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Living vanlife as a student

Student van life

Hey, my name is Ben. I’m a fourth-year student at Bournemouth University. I have been living in my 1998 Ford Transit ‘Ronnie’ full time since September and living the dream!

When people find out that I’m living in a van the size of a regular parking spot they often have a few questions. How did you start? Why do you do it? How much does it cost? The fascination for me started in my second year of university where I was giving away loads of money to a landlord, I believed didn’t deserve it, each month. I was feeling fed up and knew I needed to make a change. Vanlife came up on my Instagram and the seed was planted.

I bought ‘Ronnie’ in April 2019 off Facebook Marketplace and spent the next few months on and off ‘modernising’ it. I wanted to buy a van that had already got the essential kit such as a kitchen and cabinets. On a limited budget I got to work; a fresh coat of paint, hand water pump installed, reclaimed pallet wood for the walls, reupholstered the cushions, lined it with fairy lights, a couple of plants and some art and I had got my tiny off-grid home on wheels.

I get asked a lot of different questions about living in the van from friends and other students so I thought it might be helpful if I answered some of the main ones to give you a little bit of an insight into how I live day to day as a student:

Where do you shower and go to the toilet?

One of the first things I did when I moved back down to Bournemouth was to join a gym. I chose one that had showers and was open 24 hours to give me that flexibility. Also having friends who live locally and are okay with you using their shower helps. In terms of using the toilet, university facilities and public toilets along the beach are brilliant.

How do you stay warm?

The interior of the van is lined with a grey carpet material which limited me when trying to insulate it fully. However, I was able to insulate the doors and install draft stoppers which make a difference. This winter hasn’t been too cold down south, mainly due to all the rain which makes it a few degrees warmer. I also have lots of blankets and a good sleeping bag. The main tip I can give is keep your head warm. A warm head = warm rest of the body. With no official heat source, it’s important to layer up.

What do you do for Wi-Fi?

University has Wi-Fi throughout so it definitely encourages me to stay for longer. I can download TV shows to watch later in the van and do work. There are also cafes all around so I’m always up to date on work. Also there are plenty of ways to get internet on the road which you can read about here.


Where do you park?

When I was researching living in a van, a lot of people were saying that the reality of vanlife isn’t waking up to stunning views every morning but more living in car parks or down side streets. If you don’t know Bournemouth, it has some of the nicest beaches in the UK. More often than not I find myself waking up on the cliff tops looking over the sea and witnessing amazing sunrises which I count myself very lucky. Of course there are days when I do park down side streets and not at all glamorously but only on the rare occasion. There’s tonnes of great apps, maps and tricks to finding the best park ups, there’s an article here which goes through tonnes which is super useful.

What do you eat if you don’t use a fridge?

I do have a fridge and it can work off of propane but I just haven’t used it, I put all my food in there and that does the trick. I have a lot of veg in my meals. If I do buy fresh meat, then I will cook it straight away. The van is always a bit chilly so that helps. When cooking, I make sure that there is enough for two meals so I can have it the following day.

My big tip for a student living vanlife is to spend as little time in the van as possible, be out and about, either at university studying or socialising. It’s a small space, if you’re in it 24/7 that’s only going to start feeling small.

If you’re a student and you’re thinking about van life as an option for student digs, it really is but do your research. I can say wholeheartedly it will be an adventure like no other.


Ben S – Follow Ben on Instagram

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