The Coronavirus pandemic has temporarily changed many people’s way of life and daily routine, including vanlifers who are coping with self-isolation for the first time. Being alone is something that we as humans strive to avoid as much as possible. We might choose to live in tiny homes or to spend most of our time in the middle of nature away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation, but the compelling need to see another face or to interact with other people at the grocery or hardware store usually prevails sooner or later. For many people, this time of ‘lockdown’ and self-isolation brings a host of new challenges that we’re not mentally and physically prepared for. Enjoyable activities such as going to the cinema and socialising with friends are banned, leaving everyone thankful for the technological advancements and modern gadgets that are ever-present in our lives, and at the same time slightly confused by the war-time scenario that we suddenly find ourselves in.
For a large majority of people around the globe, staying at home and spending time with their families feels like a dream come true. But what do you do when you have to self isolate and your home is an 80 sq. ft trundling tiny house? What does it feel like to stop a worldwide adventure and be static for the foreseeable future, to cancel all of your plans for the year and not know when you’ll be able to head back out on the road? Hopefully, I can answer a few of these questions while giving you an insight into our own personal experience of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far. I’ll be covering how we’ve adapted to this unprecedented situation, the importance of friends, and how others are coping with the same situation as us around the globe.
Vanlifers Coping With Self Isolation – What Is It Like?
Our Coronavirus story begins in Sardinia, Early March 2020. Rose and I were there for a three-month trip to relax and unwind before our more hi-octane American road-trip in the Spring. It was a chance to spend Winter somewhere warmer and to potentially find a plot of land for the Van Clan Italian offices (wouldn’t that be something). Northern Italy was being hit hard by the virus at the time, and after discovering that President Donald had imposed a travel restriction to the US on all people in mainland Europe, we decided that we should hot-foot it back to England as quickly as possible.
The day we left the island of Sardinia was the day that the Italian government locked the whole country down, Sicilly included, with only one boat going in and out a day after the lockdown was put in place. What followed was a quick (and expensive) drive along the toll-roads of France to board the Eurotunnel back to Folkestone. We were met with empty parking lots, quiet roads, closing aires, and a general atmosphere that something terrible was about to happen. France closed down a few days later after we returned to the UK, and we all know what happened from there on out.
Our van has been our full time home for coming up to three years now, and it’s always been pretty smooth sailing (apart from the time that man tried to throw some chicken at my head, but that’s another story for another time). It has to be said that we have always felt more comfortable wild camping in foreign countries than our own; the Europeans and the Americans have a camper van culture that hasn’t made it over into the United Kingdom yet, and though we lived in Yorkshire in our van for thirteen-months, the knowledge that we would have to return and self isolate was a daunting one.
The immediate questions of; where will we park up, how will we get water, what will we do for shopping, instantly presented themselves. Water and waste disposal in countries such as Italy, France, and Spain can be found free of charge absolutely everywhere, but how would we achieve these simple tasks that we had begun to take for granted out in Europe?
‘How did we do it before?’, some of you may be asking. Well, while living in our van and working full time in Yorkshire, we would either use Rose’s grandparent’s house to fill up with water and empty our waste, or Seb’s mum’s house. With social distancing as important as ever and family members that may suffer from catching the virus, none of these options were available. Campsites are closed, and parking on the side of the road in some of our favourite spots would possibly lead to a fine. Things were starting to look grim.
To go from having the complete freedom to roam wherever our hearts desired at a moments notice to the sobering thought of not knowing where we would live for the foreseeable future was incredibly daunting, and it’s a thought that many people in our situation have been experiencing. We’ve heard tales of people being stuck in queues of five-hundred vans in Morocco waiting to get onto a ferry that no one was sure would even arrive, and other tales of people being refused entry over borders because of the virus. Some vandwellers have been told to stay inside their vans and not leave, and others have had no choice other than to fly back to their countries of origin and leave their campers abandoned.
Some of you might be thinking ‘just get a house; what’s the problem?’ If that’s what comes to mind as you read this, then you probably meant to click onto the Daily Mirror and came here by accident, in which case you should probably just leave now. This way of life is a choice for some and a necessity for others. In our case, we chose to live a digital nomadic lifestyle and have never looked back, and this sort of unique problem is one that certainly doesn’t come around every day. Though for the first time in almost three years, we did feel as though we had very few places to go. We wanted to play by the rules one-hundred percent and to follow the example of the many people that we had seen on our travels back through mainland Europe by staying at home and stopping the spread of the virus (the UK border patrol didn’t even take our temperature, but again, another story for another time.)
Luckily for us, we’ve cultivated a fine selection of friends over the years who have made this process so much simpler, as too did our vast Van Life Instagram community who jumped to our aid and continue to help others in our situation by offering up driveways and back gardens to people looking for a safe space to settle down for a while. From the care package that our friend Josh brought for us from Sainsbury’s to the biscuits and supplies that our parents left outside their houses as we passed back through the country, we managed to stock up with enough food and goods for our two-week period of isolation. After a call from our Polish friend Emile, we headed down to The Cotswolds to stay on a lovely piece of farmland with chickens, cows, and rolling green hills. A slice of luck at last.
Self Isolation & Mental Health
But how does being locked down in a small space feel, and how does it affect your mental health. One thing that people might not understand when they see the Instagram pictures that we post of the locations that we visit is that we don’t spend 24 hours a day outside. For us, this tiny space is home, and our mindset isn’t one of being trapped inside a prison cell. We’ve still been baking bread, making cakes, cooking fresh food, and enjoying quality time together as though we were out on the road, and luckily we have the sights, sounds, and smells of the countryside to accompany our time living off grid. We naturally spend a lot of time away from other humans and are more than happy living with solely each other for company. That’s what board games were created for, after all.
Keeping in touch with family members is key in a time like this, and thanks to our massive data plans on our phones, we have been FaceTiming and calling friends and family all over the globe in a bid to check on their welfare and to catch up. If there’s one thing that can be said for this virus, it’s certainly bringing people closer together, even though we’re all social distancing and are technically further apart. Those that were afraid or too proud to ask for help are realising that help is always at hand should they ever need it (I think I might just have quoted Dumbledore there), and communities are pulling together in a way that many people never thought possible. I bet you’ve learnt the names of at least 2 new people on your street that have lived there for as long as you have, right?
We can only get through this if we find new ways of working together, which brings me neatly onto my next section (I love a good linking paragraph).
Another worry that we had at first was how we would replenish food supplies once we had eaten all of the sugary treats that we carefully stockpiled for the apocalypse. Our new neighbours; Peter and Annamaria (Slovakian), Emile (Polish), and David and Janet (British) rose to the challenge, providing us with boxes of shopping that were left on the farm track for us to pick up once they had well and truly cleared the area. You do not and will not understand the sheer joy of seeing a bag of porridge oats and some bananas left in a cardboard box on an empty lane until you self isolate against a pandemic, and this whole process has made me much more appreciative of things that I may have taken for granted over the years. Also, with so many nationalities in our temporary neighbourhood, it feels as though we’re still travelling around Eastern Europe, albeit with three dogs named Molly, Penny, and Gertie trundling around like they own the place (which they technically do).
Then the lockdown came, and with it, the need for social distancing and only leave home if absolutely necessary. While we can do yoga and certain floor exercises in our tiny home, you can’t exactly get 10,000 steps in solely walking around the kitchen area without getting incredibly dizzy. It got to a point where Rose’s FitBit was so angry that she was immobile that I think it considered leaving her wrist and heading out to find someone more active. Luckily for us (a phrase I feel that I have used quite a lot in this article in one way or another), we have a large field that we can lap when we want to stretch our legs and a little community that we can chat to (from a distance) while working outside of the van or enjoying a coffee while listening to the birds.
Another thing I want to touch upon is the notion of boredom. Some people would kill for the luxury of having nothing to do, and it’s one that Van Clan’s CEO will never give me a chance to experience. For us, life has gone on pretty much as normal. Where other businesses have sadly had to close their doors either temporarily or permanently, online work goes on, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the internet to read articles and pass the time away.
For me, the lockdown has been a chance to crack on with a lot of personal projects. I’ve been working on a number of novels when Brandon (Van Clan) allows me to step away from the latest travel trailers and camping toilets (a firm favourite of mine being Number 2 in command of the company – toilet joke), and Rose has been working on honing her carpentry skills in the hand-built studio that we’re parked by. They say the devil makes work for idle hands to do (‘they’ being Morrissey of The Smiths fame), and we’re happy to say that ‘ol Beelzebub will be disappointed if he makes a journey to The Cotswolds to have a chat with us.
While in some respects everything has changed for us over the last few weeks, nothing has changed either. Now I know that’s the kind of annoying motivational response that you might expect to see at the bottom of an Instagram post, but it’s true. Our plans have had to be altered, and I would be lying if said that we weren’t disappointed by the fact that we can no longer head out to America in April or enjoy Sardinia’s white sandy beaches, but we still have our house and our home comforts. And thanks to the generosity of our friends, our way of life can continue. The sun is still shining, so we can still charge our electronics and charge our Powerpack 450 for outdoor use, our Scrubba Wash Bag is still proving incredibly useful, and the Omnia Oven is getting such a blasting that it’s become the real MVP of the Vincent Vanlife and Van Clan team.
Life goes on and will continue to go on after the Coronavirus becomes a page in the history books. But for now, the virus is very real and will continue to affect our loved ones, family, and friends if we don’t work together to stop it from spreading. Stay at home unless you have to go out; it’s where all of your belongings are, your TV, your games console, your comfy sofa, and possibly your significant other who can thrash you at board games every evening. If you do go out, wear a mask and be responsible around other people. We’ll all be back trundling around the world once more before we know it, but for now, stay indoors, stay safe, and stay happy.