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...
This time it's Will and Becky who are keen to show-off their free-spirited Ford Transit. This big van named Bewi has been here, there and everywhere and is even used as a mobile shop to sell their homemade - or 'vanmade' - knitted BOBHats!
Firstly who are you and how long have you been living in your van?
We are Will and Becky, and we have been living in our van (Bewi) for the last two years. For the last year we have been traveling through France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco, climbing (mainly sport) as much as possible. Before that we were living in the van in North Wales and were mainly based in Llanberis.
What is the make and model of your van?
Bewi is a long wheel based, high top Ford Transit with a 08 reg, not the most beautiful van but it’s a great size for living in.
Why did you choose a Ford transit?
You get more bang for your buck, more van for your money. You can get a newer van with fewer miles, for less money. The large number of Transits out there means that parts and maintenance are cheaper. Personally we also like the shape of van, it’s nice and boxy i.e. it doesn’t taper in too much towards the top, so it offers more space up high. I think that if we were buying another van today, we would probably still go for a Transit, although we would consider a Citroen Relay or Fiat Ducato, they’re a good shape too.
Not a Transporter then?
No, probably not, they’re not actually very spacious and they’re a bit pricey to buy and repair for us.
So how did the conversion go?
The van had previously been a railway support vehicle for workers to escape the rain and make brews on their lunch break. Fortunately, this meant that the van came with professionally fitted electrics and a diesel heater. To convert the van and make it liveable, Will took 5 days off work and worked really hard on the van, from 8 am to 11pm, to get the majority of the conversion complete. The rest of it happened on random days off. The funny thing is that it took the same time to make a couple of small fiddly cutlery draws as it did to get the entire bed frame in place! The two best pieces of advice I can offer if you’re going to convert your own van would be: 1) borrow as many good tools as possible, having the right tools for the job will save you a lot of time and make the job look a lot more professional and 2) don’t try and convert your van whilst you're living in it… just don’t.
What were your main considerations when building your van?
Storage! - Climbers have a lot of gear, but we do a lot of other things as well; slacklining, highlining, biking, surfing and making loads of hats. That stuff takes up a lot of room and that doesn’t even cover food, clothing, cooking equipment, gas, water, batteries etc. Whilst designing the van we definitely had storage at the front of our mind.
Personally we love the fact that we have a fixed bed, when you want to go to bed you can, there’s no faffing about rearranging the van, it’s just there. We think this is so important, when you think of the van as your home, to be able to just jump up and curl up into bed. However I do see the benefits of a fold away bed, for extra living space. If we were only going away for a short trip we could probably cope with it, but we are too lazy to do it all of the time!
Our bed becomes our sofa, our dining room and a games room. We have had at least six people in the van comfortably watching ‘The Wizard’s Apprentice.’
Would you do anything different if you were doing it all again?
The van was actually amazing the way it was for what we were doing this year and it treated us really well. However if we were to do the same trip again, we would definitely fit a solar panel. When you stay parked up in one place for a while, you have to be careful with the electricity even if you have a few big batteries. On the other hand there is not much point in having solar panels in North Wales, it rains …. a lot.
If we had a solar panel, then we could also have a fridge. Keeping food fresh when the temperature warmed up was a bit of a mission, and not always that successful. A fridge would mean we could eat better food, stay parked up for longer at the crags and spend less time shopping.
Also, an oven would be amazing! A couple of our friends had ovens in their vans and we were always pretty envious when they came out of their vans with homemade pies or a lasagne.
How did you fund your trip?
Basically, we worked hard, saved hard and lived in the van to save rent for a year before going away to Europe. In doing this the van almost paid for itself within the year, allowing us to save purely for our time away. We didn’t exactly have highly paid jobs either, Will was a Care Worker and Becky was a freelance Outdoor Instructor. It is amazing how much you can save and how far money can go when you live cheaply.
Whilst we were away we topped up our money by making and selling bobble hats, we would just put the hats out on rest days and, if we were lucky, sell a couple. It wasn’t anywhere near enough to live on, but it meant we could buy nice food on top of the basics sometimes, which was nice.
What were your expectations for living in a van and what were the realties?
When we first talked about it I really liked the idea. It's most people’s dream, it seems romantic driving off into the sunset in a cute VW camper and living happily ever after. Bewi, however is not a cute VW and when we first moved into her in North Wales there were very little sunsets and it was cold. However we had some amazing friends who let us hang out, shower and keep warm in their flat in Llanberis in the dark months. For that we will always be eternally grateful!
One of my biggest concerns about living in the van was that I didn’t want to be considered as an official dirt bag. I wanted to be able to live in the van and still look and feel clean, as well as eating well, not just rice.
Over the year we did not have enough Wonga in our budget to stay on campsites, besides after a while you realise that you really don’t have to. There is always somewhere to park up and it’s often a nicer place to stay. There were also loads of other climbers from all over the world doing the same thing. We ended up parking in car parks by the climbing venues and forming small van crews. You ended up seeing familiar faces as you move around throughout the seasons. It was great!
You went away for a year, but you can’t climb every day, how did you cope with the boredom of rest days?
I don’t think there were many times when we were stuck for things to do on a rest day. Some times on rest days I would feel a little lost on what to do but that was never a problem for long. Between reading, making BOB hats, slacklining, swimming, cleaning the van and cooking there was always something to do. Little everyday jobs in the house can take up double the time in the van. For example, an entire rest day can be taken up with getting water, laundry and shopping!
Did you ever get tired of each other’s company?
I think if we had gone away and had only had each other for company all year, things could have been a little tough. However there are actually a lot of people, from all over the world, doing the same thing as we did. After a while you get to know them and make friends with them. After a few months, it was rare that we didn’t know anybody else when we turned up to a new climbing destination.
What about water, where did you get that?
Fountains! There’s water fountains in lots of small villages in France and Spain. The only place we bought water was in Morocco, the infrastructure wasn’t quite the same in Morocco, but the locals were always keen for empty 5 litre water bottles when we were finished with them.
Showering wise we have done pretty well over the year and I reckon we only paid to shower around 10 times each maybe. However we did wash a lot, most of the places we stayed at there was a lake or a river to wash in, or we would heat some water and have a sponge bath in the van. Some friends we met on the road brought a shell shaped sand pit, which they stored in the back of their van. In the evenings they would heat some water, find some candles, put the music on and have a bath!
If possible, time it with a trip to a café or shop, however, it isn’t always possible to avoid the wild poo, sometimes it just had to be done. The key is to be as conscientious as possible. We were very conscious that, especially in Spain, there was always a lot of human poop around and we didn’t want to add towards it. If it has to be a wild one, go for a long walk. Our friend Steph went for a run and came across a man pooing on the road in Margalef… not cool! People have different views on disposal, do what you want, just don’t leave a mess, it's grim.
Did you have any problems with your van?
Everything was going fine until 11 months in when the starter motor decided it couldn’t really be bothered any more. To cut a long story short, Swiss mechanics were looking very expensive so we fled for home. Then, at 2am, with 30minutes before our ferry, the van simply refused to start in Calais ferry terminal and it was looking like we were going to miss the ferry. Will took the starter motor off and hit it on the carpark for a while, after which it started (just!) and we made it onto the ferry and home!
We also had a very near miss in the far south of Morocco in a valley called the Samzar Valley. The drive down into the valley involved some of the steepest and sharpest hairpins I have ever seen. The van could not make some of the bends in a single turn and would wheel spin when I tried to reverse mid turn because it was too steep. There were a few hairpins where I told Becky to get out of the van and I had the door open, ready to dive out of van because I genuinely though there was a possibility we were going to lose it over a massive cliff! I would give it solid E5 5c as roads go!
If you’re going to live in it for a while… buy big.
Solar panels are well worth it in Europe.
You don’t need as much stuff as you think, life is better in a van when you have less junk.
Be inventive with your cooking, it doesn’t take a lot more effort, but it’s well worth it.
Have something to do on rest days.
Stay in school, don’t do drugs
If you would like to hear more about our adventures, get beta on the best climbing in Europe, get inspiration for inventive cooking on two hobs, we have a blog which we will start updating a bit more with our experiences and van life tips. Check it out at www.BOBHats.com/blog If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at BOBHatsco@gmail.com
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