10 Things You Need To Know Before Buying A Van To Travel The World

Sophie and Mike have been on the road for over a year now. They've got a few handy pieces of advice up their sleeves...

Ever wanted to quit your job, buy a van and head off around Europe? That’s exactly what adventurous couple Sophie and Mike decided to do. 

After meeting in 2013, they spent the next year planning their adventure from Chicago, USA around Europe in a van. 

Now, they are documenting their travels on their blog, Relaxed Pace. We asked Sophie and Mike for their top tips on converting a van into a mobile home…

Photo: Relaxed Pace

While totally enthralled by the idea of travelling full time around Europe in our self-converted camper, it was important to Mike and I that we didn’t feel like we were living in a metal box with a mattress haphazardly thrown in the back.

If our little van was to be our home for the foreseeable future, we wanted it to be comfortable, warm, somewhere we would look forward to returning to at the end of the day.

Here are ten things we’ve learnt along our journey that you should know before converting your van and hitting the road.

1. Make Your Home As Warm & Comfortable As Possible

Photo: Relaxed Pace

Living in a van when it’s cold can get pretty brutal, if you’re not properly prepared.

Mike and I spent a considerable amount of effort and time insulating our self-converted campervan, in the hope we’d stay warm during the harshest of winter nights.

We tested our van on the west coast of Scotland during some raging December gales.

If you can, install silver reflective bubble wrap and your preferred choice of environmentally (and human) friendly insulation. It’ll help with the heat, too.

You’ll lose a lot of your heat through the windows, so hang up thermal curtains while you’re at it.

2. You Can Sleep Almost Anywhere!

Photo: Relaxed Pace

Campsites are great for a guaranteed shower and usually, wi-fi, too.

However, if your van is a stealth-camper (designed it to look fairly inconspicuous), then you can pretty much sleep wherever you like – with some consideration.

The first few nights stealth camping might feel a little strange, but we’ve slept:

– Down dirt roads, in the middle of forests.
– In large cities right next to famous attractions.
– On the top of snowy mountains.
– In noisy motorway service areas and gas station carparks.
– On the beach.

All for free!

3. Eat Well And Exercise On The Road

Photo: Relaxed Pace

Generally, we cook inside the van. We’ve found that it’s really important to eat wholesome, nutritious meals while on the road – to adjust to the ever-changing environments.

We always have a selection of fruits and vegetables with us. Our store-cupboard is full of pastas, couscous, and other dried goods.

It’s fun to shop at local supermarkets while you travel and to play around with ingredients that you might not have used before.

Exercise is also hugely beneficial while living and travelling in a van. Go hiking, or if you can, take bicycles with you.

4. It’s Not As Hard To Stay Clean As You Might Think

Photo: Relaxed Pace

Dry shampoo, natural deodorants, baby wipes – these are the basic components of keeping clean on the road.

If you are a girl, you’re probably going to have to get used to using a pee-funnel!

Gyms, swimming pools, and Airbnbs can be utilised for great showers, but there are hot and cold showers you can buy for your van too.

5. There Will Be Relationship Highs And Lows – Ride With Them!

Photo: Relaxed Pace

When van-dwelling with another person, tiny frustrations are magnified tenfold when you live in a confined space without any sense of privacy.

Practice empathy, understanding, and perspective. One of the biggest plus-points is that confined space will bring you closer as a couple.

The experiences that you will no doubt have together will challenge and strengthen your relationship. You are living the dream, together.

6. You’re Perfectly Safe, But Take Precautionary Measures

Photo: Relaxed Pace

You can’t thrive if you don’t feel secure in your home. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher that is the right size for your van. A carbon monoxide alarm is super crucial.

Ensure you have a first aid kit and some basic first aid knowledge. Have clever (lockable) hiding places inside your van for your most treasured possessions.

Try to always carry your ID/passport with you. Perhaps invest in a battery kill switch or an in-van security camera, if these things will help you feel more comfortable.

7. Making Money On The Road Is A Challenge, So Get Creative

Photo: Relaxed Pace

It isn’t easy to finance nomadic living, but we’re living in an age where the internet allows us to connect with anybody, anywhere.

We are also networking like never before, offering up immense knowledge on any topic. Make the most of this.

Appreciate the resources you have, and realise that if you have a passion, there is more opportunity now than ever before to pursue it.

We’ve met photographers, bloggers, developers and writers on the road, all making enough money to sustain their lifestyles.

8. You Need More Storage Than You Think, Even If You’ve Packed Light!

Photo: Relaxed Pace

We packed light before hitting the road, or so we thought. Just a couple of plates, a couple of cups, you get the idea. The very minimum. We wanted our van to be an exercise in minimalism in motion.

Even so, we’ve found ourselves scouring French supermarkets for yet more storage boxes.

You will accumulate more while travelling than you might expect, so plan for it!

9. Changing Pace Might Take Some Adjustment

Photo: Relaxed Life

Self-care and little luxuries are important on the road. A blender for hummus and smoothies, battery-operated fairy lights, a bar of chocolate, some coconut shampoo, solid perfume, or some peanut butter.

Each person has an individual selection of things that can make them feel more comfortable, and those things are a few of ours.

Bring small comfort-items that you really appreciate having around you on your journey. In rough moments, when you’re feeling a little tired or overwhelmed, these items will prove invaluable.

10. You Will Find Home On The Road

Photo: Relaxed Pace

When travelling full time, you’re likely to meet scores of others living similar lives.

They are all adventurers and travellers redefining the bare essentials, looking for alternatives to life’s prescribed path.

We’ve made lifelong friends on the road. We might only see them once a year, or less – but this just increases our appreciation of these meet ups.

We believe that full time van-travel – waking up every morning to the open road, to sunlight pouring through the windscreen or rain pounding on our roof – is an extremely rewarding, challenging and creatively inspiring way of life.

It’s not for everyone, but for us, right now, our home is the road, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

You can follow Sophie and Mike’s adventures on their blog, Relaxed Pace.


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