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The Unfortunate Cost of Living (or, The Four ‘F’s of Vanlife)

We in the Backwards Van don’t have jobs. After almost 11 months living in our van Dixie and travelling over 25,000 miles, we may have forgotten entirely how to even have a job at all as the very idea of work, of a structured daily routine and the stuffy, serious cubicle life all disappear in Dixies rearview mirror and the 9-5 world is remembered more and more vaguely, like a hazy, distant dream…

That’s really wonderful, you might be thinking, lots of people dream of ripping off their ties, filing their last pointless piece of paper ever and sticking their fingers up at the corporate life never to look back but this is the real world, and in the real world, no work means no income. So how can we keep travelling without a steady stream of green coming in? The answer is easy. By saving our savings. We have a finite amount of money, a number which will just get smaller and smaller every day until we inevitably hit a zero balance and the only way to avoid that uninspiring thing called work for as long as humanly possible is to spend as little as we can every single day.

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Hide in the grass

Words Beginning With F

It will come as no surprise to some that my favourite word is one with 4 letters and also one that begins with F… FREE! We gravitate towards FREE like a motorhomer to a hard standing pitch with a half decent view. Free is everywhere you look, if you care to look and if you have the time to spend looking. It is important to note that we also do a little research, an app tell us where the closest public toilets are (essential if you strive for minimal portaloo emptying as we do) and Google can advise where we might find whatever aspect of help we might require. Flexibilty and frugality, two more great F words, go hand in hand, and we learn more and more about Foraging as we travel through the different seasons in often dramatically different landscapes from the mountains to the sea. When we do have to part with any amount of our stash, it’s likely to be on one of what we call the Four Fs.

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Watch the world pass

FOOD

We, like you, unfortunately need to eat to survive and spend about £/€80 a week on the privelage. Usual shopping items include peanut butter, bread, fresh fruit, nuts, cheese and crackers but whatever is in season or reduced that day will do. Tobacco is accounted for under the heading of food (I couldn’t find a suitably descriptive and politically-correct F word) which is another huge reason to quit, rest assured that day draws ever near! We’ve mastered cooking on the 2 ring hob and can whip up a delicious campfire meal from mainly tinned ingredients, long shelf life and practically indestructible tins being a vanlife staple. William can bake up a delicious storm in only a biscuit tin and our diets lean more toward the fresh these days, mainly seasonal and local ingredients. Sometimes we come across a very fertile cherry tree or a generous orchard and can save some money that way, flexibilty is key to organise your snacks and meals around your haul. We are new to foraging but keen to learn, our roadsides and coastal parks are full of edibles just waiting to become our dinner. We learned not to carry too much food, especially fresh items which may spoil, in reality Dixie doesn’t need to tote the extra weight (think MPG) and we are never, ever far from a market. Shopping is the best opportunity to have a chat with the locals, check out the amazingly varied ingredients available and to get a real feel for any new location you visit, an essential part of travelling.

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A room with a view

FUEL

“Fuel” refers to both diesel for Dixie to drink and the butane we use for cooking. Since understanding how to stop and slow down (a hard-learned skill, worthy of its own blog post someday) we now fill up Dixies fuel tank less than once a week at a cost of approximately €80 a go, depending obviously on the price at the pump on the day. We don’t mind admitting there is no shopping around for the best priced diesel, the company we frequent provides other, more important advantages in exchange for our custom instead, like water and bins.

For cooking, we use a 7kg bottle of butane (or propane, if that is what is available) which lasts us about 4-5 weeks and costs less than €1 a day. The recent heatwave has stretched our current bottle to 6 long, hot weeks so far and with no sign of emptying yet, in the winter we averaged about 3.5 weeks from each bottle so it depends enormously on your own usage. We sometimes wish we could carry a larger bottle to make a significant saving but with just two of us in here and considering the space available for storage, we are adequately stocked. We’re also no stranger to a couple of days without butane in between bottles and carry a portable stove for these occasions, with smaller gas canisters, although its not an ideal solution long term as the cans empty quickly, can be expensive and are difficult to recycle!

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A quiet barbeque

FACILITIES

This word is used a lot in the motorhoming world and usually means fresh water taps, toilets, bins, showers and septic waste disposal but can be stretched to include laundry, sinks, children’s playgrounds and even seemingly random free-to-use items like hairdryers. In truth, aside from our once a month trip to the launderette, we spend little money on facilities. Water comes for free and we empty our waste water at the same time although grey water, like personal waste, is better disposed of elsewhere instead of bringing it in to the van in the first place, a good example being a basin of dirty dish water, best poured immediately down a nearby drain. Rubbish is best collected in small amounts for easy disposal in any public bin. During our month on the Outer Hebrides we found free and metered facilities in almost every community centre and port and really didn’t mind parting with £2 for a long, hot shower or £1 to empty our toilet cassette.

We mainly use the automatic laundrettes situated outdoors in carparks all over this land. The freedom of parking your house next to and taking your time stripping the bed sheets right into the waiting machine is brilliant! With a little handwashing of some smaller garments, we have about a months clothing packed and are rarely in desperate need of a washing machine (unless I’ve managed to pour an entire pot of coffee all over the bed again) For showers and self-washing, be creative. Jump in a lake or dip under a waterfall, you’ll be squeeky clean and refreshed! William made this contraption from a 5 litre bottle and an old nozzle, filled with lukewarm water and hung between the trees it worked a treat and I got to mingle with many butterflies during my wash!

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Meet butterflies and bees

FARES

Originally, this line on our 4 line balance sheet was called FERRIES but this has been amended to include the handful of buses and single taxi fare we have paid since Dixie drove into our lives. We fell right into only two road toll traps, thus learning quickly how to avoid these thoroughly unexplainable road taxes. Ferry prices can initially appear prohibitive unless you’re willing to haggle at the desk and wait for the cheapest sailing, or recoup the price elsewhere in your expenses or both…we do both. Some top tips for saving on ferry fares (covered previously here https://thebackwardsvan.com/2018/05/13/when-your-ship-comes-in-dixies-dos-and-dont-dos-of-sailing-the-seas/) include sailing at night, departing and arriving through a non capital city port, travelling on a Tuesday and just being bold, asking straight out for a discount, use your compelling, rehearsed “tired, broke traveller just trying to get home” line- it works 😉

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Hide behind trees

The Fifth F…. FUN!

We do also spend money on what some people call ‘having fun’.

Sometimes.

Not often though.

Mostly we have free fun. We walk, hike, picnic, read about the area we are visiting, take our flask of coffee along and sit wherever we like for as long as we like. We chat at length to everyone we meet. We read aloud to each other, news and blogs (especially anything van related!) and short stories, we swim, we watch nature and talk and listen. Sometimes we go for a drink in a local pub but not regularly, maybe once a month we go for a veggie breakfast in a cafe, once in a blue moon we’ll go for dinner but as most of our days are spent outdoors in rural places, there are less opportunities to spend and thankfully less things we need to buy living such a simple life anyway.

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Slow down and sometimes stop

FINALLY…

We know one day, our savings will be depleted and we’ll have to consider our options. We do understand we can’t live on savings forever and we are aware the time will someday come when we might have to get back into the real world, back into the 9-5 routine, back to this place we used to call ‘work’. But until that day, Dixie will keep on driving and we will keep track of every penny we spend. Our next money saving plan for Dixie is an installed solar power set up which will hopefully cut our diesel costs down on those days that we just don’t feel like moving along but must, to charge the battery to power our electrics for another day. We can slow down even further then.

Vanlife doesn’t have to be a hugely expensive adventure although we do live our lives as if on holiday, our careful budget is like a long term investment for us. Learning to make sensible financial decisions on the road might not come easily at first but little positive changes add up quickly and there is a certain satisfaction in having a really great time without putting your hand in your pocket. Try it, then try it again and again, then try it again every day….

This vanlife finance post was brought to you by the letter F and the number 4. I don’t know about you, but I’m quite surprised and proud that I didn’t say Fuck once! Yay me!

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11 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Cost of Living (or, The Four ‘F’s of Vanlife)”

  1. I was really curious that you seem to be able to choose whether to use butane and propane in your set up. Do you have different connections and change over as and when? Also another suggestion for grey water disposal – chuck the washing water into long grass. Sometimes drains are storm water drains and dont go through any treatment, but straight to water courses or the sea. Long grass filters your water and is very efficient at cleaning it up before it hits the water table. Obviously not for the loo waste in case anyone else reading this thinks so!!

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    1. Hi! We have a couple of connectors we’ve collected for various gas canisters around these isles, 4 I think! They’re easy to said h around and means we don’t get caught Out! You’re absolutely right about the long grass too, Anything environmentally safe at all instead of putting it into Dixie!!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. A self refillable gas bottle setup is a good investments for full timers especially if using it for heating in winter (so using a lot of gas). You fill it just like refuelling a car at an LPG pump. The gas is typically half the price and it avoids issues with not having the right bottle to swap when you change country. Costs about £200 initially.

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    1. Haha, be like us in that way only 🤣 Try minimising the amount of transactions you make in a week. Not the amount of each transaction (although obviously that helps too 🤣) but go a week with as few as you can…what did you miss? Takeaway coffees? Anything else? 🤔💭

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