10 FAQs About Van Life

jana meerman waiohine gorge carterton (7)

Back in February, we bought a little self-contained van while we were living in Wellington. We named her Bongo (since she's a Mazda Bongo - yes, so creative, we know) and took her out for a few weekend trips in the region around Welly.

After our working holiday visas ran out in March and we escaped to Samoa for ten days under the sun, we returned to Welly where we had left Bongo and headed out on what was meant to be a six week roadie around the North Island, ending late April.

We got less than two weeks into the trip - during which time we visited Egmont National Park and the Forgotten World Highway - before COVID-19 lock down came into effect and we had to abandon plans. We spent lock down living in Carterton, a tiny town a few hours north of Wellington, which was the loveliest place to be.

Once lock down was lifted, we got back in our van and hit the road for a two month roadtrip around the North Island and made sure to stop literally everywhere. New Zealand was lucky enough to enjoy an immense amount of freedom relative to other countries regarding the COVID-19 crisis and we reveled in that as we traveled around the country.

Just before we left on the roadtrip, we filmed a YouTube video giving a tour of our little van Bongo. You can watch the van tour here.

After we posted the video, we got some questions about some more of the specific details about how exactly we go about doing things on the road and how we really live in our van long term. That, combined with a few a ideas of our own, turned into a new video with some more in-depth information on #vanlife.

Check it out here!

I've listed all ten things we discussed in the video here with a bit more detail, for your reading pleasure:

1. Showering

Our van is far too small to have its own shower and besides, it would use a lot of water and energy to heat it. Instead, we go to aquatic centres where we can take a hot shower, and swim if we feel like!

Swimming pools typically offer unlimited shower time for a set price; designated camper showers often put a time limit like $3 for 5 minutes.

2. Laundry

We collect all of our laundry in a laundry bag that we keep with the rest of our belongings. When the bag is full, we find a laundromat (there's one in every town in New Zealand!) and for a couple of bucks, we do a cold wash.

We don't use dryers since they can damage clothes and instead, we use rope to create a laundry line at whichever campsite we are at that night and hang our clothes out to air dry.

This means we have to make sure we do laundry on a sunny day!

3. Using the Van's Water System

In order to be self-contained in New Zealand, our van needs to have a clean + grey water system. We have two 25L water tanks; one for drinking water that we refill with a hose at drinking water taps around the country and one for grey water that we dispose of down certified campervan dump stations.

A hose from the clean water system connects to our pump tap which allows us to use water by pumping. A second hose connects from the base of the sink to the grey water tank.

4. Cooking

We own a gas stove which uses butane gas cans. Most of our meals on the road are 1-pot meals so that everything can be cooked in one pot meaning less time and less cleaning! We own lots of utensils and cutlery to prepare our food and even a camp kettle which can be heated on our stove.

5. Brushing Teeth

We use our kitchen sink with our grey water system to brush our teeth. It's pretty straight forward - we just pump water out of the tap and spit it back down the sink into the grey water.

In order to make sure that what we're spitting down the sink is biodegradable and safe to dispose of at dump stations, we make our own toothpaste. Simply combine 2 tbsp coconut oil + 1 tbsp baking soda + 15 drops of spearmint essential oil (or multiply that in equivalent ratios).

6. Disposing of Garbage & Recycling

In order to be self-contained in New Zealand, we also need to own a garbage bin with a lid. We use compostable garbage bags and keep the bin up front by the passenger seat. Once it's full, we dispose of it in bins at campsites.

We also collect all of our recycling and stack it in a bag next to the bin. Once it's full, we find a local recycling centre in whichever town we're in and recycle everything we possibly can.

7. Charging Electronics

Up front, we have a dual USB charger which we use for our phones and our speaker.

Right behind the passenger seat, we have a big battery that gets charged while the car is running. We plug an extension lead in here which charges our laptops, camera battery, lamp and battery packs.

8. Light

Our van does not have built-in lighting since she's quite small. Instead, we have twinkle lights that run the perimeter of the back of the van; these are bright enough for us to read by.

When we're cooking and sorting things out, we have a UBS-rechargeable camp lamp.

9. Going to the Toilet

The third requirement of being self-contained in New Zealand is to have a toilet on board. We have a campa-potti that enables us to go to the toilet in our van. We only use the campa-potti to go pee - if we need to do a #2 we find a public loo!

The campa-potti is super easy to use and clean and we dispose of the waste down the campervan dump stations, same as the grey water tank.

10. Privacy & Darkness

At night when we set up for camping, we put a silver privacy screen across the front window. We have curtains that hang over the front seats and across the back window and we have pull-down blinds on all four of the side windows. All this ensure complete darkness while we sleep and privacy at night in our van.


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