My name is Russ and I’m a 45-year-old musician, writer, and photographer, recently experiencing isolation as a traveler.
For the past year, I’ve been living and working from an Eldiss Autoquest C-Class Motorhome. Sure, it probably doesn’t fit the Instagram image of van life but it’s a superb vehicle with everything I could want or need. Refillable LPG, heating, solar panels, cooker, shower, and toilet. It’s roomy inside yet small enough to park with ease. I have a bike on the rear rack and a SUP and wetsuit stashed in the bathroom. My cameras and guitar are close by in the cab area and I’ve (mostly) renovated it to look how I want it.
Living and working from a van is a great fit for me.
I work for several global guitar brands and travel both in the UK visiting dealers and to the EU and the US on business trips. I’m an ex-touring musician and have a nomadic streak. I’ve worked out that being in the same place every day is a dark vision of hell I’d rather avoid at all costs so van life is perfect for me. Before lockdown, the future was very bright.
For the majority of people, the March 2020 UK lockdown presented significant challenges. Suddenly a darkness descended on the world and nothing will ever be the same. From the worry of employment to the difficulties of childcare, homeschooling, and wondering whether friends and family would be safe, I heard it said many times that these are the craziest of days. I don’t know that anyone knew quite what was coming and fear spread like the virus into people’s homes.
For me personally, the first couple of weeks were a blur of re-adjustment and quite frankly blind-panic.
I had to cancel a trip to the US at the end of March and definitely wasn’t going on the road to visit my shops. 99% of my friends and colleagues watched helplessly as the music industry collapsed. Tours and gigs got canceled, studios closed and my teaching friends found their pupils disappear. Everyone glued themselves to the news hoping for government announcements about how they were going to pay the rent. Even though I knew there were funds in my company to keep me afloat for a few months I still felt the same gut-wrenching anxiety.
I stopped sleeping properly, my mental health quickly deteriorated and I struggled to maintain a positive outlook. On top of all of this, there was the added question of how to do isolation as a traveler. Could this be done in my van? Where would I get food and water? Would self-isolation in a 6 x 3 meter enclosure drive me further into impending madness? My girlfriend and I had been together for a couple of years and while we loved hanging out we’d both enjoyed the space that my work travels and her touring provided. How would lockdown change our relationship? Should I self-isolate with her and if so should we stay in separate rooms? Should I stay in the van parked outside her house and come in to use the loo from time to time? ’Ask the question and you shall get the answer’ has always been key to how I live. But now, there were no answers because no-one I knew had been here before.
As the initial weeks rolled by it was clear that COVID-19 wasn’t going away.
With that in mind, I knew I had to drastically shift my perspective in order to stay afloat. My girlfriend and I had decided to self-isolate with her 2 boys being shared equally between us and their Dad. We dug in deep and tried to weather the late-night tensions and worries. Then suddenly something switched inside me. We could hear the birds singing and the air seemed cleaner. The things that truly mattered took over. We played music and realized how much we missed our friends. We prepared food and ate together and even got the boys to help with the washing up! The country realized that key workers were the life-blood of the country so we stood outside and clapped the NHS and the delivery drivers.
Music shops that had continued to do online business started to report a spike in sales. People were at home looking for things to do so it made sense. Why not learn that instrument you’ve always wanted to. Why not buy that guitar you’ve always dreamt of. Teacher friends took to Zoom. Rock-stars started to broadcast gigs on Facebook. How ironic that the creative industries which have suffered so badly from government cuts came to the fore.
I finished and released an album I’d been working on for 2 years. I started a new blog. I took more pictures. I lived in the moment.
As lockdown became the new ‘normal’ the van started calling. It was my home and I was getting home-sick. The government message was ‘Stay at Home’ so I took that literally and went for a tentative drive along deserted streets. Once I felt more confident I went to a few quiet places and parked up to make a coffee. I went to a beauty spot and watched the sun go down before bedding down for the night and even had a conversation with the Police (not the band).
“Hello, Sir. We’re just wondering why you’re not at home.”
“I am at home, Officer.”
You can imagine the rest. A polite exchange that nonetheless ended with me being asked to move on. Even so, I realized I could survive. I could cook, sleep, and tether the internet from my phone. With the exception of long trips, I was back! I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Probably for the first time I saw my van as more than a place to sleep and work. I re-organized and de-cluttered it. I fell in love with it again. I started to see how my van was key to my wellbeing. My girlfriend and her boys came and had dinner with me whilst watching the sunset. After all, we were isolated and still following all guidelines. We started living again with the van as a central part of our freedom.
Pre-Lockdown I saw the van as my home but I never fully appreciated what that meant.
Now I’m convinced that it’s been the key to surviving lockdown for me at least. If I thought it before I now definitely don’t see a time when I will ever be without a van of some kind. The original B-Side to Queens Bohemian Rhapsody is Roger Taylor’s epic ‘I’m in love with my car’. And I am. And back in love with life and all it has to offer. The future is bright once more and if this is the new normal for van-life then I’m more than ok with that.
Thank you to Russell for contributing text and photos for this piece! Learn more about him at www.62mph.co.uk.