz.