The Until The Wheels Fall Off adventure started with the fitting of a camping interior to a 1994 VW Transporter. Pictures on Instagram of half installed sinks and solar panels mid fitment drew us in. We knew these guys were gearing up for some amazing adventures. As they set out on their first 'proper' trip, we asked them to share what they learnt about living the #vanlife.
Over to Sarah, Zak and Max the van...
Don't rely on the internet
We’re still new to the vanlife and were finding it hard to settle in. On our first night in the Lake District we had a rude awakening when we were asked to move on, despite having found a car park online which claimed it was fine for overnight parking.
We were on our first proper adventure in our van, heading to Skye, with a detour via the Lakes. It felt so hard to find places to stay in the busy Lake District which left us tense. We just needed to relax! Driving through Glencoe certainly helped. The landscape of the Scottish Highlands is so beautiful; we were stopping every few minutes to photograph mountains and lakes surrounded by pine trees.
Buy a paper map
We decided to drive the scenic route through Kyle of Lochalsh as we drove to Skye, instead of getting a ferry from Maillag to Armadale. We arrived in the rain and pitch black, with no idea of where we were because we didn’t have a map. We normally buy a trusty OS map but Skye had been split into 5 different maps at £8.99 each, which we weren’t prepared to pay seen as we wanted to travel all around the island. So we had been waiting to find a decent map, which we still hadn’t landed on.
The internet has its moments
On our first night in Skye we had to turn to the Internet for help again. We dropped on a motorhome forum chatting about where’s good to stay in Skye and found some co-ordinates for a car park 45 minutes from wherever we were.
Tired and slightly delirious from darkness and car lights we trusted our instincts and ploughed on to the car park. Having never been to Skye before we didn’t know that 90% of the roads are single-track, and when the co-ordinates started taking us down a tiny road surrounded by forest in the dark we started to get a little scared! 4 miles into the road that seemed to lead to nowhere and we saw a tiny glimmer of hope in the shape of flames coming from other wild campers in the space we were headed towards.
What a place! Tucked away in the pine trees, the sun finally broke through the rain and glistened on the Cuillin Mountain range just down the road. We couldn’t have wished for a better location, we were 2 minutes from one of Skye’s main natural attractions and 5 minutes from the end of the road.
Pack for every eventuality
The magical Fairy Pools were just a short walk away from our spot in woods. They are super beautiful but completely wasted on us so-called ‘photographers’ who forgot to pack a tripod. This was one of the biggest mistakes of our trip. The nights were so clear and starry but our shaky attempts at making a substitute tripod didn’t do anything any justice. We were quite upset that we also missed a good opportunity to capture the Northern Lights. Hopefully we’ll reconcile our error in Europe!
Zak’s biggest mistake was his huge misjudgement of the temperatures inside the van. He is always super warm whereas I feel the cold really badly, so I took a winter down sleeping bag worthy of Everest base camp. Zak took a summer sleeping bag as he anticipated he would be ‘too warm’ in his winter down sleeping bag and spent the whole time in his thermals, jumper, socks and woolly hat!
Research some must sees
Before we set off on the journey Zak had been looking at bothys to visit. He found three in Skye, and one in particular he wanted to visit called ‘The Lookout’. We knew very roughly that it was in the north and it was on the edge of some cliffs but that was about all we knew. With a stroke of luck we found a nice old man who owns an art gallery on the Island who was the carer of the bothy and was able to direct us in the right place. The bothy is situated on the top of Rhuba Hunnish cliffs about a 5k round trip from a small car park.
What a place! It’s mostly perfect for spotting whales and other sea creatures but we didn’t see any during our visit. It’s such a cool place for a night’s camp, with accommodation for 5/6 people if you take a roll mat and a sleeping bag. The bothy code doesn’t like people camping in the bothys for more than one night though.
Go with your gut
After visiting the bothy, we headed for the coastal road around the top of the Island over to the west side. We found some amazing little places, like a sign that read ‘BEACH’ which lead down to a small jetty with a stone fisherman’s hut with stone bays for boats. There were also some great laybys straight opposite the ocean, which we pulled up in and stayed one night.
We explored the Isle of Skye for 6 days, then missed the morning ferry in the north and had to drive to the south the long way. Best accidental decision of the trip! The first time we drove through Kyle of Lochalsh to the Skye Bridge it was pitch black and raining, this time it was blue skies and sunlight. The scenery was like nothing we’d seen before.
The extra time and petrol was so worth it just to drive through those mountain ranges, it must have taken us an extra hour as we kept stopping to take photos!
Have a rainy day plan
The rain was constantly ruining our outdoor plans, so kept trying to find things to entertain us indoors that didn’t cost loads of money. We didn't have much luck.
It wasn’t the rain we were worried about; it was drying our gear afterwards. How do we dry coats, trousers, boots and bags after being out in the rain all day in a van with no space for drip-drying and no source of heating? We still need to learn the answer. We found small items were ok, socks and tea towels we could put over the heaters in the cabin while we drove which dried them pretty well.
Take your time
Everything is a learning curve, and we’ll always have more to learn. If we can pinpoint one thing that our trip to Scotland taught us, it would be that living in a van shouldn’t feel hard. At the end of our first week I found myself stressed and uncomfortable. It felt difficult to find places to stay and adjusting to a different way of life was taking longer than expected. But at the end of our second week, we realised it just takes time and patience to properly adjust and distance ourselves from the comforts of home living. We became much more comfortable with finding places to stay and asking people for help when we needed it.
Memories are momentum
Our van is now parked on the drive, the glint in his headlights slowly fading, and our mundane ‘house living’ and work routine is back in full swing. For now. We do what we need to in order to leave it all behind and live our lives the way we want to and not the way the world thinks we should.
We keep looking back on the pictures we’ve taken over our trip and still talk about our adventures with friends and each other. We can’t wait for those days when we can drive along the open road with the mountains in the wing mirror and the beach ahead of us. Until then, we’ll strive on to save money so that we can enjoy the free life for as long as possible. To Europe in 2017!
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