INTERVIEW WITH HARRIET AND DAN
Who are you and what is your backstory?
We are Dan and Harriet, making up CarpenterIngram. I’m 21, Dan is 25 and we started our journey into vanlife 4 years ago.
Pre-vanlife I was still in school completing my A-Levels and grappling with the decision as to whether to attend university and if so, where. Dan had left school by this point and was working as a manual labourer full time (and hating it!).
This is the point where we had to decide what we are all about; either fall in line or off the edge. Go to university, an idea that has never filled me with anything other than unease, and then likely work 9-5 to pay rent for an expensive house conveniently close to that place of work. Spend copious amounts of money on rent, or paying off a mortgage, and never be able to afford to explore the world. Work so much that we have no time for anything that we actually enjoy doing.
No. Maybe that is where we would end up eventually, but it was then that we decided that we should try another way. We wanted to see new places, experience new cultures and finally be in charge of our own lives.
Personally I needed to escape the pressure of formal education. I have always been a good student, not content with anything other than perfection; but striving for flawless grades constantly was driving me crazy. I didn’t achieve what I was predicted at A-Level and that was the final straw; all my years of hard work meant nothing and I was done.
"It sounds idealistic, but I’m not sure there really are any true downsides. One of the main challenges would have to be finding a shower (and toilet if you don’t have one) but if you choose to look at these in the right light you can see them for what they are, which are minor inconveniences that make you slow down and enjoy life as it passes."
There was always that niggling thought in our minds, that if we don’t see some natural wonders of the world now, they will be gone before we have the chance. There is no denying that we exist at a time of climate crisis, and having spent my whole childhood watching natural history documentaries I simply had to see some of the world’s beauty before it was gone.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
We booked tickets to fly to Australia, with the plan being to buy a camper and travel the country in it for a year. I deferred a university place to study Photography, and that September while my friends were starting uni, we boarded a plane and flew halfway across the world. It was our first big trip without any parents present, and to say we weren’t scared would be to lie. A little apprehension was to be expected though, and more than anything we were excited to finally live at our own speed.
For us there was little reason not to take the leap, and we didn’t like the other options we had at the time which made it a relatively easy decision. We also didn’t have to give anything up; there were no jobs that we would lose nor opportunities that we would be missing out on by leaving the UK behind. This also made the ‘downsizing’ process easy, for us it was simply packing for a ‘holiday’ and trying to keep it light.
We had both been saving up to travel for a couple of years, but with Dan working full time there is no denying that he was the main source of finance for the trip. Once time came to leave, we had enough money to hopefully last us a full year, without needing to work. Having a working holiday visa meant that if worse came to worse we would be legally allowed to work, but neither of us wanted to waste much of our precious year in the vicious cycle of earning money just to spend it keeping afloat while living in a city.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
The advantages of vanlife are endless, but for us the biggest thing is being able to live anywhere. It seems obvious, but there is just something incredible about being absolutely anywhere in the world while still being at home. Our comforts are wherever we are; our own pillows, mugs and general belongings make all the difference. After a long day of new surroundings and experiences we can jump into our van and close the door, and we are home. This means that for us travel can be endless.
If we are tired and weary, rather than think about coming back to the UK or ‘home’ we find a nice place to rest for a week or so. This alone works as a break from travel if we were ever to need one.
One of our favourite ever ‘rest spots’ is on the south coast of Western Australia, in a tiny bay known as Two Peoples. There is only space for a max of 4 or 5 vehicles at one time, and a steep uneven descent prevents any of the larger more ‘touristy’ motorhomes from clogging up the shoreline. The camping area itself is made up of very informal bays, naturally segmented by trees and bushes just metres from the water. The best part; it is a free spot, and even has a drop toilet. We stayed here for the maximum allowed time (4 nights) twice while touring Australia and loved it on both occasions. Days were spent lying in our hammock, reading or simply listening to the waves. A long walk down the beach in a westerly direction brought us to a rocky outcrop, the home to hundreds of lizards. The bay itself is white squeaky sand, with bright turquoise waters and frequent visits from dolphins. Hopefully it's clear why we didn’t get homesick too often!
We have learnt an enormous range of new skills as a result of vanlife; woodworking, electric and gas installation. We have learnt how to plumb in a sink and tap, how to install vinyl flooring and tile. These skills have then led us to building a business, which meant learning how to do our everyday accounting, advertisement like building a website and conversing with customers.
"None of this is to say that we haven’t made mistakes. One particular event sticks in my mind, in which preventative van maintenance could have saved us some pain. We were in the northern regions of Western Australia, some of the most remote areas in the country, when we had a tyre blow out....."
We now know how to successfully use Instagram as a tool for widening our audience. We have learnt what we are really capable of, and I now know that if I put my mind to something and stick at it, I can achieve it.
Realising that we don’t need many material belongings has been a big advantage of vanlife, as well as learning to live in a smaller space. Not only do both of these things save us money, but they have also led us to be more mindful in what we buy and bring into our space. Sustainable fashion has become something we consider when shopping, and if we do buy anything we keep it until it wears out, rather than until it’s no longer trendy. Maybe you could call this a range of manifestations of being mindful.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
It sounds idealistic, but I’m not sure there really are any true downsides. One of the main challenges would have to be finding a shower (and toilet if you don’t have one) but if you choose to look at these in the right light you can see them for what they are, which are minor inconveniences that make you slow down and enjoy life as it passes.
There are a few things that we can’t do while living in a van, but once again these can definitely be seen as good things. We no longer mindlessly use electricity and water, which is definitely positive for the planet. We no longer spend countless hours mesmerized by some ridiculous tv show that is ‘just on because there’s nothing better’. We are more mindful of the time we spend on the internet, what with limited data plans.
Our tv time has become reading or drawing or thinking about our future time. We go out and watch movies together more often, enjoying a proper date out rather than just vegetating on the sofa.
The only thing that I truly regret not being able to have as a vanlifer is a garden, or space for more plants. But this is a small price to pay for the endless opportunities of vanlife.
Maintenance of our home could be seen as a downside, but having worked hard to afford a brand new van we don’t have many issues in that department currently. Traditional houses come with more than their fair share of maintenance, and generally you would have a car to maintain too, so vanlife wins here in our books.
"To pick one piece of advice is tricky, but cheesy as it is I would say believe in yourself. Friends and family are unlikely to understand how you could possibly live in a van, but stick to your guns and give it a go, believe in your dream."
Planning our route is a necessary pastime. Some would describe it as a chore, but I personally don’t see how looking up beautiful places and deciding which ones to visit is anything but incredible.
We don’t put time limits on our travel; we list destinations/attractions and get to them whenever. That way we remove any opportunity to feel the need to rush, and just go with the flow at all times. Planning in this way also means that we can add things in if we get a recommendation, or spend a few days in one spot with new friends if we come across the opportunity to.
None of this is to say that we haven’t made mistakes. One particular event sticks in my mind, in which preventative van maintenance could have saved us some pain. We were in the northern regions of Western Australia, some of the most remote areas in the country, when we had a tyre blow out.
This wasn’t any big issue, until Dan put on the spare and let the van’s weight down onto it. The new tyre slowly deflated, clearly struck with a slow puncture which hadn’t shown itself until now. This left us stranded, more than 100km from the nearest town. It was more than 35 degrees C, and we were typically low on water.
Luckily the situation worked itself out in that a Ranger happened to pass by and lend us a hand, pumping up our tyre enough for us to get to the next town and have them both replaced. It cost us double the amount because we were out of the way, and as it turned out the tyre that had let us down had 11 nails in it, something we could have had sorted in Perth before we left. Definitely a learning point!
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
Personally we have found the strongest sense of community of our entire lives while on the road.
It is definitely one of the best parts of vanlife; the opportunity to meet like-minded people. It seems to be that we have met friends on the road who on paper we have nothing in common with other than vanlife, that become lifelong friends over a matter of days. There just seems to be a rhythm to our lives that aligns, maybe it’s the core values that we share, or maybe there just isn’t anything better than sharing an evening around a campfire together.
There is something special about meeting people for the first time, and subsequently waking up next door to them. Sharing breakfast and travel tales leads to creation of that strong connection. Experiencing nature, swimming in rivers and watching sunsets helps form a togetherness that we haven’t experienced elsewhere.
As for pre-formed relationships, we think in our case it has strengthened ours. We are both happier in ourselves on the road, which means more positive interactions and quality time spent together. Yes we are two separate people who share a very small space, but one of the best things about vanlife is that your space extends to include your surroundings. If we need alone time, we wander separately or chill out in different areas of the van. Dan sleeps in late while I read in the hammock outside (if weather permits!). Sometimes we arrive at a camp spot, and one of us stays sat in the front seats for a bit while the other heads into the back.
One of the biggest facilitators for friendship-making on the road for us has been Instagram, which led us to Vanlife Diaries in Australia and Quirky Campers in the UK. Both hold gatherings, which we have attended and have acted as jumping off points for us to develop meaningful friendships while on the road.
You have to put the effort in, just as with normal friendships, but with the freedom that vanlife affords we find that we can spend more time with friends. This also tends to be in the form of extended trips rather than quick lunchtime coffee dates, which we find helps form solid friendships.
How do you support yourself financially?
We build bespoke wooden campervans in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, UK. We work with a wide range of clients, some of which are future full timers and some who are looking for vanlife freedom on the weekend. This of course all started with building our own van in Australia, and then posting about it on Instagram and meeting fellow builders who gave us the push we needed to take the plunge.
What we do allows others to travel; to experience the world and hopefully consider lowering their environmental impacts while doing so. We hope that our vans allow people access to all of the wonderful things that we did through vanlife in the beginning.
Each job is unique which makes it really enjoyable for us; we learn new things and acquire new skills everyday, and this all comes to a head when we unveil our campers to our customers. There’s just nothing like seeing their faces when they see their dream van in reality!
If you’re looking for a bespoke camper conversion, head over to www.carpenteringram.com/campervan-conversions/
We’re slowly expanding our business to allow us to take chunks of time away whenever we fancy. In a way the business holds us in one place, but because we are self-employed we can leave periods of our time free for travel whenever we want to.
We spend our money on experiences; living in a van means that we have to try to be minimalists and not buy too much stuff. For us this wasn’t so much of a transition than a beginning; we didn’t have a house or a workplace or anything else before vanlife, so it’s kind of all we’ve ever known apart from living with our parents.
We do notice a difference between vanlife vs houselife in that we go to bed earlier in the van, read more and produce more content. We are notably more productive while living in a van rather than in a house, thanks to having less distractions.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
To pick one piece of advice is tricky, but cheesy as it is I would say believe in yourself. Friends and family are unlikely to understand how you could possibly live in a van, but stick to your guns and give it a go, believe in your dream.
Some more practical advice for van building would have to include making space for a bin in your van, and also make sure to draw out your layout idea on the floor before you start building. This allows you to get a feel for the space and make any alterations should you need to.
Another would be not to buy your base vehicle on the first viewing, and go with your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. This goes not only for van buying, but everything you do.
Another big tip I have to mention, is to make time for people you meet on the road. Listen to their stories, ask about their lives. Your travel will be forever fascinating if you both study your environment and those within it. Of course, with strangers there is always the safety issue, but once again we have found that if we trust our instincts we keep out of trouble. This is mirrored again when choosing camp spots; if it feels dodgy, it probably is. Wherever you are, lock your doors at night. You wouldn’t sleep with the front door of your house open!
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
Honestly the majority of our influences have come into our lives via Instagram. A big one while building our first van has to be Vandogtraveller, who has the most amazing blog and eBook about how to convert a campervan. As for the lifestyle side of things, Ourhomeonwheels and Brianna Madia have influenced us from the start, but the first vanlifer we followed on Instagram was Mitch Cox, an Australian full-time van dweller.
As for communities, Vanlife Ideas really helped us with our first build, along with Vanlife Diaries. One of our more recent inspirations has been Eamon and Bec, Canadian full-time vanlifers who also run a business. Right now our situation and theirs is pretty similar, except they’re a few steps ahead, so it's great for us to see people succeeding at what we’re aiming for!
For camping spots Wikicamps Australia was our go to while we were there, and park4night is great if you’re in the UK.
For any Volkswagen owners, VWT4 Forum has a ridiculous amount of info for any mechanical needs.
What does the future look like?
Full time van life, with a lot more travelling. Creating more campers and hopefully the opportunity to work on a wider range of base vehicles.
Maybe getting pets of some kind! Right now we don’t see an end to vanlife, it makes sense for us to live this way at the moment and it is what brings us happiness.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have any alternative dreams though; long term we’d love to own land and a little wooden cabin in Australia, in the rainforest. We aren’t really planners, and at the moment we are starting to reap the rewards of what we’ve been working on for the past three years. Maybe this means that we will be taking a minute to enjoy what we have, to slow down for a second and look around.
Is there anything that you need that you can’t find or anything you are seeking help with?
We would love to hear where your favourite places are? Whether it be Europe or elsewhere, specific or just a country you love!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
A proper sink, a sponge on a stick and solar panels.
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
Coral Bay in Western Australia, Babinda Boulders in Queensland and Mount Hotham in South Australia
Where are you now?
Currently based in Leamington Spa, UK.
How long do you usually stay in one place?
When we’re travelling, anywhere from one night to a week.
When did you first start Vanlifing?
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
As of April/May 2020 we will be once again full-time vanlifers.
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
Essentially zero, we’re in the process of setting up life for full time vanlife in the next few months.
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
We will have a VW Crafter, Medium Wheel Base with our own hand built, one-of-a-kind conversion inside.
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?