Living in a van in the winter is not everyone’s cup of tea and rightly so! But you may want to re-consider… here I share with you five reasons to try UK vanlife in the winter.
Updated September 2022
I’ve actually really enjoyed riding this particular wave of full-time vanlife and all the weirdness it’s brought along with it.
But you may ask, who am I and why am I mad enough to be living in a van in the winter?
I've been a self-employed freelance writer and editor for 10 years, and a digital nomad for nine of those, taking my trusty lappy with me round the world.
Workin' 9-5... not really.
I spent seven years living in the Philippines and came back to the UK during Covid, sadly never to return due to lockdowns.
But this universal shift brought me to pastures new and as an avid adventurer, who am I to complain?
I wanted a 'short-term' rent- and mortgage-free home – because travel would revert soon, right?! – so I quickly snapped up my unique off-grid Sprinter van conversion, Sadie and have never looked back!
I absolutely adore living in a van full time; it’s had its ups and downs that’s for sure, but hey! That’s (van)life!
At times and during the winter especially, it’s been cold (check out my top tips on how to stay warm in a campervan in winter), wet, damp, lonely, uninspiring and demotivating, hard work, muddy, upsetting, ungrounding, frustrating, boring, expensive – you name it.
But there have also been huge and often very unexpected blessings.
Here are my 5 surprising reasons to try UK vanlife in the winter
Quiet, mostly empty campsites
Not another soul around...
I mostly ‘wild camp’ where possible, but need to check into campsites for a couple of nights every two weeks or so, for my sanity, rest and to ‘service’ my van.
The peace of mind that comes in the winter with knowing that, wherever you are, the campsites will be able to accommodate you at short notice, is incomparable to the uncertainty of the summer’s campsite offerings; most are fully booked now months in advance, and when you’re dealing with empty water tanks and full poop cassettes, that uncertainty is not a fun place to be.
Some campsites that are open in the winter also offer cheaper seasonal rates.
Mother Nature’s winter gifts
One of the first frosts of the year at Stonehenge
If, like me, you love the beauty of nature, then you cannot deny that a cold, crisp, sun-drenched, blue-sky frosty morning is one of Mother Nature’s true gifts.
Living in a van in the winter and being parked up in wild rural places exposes you to a lot of Mother Nature’s fabulous shows that are really off the beaten track - and you get a new one every day if you wish!
Waking up in your cosy van, peeking out of your back windows and having a brand new, crystal-covered landscape, drenched in golden sunlight, frosted tips everywhere – all at the swing of a side door is such a huge reward.
It’s also a massive kick up the arse to get out of that warm cosy bed and get on with your day!
Late sunrises and epic sleep
One of the best sunrises I've ever experienced
In summer in the UK, catching an epic sunrise means getting up at 5am.
Fine if that’s your natural rhythm, but for people like me, 5am is the Twilight Zone. Literally.
Arising this early is wholly rewarding, but when it gets dark at gone 10pm and your night around the campfire with new van buddies pushes into the small hours, it can be a struggle to get up and witness that stunning sunrise.
Not in winter.
When it gets dark in the UK at just after 3pm and your circadian rhythm kicks in, sending you off to The Land of Nod by about 8pm, you are fully equipped for that 8am sunrise.
Cue some epic back- and side-door vanlife pics on a thoroughly good night’s sleep.
Your van is a place to retreat and plan
Wine poured, Ben Fogle on, heating keeping me toasty
All summer long we fling open the doors, side and back, watch the world go by, meet people and it’s wonderful. I miss this!
But living in a van in the winter, with the doors closed most of the day and being protected from the elements, keeping the heat in has truly taught me to really love and embrace the little cocoon in which I live.
And if I get bored of the view, I just move on to another new vista.
It’s a chance to focus on me, my work, my life and what’s next.
Granted, living in such a small space alone for days on end is not for everyone, nor the faint-hearted, but for those who are this way inclined, it’s a wonderful way to take a break and focus on getting prepared for the exciting summer months ahead, mentally, physically and financially.
Living in a van in the winter also forces you to get outside more when it's oh-so-tempting to hide away from the elements: you NEED to get outside for a good fresh/rainy/windy/cold stomp for your sanity!
You REALLY learn appreciation
Ok summer pic, but stopping somewhere epic for a few days and 'setting up' is a TREAT!
Living in a van in the winter makes you appreciate so much: the warmth and long days of the summer, the ease of living in bricks and mortar with abundant/limitless heating, lonnnng hot showers, washing machines, hot and cold running water: but most of all, a place to just stop and not plan (or worry about being bothered) for a few days on end.
In the western world, it's so easy to take things like potable running water, flushing toilets, limitless electricity, heating at the flick of a switch etc for granted and, even though you can have all of these in your cosy van, they are limited.
One of the greatest feelings in Vanlife (aside from finding that incredible park-up) is knowing your leisure battery's full, your water and fuel tanks are full, and your grey and black water tanks are empty.
It's these little things that can make one feel very grateful!... Until you have to empty and refill all over again!
Final thoughts on living in a van in the winter
Vanlife in winter basically means daily mud-levels-in-van control, being towed out of said mud by farmers in tractors; short, near-sunless days (not ideal for our solar panels!), frozen water points (unless you’re on a VERY well-managed – expensive – campsite), condensation and just grey, grey and more grey. Tempted?
It makes you really appreciate the simple things in life that are ‘the norm’ when you live in a house, which I think is a good thing, as so much is taken for granted.
But living in a van in the winter has many many joys, too – for me it isn’t 'worse' than summer, as I have a good Webasto diesel heater, insulation, special underfloor heating for vans (yes, really!), a toilet, shower and hot water (if I desperately need it and want to rinse my battery on a sunless day!) – it's just different.
There's a party for one going on in there, seriously... Happy New Year!
I relish peeking out of my windows to beautiful frosty mornings at Stonehenge, stunning sunrises that don’t start at 5am, a warm cosy van to curl up into after long stomps in the mist, solitude and being at one with nature when the rest of the world is tucked up in suburbia; lovely peaceful campsites at popular, but thankfully empty, south coast 'destinations' and park-ups where I’ve been the only one.
Good vanlife days don’t always involve blue skies, long days and warm weather... but that said, there’s nothing like a UK summer and I cannot wait to experience another on the road in my van – bring it on!
If you'd like to work with me, drop me a line on my contacts page and I'll get back to you ASAP, or if you want to see more of my vanlife adventures, head to my Instagram @what_katie.did
© Images www.Katehammaren.com
Author: Kate Hammaren, Freelance Writer & Editor
Get to know Kate here