UKC

Van Life: On the Road #3

© Nick Fisher

It's a climber's dream to have a home on wheels and the freedom to travel to climbing destinations without the need to fork out for expensive accommodation or make do with a cold, uncomfortable night in a tent. The cost and effort required to obtain a van and "pimp it out" - so to speak - is unfortunately a limiting factor for many wanting to lead a life on the road.

In this series, we feature a variety of vans and their owners and getting into the geeky details of their vehicle and its set-up. Whether you're looking for vanspiration as a seasoned dirtbag or you're a VW virgin, you might pick up some helpful hints and tips...

Relaxing with Brenda and her rooftop tent  © Nick Fisher
Relaxing with Brenda and her rooftop tent
© Nick Fisher

36 year-old Nick Fisher from Derbyshire was keen to show off his rather unusual 'truck' set-up, affectionately named 'Brenda.' Ok, it's not a van - but it's something a bit different and shows how versatile vehicle conversions can be...

"We have a modified 105 series Toyota Landcruiser (the same the UN use) which we converted and drove to Cape Town S.A. En-route we stopped off to do some climbing in Turkey, Jordan and Egypt (all mostly unsuccessfully!) but the truck is a little different to the usual converted VW transported/ transit van. We also use it for general touring/camping holidays although these days with 2 very young children it has had to undergo a second transformation to house 2 more seats."

105 Series Toyota Landcruiser AKA Brenda  © Nick Fisher
105 Series Toyota Landcruiser AKA Brenda
© Nick Fisher


When did you decide you needed a van to live in and why? 

Me and my then girlfriend (now wife) thought it would be fun to go on a bit of an adventure, so we drove from London to Cape Town via the Middle East. In Africa you need a 4x4 to really be able to explore so that was the driving force behind buying the truck.

So what is it?

It’s a 105 Series Toyota Landcruiser - the one the UN use. It’s very reliable, really sturdy and super basic. There’s very few electronics - it doesn’t even have central locking or electric windows, which is useful because fixing electronic things is not my strong point. She was imported from Guyana and when we bought her she only had 20,000 miles on the clock - That’s barely broken in for a Landcruiser. I’ve seen one with over 500,000 miles on the clock. 

'Brenda' on the loose...  © Nick Fisher
'Brenda' on the loose...
© Nick Fisher

She’s been heavily modified though – beefed up suspension, upgraded steering damper, bigger wheels, upgraded radiator, snorkel and upgraded air filter not to mention the boarded out inside and storage compartments, gas canister, hidden safe and so on.

So it isn’t actually a van then, where do you sleep?

There’s a fold out tent on the roof that provides a really comfy double bed, with the added benefit of being off the ground and away from the beasties.

How do you manage storage?

Everything is stored in Wolf boxes (plastic boxes) in the back. It’s amazing how much stuff we were able to fit in. All the climbing kit, mechanical spares and tool, camping stuff, electronics, camera, clothes and general essentials, food and of course some whisky.

The storage boxes are really strong so they also double up as spare chairs, tables, shade etc.

Nick's truck in the desert  © Nick Fisher
Nick's truck in the desert
© Nick Fisher

How much power/electricity is available in your van, and from where? 

We put a dual battery system in so there is a 110ah leisure battery controlled by an intelligent solenoid. It’s enough to run the fridge and any necessary lighting for a few days.

What about water?

Yep, 60l, with a hand pump filter for water purification

And cooking?

There is a gas canister in the back and a portable gas stove that sits on a fold down shelf on the rear door when we need to cook. By moving some of the boxes it turns the back into quite an efficient kitchen. 

What is one essential item that makes your van life easier/more comfortable?

Comfortable camp chairs. It means at the end of a long day you can relax in comfort. 

Camping in Africa  © Nick Fisher
Camping in Africa
© Nick Fisher

How easy is it to relax in when not sleeping - does the set-up change?

It depends where you are. If you are in an amazing location on a lovely sunny day then it's easy to relax. If you're stuck at an African border crossing it’s a little harder. If it’s raining it sucks!

The set-up doesn’t change and it’s all about outside living. Once you have practised it a few times we can go from parked up to fully set-up camp in about 10 minutes. There is an awning for when it rains that keeps you dry(ish), but it's not really the sort of truck that’s going to suit someone who likes their creature comforts – like being dry. That said we have done a lot of camping in the UK in her, including with our young son and she works perfectly well. You just have to hunker down when it rains.

Brenda on the road...  © Nick Fisher
Brenda on the road...
© Nick Fisher

What is your most memorable van spot?

It's hard to call – we did a lot of wild camping in some cool places. Northern Sudan is pretty amazing. 

Have you had any nightmare situations involving your van?

Yeah - we broke down in a remote national park in northern Kenya (so much for the reliability of the mighty 105 series!). We tried shouting for a while but there was no one around so we had to walk for 2 hours before we found some rangers who helped us out. Apparently there are lions in the park so we were foolish to leave the vehicle, but what were we supposed to do.

So you’ve got kids now, how has that changed the way you use your truck?

Yep, we’ve got a 2 year old and a 6 month old. I’ve had to re-work the back to fit 2 child seats in so we’ve lost the water storage for now, and we have had to buy a bigger tent so we are no longer in the roof tent, but other than that things are pretty much the same. Camping with kids is super fun, and once they’re a bit older we’re planning to take them to Africa to do the West Coast route.

Brenda in Safari mode  © Nick Fisher
Brenda in Safari mode
© Nick Fisher

What advice would you give to someone wanting to buy and convert their first van?

I guess really think about what you need from your van. Do a few test trips in it before and while you're building it to work out how you use it and what you need. But most of all don’t think about it just get on and do it – it’s definitely worth it.

Any advice or experience on where to park a van overnight?

I think just be considerate about the landowner and other people who might be in the area. If you’re not sure ask. It’s pretty rude to park up on someone’s land without asking.



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30 Jun, 2015
That should shut up the 'who needs a van when you can use B+Bs' lot!
30 Jun, 2015
Except when it's raining... Great van though! And great photos.
1 Jul, 2015
Good to see a non-van in the mix. I did a year of weekends in the back of a slightly converted Toyota Rav4 and am now kitting out the bed of a pickup for nearly full time living. I looked at vans but decided the truck was almost as good for a lot of things I want to do and better for others.
1 Jul, 2015
Doesn't look like it's rained in the last 50 years in those photos!
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