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Saturday October 18, 2014

The curious incident of the van in the night-time

While driving in northeastern Spain during the summer I came across a young man living in a battered old van on the edge of Garrotxa volcanic national park. It was late and I wanted to check with a local that I was heading in the right direction for the medieval village of Besalú. Intriguingly the man was stretched out in a wicker chair by the side of the silent road, reading a book with the aid of a head torch. When he saw me, he ambled over to the car and considerately indicated on the map that I was but a few miles from my desired destination.

Curiosity overcame me and I asked him why it was that he was reading by torchlight in such a secluded zone. It turned out that my new friend Miquel was a victim of the Spanish recession. A postgraduate economics student from Madrid he had failed to find a job on leaving university and so had scraped enough money together to buy an elderly camper van with the intention of exploring his country while living off the land. Happily he had found a fair amount of work on local farms and told me that he was relishing his adventure.

Not long after my encounter with Miquel, an expat friend in Pamplona told me that he had parted from his Spanish girlfriend, left their shared flat and was temporarily living in his van. He didn’t seem remotely worried about the lack of home comforts and was somehow managing to go to his office every day without his work colleagues being any the wiser. He used washing facilities at a campsite on the outskirts of the city and was apparently enjoying the al fresco lifestyle to such an extent that he was considering van life on a more permanent basis.

Back in Majorca, I have now come across two more chaps living in vans. One was booted out of the house by his partner and had little choice but to seek refuge in his vehicle while the other could no longer afford his rent, having been made redundant, and had opted for an itinerant lifestyle on the road.

It got me thinking about what it must be like to live in such a restrictive space. Of course it all comes down to how modern or well equipped said van actually is and the appeal is surely having the freedom to pootle off to a new locale whenever the fancy takes you, avoiding the sort of regular onerous bills associated with a more permanent home.

While becoming a van man seems to have caught on in Spain, I was recently surprised to meet a female pensioner living in a smart camper van in Dorset. She told me that in her old age she’d decided that it was far more fun to be mobile and free of money worries. She’d managed to sell her modest home and was living off the earnings, trundling around the Dorset countryside in her van which she parked up in woodland at night-time. When I asked her whether she felt safe on her own in the dark woods, she simply smiled and told me that she’d omitted to tell me about her irascible Doberman

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