For longer trips we travel thousands of kilometres via France to England, Holland, Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Most of it is along secondary roads since main roads are expensive (in Spain and France) and very boring (almost everywhere). We buy fairly small quantities of fresh food every day and store cold or frozen items under our duvets to keep cool till we are ready to cook. Cold drinks are the one luxury we miss but a small electric fridge simply drains any battery within 24 hours, although there are new types coming onto the market which promise a much lower consumption. Gas fridges don't work very well and are more than a little dangerous.
Perhaps we are fussy, but we believe that there is no real need to rough it as far as eating well is concerned. Although they are not common, it is possible to find gas burners with three rings - one for meat (we're both carnivores), one for potatoes or rice and one for vegetables (see photo 13). Instead of an oven we use a Dutch oven - a small cast iron pan with a heavy lid. We store a small gas bottle in our kitchen unit (see photo 12), of a type that can be replaced everywhere in Europe. When we first started our travels (25 years ago) we used to make a small fire every evening and grill our meat, but most countries now have strict laws about open fires, so these days we stick to a frying pan or Dutch oven on the gas burner. Our kitchen work top is big enough for our three ring gas burner plus a little space for one person to prepare food, but we can also use the table if we both work to prepare the meal. As soon as we sit down to eat, we put on a pan of water for the washing up, which we do in a plastic basin resting on the table; one washes, the other dries.
Our kitchen is designed so that there is enough room for everything and no wasted space, with shelves at various levels to suit the content. The washing up basin slots in to place and can contain a few dirty dishes if we want to continue to travel in a hurry and wash up later. Everything else is arranged so that nothing can shift - if we break or lose an item, we have to replace it, otherwise we have to listen to it all rattling about. The gas burner unit slides out of its travelling slot when we want to make use of it for cooking or making coffee. We have three pans, two frying pans, a Dutch oven and a cast-iron griddle. Cups and mugs, big and little glasses, plates and bowls, as well as a drawer full of eating and cooking utensils. We can - and have done so in the past - cook and serve a proper four-course meal for four people. Our water is carried in 5-litre and 8-litre plastic bottles - easy to carry to and from a spring or water tap for a refill. After a few years it becomes almost automatic to watch out for taps, pumps and springs in the street or along the road - we make a habit of filling up as we go and rarely need to take more than 15 or 16 litres (2 or 3 bottles). If we feel desperate about a shower, we park near an official camping, take along a carrier bag with towel and soap, and head for the showers - we've never had any trouble. Some big restaurants on main roads also have shower areas - they are there to atract the custom of long distance lorry drivers.
The little doors to our kitchen unit either hinge to their left or above/below. To keep them shut while travelling over some very rough forest roads, we use a wooden bar which sits across all doors (see photos 5 and 6). It is easy to see from the passenger seat whether we have remembered to put this bar into place.
Lighting in the van is through the new LED lamps which use very little current - we buy the 12-volt type and push the two pins at the back into the openings of a small plastic connector block which can then be screwed to the ceiling or wall. Most of our travelling is done in summer, but the interior of Spain can be extremely cold in winter so we take along a small gas radiant heater but only use it in day-time for 10 minutes or so at a time, with an open window. I am thinking of installing a direct flue caravan heater but it's a major operation and rather expensive so I keep putting off the day.
The ceiling is insulated using sheets of expanded foam plastic and then finished with tongue-and-groove timber which is just flexible enough to follow the double curve of the roof. There is not much van side to be insulated, since from the middle rib down the walls and doors are finished in hardboard panels by the Ford Motor Co and the space above the rib we left since we want as much room as possible for our bed - we can get just 1.84 metres (6') sleeping across the van, if we leave out insulation. We are both 1.73 long (about 5' 8") but to sleep really comfortable the bed needs to be a little longer than standing height. To stop our feet freezing fast to the bare metal we stuck carpeting to the inside of the outside metal van panels. The floor consists of sheets of plywood finished off in floor paint, sitting on 4 cm of expanded foam. We haven't been able to find any old-fashioned linoleum, and vinyl just tears whenever we load the van with heavy stuff.
When we go for a few weeks, we put all our possessions into the four green plastic boxes under the benches plus four additional ones that go under the kitchen unit - that makes 8 boxes alltogether. Easily more than enough for six weeks or so, and we know from experience that we would not need much more if we lived permanently in the van. In addition, there are four medium sized plastic boxes with tools and components (hinges, nails, screws etc.) that also sit under the kitchen workbench. Lastly we add a large bottle of gas under the kitchen unit, since to fill the large bottle (enough for three months) costs the same as filling the small bottle that lasts us barely a week. I have found a 12-volt drill and a 12-volt jigsaw that is extremely useful, after I removed the bulky and heavy battery component so that the tool will plug directly into the van's 12-volt system. On longer journeys I usually take a work-mate along so that I can continue to work on the van as we travel - there's always room for improvement, and I enjoy a bit of DIY standing in the middle of a forest.
An extra battery (deep cycle solar type 200 Ah) under the passenger seat is connected via a no-return relay so that it loads up as we drive but takes no load from the starting battery when we park and enjoy life. Now that we have 12-volt tools, a 12-volt music system, 12-volt lighting and an adaptor for our netbook and notebook, an inverter is something we do not need. I can't imagine using a microwave oven, and when it gets hot we park underneath large trees which provide pleasant shade - it easily gets to 45 degrees (about 113 Fahrenheit) in Spain - so that we don't need air conditioning.
We have stored the equivalent of 300 or so CDs on the hard disk of our netbook and this plugs into the van's built-in CD player - and if we needed more we could use our back up hard disk. We also take along books that we can read on our screens, although we like to stop in bookshops selling second-hand and remaindered books on our holidays.
On our longer journeys we take along two light-weight hammocks that we can string up between trees for a cool siesta. We also have a large sheet of plastic awning that we hook onto tiny holes drilled in the roof gutter of our van and are held up by two poles knocked up out of broom sticks. Not so impressive or quick as one of those pull-out awnings, but remember, we are a stealth van. The awning means that we can keep the side door open if it rains not too heavily so as to let in some light; in the summer it provides shade if we eat outside, although we usually take care to park under trees if at all possible.
We are still exploring possibilities; we may well decide to buy one of the new small fridges, since cold drinks of an evening while watching the sun go down seems to us the acme of luxury. We may also invest in some electric legs to level the van when we've found a nice spot that slopes more than somewhat. Lastly, we are still looking into the possibility of an electric winch to get us out of muddy or icy spots when we camp in the middle of a forest, since the ground under trees stays muddy or slushy much longer than when camping out in the open. Other than that we have we feel that we have everything we really need in our 5.2 m (17 foot) van and can enjoy a luxurious weekend or a year out.
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