Van Life in a Pandemic: What the Last Week Has Reminded Me!
Van Life and a Global Pandemic
I’ll be honest, of all the problems I thought we’d encounter living in a van, a global pandemic wasn’t one of them! It didn’t even make the list. When we headed back to mainland Europe a few weeks ago from the UK I never imagined we’d be here now, worrying about borders closing around us, with ski resorts, restaurants and campsites in complete lockdown.
I wrote the above paragraph (and some of the thoughts below) 6 days ago. A lot has changed in 6 days! Since then Austria closed it’s borders, Germany has shut to all but essential travel and France has gone into lockdown. Meanwhile, I’ve driven over 1100 miles in 3 days to get back to the UK whilst it was still easy to do so.
Below is just a few of my rambling thoughts on what the Coronavirus Pandemic has reminded me so far about van life and being on the road. For now we’ll be staying still, caring for those around us and supporting local businesses. We’ll be getting in as much work as we can and looking forward to getting back out in the world when it’s safe to do so. If you’re a full time vanlifer we hope you’ve found a beautiful part of the world to enjoy for the next little while!
Travel should be cherished
When you spend much of your time on the road, being told to sit still is a hard pill to swallow! We’ve always appreciated how lucky we are to be able to travel. There’s many incredible places across the world, and whilst we’ve only seen a tiny percentage of them we realise how privileged we are. Now even more so, when it looks as though exploring is not an option for the foreseeable future we’re thankful for all the places and people we’ve met along the way. Tourism is a huge part of the global economy and the impact of its loss in such a rapid, unpredictable way is hard to get your head round.
The world’s not as small as you think!
Going in to 2020 I thought Brexit would be our biggest issue. We’d deliberately decided to head to countries later on this year that we thought might be harder to get to once Brexit hits in 2021. We’re incredibly lucky to have enjoyed effortless, restriction-free travel throughout Europe (and beyond) for most of our lives. This freedom of travel is what makes van life so attractive (and attainable) for us. How quickly things can change!
I’d always felt reassured by the fact that no matter where we ended up, if we needed to get back to the UK in a hurry we could. If a family member was taken ill or our work urgently required us to be somewhere, we could either drive through the night or jump on a plane (if necessary) from pretty much anywhere. Almost overnight this was no longer possible and the world was suddenly not quite as small as it once felt. With planes grounded, rail travel disrupted and borders restricted there was a real possibility we would end up unable to get home in an emergency. It was time to head back!
It’s not about us
It’s really important to us, as I’m sure it is to you, to not be a problem for the communities we interact with on the road. We try and practice sustainable van life as much as possible (yeah, we know we’re driving around in a big diesel van!) and attempt to leave no negative trace on the places we visit. This includes not leaving any germs or viruses we may be carrying behind! It seems you can have this virus and display no symptoms at all. We’d hate to be carriers and be inadvertently passing it along to others who may be more vulnerable than us.
We’re fortunate. Neither of us has underlying health issues (that we’re aware of!) so the virus itself poses little threat to us. Granted we might feel pretty rubbish for a few days if we caught it but chances are that would be the worst of it. We concluded the easiest way for us to protect those around us and practice social distancing was to be back home where we can be fully static if required.
Van life is not as isolated as you think
My first thought as the virus started to spread was that we were fairly isolated in the van already and keeping away from people wasn’t too big an issue. It wasn’t until the extent of quarantine and isolation measures began to be discussed that I realised we actually interact with other people a lot more than you’d think! We can stay off grid for a few days quite happily, and if there’s plenty of solar being generated maybe even a few days more. At some point though we need water and more often than not power. This usually involves going to places where there’s more people around. We need to top up on fresh food every week and we’ll need diesel if we’re driving anywhere. Whether you’re interacting with people or not during these times you’re still touching surfaces that could easily spread anything we may be carrying.
During the winter we’re even less isolated as we’re often skiing. Ski resorts seem to have been a huge issue for spreading the virus. They’re the tourist hotspot at this time of the year and with people coming together from all over the place it’s easy to see how things can spread. Whilst we haven’t skied at Ischgl or St Anton or any of the other now quarantined resort towns, who is to say the person we shared a gondola with at Obertauern hadn’t skied there the day before?
Community is so important
Having just said above that we’re not as isolated as we first thought, we’re also not part of a community in the traditional sense. We’re already seeing some beautiful examples of neighbours and communities across Europe pulling together to help each other, get supplies for those struggling and keep up morale for people isolated by the virus.
For many vanlifers our community is online, but just because you’re in a different corner of the world it doesn’t mean you can’t help. We had so many messages in the last week from people via Instagram who wanted to offer support, advice or just let us know they were thinking of us as we travelled home. You’ve no idea how much we appreciated them. So reach out to people you’re connected with however you can. This is a really positive community. I know if we were still on the road, in a country in quarantine or lockdown with unfamiliar rules I’d appreciate the support we can offer each other immensely.
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Accurate information can be hard to find
Information is all around us, all the time. We literally have it at our fingertips. Despite the fact you can find out pretty much anything just by looking on your phone it’s actually surprisingly difficult when things are changing so quickly to find the information you need. Mainstream media are all about big headlines and grabbing your attention, they don’t necessarily give you the detail or accuracy you need.
We tend to get our news from the country we call home, for us that usually means BBC News. Understandably their main focus is on what is happening in the UK, and whilst they report on other countries they don’t necessarily give you all the details on President Macron’s latest announcement or the finer points of border restrictions in Germany. If you’re not fluent in other languages that information can be harder to obtain, especially when things are moving so fast. We found ourselves relying on smaller organisations and blog websites such as planetski.eu who did a great job keeping the updates we needed flowing.
Making decisions is hard!
I’ve never been great at making decisions. I mean picking what to eat for dinner is sometimes one decision too far. Trying to sift through the deluge of news and figure out what to do for the best wasn’t easy! In fact, as I started this post we still hadn’t decided what to do. One minute I’d read the news and be 100% convinced the best thing to do was head back to the UK. The next minute I’d look around at everyone going about their lives and be sure we could hold off to see how the next few days played out. Well, as it turned out Europe made the decision for me, and as everyone started to go into lockdown the obvious choice for us was to head home.
I wondered whether to share this post or not. There’s a lot going on in the world at the minute and the last thing we need is yet another person throwing their oar in! Sometimes it’s therapeutic to write things down though, and there’s been a lot to process over the last week! It also didn’t feel right to ignore it was happening. Wherever you are in the world we hope you’re staying safe. If you’re in the UK in your van and need power or water or a place to shower then please, let us know.
For now we’re staying put, working out the best way to help those around us, and thanking each and every person doing their bit to beat this thing. To the medical teams, scientists, emergency services, supermarket staff and everyone fighting this thing, we are incredibly grateful for your sacrifices.