Van Life During Lockdown: how to stay sane when you can’t travel

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The world turned upside down in 2020. Will it ever return to how it was pre-pandemic for us van-lifers? In this article we ask ‘what exactly has been the impact of Covid on van life?’

This article, written by Hobo Trudi at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, encourages us to reflect on the impact of these very strange and uncertain times. There is an update below the original article. We certainly did not expect to be adding to this page!

We’ve also added a short van life lockdown survey for you to tell us your story. How has the last few years affected you?

vanlife during lockdown

What does your motorhome mean to you?

Do you sometimes feel that human beings are not meant to live at the pace we do?

Does stress keep you awake at night and pervade your thoughts? It certainly does me.

As part of the management team of a care home, I sometimes wonder how much more I can take. I find it hard to switch off after a long day – especially so when the phone rings with a problem that needs my attention.

I know it makes me difficult to live with because I have to live with me! Jumping at the slightest noise, catastrophising, over-reacting…poor Hobo Gav!

So, to me, our van Cree provides a level of calm sanity. Getting away from it all in the van means just that…

Hobo Trudi sitting smiling in hab door of motorhome

Van life – sanity in a crazy world

Sometimes it takes a mile or so before Gav looks across and says, “We’re on the road again, girl,” and I feel the weight start to lift from my shoulders.

Of course, during the lockdown we’ve not been able to go even this one mile. I am having to carry the weight with me. However, something is helping me process the chaos of the last few weeks, one of my first loves – poetry.

I grabbed a note-book and the following just dripped from my pen… 

van life poem

This is a raw, crude, unpolished verse, but it is what time in the motorhome means to me. It provides time to restore my spirit, time to commune with the essence of the world and time to touch my soul.

I have time because time stands still once I am in that place. There is no time; all there is, is now.

And it doesn’t take an epic journey or road trip to do this; an afternoon parked up at a local nature reserve can equally soothe my mind.

A healthy addiction

So, what is it about a metal tent travelling at 50 mph? How does it create within me such a sense of calm?

Well, for one, there is nothing else to do but sit in the passenger seat. I navigate reasonably well and Gav is not a demanding driver.

Inside, everything is in its place. There is no clutter. By no means a minimalist or advocate of Feng Shui, I do find excess clutter an eye catcher which starts the ‘biting monkeys’ chattering about clearing up, being slothful…”what would the neighbours say?…” Shhhhhhh!

And once parked up, a mug of tea… and a toilet. What more does one need? Curled up in the bosom of a voluptuous metal mother who protects us and keeps us warm – and supplied with biscuits.

Inside our VW Cree motorhome
The ‘hab’ area of our 1992 VW Cree with original furnishings

We can sit in comfort and watch the world go by. The rats run and snap on their daily commute while we seem to be in slow motion and on another planet. We are “out of time” with them in our own bubble of tranquillity. 

More practically, we can stomp up a minor hill in Glencoe and get soaked to the skin, come back and change into warm clothing and have a hot chocolate.

We got addicted to this. Not the hot chocolate, but everything van life came to represent.

And then…

Coronavirus and lockdown 2020

No furlough or self-isolation for me. No weeks of boredom. My job is more intense than I could ever have imagined.

It is frightening at best to be in a keyworker role – wondering what you are bringing home to your family – or wondering if you will infect your colleagues and then kill the vulnerable you are trying to protect. Boredom? I wish.

And my sacred space – the space we call Cree? She’s parked a few miles away. Because of the ban on non-essential travel we cannot even sit in her and pretend there are mountains outside the hab door.

We should have gone to Liverpool for a long weekend in March.

We should have been in Wales at the time of writing (end of April).

Pencelli, Dolgellau, Snowdon, Llangollen, The Brecon Beacons….we had so many road trips and pilgrimages planned for this year. Too many perhaps, but we thought we had the world at our feet…so long as Cree could climb the hill.

I had been hanging on to these breaks all over Christmas and New Year – a chance to refuel and refresh.

View from Horseshoe Pass toward Llangollen
Looking towards Llangollen from the Horseshoe Pass

Dealing with the lockdown

So, apart from a few lines of prose, how do I cope without being able to “get away from it all”? How do I regain and retain the strength to carry on, day after day without the van and all that she means to me?

I’m sure I’m not speaking just for myself here, but all who are in love with motorhome living. What we’re all having to deal with right now is a form of withdrawal. It is akin to mourning, the withdrawal of a lifeline.

My task – and the task that faces us all until the virus situation is finally resolved – is to find other ways of breathing life into my tired spirit. I must find the resources within myself because it is unfair to overly depend on others during their time of crisis.

This is what I’ve been doing to help me cope with lockdown…

  • Even during my working day, I have found pockets of serenity by taking the feeling Cree gives me deep into my mind and allowing it to wash through my body, relaxing and calming as it goes.
  • I have developed the habit of hearing the telephone ring as a reminder to breathe in, breathe out, and smile…before answering it to reassure another worried relative.
  • I have grown a deeper admiration for my colleagues and remind myself to be grateful for the smallest of things in these crazy times. The love and support we have been shown by the wider community has been heart-warming.                 
  • On days off, I have concentrated my thoughts on crafts and writing…finishing off a pilgrimage staff topped by a crystal with colours which can amuse the mind monkeys for some time. 
  • Listening to and playing music has transported me to another place. A wide taste in music means that I can choose where I want to go and which emotion I need to acknowledge! I have every emotion on CD; the anger of metal, the tranquillity of classical compositions, the fun of Irish folk music.
  • Rather than being transfixed by the daily death toll, I have crocheted bunting and felted tiny bears.
  • And we even wild camped one night…in the back garden! It was the next best thing to being in the van.
van life during the lockdown - Hobo Trudi sitting by tent with candles and campfire

The lockdown as a learning opportunity

The lockdown has certainly given me time to learn new skills or develop older ones.

Mindfulness and meditation has been one such thing. Medically proven to relieve stress, lower blood pressure and boost the immune system, I’m sure it’s helping me through the crisis, though you won’t find me sitting in a leg-numbing position for hours on end!

And all the time, by my side, is my wonderful husband, my lovely family and our three cats. Each have their own worries and fears. Gratitude is too small a word sometimes.       

You know what? I can do this. And so can you!

Let’s all endeavour to take the learnings from the lockdown with us when we’re finally free to hit the roads again. We shouldn’t want things to ‘get back to normal’. Things must be better than normal, otherwise thousands of people will have died in vain.

We owe it to those souls who haven’t made it. They will travel with us in our hearts when the steering locks come off and the wheels start rolling once again.

2021 lockdown update

There is one huge lesson that Coronavirus has taught me – our time on this planet is limited. I was spending much of it in a job role that was a privilege and a joy but was draining me emotionally and spiritually. My off-duty time was stained with worries and being unable to unwind. Life, my friend, is too short.

More importantly, during 2020, two good friends lost their lives and others had illnesses diagnosed. Indeed, I myself began 2020 with a few uncomfortable hospital appointments and procedures.

So, on the 31st December 2020, I quit my job. In an uncharacteristic feat of financial recklessness, I decided that I needed more from life. And that I had more to give to this world.

We had been lucky enough to enjoy a couple of road trips during the interim period between lockdowns. On the second trip, along the North Norfolk Coast, I told Hobo Gav that if we made any money as Hobos this week, I would take the leap of faith and commit to the venture full time. Enter two desperate hitch-hikers with a twenty pound note!

Read the full story about why I quit my job to become a van-lifer

BT billboard in Wales
BT billboard advert seen in Wales in 2019 – when life was normal!

And in 2022, we both caught coronavirus. It surprised us with its ferocity. Plus the emotional impact it had. We considered those who live full-time in their vans and wondered how covid could seriously impact them.

RELATED CONTENT: Read our thoughts on Covid in your Campervan.

How did you deal with the lockdowns? Please answer our survey

Is van life different now compared to pre-pandemic days? What affect did the pandemic have on your mental health? Have you made any unexpected life decisions based on lockdown lessons? Or maybe, like me, you have brought forward a life-long ambition?

We’d love to hear your story so please answer our short survey…

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