So it has been exactly 31 days since we arrived in Dunkirk on the ferry at 4am: two English zombies spending their first night alone in the van. It feels like longer than a month and I know I have grown up so much.
My partner Ross has been the perfect companion for our van adventures. Don’t get me wrong – we argue, we get grumpy, things go wrong sometimes. But we forgive and laugh and move on. The key to co-surviving in such a tiny space is just being honest and loving and light-hearted with each other. I have spent almost every minute of the last 31 days in his company and I’m not sick of him in the slightest (yet). We literally adventure, eat, sleep, shower, poo together so I think on a trip like this, you have to be prepared to see someone at their worst and pray you still like/love them afterwards.
One thing about living in such a small space is that a little bit of mess can make the ENTIRE van disgusting, because there’s just nowhere for it to go. It means that tidying and cleaning everyday is absolutely essential. Ross helps, but mostly that’s become my department because I like everything to be in its proper place.
It is also quite challenging when your van partner is a 6 ft 3 broad-shouldered rugby player (he’s glad that I’m pretty small). He takes up a heck of a lot of bed, especially when the bed is boxed in on both sides by shelves. I’ve become resigned to squished nights and sore joints in the morning because I’ve been sleeping in odd positions.
Ross redeems himself by being an amazing cook. He cooks our dinner every night, and he prefers to do that while I wash up after (a small price to pay for his delicious meals). How he manages to cook such dishes with only 3 hobs is nothing short of magic.
He also drives us around everywhere because getting insurance on a van that big is a bitch to find if you’re under 25. Apart from going around a roundabout the wrong way once in St Lo, Ross has been brilliant at carting me and all our shit around France.
As you can imagine, the hardest things with van living are bathroom related – because we don’t have one. We were kindly given a portaloo by Ross’ family, and my goodness it has been the best thing to accompany us. We have one rule (that I reluctantly agreed to), which was that the portaloo is a “wee only” zone. I am quite impressed at my body because it’s managed to adapt to our situation and so we only have one poo a day – which we kindly leave at supermarches (in their toilets, obviously: not just in a pile in an unfortunate aisle).
We are also lacking a proper shower in the van, which is where our Hozelock portable shower comes in. Another of our top purchases – you fill it with warm water and compress it by hand to create a shower. Downsides are you have to find a remote place, stand outside completely naked, trying not to scream at the cold wind whipping around your bum while hoping that no one happens upon you in the night time… But it does mean we are managing to stay fairly clean!
Saying that, my hair suffers the most. We tend to shower every four days, and my hair gets all greasy and annoying after the first day or two. But fear not! Help arrived in the form of Batiste dry shampoo and it’s my new best friend! It’s powers cannot fix my fringe though, so it’s officially gone on holiday (somewhere hot if anyone asks). This is where my pink bobble hat comes in – it’s my new staple accessory and it’s been everywhere with me. I pretend that I have a cold head rather than that my explosion of fringe is hiding beneath it (shush, it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone).
Doing my make-up in the van has been… interesting. The only mirror that I have is one that came with an eye-shadow palette and I have to spend half an hour hunched on the bed trying to peer into it while struggling to paint my face. The lights were not placed with putting on make-up in mind (and why would they be to be fair), so occasionally I have to ask Ross to shine his phone torch on my face. Honestly, it must look ridiculous, and so mostly I don’t bother with doing my face. But sometimes it’s nice and makes me feel less like I live in a van!
Finding places to park varies from night to night – sometimes we’ll be in little car parks or the side of a road. But our favourite spots are the most secluded and natural: forests or beaches, where we are the only people when the sun goes down and we wake to beautiful scenery. Since it’s the Winter, it gets dark pretty quickly so it’s sometimes a surprise in the morning to see our new surroundings.
The cold nights force us into our warm little van, with our multitude of blankets and my trusty alpaca-shaped hot water bottle! Hot chocolates are even more heavenly when you’ve had a day exploring and your fingers are numb, but I’ve almost finished my pot of Cadbury’s hot chocolate powder and they don’t sell it in France. I definitely regret not bringing more.
I did, however, stock up on two boxes of Cadbury chocolate before we left – crunchies and dairy milk caramel bars. I don’t know if I’d be as happy about our van travels if I hadn’t had them with us… I’m slightly addicted to Cadbury dairy milk and I’m dreading when they run out!
All in all, I’m feeling bloody proud of myself and Ross for everything. We’ve adapted and are exploring. Instead of falling apart (which could easily have happened), we are stronger than ever and every day is an adventure.