I parked on a patch of marshy land opposite Koycegiz Lake in Turkey’s Muğla Province. The water shimmered like mercury in the (surprisingly hot) winter sunlight and steam rose from the mineral-rich hot springs, said to be good for treating everything from eczema to depression, at the other end of the lake. Connected to the Mediterranean by the Dalyan Channel, the Sultaniye Kaplicalari hot springs on the slopes of the Ölemez Mountains have been in use since Roman times. Bubbling from the earth’s crust at temperatures of around 104°F (40°C), the sulfur-rich waters are captured in a domed bathhouse dating back to the 10th century. Here, I wallowed and washed away the aches and pains of my long drive from Istanbul the previous day.
An hour later I had to find the energy and self-discipline to leave behind those soothing waters and head back to my van to work. Although this lifestyle, which has been mine on and off for the past 17 years, has a lot to recommend, it’s not always as easy as it looks. Before you make a commitment to the lifestyle, you'll want to consider these essential pros and cons of working from a campervan.
Be Ready for a Lack of Space
Campervans are fabulous when you’re traveling from place to place, but when you arrive somewhere and need to get some work done, it’s not always easy to be in a confined space: staying focused when the cat is howling to go out, your partner is noisily fixing that broken wing mirror, or you’re surrounded by dirty laundry is sometimes difficult to handle. However, there is a way to handle the stress.
When the weather’s fine you can always put the cat outside and tell your partner to take a walk. Be aware, however, that when the weather’s bad and everyone is in the van it can be difficult to stay focused, so it’s worth investing in some good earplugs or, better still, noise-canceling headphonesnoise-canceling headphonesnoise-canceling headphonesnoise-canceling headphonesnoise-canceling headphonesnoise-canceling headphones. Alternatively, you can do as I do: ditch the van for the day and find a cool cafe or coworking space where you can work in peace until you're ready for van life once more.
Know That Discipline Takes Practice
When I spent four months traveling in Turkey, I had a marvelous immersive experience, traveling from place to place, eating local specialties in budget-friendly lokantas, sleeping in out-of-the-way places, and meeting with locals, but I also needed to work to pay the bills. With so much going on, it was sometimes difficult to organize my time.
To balance my busy life, I tried to allow myself more time to get from Point A to Point B and make sure to factor in days for work and days for play. After a lot of trial and error, I discovered that it was best to leave the day after my arrival free for exploring. Once my curiosity about my new destination was satisfied, it was much easier to knuckle down and get some work done before moving on to my next stop.
Accept That Internet is Never Guaranteed
For remote workers, internet access is a must-have, but if you’ve committed to the van life, you’re going to have to get creative and tech-savvy. I use my mobile phone as a hot spot and change Sim cards when I change countries, but the signal strength can often be hit and miss, which is why I’ve also got a Solis hotspot. This device works using satellite and usually provides a much better signal than my phone plan. Still, there are times when I’ve needed to send a document from a very remote spot, like once in deep snow from the top of the Tatra mountains and once from a cavehouse in southern Spain, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there was no signal.
Sometimes you just won’t be able to get connected, but you can always plan ahead. If you know that you’re going to a remote spot make sure you’ve cleared away all your urgent work, or at least try to get to a town and find a coworking space or an internet cafe. You should also download a speed test app to check if the signal is good before deciding to stay somewhere and set up your remote office.
You Have to Balance Work and Play
When I first bought my campervan I found that it was easy to get carried away and plan ambitious itineraries for the countries that I visited. After an epic trip through Morocco which took me from Tangier to the Souss Masa National Park, however, I realized that if I was planning to work on the road and didn’t want to feel harassed and under pressure, I needed to plan plenty of downtime between stops. Look at the distances that you plan to travel each day, calculate how long you think it will take you to reach each destination, and then multiply your estimated travel time by three. Discipline is vital. I usually start early and work for around five to six hours per day. This means that when I stop at around 3 p.m. I still have time to go for a hike, take a swim, or chill in a cool cafe, so I get the best of both worlds.
You Will Need to Book Campsites
It’s great to live off-grid and certainly a lot less expensive, but everybody needs to stay in a campsite from time to time—especially when you’re traveling in the winter and there’s less sun time to charge your solar batteries. At the end of the day it’s a worthy, and necessary expense. Even if you have your own shower in the van, it’s also the perfect opportunity to take a hot shower in a less cramped space whilst filling your water tank (and getting rid of waste water), too.
It depends where you go but luckily in most places in Europe, you’ll find inexpensive sites where you can hook up. In France les aires de camping car is an excellent chain where you can park and hook up to power and water for a small fee and you can also use budget camping apps like park4night which uses input from fellow campers to tell you of places where you can park for the night—usually for free.
If you really don’t want to go to a campsite you can plug your inverter into the car’s main battery via the cigarette lighter, but doing this too often will drain your battery. You should also consider investing in a generator, but remember that they’re fairly noisy so make sure to use yours in a remote place and buy an extension lead so that you can place it well away from the van when you’re working.
Based between Greece and France (and speaking both languages) British travel writer Heidi Fuller-love travels for five months of the year in her van.
Stay on top of the latest digital nomad trends with new posts every week