INTERVIEW WITH SEB AND ROSE (@VINCENT VANLIFE)
Who are you and what is your backstory?
My name is Seb; I’m one half of @vincentvanlife and the Head of written content for Van Clan, the world’s fastest growing van life and camper van community. I’ve just turned 30 years old and have been living in a van for the past two years now.
I’ve always wanted to live and work differently but have never found the right creative outlet. Since the age of 16 up until around 24 I had been in and out of bands, touring the U.K, seeking a different way of life and a means of being my own boss, seeing the world and living by my own terms. It turns out all I needed to do was to meet my girlfriend Rose; that’s when the vanlife dream first started.
"Rose and I have grown even closer together as a result of us living in a van together. You quickly find out if you’re with the right person when you live in 80 square feet..."
Before I moved into a van, I was working a 9-5 job in a music venue. I would eat two meals in my office, stare out of the window at the green hills under the city walls, and generally wish that I was in the places that popped up on my screensaver.
I grew up in the heart of Yorkshire, but travel is in my blood. My father came to England from Italy when he was 16-years-old to make a career and a better way of life; he bought a one-way-ticket and never looked back. That sense of adventure runs in me, and vanlife was the catalyst I needed to set everything in motion.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
If I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t me that instigated the leap in the first place. It started with my girlfriend Rose; she would show me pictures of people living in vans 10 or 12 times a day and talk about how incredible it looked. I couldn’t drive at the time, but one day I cracked and said that we’d do it (just so I could stop seeing the pictures).
I started driving lessons and, after a long period in which my instructor became my most expensive friend, I passed my test. Three days later I bought a Vauxhall (Opel) Movano Maxi Roof Van and we began our conversion process. It took 6 months to convert our van from a bare shell into a camper, and that camper has been our full time home for two years.
We had no idea what we were doing at first and spent countless hours on YouTube searching for everything from how to countersink a screw down to which were the best wood stains for our cladding.
To say that we were absolute beginners was an understatement, but we learnt as we went along through trial and error and perseverance. Having a design and a vision helps a lot when you’re building something, and sometimes not knowing the proper way to do something means you improvise with the tools you have instead of worrying about not owning expensive equipment that the professionals use.
We got some help from a friend of ours who used to work for BMW when it came to the wiring (pretty lucky, right?) and also raised questions to the van life community on Instagram when we were truly stuck. There’s a lot of friendly people out there who are more than willing to give you advice.
We put down everything that we learnt, including how not to do a lot of things (hindsight is a wonderful thing) into our How To Build A Camper e-book that we released with Van Clan.
"..for many people lugging big bottles of water around and emptying your poo down a chute is the weirdest thing in the world. This is our routine now.."
The whole conversion costed around £3’000 with the electrics taking up a lot of that cost. We wanted to make sure that we had the right set-up for charging our devices on the go and a good fridge to keep our perishables nice and cool in the summer months.
Another big expense was the flue for the coal fire that we had installed and then the diesel heater that we replaced it with. The coal fire was nice, but instant heat from the diesel heater is so much better and 10-times more convenient.
We wanted to live the van life because it was a more relaxing way of life and because it gave us the chance to see the world on a shoestring, living by our means and living a more minimalist lifestyle. We left our terraced house in October 2017, gave away and sold most of our possessions, and embarked on our van life journey.
We continued to work full time for another 13 months while living in the van in Yorkshire before setting off around the world. In the meantime, we began writing for Van Clan and joined the team full time as writers, upping our positions and work load when we set off on our adventure.
We make enough money to cover all of our monthly bills and to put some away in the piggy bank every month, and our savings are always there if we have to do any repairs on the van or if we get into any trouble along the way.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
The thing I love the most about this lifestyle is the freedom. There is nothing like waking up in the morning and deciding what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go while drinking a cup of coffee. We have no plan and live life slowly; you see much more that way.
If we had been paying £1000+ in rent and bills and all of the other associated costs of normal life, then we certainly wouldn’t be able to see all of the amazing things that we’ve seen on our journey through Europe last year. Being able to cut out hotels and campsites and just live in the wild gives you so many more opportunities, and it’s also a much cheaper way of holidaying.
"I much prefer working when I want where I want, rather than having a rigid structure. We’re totally in control of our own finances, and I like that."
Now that we work on the road, I would never go back to working in an office. We hook up to the internet on our mobile phones and upload articles, send emails, and communicate with other members of the Van Clan team remotely. Turn off the screensaver and see those amazing places for yourself in real life.
Rose and I have grown even closer together as a result of us living in a van together. You quickly find out if you’re with the right person when you live in 80 square feet, and we’ve learnt a lot more about each other while we’ve been on the road too. When to have quiet time, how to work with each other in a small space, how to speak our minds and sort out differences quickly while avoiding arguments. It’s changed us for the better and made us even stronger.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
We can’t turn on a shower or flush our toilet, which basically means we don’t waste water. We wash our bodies in the van, and whatever water spills onto the floor is used to clean the floor down afterwards.
There are so many different places to empty your wastewater and fill up with clean water in Europe, but for many people lugging big bottles of water around and emptying your poo down a chute is the weirdest thing in the world. This is our routine now, and while it might have taken a lit bit of adjusting to in the beginning, it’s completely normal now and just our way of life.
If truth be told, we get itchy feet when we stay in the same place for more than a week or so. We’ve been back in the UK for about 6 weeks now and we’re ready to move off to sunnier climates and to carry on our adventures. Seeing new places is what drives us; it’s the perfect way to get inspiration for our creative endeavors and the excitement of finding that perfect park up spot constantly keeps us on our toes.
"Vanlifers are generally more laid back people and you tend to have the same interests and world beliefs as each other. We’ve made some incredible friends these past few years all the way across Europe.."
We had a major setback when we broke down in September of 2018. The problem was misdiagnosed by a garage and, as a result, we ended up staying in the same place for a month and spent close to €1’400 getting it fixed. That being said, the place was in Tuscany, Italy, so I can’t really complain.
Our breakdown insurance paid for alternative accommodation and onward travel while the van was in and out of the garage, and the temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius most days. We had a lot of savings from working full time in the music venue before we quit our old life and moved onto our new adventure, and those savings were for scenarios just like this.
It’s hard to plan for every eventuality, but if you have a stockpile of funds behind you before you head off, then at least you don’t have to worry if you do need any major repairs along the way.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
FaceTime is one of the best inventions for keeping in touch with friends and family on the road. I’ve spoken to my parents regularly while we have been travelling over the past year which has kept them happy and also kept me up to date with what they’ve been up to and what’s been happening in their lives.
Homesickness can make you feel isolated while you’re out on the road, so give your mum, dad, brothers, uncles, aunties or friends a ring for a catch up - it’ll make you feel much better.
Making friends is easy when you live in a van, especially when other people who are travelling use the same apps and websites as you to find cool areas to visit.
Vanlifers are generally more laid back people and you tend to have the same interests and world beliefs as each other. We’ve made some incredible friends these past few years all the way across Europe, which makes impromptu road trips a regular occurrence in our lives.
How do you support yourself financially?
We make our money writing for Van Clan, and also by selling handmade t-shirts, totes, and prints over on our Vincent Vanlife website. I also write for a retro gaming magazine (Retro Dodo) and look after the social media for a doggy day care business that my friend recently set up (River Dogs).
I much prefer working when I want where I want, rather than having a rigid structure. We’re totally in control of our own finances, and I like that.
The transition wasn’t difficult as we took on the extra writing work while working our previous jobs, and we had all of our savings as a back-up just in case anything went/goes wrong.
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
I wish I would have known how many parking spots are in the shade. Sometimes it’s hard to find a place for your solar panels to soak up the sun, especially in winter.
Also, having spare batteries and power packs is a great solution for keeping your devices charged in poor weather. Charge them while you’re driving and use them when the sun isn't shining.
"We’re big believers of just ‘seeing what happens’ which goes well with our laid-back lifestyle. If we have a go at something and it works, then that’s great, but if it doesn’t, then we learn from our mistakes"
If you park up somewhere and don’t feel safe or just don’t like it, then go with your gut. 9 times out of 10 it’s right. We accidentally parked up in a prostitute hotspot just outside of Turin, but that felt like a nice area in the daytime. I guess you can never really be sure of what an area is going to be like until you get there, but always try to get there when it’s light outside to check out the situation.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
Park4Night has been a lifesaver while we’ve been exploring Europe. It’s a user led app that allows people to save their favourite locations and for others to comment on the kind of experience they had while they stayed there.
Obviously Van Clan has a lot of great information on it too, but we’re not biased or anything. Rose has also spent a lot of time listening to podcasts such as Women on the Road and She Explores which have a lot of helpful hints and positive stories about alternative living.
I think mostly getting out there and just having a go is the best way of learning. We’re big believers of just ‘seeing what happens’ which goes well with our laid-back lifestyle. If we have a go at something and it works, then that’s great, but if it doesn’t, then we learn from our mistakes and either do it differently next time or give it up as a bad job and move onto something else!
What does the future look like?
We’re heading to Sardinia for 2 months after meeting our friends in Amsterdam, and then we’re travelling to America for a 3 month road trip. When we get back in July, we’ll be heading to Eastern Europe to visit our friends in Slovakia and Poland, before heading down to Croatia and Albania for the winter.
We’re planning on travelling full time for the next two years, and then having a three-year static period where we live in the van and save up while Rose works on her carpentry skills.
With the money that we save through our creative endeavours, we want to buy some land in a warm country and build a cabin village on it. It’s a pretty exciting long term life plan, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it goes.
Is there anything that you need that you can’t find or anything you are seeking help with?
I’d love it if any publishers out there would take on the fantasy novel that I’ve written. It’s based in a post apocalyptic world and follows a girl who has to leave the safety of her colony to save her race from destruction.
Think Lord Of The Rings meets a magical version of The Hunger Games and you’ll be halfway there. Also, if anyone wants to offer Rose a carpentry apprenticeship then we’d be there in an instant. We want to build a cabin village one day, so any help on the knowledge front would be great!
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
RidgeMonkey, Scrubba Wash Bag, Vango 3 burner hob
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
Italy, Slovenia, Austria
Where are you now?
Yorkshire (it’s cold)
How long do you usually stay in one place?
Usually 2-3 days, or a week if we’re really loving it. You usually get a feeling when it’s time to move on.
When did you first start Vanlifing?
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
How many weeks have you spent in the Van in the last 12 months?
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
Vauxhall Movano Maxi Roof. Looks like a country cabin on wheels. Fixed bed, toilet, no shower.
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?