If you follow #vanlifers on Instagram, you’ll see lots of photos of attractive people tapping way at laptops sprawled on beds in their vans. Much like the promotional photos of people checking their bank statements sitting barefoot on sofas, or silver-haired, fully-toothed oldies browsing through holiday websites on their iPads in Sunday magazines, these are mostly a load of rubbish.
However, for this life to work for us, we do need to be able to work in the van. So far, one week into our first serious trip, I can report some success.
For me, work is mostly on a computer (writing, researching, communicating, making digital stuff) for which I need electricity, internet, a place to sit and freedom from discomfort or distractions.
Our solar panels have provided more than enough power over the last (mostly sunny) week, and our 4G antenna and mobile wifi device have given me better connectivity than – until recently – I had in my home office. We built the van with a large, stable table for extended working periods, and the bench is pretty comfortable, if not super-ergonomic.
Where it gets interesting is with the distractions. Offices are boring places on the whole, so (interruptions aside) it’s generally easier to focus on your work than all the other stuff that’s going on. But in the van, with the doors open, there’s lots of stuff going on outside, and none of it is sympathetic to your need to work. That could be a barking dog, a curious passer-by, a loud vehicle, or just blustery weather. All of these things have a surprising impact on my ability (at least) to get my head down.
In a well-functioning office, there’s a social contract to let people get on with their work; whereas sitting in the van in a public space, people feel quite comfortable coming up to say hello, enquire about your travels or the van itself, or come and pet your dog.
There’s a flipside to all of this: most offices function terribly, with interruptions the norm, and many workers staying at home when they need to get real work done. And us van-bound workers can always close the doors. But it’s lovely outside, so for now, I’m going to deal with it.