This is not really a part of my 11 Year Plan, it is more an insight as to how my mind works and how I can be quite knee-jerky and irrational in my decisions. When my last serious relationship broke up in October 2019 I suddenly found myself single for the first time in 24 years. I was 'free'. I took a trip to Javea in Spain in November 2019 to visit my closest cousin who lives out there and I had the idea that I should maybe try and make a go of life abroad. A fresh start, get away from the 'ex's' enjoy the sun and sea.
I knew that I was going to be in the house with the ex until at least the end of February 2020 (whilst we sorted the financials out etc.).
I had accumulated a fair amount of 'stuff' over the years and none of it was relevant or bringing me happiness, so I started to sell it, my original 1983 Raleigh Super Burner, my old PlayStations, guitars I rarely played, you get the idea.
Remember when I said I was apt at making knee jerk decisions? This is where the idea of the van came to me.
Coupled with a bonus I received from work and the funds from selling my stuff I purchased a medium wheelbase semi high top Transit and started the conversion. I had it all planned out.
A garage in the rear for the mountain bikes, as close as possible to a full size double bed over the garage, a sink, proper gas hob, electrics, Wi-Fi, lights, heater and a nice seating area. I am a carpenter so did all of the work myself, it wasn't pretty but it was functional.
Now, this isn't going to be one of those 'lifestyle posts' about #vanlife full of pictures of stunning landscapes, toned tanned male torsos (I bloody wish!) and ladies in skimpy clothing, they are rarely accurate or a true representation of the life.
One thing you may have noted about the van spec is a lack of a toilet/bathroom, I had it worked out you see...
My plan was to join Anytime Fitness, their membership gives you access to all of their gyms around the world, I had access to a toilet and shower 24/7 around the world, perfect, plus I could also get fit again, makes sense huh?
Next stage was to quit my job, renege on some debts I still had (told you I was knee jerky and irrational, I am glad I didn't do that!) and hit the continent.
I had the route planned, from Calais head to Belgium to visit a relatives war grave, head south through Germany visiting the old sites I was based in during my military career, head into Bosnia and Croatia to visit the sites I was based in during my Operational Tours (Op Grapple 1 and 4) of the country, down to mainland Greece, ferry to Italy, travel up through it, into southern France and eventually Spain, where I would park up and try and find some local work. No timescales, just see where the road and journey took me.
I was going to study for my TEFL qualification and maybe do some other online work to create a form of income, great plan huh?
I was going to spend the first month in Shropshire and then I was off!
March 2020, three weeks after I moved into the van we went into Lockdown 1. I was parked on a carpark in Shrewsbury, everything closed, the gyms, the pubs, the public conveniences etc.
OK, at that stage we didn't know how long this was going to go on for, I had the finances to store the van and take a rental agreement, but, that would tie me in for six months minimum and what if this Covid thing blew over in 2-3 months and I was free to go travelling as planned, I decided to sit this out and see, it felt like the right choice, I could save some more money as well, awesome.
The spring and summer of 2020 was pretty glorious, I volunteered for furlough and had seven weeks of riding my mountain bikes with the lads, taking long walks along the river Severn, sitting in the sun and drinking beer. Heaven. I was still being stubborn and waiting to see where the whole situation would go, I was stubborn for six months!
For six months I lived on a carpark, in my van...
I went for 12 weeks without standing under hot running water, i.e. a shower, 12 weeks! I had a shower in early March in my local gym and the next one was in a service station on the M40 at the end of June.
I showered/washed by placing a two litre bottle of water in the sun until it heated up and then pouring it over my head, whilst stood naked between the rear doors of my van. I am ex Army, field washing is in my blood, it was fine, I can do this and became quite good at it. Laundry's opened so I could get my washing done, it was a life, sort of...
Toilet facilities were an issue, black bags used and then placed into dog waste bins, digging holes and Asda, all became my go to to deal with that. It is amazing how quick you can adapt and of course my military experience helped.
But six months is a long time and after a quick trip to Turunc in Turkey (more on this place to come) to celebrate my birthday and get some last minute sun I left the van behind and moved to Kent, where I had an actual shower and proper toilet!
So when you see the glamourous #vanlife blogs trust me when I say that was not my experience and it is far from the truth. You do adapt to the space quickly and I even came to like my carpark, I was left alone and out of sight, but it is not proper living, it is not as romantic as some make out and there are some really good blogs out there that give a true insight into #vanlife
I still have the van, I have stripped it out of the layout I built and I am undecided what to do with it, I keep thinking that I will re-purpose it for the mountain biking, somewhere for the lads to sit, use the hob to make brews and bacon butties etc, or sell it as a project and put the money towards my 11 Year Plan.