Answering 22 questions about van life

September 4, 2020

One of my co-workers sent me an email with 22 questions raised by his 15-year-old daughter. The questions seemed very interesting, so I thought about posting the answers on my blog to share them with other people who might be interested as well.

After spending so much time in Spain did you pick up any Spanish?

I definitely picked up some Spanish but I haven’t really learned the language because I mostly communicated in English.

What language do you use the most when traveling?

English is probably my most used language when I travel outside of Germany. I speak a little French which was useful in Switzerland, France and Morocco. As mentioned above, I understand a little Spanish but I’m not really able to have deep conversations in languages other than German and English.

How long did it take you to get good at fixing everything yourself?

It has been and still is a learning process. Each time I fixed something, I had to learn how to fix it. I found original Mercedes workshop manuals from the 80s that were very helpful. I also watched a lot of YouTube videos and exchanged knowledge with professional or DIY mechanics on festivals, meet-ups and online communities. I haven’t fixed every component of my van, yet. So, there are still a lot of things to discover and to learn.

If you can’t go outside (for weather or covid restrictions) do you have enough space to move around?

I’ve never felt constrained in my van. 6 square meters seem enough space for one person to feel comfortable. Weather doesn’t really prevent me from going outside. Although I prefer walking around in shorts on a sunny day, I don’t mind hiking in the rain or being outside when it’s freezing cold. Being forced to stay in my van on Lanzarote because of COVID-19 was a different and new experience for me. However, I kept my doors open most of the time, so it almost felt like being outside. It wasn’t awesome but it was totally fine.

Can you stand up inside your van?

Yes, that was really important for me when building the van. I designed a wooden scaffold that allowed me to fit a nice looking wooden ceiling without loosing too much headspace. I’m 1.85 meters tall and can walk and stand in my van without touching the ceiling.

How much time do you spend driving on average?

It really depends on where I am. I have a few hotspots across Europe where my family and good friends live. Sometimes I stay at these places for several weeks without moving the van at all. When I discover new places in large countries like Sweden, I usually spend 0.5 to 2 hours driving on a workday and 0.5 to 4 hours per day on the weekend. But it really depends. Sometimes I also stay at one place for several days when I really like it.

How soundproof is it inside?

The living space is very soundproof. Quite often people don’t hear me screaming “come in” after knocking on my door. I assume the insulation of my van does a good job. It’s a different story in the driver’s cabin, though. I haven’t insulated the cabin in the front, yet. The old Diesel truck engine gets really loud when I drive faster than 70km/h, so I usually wear ear protectors when driving long distances.

Do ferries come everyday and you just have to buy a ticket? If they don’t and you miss one, how long until you can leave?

I assume this question refers to my last trip to the Canary Islands? Ferries from the mainland to the islands only go once per week. However, there are multiple companies operating ferries. I think these are Fred Olsen, Naviera Armas and Trasmediterranea. They depart from different harbors. As far as I know, the ferries depart from Cadiz and Huelva. You can buy a ticket at the harbor, but I was told to book the trip from the mainland to the islands in advance because each ferry only goes once a week. The ferries between the islands depart multiple times a day, so you really don’t have to worry about buying tickets in advance or missing a ferry. You’ll just hop on the next one.

How comfortable are the seats?

The original seats in the driver’s cabin of the military ambulance are ok but not fancy. I can sit on these seats for several hours without any problems. The self-built seats in the back are covered by simple cushions that are hard enough to sit comfortably. Probably not comparable to an ergonomic office chair but I feel quite comfortable sitting in my van.

How much time do you spend sitting (driving and working)?

During workdays I probably spend 6 to 10 hours sitting. I try to compensate all that sitting by taking regular breaks, walking, swimming and exercising. I rarely sit on the weekends, only when driving.

Do you have a fancy camera or do you only use your phone?

I only use my iPhone to take and edit pictures. I don’t have any professional photo equipment.

How do you decide where to go?

I usually get inspired and influenced by people I like to visit, the weather, friends going on vacation trips, travel blogs or by looking at the map and seeing places that I haven’t visited.

Where is your favorite place to stay?

I usually prefer staying at places where I have strong social connections like family and friends.

Do you prefer campgrounds, beaches/lakes, or forests the most?

Ignoring the social aspect I mentioned in the previous answer, I prefer remote places next to a clear river where I can get water that I can treat with my filter system. I also like staying in the woods but I can’t stay in a dense forest for more than a week because I depend on solar energy. The ideal place to stay might be a clearing surrounded by trees right next to a river. Maybe something like this lovely spot that I found in Sweden:

Perfect spot in Sweden

Beaches are also great. But my filter system can’t treat salty water, so I have to leave the beaches once in awhile to find freshwater.

Does it get lonely when you’re not traveling with anyone or are zoom calls just that good?

Zoom calls can’t replace social interactions in real life. I like traveling and I also enjoy being on my own once in a while. But I consider myself as a social person, so I really like traveling with others and always drive back to my hotspots to spend time with my family and friends. I couldn’t imagine settling alone in the middle of nowhere.

How often do you meet people that you would like to travel with again?

I’ve met a lot of people on my trips that I’m still in touch with. I try to regularly visit all my friends across Europe and I often join friends when they go on a vacation trip. But I probably met even more people that I haven’t seen again. It seems really challenging to keep long lasting friendships with hundreds of people.

Do you like to read? If yes, ebooks or real books?

I don’t consider reading as one of my hobbies. If I read, I read the news, documentations, blogs, technical manuals and so on. I usually spend my free time building and fixing stuff, doing sports (swimming, cycling, cathletics, surfing), hiking, hanging out with friends or just relaxing watching the birds, waves or stars.

How much extra storage space do you have?

I have a lot of storage space because I carry all my belongings with me: food, clothes for all seasons, dishes, electronic devices, tent, sleeping bag, camping mat, two bicycles and of course all the spare parts and tools that I’ve used to build and repair the van.

Have you seen those cool swivel seats that a lot of people install in their vans?

Yes, these are awesome! However, I’ve designed my van in a way that separates the driver’s cabin from the living area in the back. I basically have two rooms with a little passage that I can cover with a thick blanket. This is quite useful when I stay in very cold areas with freezing temperatures. Insulating an open driver’s cabin to prevent water condensing is really challenging.

Are time zones an issue when you’re working?

Time zones are challenging, but it’s possible to deal with them. Our company is fully set up for remote work. Most of my co-workers work at home from various countries across the world. We favor written asynchronous over spoken synchronous communication which makes it much easier to deal with time zones.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen that you would have never known existed if you didn’t decide to live in a van?

That’s a really hard question but I guess a cool thing about living in a van is that you can meet awesome people in different places and visit them again even if they live far away from your hometown. That really helps to keep long distance friendships.

Have you ever rented a hotel room just because you can?

I’ve never rented a hotel room for myself. I’m totally happy with my van. It has everything I need, so I don’t really want to stay anywhere else. However, I’ve already stayed in hotels or AirBnBs with friends and co-workers who don’t live in a van to spend time together.

Thanks for all these great questions! Feel free to drop further questions in the comment section below and I will try to answer them, too!