Life on the Road

Made In The Shade : Dixies Guide To Surviving A Vanlife Heatwave

We’ve all been there. Hot sun beating in the van windows all day, temperatures predicted to reach the high twenties again, for another week in a row, the rivers dry and parched and…. wait, no. No we haven’t all ‘been there’. We’re Irish, remember? Rain is usually the order of the day, regardless of the time of that particular day or of the season, and in some parts of Ireland the mercury hasn’t climbed this high since the summer of 1946. This is a proper heatwave, our first living in the back of a Fiat Ducato, and what a learning curve it has been.

We are not actually in Ireland. We are in Yorkshire, England, deep in the dales, but the weather and drought conditions are similiar. One day we were fine, lolling around licking icecreams and gingerly exposing our pale pasty skin to the sun for the first time since we moved home from Bermuda in 2017, the next we woke up stifled, inside the cab was still and air-less , we were melting, boiling, sweating, sweltering. Thats the word I’m looking for, sweltering. A heatwave can be difficult to manage in a house but a house is designed to protect you from the weather, a converted van with all its insulation is decidedly not. Think oppressively warm, simmering humid, think rolling boil, Dixie recently is more pressure cooker than campervan, more tin can than tiny home, more sauna than shelter.

It’s been about 3 months since the sun began to really assert itself regularly in ways quite foreign to us and we’ve forgotten what a cloud even looks like never mind the sound of pretty pitter-patter notes of raindrops on the roof or the way the countryside smells so new and alive after a sustained soak from a summer shower. Hosepipe bans are in effect all across Ireland and here in Yorkshire the reservoirs, although plentiful, are low, empty, exposing their brown gravelly banks. Its been a long, sticky few months and by now we’ve learned a thing or two about not just coping with the intense heat but getting the absolute most out of it and enjoying every hot minute.


We are not going to recommend you buy anything at all designed to take the heat from your van or motorhome although there are plenty of air-con type devices on ‘the market’ which promise an ice-cold breeze at the touch of a button but as with anything else which requires plugging in, these devices come with a price, the hit to your leisure battery from any motorised equipment will be significant. Anything you purchase now will be carried around long after the Irish returns to the weather, can you justify the money or space spent? We don’t own a fridge anymore and have honestly until now not needed one, not travelling around these normally wet, cold islands. We haven’t bought an aircon, a fan or even a cooler box to help in this high heat (we, like everyone else, are still a little shocked the stretch of glorious sunshine has lasted this long) but we do certain things a little differently to keep ourselves comfortable in the heat.


Slow down…to a crawl!

The raise in heat can cause tensions to flare sometimes as every little task inside the van seems to take so much longer and moving in the sometimes-confining space is so much more hard work. Chores we usually enjoy outside like washing the dishes now require a full coat of sun cream first. The high temperatures drive some of us a little crazier than usual and a game of “What’s that Smell?” can frustrate quickly as a piece of onion sweating away in the shower tray is no longer an amusing by-product of vanlife but a seriously odiforous annoyance.

The best way we have found to cope with the heat? Slow down. Relax. In fact, if you have the choice and a nice shady spot to hide, near the sea for the cool fresh breeze and away from the growing swarms of flying insect predators, our advice is to stop moving altogether, stay put as long as you can. Keep comfortable, keep your facilities close and your sightseeing plans on hold until that strange warm ball has disappeared from the sky and everything is back to normal.


Shed Your Coat! 

The minute you actually begin to believe the weather forecast when it calls for clear blue skies and the possibilty of more weeks of soaring temperatures, do yourself a favour and hide your winter coat and boots. Our all-weather hiking jackets are great but both are bulky and therefore get moved around constantly, from on our bodies to hanging awkwardly on hooks taking up valuable living space to being relegated to the cab at night time so if you often do the same, roll them up and pack them far away as soon as possible.

The same goes for extra blankets, throws and any really warm thermals including pjs, take these out of your clothes rotation immediately and hide them. You’ll need the space and the less soft furnishings and fabric around the better to keep a steady stream of cool air flowing through the van. Feel free to take a scissors to your jeans and create some shorts too, now that’s minimising 😉

We ran into this little lamb pictured above as all three of us clambered for shade behind a low wall on a sun-scorched hill in Malham. He generously shared the only thin strip of darkness available in the whole field with us but is that really fair, we can take off our coats anytime we want.


Don’t Dry Up!

This heatwave is no joke. The rivers, lakes and reservoirs we’ve hiked around are empty and dry, green crops are singed yellow at their tips, there are numerous uncontrollable wildfires sweeping across the moors and the whole country is desperate for any level of percipitation to fall and relieve the cracked brown soil. The hosepipe ban has not affected us or our water levels in Dixie directly but it’s safe to say another dry week and it might begin to. During the summer we use more water each for drinking and more basins are filled for washing away the dirt from flip-flop-footed adventures. We carry 4 plastic 5lt containers of water with us and fill up wherever available to avoid having to go without. Top tip, some drinking taps are designed NOT to be used to fill other vessels, get around this with a smaller bendy plastic bottle. Refill your water tank wherever you can because you never know how long it might be until you meet your next water source.


Find Your Angle!

We remember just a few short months ago carefully considering Dixies direction and angle when parking for the evening, attempting to align her side door to face the rising sun while simultaneously framing the most artistically scenic view possible through the back doors… well you can forget about all that. Nowadays shade is king, not view, and when it comes to keeping cool, any tree will do. Or building, wall, mountain, anything bigger than your van to crouch behind. Back your rear under canopy if possible but bear in mind the doors won’t be as accessible and most bushes are full of flies, reproducing wildly in the heat, more on those little guys later. Top tip, black out blinds or curtains do go some way towards keeping the van cool, you just need to remember to close them.


This parking spot above was great in the heat, and we could easily rotate Dixie as the sun travelled across the sky. We stayed two nights here and it was so quiet the back doors and front windows stayed open all night and a wonderful breeze kept us cool.


Take a Bath!

Nature always provides. Tired of picking through the stones of another dry riverbed in Yorkshire seeking a soak, we headed to the Lake District to try out their ponds for our bath. Plentiful, refreshing and free! Just don’t use any soap or products, the ducks, swans and fish don’t appreciate it much and remember, when in the water, you are a guest in their world.

While you’re at it, splashing around in that huge cool pool, wash out those big plastic kitchen drawers please. They’re covered in marmalade which is beginning to congeal. We’ve given up pretending we have a coolbox and have taken to carrying fewer supplies instead as fresh goods wilt quickly and that is just that. We eat less in the heat anyway and rarely cook, reluctant to add the warmth of the gas hob flame to the equation. Dixie, like us humans, gets grubby in the sun so try to stay on top of kitchen duties and of course your food stock rotation lest you lose any fruit to mould. Exciting stuff huh?!


Uninvited Guests

The heat makes everything mad, including our normally placid and relatively non-pesty little friends of the winged variety. Having the doors open all day AND parking in the trees and bushes makes your van party central for anything local and air-borne to come along and hang around a while, and while some species are small enough, silent and not a bother to us, others appear angrier and anxious to spread some indecipherable buzzing code loudly from a dark corner of the house all night. You’ve got two choices here. You can either welcome your new insect overlords and adjust to co-living as one of the swarm or you can have a quiet word with each fly, one by one, and send them on their way stuck flat to the back of a rolled-up magazine. We try to avoid chemicals so would never try to spray them away with products in the air (we do use some bug body spray when hiking) but it’s up to you what you can bear to have watching you with its million beady eyes while you sleep.


Make New (And Useful) Friends

A heatwave is a great opportunity to make new friends, like this friendly gentleman we have run into a couple of times lately in his little yellow van. Getting to know somebody new is always fun, you get to ask all kinds of questions like “Are you here everyday?”, “Can I have a Flake in that?” and “Where will you be tomorrow?” Don’t be afraid to ask for names, a map of sites on his route and of course enquire about any available loyalty program. I’m not a lawyer, but trailing an ice-cream van and sleeping parked beside it could be considered stalking although it’s just so damn hot these days, I doubt we’d be the first accused of 99-related harassment.


Worst Case : Evacuate!

If life gets unbearably hot inside your van, switch to Plan B. Most sensible adults have a Plan B, right? Nope. A canvas tent sounds excruciating in this weather and we don’t even own one yet anyway so that’s no solution for us. If you can’t get to the seaside for a refreshing breeze, or find adequate shade without insect infestation, if you struggle to get and stay comfortable in your van and you have an offer of a couch to crash on for a couple of days, take it. We don’t have that option here but we do know a driveway or two back in Ireland that will accommodate us, should we been in dire need and these drought conditions persist, and that just happens to be the way Dixie is headed…


I’ve been thinking of writing this post for a few weeks now but the oppressive heat has rendered me lethargic, anyway, I feel my hitting the “publish” button is somehow almost guaranteed to break the glorious weather spell, to conjure up the dark clouds from out of nowhere and release the endless rain upon us all again. If the rain has returned by the time you are reading this and I have inadvertantly ruined your BBQ plans I do apologise, but these tips might come in handy, if and when there is a next time we suffer under the sun together. As we say in Ireland if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes 😉☘

7 thoughts on “Made In The Shade : Dixies Guide To Surviving A Vanlife Heatwave”

  1. We have been having the same problems in the heat in a motorhome with 2 young kids! We do have an air con unit and usually stay on sites with electric hook up. I have also had to stay well hydrated to ensure I can continue to feed my baby. We certainly haven’t had heat like this in a long time and it does come with its own set of problems!! Stay cool!


      1. I personally love the rain, the van stays cool and the insects and crowds disappear….. It’s perfect! A lot of motorhomers run to the sun but we’ve just moved back from Bermuda… a little done with the sun by now!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed, although we did have some epic thunderstorms in France which were pretty unsettling for the toddler. Pitter patter rain I can handle but full on Beethoven’s 9th symphony, I did struggle!!


  3. Hi
    Weather has broken here! Lovely refreshing drizzle on and off for a couple of days. Green is already returning!
    Great post with lovely tips and anecdotes as usual
    Keep cool!


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