• Hilary Bird

Vanlife Backstory: VanMonkeys

We are Tom and Amy, otherwise known as the Van Monkeys! In 2018 we bought our first van to convert, wanting an escape from our very busy, sometimes stressful job of managing a Hotel and Pub. The goal was to convert the van into an off-grid escape pod, so as soon as we got a day off - or even two days off, what luxury!! - we'd be off, disconnected from what we have been led to believe is the 'real world'.



We set to work converting the van over winter with the goal of having it ready for summer. In total it took us 6 months to convert, working one full day a week, and then odd hours before or after our shifts. It was not without challenges of course, everything was a learning experience so took 3 times longer than if we had known what we were doing, and the cold, wet unpredictable English weather with no inside space to build anything except our lounge wasn't overly helpful. However, we did it and let us tell you, it is so very worth it.

We managed to book 3 weeks off work to travel to the Pyrenees in Autumn. We wanted mountains and wildlife, and the chance to see Vultures in their natural habitats, being brought back from extinction through feeding stations in Odesa National Park.


Super excited about not only having 3 whole weeks off work, but also travelling in the little nest we built with our bare hands, we set off towards the ferry to take us to France.



Less than 2 hours after landing in France, we had our side window smashed. Driving 70mph down a motorway, a rock flew up from a roadworks company strimming along the tarmac. It was a bit of an ordeal, the language barrier hindering it further, and the fact it was a government company so paperwork was coming out of our ears. Luckily there was one lovely man, Lionel, who helped us throughout, and exactly one week after leaving England, we were able to leave their car park where we had been staying, and finally make our way towards the Pyrenees. With a little bit of jiggery pokery we managed to wrangle another week off work, so we would still have our full 3 weeks to travel!

We well and truly got the bug. After the Christmas rush, we'd quit, build a new van and drive off exploring Europe in 2020. We all know how that turned out...


Lockdown set back our build, but also forced us to re-evaluate a few things. It cemented our love for nature and the outdoors, and heightened the importance of taking care of ourselves physically and mentally. Our happiness is our responsibility and we choose to do things that actively support that. Disconnecting from the rush, consumerism, the western life paradigm is our top priority. There is nothing better than waking up in the morning, throwing open the back doors and taking in the ever changing views. Could be a beach, mountains, lakes, or a car park. Ultimately, it's freedom.


There are ups and downs of course, and squeezing your life into a metal box might take some time to adjust. But we definitely think it's a small price to pay to be able to fully explore, appreciate and connect with nature. Our favourite places to stop are in the middle of where, with no one around, and no phone signal.


We'll find out what we will do on the road to make money when the time comes, but for now we're just riding the wave and seeing where the wind takes us.

Check out more stories and van build insight from the Van Monkeys at https://www.vanmonkeys.com/ or follow their van life adventures on Instagram at @vanmonkeys!

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