We love meeting new people on the road and hearing what brought them to travel. When we rocked up to a wild spot on the west coast of Portugal, there was a bumble-bee coloured van sat looking across the ocean. Of course it was only polite to see if they minded us parking next to them – and then we saw they were British. And that moment was the start of a fabulous evening, sharing food stories and a few tipples. Here is Emily and Lloyd’s story of their gap year in their self-converted minibus, Flora.
At the beginning of 2018, Lloyd and I hatched a plan to travel the world. We looked into backpacking, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail before finally landing on travelling the world in a van. For budget reasons, and for design creativity, we chose to self-convert a van.
I work in Marketing and Lloyd works in Sales, so you could reasonably assume that we didn’t have any DIY skills. I was handy with a paintbrush and Lloyd could change a lightbulb and put up a picture. Although beyond that, everything we learnt, we found on the internet. We followed anyone and everyone on Instagram who had converted their own vans for inspiration, we read blogs for tips on the best things to use and we watched videos on Youtube on how to put it all together.
We had saved around £3500 to spend on a van, and we would then save the same again to fit it out. We found Flora, a 15 year old LDV Convoy Minibus on Autotrader with around 17,000 miles on the clock. With no intention of buying that day, we drove up to visit the first van to get the ball rolling, and next thing we knew, Flora was ours. We drove her away on the same day. She had 17 seats and a roof rack – and she was ours.
Initially, we were very optimistic about the conversion; we spent a weekend gutting out the 17 seats, the plastic walling, the floor, the soaking cab mat and were left with an empty husk of a van. A bright yellow empty shell. After watching videos, we had planned to spend the following weekend cleaning, rust treating and priming. That weekend stretched from 1 weekend to 4. That was a bit of a wake up call.
Initially, we kept the van on my mum’s driveway as there was more space than outside our 2 bedroom house in Portsmouth. However, by August, we had insulated the van using Celotex boards, expanding foam and some recycled plastic wool, which was not as far as we were planning to be. We moved the van down to Portsmouth, and whilst we both worked full-time, our evenings and weekends were spent in Wickes, B&Q and in, on or around the van.
Our house is small and we lived in chaos. We ate Heinz tomato soup and ready made pizzas to save time in the evenings so we could make the most of the light. We gave up hobbies and socialising. We worked all day, every day and it was some of the most stressful times of our somewhat short lives.
We hit a turning point in early-mid October when it finally started coming together. We had finished the main components of the build and could see a light at the end of the tunnel. I was painting, Lloyd was completing woodwork pieces. I was put on garden leave in early November which was a real blessing. We would not have been ready to leave by the deadline we had chosen if it wasn’t for that, because not only were we converting our van, we also had to jump through the hoops required to let out our house.
We moved out of our house on December 31st. Trying to get the final few things completed for the house was a mad dash. We had electricians ripping up floorboards on the 23rd of December and replacing the fuse board. We received our gas safety certificate and, the day we handed over the keys, we collectively let out a sigh of relief, in part because we had only just finished cleaning the house that very morning.
Lloyd worked the first week in January, whilst I cleaned, painted, carpeted and packed the van. The day before we left, Lloyd fitted the gas, the diesel heater and we had an issue with the battery which needed fixing. Then like it was nothing, we started up the engine on the 13th of January, and we left the UK for the trip of a lifetime.
How we are finding it so far?
We are now eight months into our trip and we still cannot stop smiling.
We live with 75L of water which lasts us 4-5 days. We rely solely on solar power to charge our phones, laptop, iPad, lights, fan and water pump. We have a 13kg bottle of gas that has lasted so far and is still lasting us. We don’t have hot water, we don’t have a shower and we don’t have a toilet. We live with less now than we ever have before but feel richer with everything else we get to experience on a daily basis.
It was a steep learning curve. 15/20L of water a day doesn’t really sound as little as it is, but as the average use of a person living in the UK currently stands at 300-370L of water a day, so it’s a noticeable adjustment. We don’t have a shower so rely on boiling water from the kettle and using the sink and a flannel or a swim in the sea. We don’t have a toilet, which has been a source of many laughs, tears and midnight drives, but now our bodies are starting to get used to it.
It sounds like a nightmare, but really, it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s just not bad. We have this inexpressible freedom to go wherever the wind blows. Choosing where to park is easy now with so many apps and websites for camper vans, caravans, and other converted vans.
How we afford to travel
As I said earlier, we both worked full time, during which time, we saved enough money for us to travel for a year. On a budget of maximum £1000 a month, we are currently spending around £600 a month on all our expenses, for both of us. Food, fuel, travel costs which is split about a third each way. We currently don’t earn money on the road, and we’re not sure if we ever will, so we have saved enough for us to do the things we want to do for a year.
We are very lucky that there are so many places to free camp across Europe as this has saved us vast sums of money and it also means we have been lucky enough to have some of the most beautiful places as our back garden.
Our route and future plans
Our journey has taken us from Dunkirk to Lake Annecy, Lake Annecy to the Etretat Cliffs, along the coastline to Mont St Michel and the Cote de Granit Rose, to Bordeaux, Biarritz and Bayonne. We have petted wild horses in the Pyrenees, had our van towed in San Sebastian, drank cider in Oviedo and hiked the Ruta del Cares in the Picos de Europa.
Pin it for later!