Essential tips for an economic vanlife

This summer has been all about surf, surf and surf. This is how we traveled for two months in a van through France and Spain and were able to keep it as comfortably and economically possible.

Thanks to the little refrigerator (installed on gas in the van), we were always able to stock up enough vegetables, drinks, and treats and keep our beers cold at any time (also kind of important). We only had to go to the grocery store once every three to four days. So breakfast was always there, same goes for lunch and dinner. We cooked a variation of vegetable stews with either lentils or chickpeas or accompanied with some pasta, rice or couscous and we never felt too weak in our days of surfing. Doing groceries at the local store and cooking your own plate is the thing that saves you up a lot of money. For the vegans: soy milk you can find nowadays in every small and big grocery store, vegan spreads are a bit harder to find, except for hummus.
Occasionally you can go out to enjoy the local cuisine, but for me (a vegan) it was a bit …. challenging. In France, it wasn’t easy to find a good vegan/vegetarian option, unless if you’re in a big city and you’re able to find a vegan/vegetarian restaurant. But, I did find some great vegan cheese in the big supermarket chain L’Eclerc. What a surprise! As for Spain? It was a lot more challenging!
However, here are two nice vegan restaurants in Bilbao I can recommend:

Restaurante Gustu Bilbao: amazing creative vegan food and great service
La Camelia vegan bar: who unfortunately doesn’t have a website (?) but serves us one of the best vegan burgers we’ve tasted so far.

Cities and urban areas
Speaking of being in a city when you’re road-tripping with a van. We found out that when you arrive on a Saturday evening, usually parking is free until the next Monday morning. So we managed to do some great city trips (check out Bordeaux and Bilbao!) and have free parking space from Saturday evening until off we went on Monday morning again. We brought a portable toilet for in the van, in case there is an emergency pee one of us needed to do and I can highly recommend you to get one of those. As for a guy, it’s much easier to pee anywhere, but even then, in some more urban areas, sometimes you just want to let your fluids out a bit more privately.  As for a girl, this is for sure something great to take along. Especially if you really have to go badly in the mornings. Trust me. A portable toilet is never a bad idea.
One thing we noticed as well  – and it really pissed me off –  is the massive amount of toilet paper lying around in the bushes or in the woods. I’m telling you, it’s really not that hard to buy bio-degradable toilet paper and a shovel. Dig a hole, do your thing, be modest with your paper or use your portable toilet (it’s more cleaning work when you also poo in it, but hey, at least you’re comfy and the environment stays clean).

Personal hygiene
Now that we are in the bathroom area. We took a shower bag with us and basically washed ourselves behind our van underneath the open sky – we hung the bag on a bar between the two back doors. Or we did kitty-washes at the sink. After surf I washed the salt off my skin with the water coming from the beach showers. You don’t always need soap, really.) Bring with you: BIODEGRADABLE SOAP, please.  For the girls with longer hair. It’s fine not to wash your hair for a while. I didn’t use shampoo for two months. It gave me some badass beach locks and lighter tips. A natural balayage. It’s really bearable, your hair gets used to it. You just have to get past the first week getting used to. But when you’re surfing every day, it doesn’t really matter.  After two months, I just washed it with a little bit of natural shampoo. Et voila! My hair still feels healthy and soft. Oh, and bring baby wet wipes. It really comes in handy more than you would think.

With comfy matras, some good pillows, blankets and a mosquito net, you are all set to go in a van. It’s theoretically forbidden to free-camp in France and Spain, but they are actually pretty cool about it and don’t really bother you when you are free-camping. Only on our last day, we had a police officer knocking at our door at nine in the morning, gently informing us we were not allowed to sleep on that parking spot.
The unspoken rule is to keep all your stuff inside your vehicle. So don’t leave stuff lying around like picnic chairs, tables, etc, since that is considered ‘camping’. About making those cozy bonfires we usually see on social media pictures – yeah, I know they’re nice –  as long as you shelter your fire with some stones, I don’t think it’s an issue. But since these countries more than often have to deal with very dry periods in summer, it’s better not to make an open fire in a forest or anywhere near dry leaves, grass or wood. It’s common sense, no?

The total amount
All sounds good but how did we afford this trip? I have the habit of writing down every cost each of us made. And counted altogether (fuel for the car, péage, gas for the stove and fridge, groceries, going out for drinks and food, city trip entertainment like musea, and other excursions – like canoeing and visiting the Cies islands, a must do! – , and so on, and so on), we spent with the two of us a total of 1600 euros for the whole two months. Which is really not too bad. The biggest cost for us was fueling up the van and paying the péage. Péage (tol) you can actually skip, but it will take you a longer drive and therefore cost you more in fuel. We haven’t really calculated what was the most economical thing to do. On the way to, we were able to skip the biggest part of paying péage, since we drove straight to Brittany for our first surf. On the way back we decided to take the main highway in France and just pay the fees. It also saved us allot of costs having our own surf gear (leashes, boards, suits, wax – which you can use it to trade things with other surfers-, fins, surfboard repair kit, etc…).

Was it all worth it?
To be honest. Sometimes I’ve been struggling to get over some personal fears and up until now I still am conquering old and new challenges in life. Being in the middle of nature like hiking in the woods, or paddling in the ocean or exploring the mountains, all give me new perspectives… every time. Therefore I really believe taking time off to do whatever you enjoy doing the most is a must to keep yourself charged, happy and at peace. Life is short, but it’s all yours to have. So yes, it was absolutely worth it.

Tell us! Where have you been on an adventure lately?



2 Comments Add yours

  1. beebopsblogs says:

    Really great blog post, and beautiful photos too!


    1. Shana says:

      Thank you! I’m happy you enjoyed the reading.


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