Is vanlife the new normal?

The one word that sums up our first week living out of a van? Nesting. We haven’t ventured far out of Melbourne – we haven’t left Victoria at all – but we have definitely ventured into a new way of living.


Vanlife is more than camping. And this past week has been a period of acceptance. Acceptance that no longer will I be able to indulge in a refreshing shower after every run – something that I never thought of as an indulgence until now. Instead, I will crouch over our collapsible red bucket, still in my sweaty running gear, and wash using good old-fashioned soap and water. Cold water on a hot day, or as a treat, we may even boil up a pot of water to take the chill off.

This is the new normal.

Also normal is cooking by torchlight. Try as we might, we can’t bring ourselves to eat dinner before sunset. We’re simply not hungry enough. Or organised enough. Either way, cooking by torchlight has become our nightly ritual, our entertainment even. Think of it as  My Kitchen Rules meets I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!. 


It starts with Mat wiring up the lights and transforming his studio bench into the kitchen bench by – and this is highly technical – turning the benchtop over. Meanwhile, I collect the box of cooking utensils and pots from the van. Mat sets up the camp stoves (we have two) and, with an enthusiasm that can only come from having nothing else to do, I start my job as kitchen hand. This mostly comprises running to and from the van to fetch things. Sure I could bring everything out in one trip, but this way is far more fun.

Finally, with the sinking realisation there is nothing more to be fetched, chopped or tidied, I retire to my camp chair and watch while Mat creates a steamy bubble of stirring, whisking, chopping and charring. Then, with a flourish, he presents our dinner on our tabletop-cum-esky, pulls up his camp chair and we wolf it down before the mosquitoes beat us to it.

Here are a few more things that have already become normal just one week into vanlife.

Shower day is better than Christmas.

Nothing, I repeat nothing, feels better than a shower. After seven days of washing out of a bucket (thank god the sun’s been out!), yesterday we ventured into the BIG4 holiday park to use the showers for the princely sum of $5 each. And can I just say…Oh My God.

Retiring to bed at 8pm.

Actually, some days it’s more like 7.30pm. It’s dark by 6.30pm, and by the time we’ve cooked and eaten, there’s nothing left but to snuggle down in the Old Girl with a book and torch. Some days we stretch out the evening by taking a little walk around the neighbourhood. Mat prompts me to pick a star and, using his Skyportal app, gives me a lesson on its radius, life cycle and place in Greek mythology.

But mostly, we happily crawl under the covers by 8pm and lose ourselves in a good book. (I’m currently reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, an inspired gift from my good friend Caroline. Mat’s reading his grandfather’s copy of On the Beach by Nevil Shute.)

We rise with the sun

This is more normal for Mat than me. The moment the sun sneaks up into the sky, Mat is woken by a warm light through the window. My bedside window, to my delight, is covered by the wardrobe, allowing me to remain in an oblivious slumber. Except that I can’t, because Mat instantly gets up, smacks his head on the cupboard, swears, asks me where things are, before (wonderfully) heading out to make me a coffee. So now we both rise with the sun.


We have a mostly vegetarian diet

We’ve always been pretty big carnivores, but van-life is changing that. We’re kitted out with a couple of eskys but no fridge, so when we buy fresh meat, we have to eat it that day. The good news is Mat’s been getting experimental with foods that last longer, like lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans. (Check out Mat’s to-die-for pear and date pancake recipe – I reckon it’s a winner!)

But you know what? Nesting has been easier than both of us thought it would be. There’s something about rising and setting with the sun, enjoying a bucket bath, and tucking into lentils that’s somehow really satisfying. And on that note, I think it’s time for bed!


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