Earlier this month we invited Creative Director at ‘We Are Woven’, Stacey Keay to share her tales from her solo van life experience. Why did the lifestyle appeal to her and what has she learnt along the ride so far? As a self-confessed newbie to camper life, 33 year old Stacey, reflects on what she’s learnt from dipping her toe into this new way of living.
We hope you enjoy her lovely guest post straight from the heart. We’re sure it’ll inspire you to follow your own dreams! 😊
All photos are Stacey’s own. This blog post is part of our new series of ‘van life stories’.
Stacey’s story – in her own words
My camper story begins in a place where romantic dreams are found… Swinging in a hammock under a starry sky. I was half a world away with a coconut in one hand, a map in the other, sand in my hair, no shoes on my feet and a local dog curled up snoozing beside me.
I had already been living out of a backpack for six months and knew that my freedom funds were running low, but I had found myself at the travellers crossroads once again in deciding on whether to stay or go.
My young heart was daring and I had no definite sense of time or home, so I offered my imagination the space to wonder… ‘Why does the journey always have to end? The return to reality… Going back into the box. What would I do if I didn’t have to stop?’
It was these almost instinctive, soul-seated questions and my insatiable lust for adventure that eventually guided me to buy a van and venture into a whole new world of van living.
But I wanted to share this memory with you, because it was also this moment when my ideas of what life needed to be expanded beyond maps and I found the courage to just follow my heart.
If you feel curious about this kind of lifestyle and my words resonate with you, then I hope that this post can give you the courage to follow your own campervan dreams. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far…
My reasons for choosing solo van life
After years of coming and going, moving house, moving city and always secretly planning the next trip, I decided to sit myself down and ask the all-encompassing question ‘Girl, what do you actually want?’
The answer was simple. I want it all! I don’t want to choose between living in the city or the countryside, I want the diversity of both.
- I want to be so connected to nature that I can open my back door into a forest, but not completely shut off from the world.
- I want to be available to my friends and family, but not rooted to the streets where they live.
- I want to be self-sufficient, to live sustainably, minimally and a lot more consciously.
- I want to contribute to my community, participate in projects and be part of a new cultural narrative.
- I want to explore my own country, discover its history, its secret-spots and meet as many faces as I can.
- And on a deeper level, I want to find my own way and my own truth by living in the margins of what society measures as ‘normal’ and be one of the lived examples of how change is possible.
I have always been fascinated by nomadic tribes who roam the land, yet symbolise such connectedness and I have always been a traveller by heart. So, that is how I knew… I want to be a van-woman!
First steps if you’re interested in van life
The first element that you will need is the belief that you can do anything. (And you really can.)
The second, of course is the reality that you’ll need some money behind you. Focus on your dream van, visualise it in your mind and start saving.
And the third is… do your research. Before I started my conversion I spent one year planning; hours watching Youtube tutorials, days picking out design ideas and months making lists, drawing sketches and reading up on materials. I created van-life folders and started talking to real-life van-dwellers online. I even visited a few whilst living in Brighton, so I could really get a feel of what it might be like. By the time we went into the first lockdown of 2020, I was ready.
Finding my beloved van – Ray
After a month scouring the internet and test driving a handful of vans, I found the one for me – a Renault Master – who I call, Ray.
Ray was a trade van in a past life so needed some loving care, but after a scrub down, it was so exciting to see the potential for my new home. I completed the build of my van myself, but Love Campers offer full conversions which would be useful for anyone who wanted to save time and get on the road more quickly. The whole design process is about problem solving, so you just learn so much along the way.
I now have a whole new set of skills and the confidence to wield my own tools, which as a woman is very empowering indeed – I even traded in my sparkly dresses for a few tubes of Sikaflex and a tool box!
The best bits of solo van life
For me it’s been making my van into a home and weaving my own character into the design. Ray is a completely unique little Stacey-pod and now I can take that space with me wherever I go.
Other than that it’s the simple things about being in a van that I love:
The first sunset. Sitting on my bed, playing music with both of my back doors wide open.
Listening to the rain on my roof and feeling cosy knowing that nature is on my doorstep.
Waking up to endless possibilities every day. Whenever I get restless I can just put my key in the ignition.
Being responsible for my water levels, energy consumption and waste disposal. It gives me a real sense of purpose and prowess. I never take anything for granted in the van and feel more in harmony with my environment.
I also just love all the messages that I receive from people who are considering their own little home on wheels. I hope to encourage more wild hearts as I travel around the country.
Entering into the campervan lifestyle
Stand strong in your beliefs
Living in a van is all about practicality, but you will have some people who might not see it that way.
Practicing resilience and how to deflect those judgements is a worthy skill for the road. I’ve experienced everything from ‘dreamer’ and ‘radical’ to the more sceptical and reactionary. The people you need around you are your community. Reach out to your fellow van-dwellers and tap into those sources for inspiration and guidance, because they will always offer the understanding and encouragement you need.
There are lots of online groups where you can post questions or make plans to meet along the way.
The first group that I joined was Van Life UK on Facebook.
Looking after your mental health
Self awareness and taking care of your mental well-being is one of the most important practices for solo van-lifers. It can be hard work and it can get lonely, especially on those dark winter days and the nemesis of van-life is isolation. So, stay connected. If you are struggling, go and find your tribe, create a support network or even join an eco-village for a while to recharge. I’d recommend Workaway as a useful way to meet like-minded travellers. The website allows you to search for voluntary work in exchange for a place to stay.
Being a woman in the van life community
And some advice for the femme folk reading this… Men will (more often than not) have an opinion on what you should do with your van. It becomes almost comical after a while. Just remember that you are more capable than they could comprehend, so just stick it to ‘um!
The future – my van life story as the pandemic eases
What does the future hold? Freedom.
After Lockdown: Part I, II & III… I am so ready to actually begin my journey. My travel plans were all cancelled in October, so for now, it’s just a matter of waiting it out until the storm passes. I’m hoping that by spring the restrictions will be lifted and we will all be released. I am heading straight for the sea – just Ray and me.
Then the plan is to launch my charity project and deliver workshops across the country, helping communities to recover and reflect on the past year. The project is called ‘We Are Woven’ and aims to encourage creative expression, collaboration and deepen our understanding of the inner world by connecting with nature.
That dream is on hold for now, but with the van done and looking chipper, I’m hopeful for the future. I genuinely believe that with a bit of faith and audacity we can do pretty much anything we set our minds to.
Follow Stacey’s journey on Instagram @staceykeay
Wishing you the best of luck Stacey! We hope the future holds many adventures ahead for you and Ray.
Check out our other blog posts:
- Sea Swimming for Mental Health – What’s it all about
- What is Hutting? The latest lifestyle trend
- 6 Wood Finishes for your Campervan