In 3 days we will have been ‘on the road’ in France for a whole month, living this adventure we’d dreamed of. There have been plenty of really low moments, along with the good parts, but most of all we’ve learnt a lot.
We thought we’d share our learnings from this first month of family van life, and any solutions we’ve found. These are not likely to be the same for every family living on the road, but here’s our experiences so far.
10 Things We’ve Learnt About Family Van Life
1. Cold water is a treat!
I mean like really cold water. Why? Because our tiny fridge isn’t big enough to give space over to keeping a bottle of water cold, and the water straight from our Berkey water filter is room temperature. Ice is even more of a treat! Our solution has been to fill up our Berkey from freezing mountain streams wherever possible.
2. Animals = lots and lots of flies.
Parking up on a farm is usually lovely and romantic, but it will mean your van fills with flies. We have used our France Passion membership loads for predominately idyllic stopovers. So whilst having a herd of goats, some cute pigs or friendly donkeys outside your window can’t be beat, it does mean there will be flies, and lots of them.
3. Close all your windows at camping car service spots.
There are usually bins and recycling facilities at these service spots, so while you’re preoccupied with filling up your water tank, your van will also be filling up with flies. Close all your windows before you stop if you don’t want to spend the next 20 minutes furiously swatting flies.
4. Bring a fly swat!
For all of the reasons above. And pay your children to swat them. My going rate is 5 cents a fly, and so far our eldest daughter has earned herself 65 cents (she got 10 cents for catching one with her fingers! Eek!).
5. Pack more fans!
Before we left the UK we bought two mini USB fans. They were £5 each and I think I thought they were cool because I knew we could plug them into our USB sockets. Now I wished I’d bought twice as many. They’ve been invaluable in the heat for keeping the air moving in the van, if not cooling it as well. Most nights we’ve been running them both all night long.
6. It’s much cooler in the mountains.
If you’re melting day and night, head for higher ground. Or the coast. We knew this already but had forgotten about it. It was so refreshing to spend some time in the Pyrenees and on the coast at Île de Ré and escape the heat. A campsite with showers and a pool is another great place to take refuge.
7. It takes us a minimum of 2 hours from waking up to driving off.
No matter how hard we try we just can’t get off quickly in the morning with kids. This makes getting to French markets tricky! Our only advice is to be as sorted as possible the night before, and have a snack breakfast, and a big second breakfast at the market.
Since writing this, we actually managed to be at a French market, shopping by 10.30am this past week! We did all of the above and it does work.
8. It’s not the poo part of the compost loo that smells, it’s the wee.
And hot weather makes it much worse! We’re still working on a more permanent solution, but presently we just try and empty it as often as possible. When I say “we” I in fact mean Nick.
9. Parking under shade will deplete your solar panels ability to deliver you power.
We’ve had all kinds of headaches with our solar panel control box showing us issues with our power supply. After 3 weeks Nick finally figured out that a large part of it has been not enough sun on the solar panel. In chasing the shade at all our stop offs it turns out we’ve inadvertently been upsetting the solar panel.
Since discovering this, we’ve also found that despite parking in the sun more, our solar panel is still struggling. We are now on the hunt for additional solar panels to give us better more reliable power.
10. There’s no escaping yourself living the van life
It’s only been a month since we set off on this adventure, but I feel like I’m already learning that where we are is not the underlying cause of our issues. It is us that are the cause, and all our “baggage”. For me it’s a hard truth to be swallowing, but van life / life on the road is forcing us to face up to this.