We turned a van into our home when we couldn't buy a house - it’s saved us thousands
Robert and Mariona Bolohan made their van entirely self sufficient - so they don’t have to pay gas and electricity bills
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A couple who started living in a van after struggling to get on the housing ladder now say they save at least £17,000 a year on their bills. Robert Bolohan, aged 28, and his wife Mariona, 26, decided to put their money into buying a van which they could transform into their home in 2022 after finding the alternative options weren’t viable for them. They say they kept getting outbid when trying to secure themselves a bricks and mortar home and also became frustrated by the expensive rental market.
Now, the couple credit their campervan home with helping them to save thousands of pounds every year, despite the cost of living crisis, as they created it to be completely self-sufficient. It operates entirely on electricity, which is generated using solar panels installed on the roof of the van.
Bolohan met his wife while they were both living in the Spanish city of Lleida in 2014. After a year the couple, who were born in Spain, decided to move to London together and then started their own translation business, Lotuly. They moved around various places before settling in West London. Speaking to NationalWorld, he said: “We used to live in a 29 square metre studio flat near Uxbridge before moving in with my parents. We used to pay £900 per calendar month without bills, so it went to around £1,500 a month with bills. We lived in that flat for four years and during that time Mariona and I became company directors of our business.
“We then moved in with my parents just when the coronavirus pandemic started in 2020 so that we could save money to buy a house. We managed to save £40k in one and a half to two years but house prices went through the roof and we were always outsmarted by cash buyers. As we had recently moved from self-employed to company directors that made it even harder for us to get a mortgage too. Instead, we bought a van and converted it into a campervan.”
The plan was for the van to provide a temporary living situation for the pair, who married in 2019, but over a year after they first got their keys they are still living there after finding it to be much more cost effective than a traditional home. It has everything they need for living; a shower and toilet, a kitchen, a wardrobe, a table and a seating area that turns into a bed.
Bolohan said: “We used to pay £18,000 a year between rent and bills, but now we’re living in the van there's no bills, apart from petrol, because the van is self sufficient. We have solar panels, powerful lithium batteries and no gas. It's all electric, we power everything through our own electricity and we can even plug it in like a normal electric vehicle if needed. We literally save between £17,000 and £18,000 a year. As we pay no gas or electricity the costs are minimal, unless we travel a lot of miles, which means we then pay a bit more for petrol - but it's definitely cheaper than renting.”
The couple bought their 460 Ford Transit 17 seater minibus for £14,000, and then spent around £40,000 converting it. Bolohan estimates that the van now is worth around £75,000 to £80,000, however. “It’s quite big so it makes living there feel spacious and not cramped. The conversion took around eight months and we are still tweaking stuff with it. The batteries alone cost around £12,000 including the whole solar panel setup. We've insulated, sound proofed and rust proofed the van to make it last longer, be noise cancelling and also warm in winter and cool in the summer.
“We've used poplar wood for the furniture which is much lighter than normal plywood to reduce what we consume in terms of petrol because if there's less weight then it will cost less to run, as obviously the heavier the van then the higher the cost of petrol. If we run out of energy we can change the van, but the solar panels charge anyway - even if there's grey sky - and the batteries also charge themselves while we drive which helps them to always be topped up.”
Robert and Mariona also don’t have to worry about other additional costs commonly associated with home ownership, such as a monthly water bill - though they do sometimes need to rely on the kindness of family. Robert said: “We have a tank that needs refilling every now and then so that's a very minimal cost as the water is cheap. In some places you can even fill it for free. If we are around London we can fill it up at my parents house and if we are at campsites then it's part of the day rate you pay so it's included. If not, any petrol station has a place where you can refill.”
The couple just need to make sure that their vehicle has passed its MOT and is fully road legal, and of course ensure that they follow the highway code and abide by any parking restrictions they encounter, but they can often find places to park for free. They also pay $35 (just over £28) for a small internet router which they can take with them all across the UK and Europe on their travels.
Robert and Mariona have now travelled to multiple places across this country and other countries in their campervan, but they make sure they keep in touch with friends and family and share their journey with people via their social media page, The Minibus Camper, on both Instagram and TikTok. So far, they’ve travelled to many places including Norfolk, Devon, Bournemouth, Paris, Toulouse, Barcelona, Valencia, Tuscany and Romania.
The couple still, however, have ambitions of buying a house and hope to join the hundreds of thousands of people who become first-time buyers each year. He said: “The plan for now is to travel a bit around the UK and Europe and start looking at houses after April as that's when we will get the company accounts so we'll have a better chance to get the right mortgage. Right now, we want to enjoy our 20s and travel whilst growing the business even more. We still want to buy a house, but we want to find the right property for us.”