Part 1

Staring at the white Ford Transit that I stripped bare, I’m often filled with both panic and excitement. I bought a van? 

I haven’t known about van life for long. Although, I have been obsessed with tiny houses for years, somehow the idea to renovate a van into a tiny home slipped through the cracks. Instead I discovered it in the nick of time, when my mental health was crumbling under all the newness that comes with living through a pandemic. I was 4 months into my dream job when things started to feel wrong. 

Up until then I’d gladly stayed on the conveyor belt of young adult life that says you’re supposed to sweat your balls off for the Leaving Cert, power through college to the degree finish line, then start your career, pay your rent, mortgage, and so on. This prescribed approach to life, particularly here in Ireland, began feeling like it was hurtling quickly towards a lot of debt, unaffordable living and placing overworking on a pedestal.

Add on to that having under a decade to turn the climate crisis around and it was clear to me I could no longer spend every day sitting in a dark room staring at a screen for the next 40 years. I needed an escape, and enough of a breather that I could figure out what kind of eco-friendly, enjoyable life I wanted to lead. 

I think I typed “living off grid” into YouTube and found a channel called Eamon & Bec run by a charming Canadian couple who lived in a van for years. They had posted a video about travelling around Ireland in their van. I was hooked. I binged on their van life videos for about two hours and I knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Living in a van would be my escape. 

I began browsing DoneDeal every day for affordable vans, and watching videos about the lifestyle any chance I got. I convinced myself more and more that I could do this. It was just a matter of when. 

Family circumstances caused me to quit my job and head home. This was the when. I started looking very seriously at ads for vans and researching how to assess the condition of a vehicle in advance of getting viewings. 

The first van I saw was nearly more rust than van, and the owner couldn’t get the hood to open no matter how much force he applied. Big no. The second van I saw was nice – a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter refrigerator van – but was a very noisy drive and had an extra wall in the back, which was going to be a lot of extra work for me to remove. I told the owners I would think about it, and drove off for my third van viewing.

Third time is the charm. I remember seeing Buckley (yes I named my van Buckley) driven in to the car park of the petrol station I was meeting the owner at, and thinking, Oh fuck yes. In short, he was a beaut, and as soon as we got back from the test drive, I signed the document to make him mine. The drive home from that purchase was an emotional roller coaster. Oh fuck I did this! And, oh fuck I did this? However, I can safely say I have been filled with so much excitement since I bought my van.

To date, I have stripped out the wood panels, the floor (causing great injury to my thumb), and the double passenger seat. I have swept, hoovered and washed Buckley numerous times, and have just about completed the rust repairs. My only major purchase for the van so far has been the windows, which arrived a few days ago. Installing them will be the first addition to the van that will make it feel like a home, and I can’t wait.

Keep an eye out for the next instalment of Jen’s van journey.

Read our piece on online STI testing here.