In the summer of 2018, we hired a Ford Maverick camper conversion from Escape Campervans for our honeymoon and set off across the USA for 6 weeks. We were instantly hooked as we discovered the freedom of parking up at a beautiful location and cooking dinner, not having to pitch or take down a tent everyday and being able to sleep in some seriously gorgeous (and free!) places. As soon as we got home we booked another Escape road trip for 6 months later and were planning a 3rd for this year, before the pandemic cancelled it.
Some of our adventures with Escape Campervans
We have always known that driving holidays are our favourite way to travel - you can read about our Scottish and Icelandic roadtrips on our blog. But ever since we pulled out of the Escape Campervans Las Vegas depot and set off into the Nevada desert, we have fallen head over heels, unconditionally, earth shatteringly in love with the van lifestyle, and started dreaming about buying our own.
One of the few positives that this crazy year has brought is that we have been able to save some money. If you follow us over on Instagram, you will know that for 9 months we've been working our butts off in Tesco, working crazy night hours packing online deliveries. Outside of travel blogging we are both actors, and the theatre industry has been pretty much completely shut down since March. It's been exhausting, but we are unbelievably grateful to the supermarket for taking us in, when we had no finances coming in for the foreseeable.
Anyway! With 2020 trips to Canada and the US, Dubai and Estonia all cancelled, we finally found ourselves with the spare cash to take the leap into van purchasing and a couple of months ago began seriously searching. At first things were discouraging - many of the vans within our budget were very old, very battered ex trade vehicles and had done 150,000+ miles, and if we wanted to put the time and money into converting one, we needed a van that wouldn't die within a couple of years.
We had our hearts set on a Vauxhall Vivaro - we've both driven much bigger Sprinter size LWB vans on acting tours before, but wanted something that would fit into a regular car parking space and that one of us could confidently drive and reverse alone, without needing an outrider to manoeuvre the van. The Vivaro ticked all our boxes - small enough to function as our everyday car, non "trade looking" so we can stealth camp discreetly, and roomy enough in the back for two of us to live comfortably for a couple of weeks.
In late November, David was browsing the AA website. It turns out they have a used vans page where dealerships across the country can list their vehicles. All vans on the site have been inspected and approved by the AA and come with a 3 month warranty, and you can also get a year's free basic breakdown cover from the AA with your purchase! And there, just up the road in Oxfordshire, was Osprey. 5 years old with only around 40,000 miles (incredibly low for a van!) on the clock, Osprey is a combi which means he already has side and rear windows, something we really wanted. The previous owner has also insulated, soundproofed and carpeted the interior, which saves us a big and fiddly job.
At this point, the UK was still under lockdown until December 2nd, which meant we couldn't physically go to look at the van, but we quickly phoned the dealership and put down a refundable deposit to take it off the market - we had a feeling that we'd found a real gem and didn't want someone else to snap it up!
On Saturday 6th we drove over, took Osprey out for a spin and signed on the dotted line. We were officially van owners!
We are so excited to start this adventure with Osprey and to begin converting him into our dream home from home. We'll be sharing our progress on here and our Instagram page, and as soon as we can, we'll be hitting the road!
2021 is looking much brighter.
A quick Q&A
Why didn't you choose a bigger van? Won't the Vivaro feel cramped?
We've seen some incredible van builds online in long wheel base, high top vans, ambulances, even buses! They gorgeous but massive, and as we won't be living full time in Osprey, the Vivaro is plenty big enough for us to live comfortably for a couple of weeks. It feels the same size as the Mavericks we drove in the States, and we happily lived in those for 6 weeks without ever feeling cramped.
As we wrote above, Osprey will also be our day to day "car" , so needs to be small enough to go into multi-storey car parks, to fit into a normal parking space, and to be manageable by one of us, if the other isn't there to help reverse or manoeuvre the van.
What about showers? And toilets??
On our honeymoon in the Ford Maverick, we had no bathroom and never even noticed it. British campsites have toilets and shower blocks, and while we don't have the beach showers that we used in California and Florida, motorway service stations often provide free (or very cheap) showers, and leisure centres and gyms have inexpensive day passes where you can use the facilities.
How did you afford it?
With two long haul and two short haul trips cancelled this year, we had money saved that we would have otherwise spent on travel. We also part exchanged our Vauxhall Viva, Stevie Nicks, which took £3500 off the price.
Will you convert the van yourself?
Partly. Luckily the fiddly stages of insulating and carpeting the van has already been done, and it already has side windows, which saves us a couple of jobs. We're not carpenters, but our brother in law to be is fantastically practical and will hopefully be helping us in January with our bedframe and kitchen unit. In terms of curtains and cushions, I (Emma) am in charge of that, and when we get round to installing a solar panel and leisure battery we will get a pro to do it! We don't fancy messing around with anything electrical.
So what's the plan for the build?
We want to have a fixed raised bedframe across the back of the van, high enough to act as our garage underneath. We plan to have all our clothes in plastic boxes accessible from teh inside, and our hiking kit, boots, wetsuits, body boards, camp chairs etc accessible from the outside with the back doors open.
We will have a small kitchen unit with space for our camping stove, food prep and washing up, but we won't be fixing the stove in place as when there is nice weather we'll cook outside.
Once the main build is finished, the first upgrades will be fitting a solar panel on the roof, powering a leisure battery that will run a small fridge and lighting, and a pump action kitchen sink/tap so we can have running water for washing up. And David would love some alloys...
It took us SO long to name our van! We tried so many ideas, and just none of them seemed quite right. Our car was called Stevie Nicks after Fleetwood Mac rock goddess because the registration was NKS, but we had trouble being inspired by OY65.
At first we considered other musicians we liked, (VivaROY Orbison? Tenuous...) then after deciding that the Vivaro looked like a NASA space shuttle we tried out a few space themed ideas. Discovery, Cassini, Kennedy... but none of them sparked joy. How about places we'd enjoyed on previous road trips? Winslow, Key Largo, Yosemite, Nevada... still meh.
It wasn't until we thought about nature themes that Osprey immediately pinged to mind and just felt right: Black and white, wild and free, found in beautiful rugged landscapes that we loved like Scotland and Canada AND ties in the OY licence plate. We also have lovely memories of watching Osprey in the Everglades during our Florida road trip. Perfect.
Where will you go first?
We have some big plans for once the pandemic is over and we can freely travel again. One of the main reasons we looked into buying a van was that with long haul travel off the cards for now, we wanted to find a way of doing inexpensive, self contained trips within the UK, and eventually Europe once it opens up again.
We'd love to take Osprey on the ferry to Ireland, along the Welsh Pembrokeshire coast and around the N500 route in the far north of Scotland. Once European travel is a go, we have a route in mind that takes us from London to Budapest in Hungary, taking in Ghent, Frankfurt, Prague, Bratislava and Vienna en route. The BIG plan is to get the ferry over to Spain, drive down to the south and take Osprey to Morocco! Hopefully with the Covid vaccine already rolling out, that might be an option by summer. Fingers crossed!
Special thanks to John Nguyen at JN Visuals who took some beautiful photos of us with Osprey. You can find his portfolio and website here