With travel restrictions still in place around Europe, staycations are in - vacations are out. Ever considered converting your own van to explore the country with? We spoke to travel blogger Jess Meyrick, who did exactly that.
She's got one of those Instagram feeds that makes you want to quit your job and become a full-time adventurer. A quick scroll and you’ll find photos of translucent sea and cliff edges, cityscapes and sunrises, where a sun-kissed Jess sits soaking it all in.
But how do travel bloggers start out? After leaving her job as a full-time nanny in Bermuda, Jess bought a DSLR camera, learnt how to edit and took off around the world. Once she’d started exploring, she caught the travel bug and decided to start The Wondering Dreamer, now boasting over 170k followers.
Hyper-aware of her environmental footprint, Jess carbon offsets all her flights using non-profit organisation My Climate. But more often than not, she stays within driving distance and explores the great outdoors by van.
Choosing to live life in a van
With a constant stream of holidays virtually every week, it must be hard to stay down to earth. But despite her glamorous adventures, Jess still manages to live a minimalist lifestyle.
Earlier this year, Jess and her boyfriend Will bought a van, nicknamed Pat. The couple live in Pat the Van whenever they’re back in the UK and enjoy the simple pleasure of roaming the British countryside back home. Will’s job as a marine engineer means he works on rotation, so they spend two months in the van at a time when back together.
I ask Jess where they bought Pat and how they built it to suit their needs. “We bought the van from a couple that used it to transport their husky dogs around Norway,” she tells me. “It was a shell when we bought it, which was perfect for us.”
Will designed the layout on his computer so they would know how much could fit in the small space. A high-top Mercedes sprinter model, the van is cosy, but with enough room to stand up without needing to hunch. The couple tell me they often open the doors and lie with their feet out in the air – dreamy.
Scandi beaches and wild British countryside
Jess tells me how they’ve travelled all over Europe in Pat the Van, from the Lake District in the UK to turquoise lakes and medieval towns in Germany, and even as far as Scandinavia. When I ask if anywhere sticks out as particularly special, she says it’s “actually too hard to pin down one place, as there have been so many!”.
“I think there is something so freeing about living in the van – we very rarely plan our trips in advance and do most of our research on the road giving us creative freedom. We drive when we want to drive and stop when we want to stop. There is no time frame and there is no schedule.”
With all the time in the world to unearth hidden gems, Jess recalls a beach in Sweden “which allowed vehicles to drive onto it.” She adds, “this was very exciting for us, as we’re both sea lovers. We decided to spend a night there, sleeping with the doors open and enjoying the breeze from the sea.”
Can life be difficult, living in such a small space?
From the way she speaks about it, I can tell the van is more than just a means of transportation to Jess, it’s a home. Despite the inevitable lack of space and sometimes messy practicalities, the freedom makes it all worth it.
I discover the van has a full size double bed, wardrobe, seating and kitchen area. Jess and Will have even managed to squeeze in a small shower/tub - and a fridge that pulls out from a drawer under their bed!
“We wanted the ability to live off grid without needing to stay in campsites. The van has solar panels on the roof that generate all the electricity we need for lights, fridge and charging ports.”
When I dare to ask how they dispose of waste on the road, Jess laughs, “without sounding too gross, the worst bit is definitely the bathroom department.” They decided a ‘porta potti’ was a necessity for the van, especially during the winter in the mountains. But it’s not as messy as you’d think, “we just dispose of the wastewater in campsites or service stations.”
A minimalist lifestyle
Jess concludes that living minimally is more of a state of mind. “We actually travel very lightly in the van - we quickly realised from our first trip how little we use."
The key is to conserve your resources and live within your means, she says. The couple explain that their 80 litre water tank can last them three days, while still showering and using the water for washing up.
“On average, one person in the UK uses approx. 140 litres of water a day,” Jess tells me, “so what we’ve realised is, it’s not about sacrificing, it’s simply about being considerate.”
For Jess and Will, a typical road trip in the van will be filled with all their favourite podcasts, Ted Talks and “we love a singalong,” she says with a smile.
“On the way down to the Lake District, we listened to the Beatles!”.
Apart from the van itself, Jess lives a green lifestyle in a variety of ways. She advocates sustainable clothing brands as much as she can on her Instagram account and explains, although it might not always be possible, they try and support local businesses.
The couple come up with innovative ways to reduce their plastic consumption as much as possible and never waste any food - leftovers are always gone the next day. With a substantial following on Instagram, it's clear Jess is a true believer of living minimally. She concludes, “if you have the power to influence, it should be done in the correct way."