Planning for our next challenge!

June 2019

Our #52sits challenge is beginning to draw to a close… less than three months to go. Can we achieve our goal of squeezing 52 house sits into 52 weeks?

As I write we’re about half way through sit #44, a lovely repeat sit in Essex. We normally look after two friendly, easy-going black labs, but they are away on holiday with their owners in Cornwall. So this week our only real responsibility is to keep the fantastic heated swimming pool clean. We’re hoping for some sunny weather, so we can make the most of it.

Through spring, and now into summer we’ve tried to get out and about as much as possible on our bikes, but we kept running into the frustration of having to unpack almost everything from the van to get the bikes out.

Last month this prompted me to take a look at our vehicle, and the packing system we employ.

When we arrived in the UK last year we bought a Citroen Berlingo, a small car-derived van which is great on fuel (diesel), can carry lots of clothes to cover all UK seasons, and can also cope with a couple of bikes for use during the better weather.

Our original packing system involved putting the bikes in first – it’s a bit of a squeeze – then fitting everything else in around them. So getting the bikes out involves unpacking everything. Once the bikes are out, everything else has to go back in.

After our ride everything would have to come back out again, the bikes would get put back in, then everything packed carefully around them again.

Surely there’s a better way?

My new plan was to design some way of fitting the bikes down the centre, with our other stuff in boxes down the sides. Ideally, we would still be able to access all the boxes without getting the bikes out, but would also be able to get the bikes out without having to completely empty the van first!

Vanessa added an extra request if I planned some van re-modelling… could we have a little outdoor kitchen to make tea and coffee while out and about on our adventures?

So, keen to tackle my new task, on one of our longer sits I pulled everything out of the van and got to work with the measuring tape, and researched my purchase requirements on

With a generous offer of two sheets of plywood from a friend of Vanessa’s mum, construction began. Our original carpet was removed, and a new wooden base put in place, I was ready to add in a small cabinet with a sliding drawer for a small cooker and water container.

Here’s Vanessa enjoying her van-made coffee, overlooking London from Greenwich Park, right by Greenwich Observatory.

Wooden guides now hold all our boxes in place, and also provide support for the bikes between the “kitchen” and the “storage area”. I was still having trouble with the two bikes catching together, as the pedals of one would get caught in the chain of the other, or handlebars would catch on seat posts or brake cables.

I had some further thinking to do. I bought a pair of folding pedals on Amazon, which I added to my bike. This now mean there is much less chance of the pedals catching. My final modification was to add a higher guide rail for the second bike, which means the handlebars clear the first bike completely, and the pedals fit in neatly.

It all works very well. We can get both bikes out quickly and easily whenever we fancy a ride. But we can also leave them in place and get out all the stuff we need for each house sit.

I’ve really enjoyed the simple project. It’s been quite a while since I tackled any real hands-on DIY… maybe you can tell from the pictures?

My success has inspired bigger dreams

For a while we have been considering adding a camper van into our lifestyle mix, but the prices of secondhand campers here in the UK is prohibitively expensive on our budget.

Maybe a better solution would be to create our own camper from a larger trade van, kitted out exactly as we would like, to make it suit our lifestyle?

Once again, I’ve thrown myself into research, watching many YouTube videos made by people who have done exactly this.

We’ve narrowed down our vehicle requirements to a few options. Sticking with Citroen, as we’ve been happy with our Berlingo, we could base our project on the Citroen Relay (called a Jumpy in Europe). This is the same vehicle as a Peugeot Boxer and a Fiat Ducato, so there are lots of second-hand options available. There are also similar sized vehicles from Ford and Vauxhall. VW and Mercedes are also possibilities, although usually at a higher price.

All of these offer high roof versions, tall enough to stand up in without having to hunch over.

So now it’s back to the drawing board…

  • How would we fit two bikes in?
  • Would we have a permanent bed, or one that converts to a table?
  • Do we create a “stealth” van that can be parked anywhere?
  • What about a solar system?
  • Where do the water tanks go?
  • How do we create a work area for our laptops?

It’s a big project, but one that we both feel very positive and excited about. And with so much info available in videos and blogs (and in this issue of House Sitting Magazine!) from people who have already done this, we’re confident that we can build a mobile home that is ideally suited to our travel and lifestyle requirements.

At the moment we try to make house sits fit together without large gaps in-between, so that we don’t have to spend too much on pricey hotels. With a fitted-out van we could schedule gaps between sits without worrying about where we’d stay. This would enable us to fit in more “between sits” travel and adventures.

We’ve been studying our current house sit commitments, and have a full summer of short sits. Then, of course, we have to factor in putting on the House & Pet Sitting Conference in September. After that we have a three week repeat sit in Wiltshire, followed by a month repeat in the south of Spain. So realistically we wouldn’t be able to begin this project until October or November.

The idea of another winter in England doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm, particularly if it involves a lot of work outside on a van. However, it is probably the best option, as we’d be ready to travel by early spring, and this would really open the whole of Europe to us for 2020.

So, it’s an outline plan at the moment, and as is often the case, plans have to be flexible enough to incorporate unexpected opportunities, or simple changes of mind.

Maybe we’ll be joining the #vanlife crowd later this year.

At the moment we certainly hope so.

Best wishes,

Ian and Vanessa

(currently house sitting in Finchingfield, Essex, England)

  • June 16, 2019

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