By Scott Thompson
THIS COUPLE moved into a van FULL-TIME to be more ECO-FRIENDLY and only spent FIFTY POUNDS renovating it.
Social entrepreneur Nathen Fitchen (27) from Trowbridge, Wiltshire was brought up on a narrow boat on the UK’s canal network until he was 18 years old. From there he went to University College London and completed his degree in Earth Sciences in June 2014.
After a short stay in France and Italy in 2014, Nathen knew he wanted a life on the road full time and has been living in vans since 2015, and only came back to the UK to earn a little extra money to continue his travels.
But then in June 2018, Nathen met social entrepreneur, Josephine Blossfeld (22), when they were volunteering in Lisbon, Portugal. Although they’d only seen each other in passing before, they soon ended up living with the same mutual friend and it wasn’t long before Nathen had the itch to travel again. He asked her to come with him and they have been travelling together ever since.
When the two lovers moved to New Zealand in 2019, they bought a 1993 Toyota Hiace for just £1,420 (2900NZD). They spent an additional £730 (1500NZD) on the mechanical work and managed to renovate the van with a tiny £50 (100NZD) budget.
“After completing a degree in Earth Sciences at University College London, I decided that I did not want to stay in one place but would prefer to spend my life on the road, experience the visceral reality of our beautiful planet. Since 2015 I have been on the road, only coming back to the UK for some seasonal work,” Nathen said.
“I was actually brought up on a canal boat until the age of eighteen and although I enjoyed the experience of university and sharing a flat in London, I thrived on independence. I spent some time living in Italy and France but burned through my savings quickly. I ended up back in my hometown for a few months and worked in landscaping. It didn’t take me long to reaffirm my desire to travel so, I bought an old van and got out of there.
“I met Josephine in June 2018. We were both volunteering in permaculture communities in a village near Lisbon, Portugal. We had seen each other, but never had the opportunity to meet and talk. Serendipitously we ended up staying at a mutual friend’s house together and I invited her to come on a road trip. The rest is history.
“I bought my first van in 2015, it was a 1983 Ford Autohome, then in 2017 I bought an LDV Convoy and built the interior from scratch.
“In 2019, Josephine and I decided we wanted to live in New Zealand and when we arrived there, we bought a 1993 Toyota Hiace and spent ten days building the interior using permaculture design principles. It cost us less than £50 (100NZD) to do it. We are really about converting homes with minimal environmental impact, but also showing that it can be affordable for everyone. However, the van itself cost £1,420 (2900NZD) and the mechanical work was £730 (1500NZD). We pay for it all by selling up my old van.”
Sustainability is at the forefront of everything they do in their lives and that includes travelling in their van. For this reason, they travel slowly and try to create the least impact to the planet that they can. As such, to justify their flights to New Zealand they have spent the last year on the islands.
Other eco-friendly habits they have adopted are living minimalistic lives, using recycled materials and watching what they throw away.
Although they love the life they have on the road in a van, there are a few things they wish they were told about before starting such as toxic building materials in confined spaces, how to find parking every night and what pace they should be travelling.
“We have both led minimalist lifestyles for the last seven years so we didn’t have to find anywhere to dump old stuff. We prefer to collect memories and not things,” Nathen continued.
“We have our own online community called Responsible Vanlife and it’s all about living sustainably in a van. We really advocate for slow travel, making less miles and having more time to experience what is around you. We couldn’t justify flying to New Zealand for a short trip, so we have been here for a year working on a feature length documentary about the Western Sahara refugee crisis and its link to New Zealand industrial agriculture.
“We are all about travelling responsibly. For us a big part of that is travelling with a cause that will positively impact the world. We are limiting the amount of travelling, using natural or recycled materials during the conversion, designing the van to promote low waste habits, advocate for responsible living, contributing to local economies wherever we are. I could go on, but anyone looking to lead a more responsible and intentional life on the road should head over to Responsible Vanlife. We have a monthly e-magazine and soon a podcast on these topics.
“There are some things we wish we knew before we started our journey: 1. Most building materials are toxic and give off gas for many years. Using them in such a confined space is very detrimental to your health, 2. Always try to find a parking spot before it gets dark, it can get a little stressful otherwise, 3. Relax, there is no rush, 4. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help, we are all humans and people from across the world are generally nice and will help you, and 5. There are thousands of people doing this around the world… you are not alone.”
Nathen says the best part of this lifestyle is reducing their need for much money and having more freedom to do the things they love.
“We love being able to travel and in the process we are reducing our financial needs which gives us more time to do good things for people and the planet,” said Nathen.
“Honestly we just love the freedom to think of an idea or project and run with it and not worry about being tied down to a conventional job or mortgage or anything.
“If you are interested in this kind of life then don’t wait to try it. You can spend a long time looking at other people living this way or jump right in. Whatever you’re doing right now will still be possible in a few years’ time, just do what feels right.
“The barrier for entry is very low. It might seem like a massive change, but it’s really accessible these days. Feel free to message us on IG @wildlfeet and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
“We are living our best life, having a blast and creating positive changes in the world. Our way of life is not for everyone and that is ok. I hope that you are living your best life too.”
You can follow their journey through Instagram.