• Stephen Marriott

First Thoughts On Van Life

Updated: Aug 8

'Neither of us had ever travelled in a campervan before'

We have many travel experiences between us. From Emma driving a vintage communist car around the Balkans to my 18-month backpacking adventure in Latin America. However, neither of us had ever travelled in a campervan before. So we were very excited to be taking Rhoswyn, our converted Toyota van, on the road for the first time.

It would be a four-day trip into Devon and Cornwall and I'm pleased to report that the van survived, as did our relationship. Though Emma’s Google navigational skills tested that when I was driving and she took us down some super narrow lanes.

Rhoswyn purred along the M5. Although, the undulating A39 slowed her down (and I made a mental note to remove the Rhino roof bars to lighten the load and hopefully make the fuel go a bit further) as we headed for a farm on the edge of Exmoor. The Canadian man running the site said we should look at all four fields and pick our favourite spot for the night. We parked near a stream, sharing the field with just one camping couple. With no tent to erect, our only chore was to place our folding chairs in the sun and brew tea on the van’s stove.

'Man, van food tastes good!'

Later in the evening, we cooked up a storm outside the van – the stove is portable and therefore can be removed from the kitchen area and placed on a suspended table at the back of the van. The ‘storm’ was wild mushrooms, garlic and crème fresh, pan-fried in olive oil and seasoned. Plus, a drop or two of boiling water from our pan of pasta. Add the pasta, take off the heat and stir in an egg, and there we have it: Spaghetti Carbonara ‘Simples’. Man, van food tastes good!

The next day we awoke to a hawk circling above us, sheep being herded across the adjacent field and Oliver the farmer greeting us with a wave from his tractor. But the smell of coffee brewing from the van will probably be my lasting memory of that first morning. The serenity was slightly blemished by a military helicopter, throttling through the valley on an exercise!

Later we headed for Padstow via Porlock, a village on the Bristol Channel, where we ate lunch across from a thatched cottage on the weir. The village wasn’t overrun with tourists, even though there was a pub on the harbour and some nice-looking eateries and artist’s studios. Porlock is also part of the Cornish Pilot Gigs history, where fast rowing boats recovered people from wrecked ships. Their speed and agility made them ideal for smuggling and outrunning customs officials.

'We were appreciating that same feeling too'

Dinner was fish and chips and a glass of rosé on the harbour in Padstow. Later we found a campsite on the cliff tops, and there we met Noah the owner of the site. A Midlander and former nightclub operator. He had bought his ten acre plot with other plans in mind, however, Covid killed off his club business, which made him reconsider how he might make a living from the field. He was doing well that night, judging by the thirty or so camping groups there. He wasn’t angry about his former business, and I guessed he might have been looking for a way out. His voice was gravelly and he spoke loud and breathy. I liked the man. He was vocal about his political views and happy his children were able to enjoy the freedom of the campsite. We were appreciating that same feeling too. The seamlessness between the indoors and outdoors that the van offered us. That night we drank some more wine with our heads turned towards a full moon and a blanket of stars.

Next morning we popped back into Padstow to buy some seafood for a BBQ date in St Agnes that afternoon. Rick Stein's name, the celebrity chef, runs through Padstow like the words through a stick of rock. We succumbed by picking up some prawn kebabs from his trendy fishmonger's shop. St Agnes is only a 45-minute drive from Padstow, where some school friends Rich and his partner Julie are now living with their puppy Ziggy on the cliffs overlooking the bay. They have a large garden, which accommodates their 'Beast' BBQ and lots of garden furniture. Therefore, we were happy having a night away from the van and enjoying the sea view and some laughs with old friends in their tranquil part of the world.

'We don’t need to live so hygienically'

What we learned on our first van trip:

  • We don’t need to live so hygienically! We showered just once in the first couple of days and were okay. Though having a sink in the van is very handy

  • There was plenty of storage space for cooking utensils/food; bedding (mainly sleeping bags); clothes (remember I’m a backpacker) and gadgets

  • Be open to the characters you meet along the way

  • You can cook healthily in a van

  • Don’t get upset by your partner’s navigational skills - getting lost is part of the adventure

  • Carving out some time for yourself and friends is good for the soul.

Next trip Scotland! You can follow more of our van antics on Instagram here..


If you're enjoying my posts and want to support my efforts to break free and make a living my way, I'm partial to coffee (and Emma's favourite tipple is a glass of wine 😉). You can visit me here to shout me that coffee, and from there, also learn about my books and other projects.

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