“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”
― Will Rogers
I find myself reflecting on our materialist tendencies. Not so much our tendency to buy things we don’t want but rather our tendency to buy more than we need. I recognise that sometimes going small can turn out to be false economy but I am struck by the sometimes stark differences that exist in the van life community. On the weekend we set up camp next to a couple who like us travel with a small pod type camper and across the road from us we watched an absolute behemoth of a luxury RV negotiate it’s way out of the showgrounds. I did not see for sure how many people were traveling in the vehicle but I suspect it was only two. I don’t want to begrudge anyone some luxury in their golden years but do these vehicles really meet people’s needs? The truth is large RVs sometimes struggle to find parks and camp sites that can accommodate them. They are a challenge to maneuver and they must cost an absolute fortune to drive around.
I just thought it might be worth sharing some of the reasoning for our minimalist set up and some of the things we are thinking of doing differently in the hope that it might be of some interest and use to others.
Several years ago we made a commitment to only owning one car and making that vehicle the most fuel efficient, best environmental choice at the time for our needs. Hybrids and electric cars were not the best option for us at the time, they may well be in future. Our decision was largely governed by environmental concerns but the biggest payoff has undoubtedly been economic. The fuel economy is only one small element of the savings we make and it is significant. With only one car we save on registration and insurance. Tyres are another big saving as the cost of tyres for our small four cylinder are a fraction of what someone with a large four wheel drive will pay, in fact it is fair to say we can effectively buy four new tyres for every one tyre for a larger four wheel drive vehicle.
In Australia with our rugged environment do I regret not having a four wheel drive? Well the answer is, yes, a little and in fact we are investigating what would be our best option going forward but in the mean time I can say we have managed extremely well with our little four cylinder city car and there have been surprising benefits from the choice, financial benefits are an obvious one. The other big advantage has emerged from our need to coordinate our transport to meet both our needs, it was not something I really considered at the time of making the decision but the truth is that need to co-ordinate gave me the gift of time. For one us leaving for work means one of us is always an hour early to work, for me that has been an absolute blessing, giving me a quite contemplative hour to spend reading a book or journaling before facing the work day. That hour has become like an hour of meditation and it is an invaluable part of my routine. There are the occasional down sides to being a one car family but nothing that would cause me to regret the decision.
When we decided we wanted a bit more comfort in camping the size of our car obviously influenced our choices. We never intended to become grey nomads and dragging our house around behind us never really appealed to either of us but teardrop camping did. We investigated our options and we choose a local manufacturer who made a quality product designed for local conditions, fuel economy and practical, cost effective comfort. We also looked at second hand options but in the end we bought a Travelbug escape pod the best thing we have ever done. The pod is designed to be inexpensive to maintain, with repairs, if ever necessary, able to be effected from supplies bought from places like super cheap auto or camping stores. We travel in luxury by teardrop standards as the pod came with an innerspring queen size mattress. Mark and Cheryl at Travelbug do everything onsite including making the mattresses especially to fit and suit the pods. Camping in a Travelbug pod is not roughing it by any stretch of the imagination. I should also mention that our pod was the cheapest option on the market, considerably cheaper than the alternatives and having been constructed from the principle of value for money, while meeting the needs of the Australian environment it was hands down the best option available. Mark and Cheryl are themselves keen campers so a lot of practical knowledge goes into the design and build of the pods. There are probably more luxurious teardrops on the market but they certainly did not represent the value Travelbug did.
One of the options we had when we got the pod was to have a tv/dvdplayer mounted on the cupboard wall. I have to admit we could not see a point for having a tv in the pod, we always travel with laptops anyway so no need for a tv. I find it slightly mystifying when I see people travelling with extensive satellite tv gear and sometimes more than one tv? I shouldn’t judge but seriously what are you in the outdoors for?
One of the options that can rival a teardrop is the sprinter/transit style van. I have admired, even envied many van set ups but the one thing that makes the teardrop the better option is the fact that we are not restricted in our mobility once we set up camp. We park the pod, detach the car, put up the additional tent room and then we are free to use the car if we need to. We spoke to a van traveller on the weekend who was admiring our set up, and was particularly taken with the fact the pod meant we could still use our car without having to pack anything up.
The pod gives us everything we need in a very compact space. We have an incredibly comfortable bed, that is off the ground, is extremely waterproof and ventilated. The side annexes and the tent give us additional rain and shade protection. The tent gives us somewhere to change in privacy and comfort. We have added a shade gazebo to the back of the pod to give rain protection to our kitchen, we even have walls for the gazebo if we ever do want to close the area in. Even people with camper trailers have admired the pod and the speed and efficiency of set up.
The back of the pod contains our kitchen, including a two burner gas stove and small fridge, the space is small but more than ample for everything we need in terms of storing utensils and supplies. I will admit that for longer trips we take an additional pantry box in the boot of the car. Does the fact that our kitchen is an outdoor affair present any problems? No, in fact I really enjoy that element. We did experiment with some rain protection, initially re-purposing an old tent, before eventually getting the additional gazebo. We have camped in all weather and while I enjoy wet rainy days I will admit that G does not always share my enthusiasm and would probably enjoy a nice totally enclosed space on a rainy day which we can get by adding the solid walls to the gazebo.
The one thing we don’t have that many vans have is, bathroom facilities, we rely on being able to access showers and toilets where ever we travel. I have to confess that I did not really want to have deal with the dump requirements of portable toilets, especially when it is so easy to find an alternative. We have never had a problem finding adequate facilities where we travel, even with free camps. We have only ever had one negative experience of a public toilet at a free camp and that was the result of some selfish idiot ignoring the signs saying dumping of van toilets was not permitted. They made a hell of a mess in a previously pristine toilet and didn’t even have the decency to clean up after themselves! The one thing I do sometimes miss is not having our own shower, since not all free camps have showers, although many do.
I can see the point of having your own onboard facilities, not having to get up in the freezing cold or rain in the middle of the night to make the midnight dash to the loo could have its advantages especially if you are older. I have to admit that I have always enjoyed those late night moments when I find myself standing alone admiring the night sky after making the walk to the bathroom, but I can understand wanting a little more convenience.
So in short by accident we seem to have become quiet involved in the nomad van lifestyle, we originally just wanted to indulge in some short camping escapes but we find ourselves looking more and more to longer trips. We are considering what best suits our future needs, 4X4 is an option we are looking at, but we are also considering if it is worth looking at something like a sprinter van to set up something with a bit more comfort, still towing the pod but with additional comforts in the van. At this stage I am not sure what we will end up doing but I do know that we will always try to minimise our environmental impact as much as possible.