Notes of a novice van-wife

Almost two months into this trip and there’s a lot I have learned. Thought I’d write down tips and advice learned the hard way when I chose to leave my pristine Notting Hill flat and sizeable shoe collection behind and travel around South America in a van with an anosmic.

Keeping everything clean 

Turns out the dad in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was right. Windex does cure everything. So stock up on gel soap and make up remover wipes. Not because you will be wearing make up but because you can use said wipes to clean everything. I have recently used them to clean

  • oil residue on plates which we washed in the sea
  • Engine oil of our hands
  • The dashboard as we were driving and Andy put his muddy shoes on it. So out came the wipes and in a minute everything was spotless.

Going to the loo 

  1. Anytime you stop to refuel, go to the bathroom. Anytime you walk into a restaurant / coffee shop / bakery, go to the bathroom. Getting a haircut? Go visit their loo.
  2. When going al fresco is the only option, do not wear flip flops and consider wind direction. But no matter what – don’t wear flip flops.

Showers 

Similar to the above, when you find a shower with hot water, take a shower. Regardless if you only had one 8 hours ago, take advantage of the opportunity.

Gas stations in Argentina have pristinely clean showers (they often smell of chlorine) with hot water most London flats would be envious of. For $15-20 AR (about £0.75 GPB) you can treat yourself to a spa (I go in with shower gel, shampoo, leave in conditioner, body moisturiser and three face creams… the works). In Ushuaia we went to the same gas station every day – on the last day the guy run the water for me whilst I got all my stuff ready so that the water was super hot when I got there.

So you don’t need a camping site or a hotel to be clean.

Finally, force the anosmic to have a shower. If push comes to shove do not be embarrassed to refuse to get in the car unless they have one (pro tip: get hold of the keys beforehand).

Boiling water

Now here are the words i never thought I’d say. Buy a JetBoil. They boil water in under a minute and are super light. That means you can carry them anywhere and instantly make coffee, instant noodles, boil eggs etc.

6 months ago I did not know what they were. 1 month ago I kept screwing the handle underneath making it impossible to actually boil water. This morning I recommended them to the Germans with the uber-van.

Themal underwear

At first you will resist. “They look like something my great grandmother would wear”, you will say. “They are too expensive” is another favourite pushback. “I would not be caught dead in them”.

But trust me. Buy the damn thing. It will guarantee a lovely night’s sleep even next to a glacier. Buy both the longjohns and the long sleeve T shirt. And no, the longjohns cannot double as leggings.

Take charge of the things you care about 

There are things you care about and things you don’t. For example, I care about food, tidiness (i.e. Being able to find my stuff) and cleanliness. I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the food in the car and can at any point come up with a handful of meal options for the next 2-3 days.

On the flip side, I do not care about noise in the evening; with the exception of the regeton party going down 10 meters from our car in Ushuaia, I can pretty much sleep regardless of noise levels. Andy can’t.

So it makes no sense for me to obsess about where we camp for the evening as I have now solved my personal hygiene issues (see above). Where we camp impacts Andy more so he can worry about that.

Whenever I’ve neglected food and relied on Andy to plan meals we have ended up with instant noodles for dinner. And breakfast. So I am in charge of food and anything else that, to quote Andy, “boils my piss” when it is not how I want it (for example van reset days, laundry and wifi).

Patience 

Breathe. Before you do anything, say anything, loose your shit… just breathe. Your partner in crime probably has a reason for lying under the car on the gravel road in his freshly cleaned, lavender scented shirt which was just been picked up from the laundry.

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