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van life
  1. Campervan
24th November 2021

Adventure awaits: a guide to ‘Van Life’

The practical and financial considerations of ‘Van Life’ and the ways Brits perceive life on the road is explored in this exclusive Sterling Insurance investigation.

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We’re all familiar with the idea of a staycation, enjoying local beauty spots and fun days out, but more and more Brits are forgoing holidays abroad in favour of van life exploring destinations closer to home.

With the versatility of domestic destinations, many are now opting for holidaying in a campervan or motorhome or are looking to fully adopt the ‘van life’. On a basic level, van life is more or less as the name suggests: living in a van. But it has now come to represent much more. Those who have adopted the lifestyle point to several benefits – such as a sense of adventure and increased freedom – but the van life can also cater to those who wish to work remotely, providing ultimate flexibility and choice.

Taking a further look at these rising trends, a survey by Sterling Insurance has sought to address the practical and financial considerations of ‘van life’ and the ways Brits perceive life on the road. By combining these insights with tips from staycationers and van owners who’ve taken the leap, we provide the ultimate guide for staycationing in a campervan or motorhome.

van life

The staycation boom – what’s the appeal of van life?

1 in 10 Brits (13%) who have recently taken staycations in campervans are now looking to try full-time van life.

The findings of our survey revealed that 41% of those who have tried a staycation since March 2020 have changed their opinions on travelling by camper-or-converted-van and find this on-the-road lifestyle more appealing than they did pre-pandemic. 3 in 5 recent staycationers also thought the experience lived up to its glamorous media portrayal.

Certainly, this was the case for Jenny and Keith Forsyth, who hired a campervan with their children Jake (19) and Eloise (16) to meet friends in South Wales. “We chose a campervan trip as a staycation is easier to organise,” Jenny explained. “I was the driver and driving down was great! The kids loved lounging in ‘First Class’. I slept in the van all week and loved it and my son slept on the bed that came down above the table – very cool. Sleeping, cooking and playing cards in the camper was all great fun.”

With the ability to take more of their lives with them on the road, the family enjoyed travelling widely within the UK while catching up with friends and seeing new sights. Have they been inspired to adopt the van life? “Not sure I’d hire one for family holidays again,” Jenny answers. “But I really like the idea of a grand tour in a campervan post-retirement – Nomadland here we come!”

Could van life work for you?

There’s a big difference between taking a staycation in a campervan and living in one permanently.

For Emma Orlando, the pandemic was where it all started. Since she was no longer able to travel overseas, she decided to become a fully-fledged van lifer, running her own freelance marketing agency while touring the UK on the road. “It’s a great way to explore, try something new and meet like-minded souls along the way,” she explains.

Though occasionally she struggles with practicalities such as logistics, constant travel and van repairs, Emma ultimately sees this as a price worth paying. “The benefits far outweigh the negatives, and I wouldn’t trade the lifestyle!” she affirms.

For van-lifers Tash and Jon, a major plus of life on the road is being able to retain their home comforts (including their three cats!) while discovering new places. Another benefit is the ease of meeting new people: “We never used to speak to total strangers before this and now it’s so easy. It’s also the best way to get hints and tips of good places to go.”

Practical tips for van life

Whether for short stays or long-term adventures, here are some practical guidelines for those considering life on the road:

Choosing the right vehicle

Demand for campervans is at an all-time high and seemingly still on the rise. When we surveyed van lifers, around 2 in 5 said that finding a vehicle was a challenge, and the same proportion found it hard to keep within budget.

Campervan hire also remains high, with popular models including the Renault Traffic, Ford Transit and VW Transporter.

Others choose to convert a van from scratch. Good vans for campervan conversions include the Volkswagen T5 or T6, Mercedes Sprinter or the Fiat Ducato. However, the process can be costly – considerations include the size of the vehicle and your level of DIY expertise. Costs range from £4,000 to £15,000 for a professional finish.

Making your van a home

If you plan to live in a camper-or-converted-van full time, you will need to make it comfortable on a budget by having fun with interior design, finding the right lighting, stocking the cupboards with your favourite road snacks and investing in a quality mattress.

On a practical level, utilising space-saving storage solutions will also be essential, such as installing hidden drawers and pull-out bathroom facilities.

However, Tash and Jon recommend not changing too much too soon and getting to know your vehicle and how it operates first. “Go on a short trip BEFORE you buy loads of accessories or camping gear. We have ended up selling most of the ‘stuff’ we bought when we first started travelling in a van as we didn’t use it and it took up valuable space!”

Parking up

Finding a legal place to park isn’t always easy. 1 in 5 respondents surveyed struggled with knowing where to find practical information, for example, about overnight locations. 1 in 10 respondents also struggled with parking a larger vehicle than they were used to.

Tash and Jon recommended having a look on Google Maps before heading to a stopping place, not just for one parking spot but a back-up too. This way, you will always have an alternative. Staying in a place for one night only is advisable unless it is a campsite that can provide significant space or a motorhome parking area.

van life

Adapting to the seasons

If you want to travel via campervan, you will have to be highly adaptable to extreme weather changes – it may be too hot in the summer months or too cold in winter. Having an insulated van is essential for the chillier months, but extremes in both temperatures can pose several challenges. Tash and Jon note that it is important “to be prepared and adaptable to change”, paying particular care to the running of the van throughout the seasons.

“Plans and bookings can also change at the last minute,” they add. “For example, if you travel in winter and the ground becomes too soft to park on at a campsite. Or if you get stuck in traffic and miss a time restriction.”

Looking for more seasonal tips? Here are 6 great ways to use your campervan this winter. Or, if you’re opting for bricks-and-mortar winter, learn how to prepare your campervan for winter storage.

Addressing the not-so-glamorous practicalities

When the campervan is for a staycation rather than a lifestyle, it’s possible to sidestep certain concerns. For example, Jenny and Keith said: “We didn’t use the toilet as we were too worried about how to clean it at the end!”

It’s a common concern. Among survey respondents, 1 in 4 ranked dealing with waste as their biggest struggle while travelling or holidaying in a campervan, motorhome or converted van. Refilling water was also widely considered a challenge by van-lifers and staycationers alike.

“Having to get used to monitoring your water, LPG [liquid petroleum gas], fuel and waste emptying can be tricky,” add Tash and Jon. “You need to get into the habit of making your resources last and building ‘top-ups and empties’ into your travels. There is also the financial element to managing these resources because fuel and LPG can vary in price as you drive around the country.”

A larger campervan will provide the opportunity to house a water tank, allowing you to shower without leaving your campsite – but it is very expensive. Cost-effective shower facilities can be found at gyms, RV parks, and campsites. Alternatives can include body wipes, a pressurised outdoor camping shower operated via a foot pump, or a bespoke outdoor shower that can connect to the water tank.

Blending work and travel with van life

Working on the road might seem tricky, but many van lifers see it as a great way to take advantage of new hybrid and flexible working opportunities offered by many businesses post-pandemic.

Almost 1 in 6 said that having experienced travel in a campervan, motorhome or converted van, they are inspired to use their time on the road to achieving a better work/life balance.

However, 17.2% struggled with working from the road, pointing to Wi-Fi, phone signal and lack of space as common challenges. There are solutions, though – a backup electrical system, for example, can be highly advantageous if you find yourself off the grid.

Emma says: “If you are someone that can work remotely, I highly recommend giving it a go.”

Maintaining your vehicle

It is important to be aware of the practical and financial considerations involved in both buying a campervan and converting a vehicle for van life. Almost 1 in 6 struggled most with vehicle maintenance, such as changing tyres or mechanical issues. It is essential to regularly check your campervan for common issues such as rust, damp or ageing brakes, as these can create further problems if left unresolved.

  • Tyres: Prone to wear and tear, you will need to regularly check for cuts, damage or bulges.
  • Engine oil: Your engine oil and transmission fluid levels should be topped up before you leave. If your engine oil level drops rapidly, this could be a sign that you have engine issues.
  • Battery: You will need to check your battery is fully charged before you set off on your journey.
  • Lights: A legal requirement – check your lights are in good condition and are thoroughly clean before journeying.
  • Wipers and screen wash: A legal requirement – ensure your wipers are fully functional before travelling. Make sure you also have a screen wash on hand to help maintain optimal visibility.
  • A toolkit: You might need to make minor repairs while you are on the road.

Check out more essential campervan maintenance tips.

Insuring your vehicle

Having the right campervan insurance and breakdown cover will also be vital to ensure road trips go off without a hitch. 1 in 7 revealed that they have struggled most with finding the right breakdown cover and 1 in 8 said that finding the right insurance for their van was their biggest struggle.

Key things to look out for in any package include:

  • UK-wide breakdown cover
  • Access to breakdown specialists across the UK
  • Call out, roadside assistance 24/7, national recovery service and home service
  • Breakdown cover for the vehicle – not the driver – so anyone driving it is protected.
van life

Where next?

Sterling Insurance surveyed 750 campervan users (owners, renters and van lifers) from 4-10 October 2021. The survey and case studies revealed that a significant proportion are planning to travel in the near future.

Around half (50.8%) of those surveyed intend to take a domestic staycation or trip in the next 12 months in their campervan, motorhome or converted van, and over three quarters (76%) said they either want to purchase their own campervan or hire a campervan or motorhome for more staycations next year.

Furthermore, 12% of those who have previously only rented a campervan and 15% of those who own a campervan they use for staycations already, would also give full-time van life a go.

Although travelling by campervan or motorhome isn’t without its challenges, Brits have overwhelmingly loved their experiences on the road. Given our survey findings and the positive testimony from van-life converts, we expect this trend to pick up even more popularity in the coming months and years.

Sterling’s Van Life Insurance

Ahead of the continued boom of campervan travel and hybrid working in 2022, Sterling has launched their new van life insurance product catering to those choosing a more permanent life on the road.

Most vans must be converted and modified before they can be lived in full time, and this alone poses a problem for many insurers. But not for Sterling! Self-built and completely unique campervans and motorhomes can be covered too, with prices starting from £275 a year.

Sterling also offers cover for a range of campervans and motorhomes, as well as self-drive hire vehicles and hired motorhomes.

Let Sterling help you find the right insurance for your dream campervan trip. Get a campervan insurance quote today.

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