The Differences Between Van Life and House Life
As I lay in bed the other night (in our rental flat), listening to the thunder rumbling in the distance, and the lighting flashing around the edges of the shutters, I got to thinking a lot about the differences between van life and house life. It’s not often that we get such a chance to stand back from our everyday way of living, and reflect on it. To examine it. And to compare it to a different way of living.
That is exactly what we’ve been given the opportunity to do by living in the Baby Bus. We can compare the differences between van life and house life and unpick what we love about both. This past week living in our little flat in Italy, has been a great reminder of what house living is like. So here are my thoughts on van life and house life, nearly 3 months into life on the road.
Van life connects you deeply to nature
“House life” seems like a very long time ago for us, and yes we’ve had a few nights in a hotel, but it’s not been since May time that we’ve actually lived in a house. It’s been even longer to when we lived in a house that was our own, just the four of us.
That thunder and lighting I mentioned, they seemed so far away, even though they were passing over the town. They were so very removed from my experience of them, tucked up in my bed in this little flat. In the Baby Bus, nature is surrounding you, and when a thunderstorm passes over, you feel a part of it.
In the Baby Bus you can almost reach from wall to wall, and with the windows open the outside becomes part of the inside. It’s right there. It’s like your senses are hyper aware, the sounds, and smells, and even the light quality. Even in this tiny flat, nature is ‘out there somewhere’. It’s removed from you. You can sit inside and disconnect from it. Living in the Baby Bus you can’t ignore it, even if you stay inside all day, it is all around you.
House life and familiarity of place
When we set off on this adventure I never imagined living “forever” on the road. I knew that I always wanted to find a permanent home to let those root grow deep. To soak up that familiarity of a place, that sense of the landscape. To know it intimately. (I think I now see that I’d already put down roots in Manchester, I just didn’t realise it until I metaphorically ripped them out).
But living in this flat for a week has highlighted the things I don’t like so much about house living, and those things that I really appreciate about van living and what it offers. Can those parts I love of van living be incorporated into house living? This is what I find myself asking.
I have been reading Little House in the Big Woods with our eldest daughter who is five. We have the lovely ‘first Little House’ series, and are now incorporating the first chapter book version. The way that the Ingalls family lived seem to have a lot of the elements I would love to combine from van life into house life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wishing to return to 19th century living, but I notice similarities.
Here are the things I’ve noticed are similar between van life and ‘Life in the Big Woods’, and in contrast our experience of living in a house:
One main living space
Firstly, I love living predominately in one main living space. Yes, even the bed ‘room’ as part of that living space. In Little House in the Big Woods, Ma and Pa sit by the fire of an evening whilst the children sleep nearby.
We do exactly this in the Baby Bus. Our daughters fall asleep in the cab bed while we cosy up together in our second bed, with just a few tealights flickering. There’s literally nowhere else for us to go, unless we fancy sitting on the toilet.
What were our lives like in a house? Well our old house had a living room and a sitting room, and the kitchen was set off in a way that wasn’t very sociable. Like many houses we had bedrooms upstairs, and although we all shared one bedroom with a big family bed, the girls still went to bed before us, and we hung out downstairs. The way our sitting room was set up was with two armchairs, so Nick and I didn’t even sit snuggled up. Everything about it meant we were all apart from each other in some way.
Naturally fading light
Secondly, in Little House in the Big Woods, with no electricity the house grows darker as the day fades – there is just soft light from candle and oil lamps. Again, in the Baby Bus this is very much how our evenings go. Yes, we have electricity that our solar power and batteries power. But, we haven’t installed very much lighting – not through design, just running out of time and being slack on the decision making when we were still in the UK.
Even still, if we are wild camping with no hook up, there’s only so many days we can go before our power runs out, so we generally keep our consumption as low as possible. This means we don’t tend to have lots of lights on once the light fades. Also our children go to sleep before us, so we can’t have loads of lights blaring.
So we naturally fade our lights as the sun sets and light fades outside. After a week in a flat with loads of – quite frankly – loud overhead lighting, I am craving our evenings in the Baby Bus! I’d go as far as to say it doesn’t feel healthy having all these lights on in the evening. Yes, we could turn them off, but when they’re there, I find we just put them on/don’t turn them off out of a lifetime of habit.
Connection with the wild outside
Thirdly, the Ingalls family have a deeply intimate connection with nature and the wild outside. Nature dictates their day-to-day rhythms in a way I feel we can ignore for the most part living in a house these days. Living in the Baby Bus I feel we’ve re-found this connection, through seeing it, hearing it, and being closer to it.
Even when I’ve been working for a few hours in the Baby Bus, I still feel connected to the outside. It’s right there outside my window, which is usually wide open. In the forest I can hear the sounds of the trees in the wind, the rushing of the mountain stream, I can see butterflies in the meadow, and smell that lush earthiness after the rain has fallen on the moss.
In the flat this week, I have been working a lot, and I’ve been reminded how very different an experience it is. I think I had 48 hours where I didn’t step foot outside. That’s crazy! I love that in the Baby Bus this is impossible, and even if you could, nature is right there, unavoidable. Wafting through the door, those rich natural colours soaking into your eyesight. In a flat in the middle of a town, with no garden, it is entirely possible to only see walls and doors, and that is madness. I forgot house living could be like this.
Hopes for future house life
These are some of the aspects I really love about van life, and I’d like to find a way to carry them into ‘house life’ in the future. But it’s easy to slip into that old way of house living. Spending just a week in this flat has shown me that. It’s hard to break those habits. When you can’t build a bricks and mortar home from scratch (like you can in a van), it can seem difficult to live in the way you’d like.
I’m hopeful that in recording these observations here that I can be reminded of what I loved about van living. Should we find a house to settle in one day, I’d like to think we will have these experiences to draw on to create a way of living that we love.