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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Van Life - Our first 6 months

Updated: Jan 26

A fat old bloke testing the heated rear shower during warmer times in Brittany

You're doing what?? Our kids have grown up and left home giving us the opportunity to do something a bit different. It's not nailed down yet but our dream is to run a hospitality business on the island of Madeira (with a rum angle, of course). To fund this hair-brained scheme, we needed to sell our home....

Bye-bye, The Warren Arms... after several false starts, on 1st August 2023 we said goodbye to our beloved home and basement bar. A 200-year-old ex-pub in the south England village of Reigate. A massive moment for us after 5 years of blood, sweat, and tears, fully self-restoring it from a total wreck to the beautiful home and bar it is now.

Where are you living now? We estimate that the process of finding, buying, and restoring our new venture will take about 2 years. So we bought a van! We're still doing our day jobs that allow some flexibility in terms of remote working but as one of us is a teacher, during term time we need to be based in the same local area. The plan is to split our time between our converted Mercedes Sprinter and some House/Pet sitting.

Housesitting... sounds interesting, what's that all about...? It was a new concept to us so I suspect a brief overview will be useful to others...

Much like it sounds, we look after people's homes and pets while they're away. It's a non-financial arrangement (ie: we don't charge for it. The hosts benefit from us looking after their home and pets during their holiday, we benefit from zero rent, mortgage, council tax, and utility bills). Several websites facilitate these arrangements (eg: Trusted Housesitters) but even using an 'official' website there is still a huge trust element on both sides. Being local we can pre-meet our hosts which helps a lot.

We've been very fortunate to meet some lovely people stay in some amazing homes

How much time have you been in the van vs house-sitting?

As you can see from my crappy PowerPoint doughnut chart, house-sitting has been amazingly popular. In six months we've spent almost 100 days house-sitting across 14 excellent sits. This nomadic time has also proved a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends that we'd not seen enough of.

Which pets have you looked after?

Time for more dodgy (doggy) infographics.

It's not all about the dogs! So far we've looked after chickens, geese, rabbits, cats, and dogs. Upon reflection, it makes sense as foul are much harder to find kennels for!

That said, we love dogs and they were a massive draw for pet-sitting. A valuable and unexpected bonus from looking after a wide variety of breeds has been for us to learn more about their quirks and personalities - they have all been amazing! Every pet so far has been unique and brilliant. They deserve a cheeky cameo so here's some of the little monkeys ....

I'm here to read about Van Life - not housesitting! Okay, okay, back on message. Our home on wheels, affectionately named Vanessa, is a converted Mercedes Benz Sprinter. We've learned a lot over the 6 months since our bonkers downsize. Space being the biggest shocker - not an actual surprise (obviously) but even knowing it would be an issue, it's still the most likely catalyst for murder in the Merc.

Lesson 1 - only one person can do stuff at any time! (I cook, Faye lays on the bed. Faye washes up, I sit on the chair. You get the idea).

We regularly get asked questions about this new mobile life, so here's a bunch of the biggies...

Where do you park Vanessa? At 7m long she's no Ford Fiesta, but we specifically chose a van with few, and tinted, windows, and without awnings etc, so she's quite inconspicuous and hard to differentiate from a standard panel van. We park on streets where we're not in front of, or blocking light to, anyone's home. We're quiet and move location after a week.

Have you had any complaints or been asked to move on? So far, nothing at all. The law about sleeping in a vehicle on a public road is a bit unclear but as I said, we're quiet, respectful, and don't stay in one place for more than a week, so I'd be very surprised if anyone noticed, let alone complained.

Isn't it freezing? Vanessa is fitted with a combi boiler, providing heating and hot water. The large underslung LPG tank can be filled up at some petrol stations and seems to last absolutely ages. The van is relatively small and reasonably insulated so it gets snug-as-a-bug in no time.

Where's all your stuff? Moving from a 4 bedroom house to a mobile shoebox we took the opportunity to have a serious clearout. We've rented a lockup but didn't want to spend a fortune storing stuff that may not be suitable for whatever comes next. So we sold. We gifted. We binned. And it was incredibly cathartic.

Where does your post go? One idiot friend did successfully send a letter to Vanessa at one of our regular parking spots (the postie left it under the windscreen wiper!) But on a serious note, we do need a base for post, endless rum deliveries, a registered address, somewhere to park Vanessa when not in use, and so much more. For that, huge thanks go to my in-laws without who's support none of this would be possible.

Quick-fire round ... Where do you?

Shower - There is a hot shower in the van but it's predictably cramped and gets through the van water tank rapido. Luckily on weekdays we both have a workplace with showers and on weekends we're often visiting friends or family who prefer us not to stink.

Go to the loo - Vanessa has an ok loo but the house rule, except in emergencies, is to save number 2's for work, pub, or cafe. Someone has to empty the thing!

Wash your clothes - The maximum time between housesits has so far been under 2 weeks so to date we've not needed to bother with a laundrette, but they exist, even in posh villages like Reigate!

Cook - We've got a twin hob, fridge, and a sink. It's surprising how creative you can be with 2 hobs, but we generally save the flamboyant meals for housesits. Another unexpected bonus of van life has been more Sunday pub roasts {with 50% veggies in the team, they make so much sense!}

Which season is best for van life? It's mid-winter and bitterly cold in the UK so I'm definitely dreaming about the extra space and flexibility of summer and having the doors open. Traveling around Brittany last August was amazing and the van came into its own. That said - short dark evenings and closed doors & blinds are ideal for stealth street camping, so a hot UK summer could present some unforeseen challenges!

Is the constant moving around and from house to house not frustrating? Some of the 'team' cope better than others with the lack of a base, but we're both getting used to the new structure and routine.

I'm now an expert at finding stuff in a new home, and quickly figuring out weird new kitchen appliances. The key is being super organised, both in the van and the sits. The novelty of a new house now lasts minutes and within only a few hours of moving in, we've usually cooked a meal, walked the dogs, lit a fire, opened wine, and settled down to a normal evening as if we'd lived there for years.

Anything you'd suggest watching out for when agreeing to a housesit? Possibly one for another article, but I'd definitely ask about internal security cameras!! And whether you'll be sharing the house with anyone!

Do you miss the Warren Arms? Well, I don't miss the bills, or the DIY and ongoing maintenance that inevitably comes with owning a historic old building, but yes, I really miss my bar, the garage gym, and knowing where all my mlarky is.

Finally, it all sounds too easy, there must have been a few dramas? Of course. More than a few! And not all shareable :-) Day 2 of our first sit we suffered a multi-day power cut which culminated in workmen digging a giant hole in their beautiful garden. Thankfully the super organised host had a generator in his garage, with just enough juice to power Wifi and laptop, or the coffee machine... arghh!

Another time we had a leak in the van. There's nothing like water dripping on your pillow to get you overnight to expert level on Mercedes rear door seals. We are now sealed up tighter than a camel's arse in a sandstorm, and as a bonus I've invested in a couple of dehumidifiers to keep things Superdry!

As I mentioned earlier. the pets have all been amazing ... even Leia the 18-month-old golden lab who, out on a walk, stole and ate a golfer's sandwich directly from his golf bag. Bloody rascal.

Better save some stories for future blogs. Thanks for reading, please let me know if it's of any interest, or helpful for insomnia.

Subscribe below (or above, or somewhere :-) ), or follow me on Instagram, if you're interested in hearing more about this bizarre adventure.

Coming soon... We're off to Madeira in a couple of weeks to view some places which is exciting. I will find time to provide a more regular diary of our crazy journey and new life. Next up in this non-rum element of the blog will be a tour of the van...

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Jan 26

We moved to Madeira just over a year ago and now live in Funchal. Originally from the UK. Let us know if you’d like to meet up the next time you’re here. Cheers, Sean.

Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce
Jan 26
Replying to

Cheers Sean. Will do 👍😁

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