“It’s always the same picture – someone’s bum is out, they’re lying on their bed, and the doors are open to the ocean.”
Becky Wixon, 25, and Simone Picknett, 27 giggle as they describe an average #vanlife image on Instagram – a picture-perfect lifestyle from which they couldn’t feel further removed. That despite the fact they’ve recently stepped off the urban conveyor belt themselves, ditching their jobs and home comforts to live on the road in a van called Snail.
The newly-engaged couple, both musicians, are keen to banish the glamorous stereotype of the vanlife movement on social media. It’s a lifestyle that’s far more attainable than glossy Instagram photos would have you think, they argue.
“You can just buy a van and put a mattress in it and you can be doing your own van life. It doesn’t need to be this luxurious thing,” explains Wixon. “I think a lot of people do it because they want to get Instagram-famous. We did it because we wanted our time together to be creating, all the time. We’re not interested in getting our bums out.”
The couple were earning £25,000 and £27,000 in advertising and musical equipment repairs when they decided to jack it all in. In just five short months, they had saved up £14,000 by freelancing and selling almost all of their possessions. Now everything the couple owns fits on Snail’s back.
The offload was physically and mentally liberating. “We had a car boot sale and earned almost a grand for all our old stuff,” says Picknett. “We realised that actually we don’t need these things and we don’t miss anything.”
When the couple first speak to HuffPost UK, they are in Amsterdam after a month and a half (and 3,500 miles) on the road, taking in Ireland, Scotland, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. “That time would have flashed by in our old lives, we wouldn’t even think about it,” says Wixon. “Now, it feels like we’re learning about life in a way we were never taught at work or school.”
She describes her “constant state of childlike wonderment” and being more in the moment, while Picknett speaks of the patience their new lifestyle teaches them and the revelation of just how much more sustainable van living is.
The pair shower once every three to five days – Wixon is currently hiding her greasy hair under a beanie in the hope it will soon start self-washing – and they don’t buy new clothes, keeping their wardrobe piled up underneath a small hatch in the van (and their underwear in a waterproof bag in case of damp).
They’re also learning new skills to keep costs down, skills which the best of us could use to reduce our bills – like how to shower quickly. Wixon says she’s got washing and conditioning her hair down to less than two minutes.
Do they have a toilet? Yes, but “strictly for number ones,” says Picknett– they have to empty it everyday. “I used to be worried about going for a poo at work,” chips in Wixon. “Now I just shit in the woods.” One flush of a regular toilet uses the same amount of water they now get through in a week. They marvel at how much they previously wasted (and how unaware they were of doing so).
“I eat my crusts,” says Wixon with a laugh. “I never used to eat my crusts.”
Everyday pleasures the rest of us take for granted are a treat. The pair look knowingly at each other as they reminisce. “When we were in Ireland we were sharing a pint of Guinness. Little sips here and there. We appreciate and remember that little pint whereas all our weekends of nights out used to blur into one before.”
There will be many who see vanlife as out of reach, financially or otherwise, and Wixon does acknowledge “there is privilege in having freedom”. Growing up 25 miles west of London, she spent most of her youth playing in bands and throwing herself into music. She did well at school, but was persuaded that her good grades ‘would be wasted’ on music: “So I ended up going to business school at King’s College London.”
Picknett, meanwhile, arrived in the UK from the Caribbean with her mum at a young age and moved schools often, struggling socially and academically as a result. ”I got kicked out of my house when I was 17, so I had to take myself to a youth hostel, put myself through uni, then got a job in music, and struggled hard. I was jumping trains because I couldn’t afford to get to work.”