By Martin Ruffell
THIS BRITISH couple gave up their £650 a month bungalow to move into an ex-police riot van and save for their future – and so far they’ve saved £15,000 in rent and expenses in under two years.
Sales professional Rachel Franklin (25) and carpenter Cameron Smith (30) from south east England were introduced to one another by a mutual friend in the summer of 2013 and immediately felt a connection. However, as September approached, Rachel left to attend university and the pair lost contact.
In 2019, Cameron found himself living in a rented room in a bungalow – paying £650 per month for the privilege. After coming across ‘van life’ videos on YouTube, the carpenter began to dream of living a nomadic lifestyle.
When one of his housemates said that they were going to move out of the bungalow, leaving Cameron in limbo, he made up his mind to pursue his van life fantasy.
Requiring plenty of storage for his woodworking tools, as well as a bed and space to stand up, Cameron spotted an ex-police riot van on eBay which suited all of his needs. Cameron spent an initial £8,000 on the van and an additional £3,000 to sort out electricals, plumbing, and the interior. Keeping with the police theme, Cameron decided to name his van ‘Kevlar’ after the bulletproof material.
In late 2019, Cameron and Rachel reconnected online and became a couple at the beginning of 2020. Since then, they have spent time travelling the UK together with Cameron’s husky Odin – visiting the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, road tripping around Wales, rambling in the Peak District and taking in the panoramic scenery of the Lake District.
The couple say that their love and appreciation for nature has only increased since living in the van full time and being able to live sustainably by generating all of their power from solar is very important to them.
They also have managed to reduce their expenses since there is no rent to pay and no room to fill the van with lots of materialistic possessions. The couple estimate that they have saved approximately £15,000 on rent, utilities and unnecessary expenditures since living in their van.
For Rachel, one of the hardest parts of van life is not having a warm bath to soak in, but she admits that this is a small price to pay for the idyllic life the couple share together.
However, the pandemic lockdowns throughout 2020 did prove to be a challenge for Cameron and Rachel since waste disposal and recycling plants were closed, leaving them reliant on finding a large supermarket or help from friends to get rid of their rubbish.
Whilst for many couples, living in such close proximity for so long would cause friction, Cameron and Rachel say that their relationship has only gotten stronger. The pair say that communication is key to this, as is being able to happily pursue their own hobbies which include sketching and reading together in peace.
“I remember sitting in my six-hundred-and-fifty-pounds a month room in a shared bungalow watching YouTube and stumbling across van life videos,” said Cameron.
“I was hooked and couldn’t believe that it was a real lifestyle that people live.
“A few weeks later, a housemate told us that he would be moving out which left us all thinking what to do.
“With ten years of carpentry experience and one-hundred hours of van life videos behind me, I knew what my plan was. I was going to move into a van.
“After the initial investment, this would allow me to put my old rent money to one side and work towards building myself a future.
“I needed plenty of storage space to store my tools for work and I needed something I could easily stand up and move around in.
“When the riot van popped up on eBay, I knew it was perfect, with all the additional security that comes from its former life as well as the box shape which makes for an easy conversion.”
For Rachel, the benefits of van life far outweigh the challenges it poses.
“We love being so close to nature all the time. Since living in the van, we definitely look outdoors more for entertainment and we have so much more appreciation for the world we live in,” said Rachel.
“Obviously the ability to cut out a lot of expenses is brilliant too, we get our electricity from the sun.
“There isn’t rent to pay and because of having a smaller home, you don’t spend as much money on material possessions.
“Small living also means we’re able to be a lot more environmentally conscious. We know exactly how much water, gas, and power we use each week and despite living in a vehicle, our carbon footprint is so much lower.
“The beauty of living in a van is that Cameron can pretty much take work anywhere, without worrying about a commute – this means we also get to explore places that we wouldn’t necessarily visit on a holiday.
“Having a home on wheels means we never have to pack or plan around our work commitments – we can be as spontaneous as we like.
“Communication is always key in a relationship, but we think it’s probably even more the case when you’re living small.
“We don’t find the constant proximity an issue and we still spend our down time doing things we love.
“When we aren’t spending time outdoors, Cameron likes to sketch and I like to read, and we often find peace in just doing activities we enjoy.
“On the occasions where one of us needs a little bit more space, the other can take Odin out for a walk, or go and meet friends, or busy themselves elsewhere.
“We actually find that living in close proximity to each other has made our relationship really strong.
“We know each other very well and are able to freely ask for alone time when we need it.”
Rachel and Cameron have no plans to change their living arrangements anytime soon and plan to travel around Europe when the time is right.
“We have no immediate plans to move away from van life because we want to travel around Europe and in particular Scandinavia, and freely explore even more of the UK,” said Rachel.
“Our long term dream would be to buy land and build our own tiny home on it, or to restore an old property and create a new sustainable home in its place.
“Regardless of where our future takes us, we have no plans to get rid of Kevlar and will be keeping her with us.”