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The hardest parts about UK van life

Living in the UK can be tough at the best of times. Despite some amazing history, unbelievable places to see (check out these driving routes if you need proof) and a wealth of lovely people it can be a bit of a slog. Driving rain for half of the year, cold winters and short days make living here hard, Moving into a campervan in the UK brings a whole host of new challenges and so to help you know what to expect here’s the hardest parts about UK van life.

Hardest parts about UK van life

A whole lot of rain

It might seem obvious to say it but it does rain an awful lot in the UK. While this is annoying when you live in a house it can be a real challenge when you are living in a van. It’s only when you have to cope with your first stretch of heavily rainy days that you find out how water tight your van is. Broken seals and slight gaps in your doors mean rain finds its way in and it’s only when you go to bed do you realise that your pillow is now very damp.

Even if your van is completely water tight you have the challenge of trying to get your wet clothes dry. We would often haven a washing line strung up in the cab with our damp socks and drenched raincoats trying to dry off before we needed them again. It’s this aspect of the rain which is the hardest part about UK van life for us and one which we struggle with to this day.

It’s awfully cold in the winter

While it might not reach the shockingly low temperatures it can in other parts of the world the UK is still pretty cold in the winter. In the first campervan we lived in full time in the UK we had no heating and so having to try and stay warm in a UK winter was hard. During that first winter we relied on going to bed early and getting tucked up in our 4 season sleeping bags however we soon realised that we wanted to feel comfortable in our own home which is why in our second van we made sure to install a diesel heater.

The install of this diesel heater was so easy an so cost effective (it only cost us £117) that we were genuinely annoyed that we hadn’t got one sooner. Now that we have heat in our van it makes the winter more bearable but it doesn’t detract from the fact it is one of the hardest parts about UK van life.

Not set up for van life

To put it frankly, the UK just isn’t set up for van life in the same way other countries are. If you take your campervan to mainland Europe you will instantly notice just how much easier it is for you to live in your van out there. France, for example, has Aires across the country which range from safe park ups with toilets and rubbish disposal, to full services for campervans with water fill points and waste water and toilet disposal. The UK doesn’t have these kind of facilities which makes some of the essential tasks for van life difficult in the UK.

Add to this the fact that the UK has a far greater population density than a lot of other countries and so finding quiet places to park up where you won’t be disturbed far more difficult than other countries. When we were travelling around Sweden we could go a full day without seeing another car on the road, and we knew that when we found a beautiful place to stay we would spend days there without fear of causing a nuisance or being moved on. This is not a luxury you have in the UK when trying to live van life.

What will the neighbours think

Although attitudes towards alternative living are changing in the UK; van life is still very much counter cultural. For the most part we have found that people have been welcoming and more intrigued than anything else when it came to us living in our van however it doesn’t mean that everyone is. We have had notes left on our windscreen asking us to leave, knocks on our van door early morning from locals and even some late night intimidation. While this is very much a minority of people it does mean we are always vigilant with where we choose to stay. We never want to annoy our temporary neighbours and make all efforts to be in and out of an area with as little fuss as possible, leave no sign we were there and avoid returning to the same spots on a regular basis.

Finding where to sleep

The culmination of the two points above leads us to another of the hardest parts about UK van life, finding places to park and sleep. The fact that the UK is not set up for van living and the worry about the people you will be living near leads to a worry about where to sleep each night. This was particularly an issue for us when we first moved into our van full time and didn’t have experience of finding park ups or have a sense for what made for a safe place to stay.

Over time we began to piece together a map of places around our city where we knew we could safely sleep for the night and got a sense of what makes a good spot for the night. We learnt about how much to blend in or how much we can relax based on the park up we had found. Thanks to the methods we describe in this article on how to find campervan park ups we began finding places to sleep quicker and easier and soon realised that the UK can be full of amazing places to sleep in your van, you just need to know where to look. It’s amazing how one of the hardest parts about UK van life could become one of the best things about it too.

Let us know what you think are the hardest parts about UK van life.