Reading Time: 6 mins.
Living on a small island with diminishing natural spaces, camper vans and road trips are uncommon in my home country. I follow several people online that live in a van long term, and I’ve meant to try van life for some time. According to different sources, one of the best places for this venture is around the highland of Scotland, as Scots have a strong van life culture, the roads are easy to drive on, and as a bonus for us, they drive on the left as we do in Malta.
We rented our van from Bunk Campers, who rent a variety of camper vans from around England and Ireland. We opted for the Aero, which is the smallest of their fleet that also had a toilet and shower. It was an ideal size to drive as although it may intimidate you if you usually drive a city car, it was pretty easy to get used to it. The camper van had a reasonable price per night, costing us around £1,100 for 10 nights, but it did go up significantly in price as we added on the full coverage insurance to reduce our liability. Ultimately it felt like a waste of money as we ended up not needing to use it, but I guess that is the deal with insurances. Choosing insurance is very much a personal choice, so although it may bump up the price it may be worth it if it’s your first time driving a larger vehicle. One more thing I wish I knew before renting the van is that the process of getting the paperwork done, inspecting the van and showing you the ins and out of the vehicle took us a good hour and a half at least, so do put that in your itinerary as that did take a chunk off our travel time for the first day.
Well as a newbie after 11 days and 10 nights of camper van life these are I think you should know before renting your motorhome.
1. Size does matter!
When it can to van size, I truly enjoyed driving this van as it was big enough to be a challenge but still manageable in all the tight spaces. Opting for a reasonably small-sized van does make it easier to drive, but that has its downsides as it compromises in space to fit a bed, kitchen, a dining table, shower and toilet in that space. The bed was of decent size, but the shower/ toilet area was very tight as well as the width of the standing room in the living area. Let’s just say it is an exercise of teamwork and coordination with your campervan buddy to carry out the basic of tasks. One more thing with tight spaces is that you get to bump into a lot of things all the times with my head suffering the most battle scars.
2. You can sleep in the most random place.
This is both a good and at times, annoying thing. Scotland has an excellent camper van culture and having a mobile home is like having a vacation home there. There are a lot of places where camper vans can park and in summer there are ample campsites to sleep at with reasonable prices ranging from £20 to £30. But usually you do not rent a camper van to sleep in campsites, you rent it to sleep in the middle of nowhere so you can wake up to the views of water or trees with the sounds of birds chirping in the early morning. On the other hand, finding these kinds of places could be a chore. After a day of driving and exploring you want to park your van, cook your meal and have a shower before heading to bed, but you have to go around looking for a good safe spot to park the van. A staff member from Bunk Campers told us about an app which we used religiously and only failed us once, which was Park 4 Night. If you intend to use it for a long time, I think making an account would be better but for us using the free version was enough. Although its name intends that all areas are suitable for night parking, do have a look at the descriptions before going as the parking icon with a yellow background does not allow for overnight parking.
3. There is no division of space.
The kitchen is in the living room, which is in the bedroom, and right next to the shower. Let’s just say that you can easily have breakfast in bed by cooking it straight from under the covers. Obviously, as we opted for the smaller model, everything is compact and space is limited, with every surface becoming usable, be it pots on the bed or socks on the dinner table. There is just not enough room to keep things organised. Keeping it clean is also a chore as once you get in the back of the van to pee with your trekking shoes, you tracked mud all through the corridor up to the shower floor!
4. You need to refill your resources and empty your tanks.
The great thing about living in a van is that you can go off-grid; until you run out of water and electricity and you need to go back on the grid again! People who do this full time or at least multiple times a year are equipped with solar power and water purifying systems, but for us rookies and all those renting a van we need to go to a campsite every few nights to top up the water, charge your van, empty your wastewater and septic tank. I do believe there may be places to fill up water along the road, but it is difficult to find such spots and in our case always ended up spending a night at a campsite when we were low on water.
5. Take care of all your resources.
When all your resources are in your van, you learn to take care of all that you have to keep going for longer. Showers get shorter, lighting is switched off as often as possible and heating the van is only in extreme cases; although temperatures in Scotland in summer are reasonable. On a side note, this is a good reality check to realise how much we take these things for granted in the comfort of our homes.
6. You can pee anywhere, but then you carry it around with you
I loved the fact that we can stop at any place and you do not have to look for a toilet. Peeing in a parking lot or parked in a busy street feels both mischievous and like a guilty pleasure. But on the other hand, you are now carrying your waste in your van which despite all efforts can get a little smelly, and you have to be prepared to empty the septic tank every couple of days. Having said that I still wish I could install a toilet in my car!
7. Everything moves around.
And by everything, I do mean everything! If it is not fixed or in a drawer, rest, assure that it is going to roll off and drop on the floor. The number of times we had to stop to pick up stuff from the floor was more then I could remember. It becomes second nature to lock and tie everything in place, but there is always that one thing that you forget that manages to still fall-over and scare the bejesus out of you while you are driving!
8. You don’t need to rent a car or accommodation.
Although you may find a camper van expensive when booking it, keep in mind that you are paying for both the vehicle and the accommodation. These expenses add up, especially if you are looking for accommodation in secluded areas like the ones you can sleep at with a van. But also remember that the expenses for fuel and insurance will bump up the cost, as well as the need to check into a camp site every few days to replenish your resources.
Although it may not be for everyone, I still recommend trying van life at least once in your life. With all the head bumping and resource-saving, it was still a unique experience to be able to go and sleep at remote places and waking up to beautiful sceneries like the ones Scotland has to offer.
Would you ever consider travelling and sleeping in a camper van? If you already have, how was your experience?
You can see more photos from Scotland here.