DIY Van life with Emma and Ruben
Interview with Emma and Ruben who lives in their beautiful self-built Citroën Relay with a DIY Separett Privy as their toilet solution 🚐
About you 👫
Who are you whom live in the van?
We are Emma and Ruben from Devon, UK! Emma used to work in marketing, but now teaches English as a second language online to students all over the world. Ruben is a product designer, now working on the road mainly for clients back in London. Remy is the name of our van where we chose a French name because the van is a French model.
Do you live in the van permanently or for travels?
In February this year we moved into the van full-time and set off for a year of travels round Europe. After that, who knows, but depending on how thoroughly we adapt to the lifestyle, we’re open to considering full-time van life when we’re back in the UK.
How would you describe your lifestyle and everyday life?
I think we’d like to consider our lifestyle quite simple, but the truth is our van is pretty pimped with technology and little luxuries, meaning there aren’t really many sacrifices to a normal life!
We’re definitely very self-sufficient; we have almost everything we need on board the van - electricity from our solar panels, large water storage, gas heating and shower, hob and of course, a toilet! This means we have the freedom to travel to more rural areas and away from towns and cities, which have the best park up spots, surrounded by nature and no crowds - those are our favourite spots.
Day to day van life is quite laid back for us; we enjoy walking or cycling around the areas we stay in, and we’re looking forward to a bit of diving and snorkeling when we reach the Mediterranean. We’re still learning how to enjoy a slow pace of life but spending lockdown with Ruben’s granny in the rural Dordogne area definitely helped with that.
About your van 🚐
How did you go about building your van?
We bought Remy in mid-August 2019 and started off by working on it only at weekends, in the car park next to our London flat. Progress was slow, but then in October we quit our jobs and began a tour of the south of England, throwing ourselves on the mercy of each of our parents, one after the other. Using their driveways, barns and yards we were able to pick up the pace and work full time on the van. Despite this, we still didn’t finish the build until February, about 3 months later than we’d hoped! This was mostly due to the incredibly high standards Ruben, a stickler for precision, held us to. Now that we live in the van full-time, we can say that spending the extra time was so worth it; we’re so happy with how well it turned out and it’s served us so well over the past few months.
We drew on the wisdom of the self-build community hugely during the build, on Youtube, Instagram and in particular we found the Facebook group ‘Self-build Campervans’ to be incredibly useful. All the questions you’re scared to ask because you think they’re too stupid? Already been asked, 5 times, with great and useful answers.
In terms of the design process, we went through several iterations before settling on the layout we now have. It definitely felt like a logical process- first we decided that we didn’t want to have to set up a bed everyday for a year, so a fixed bed across the width was necessary. Then we decided to raise up the bed to have a huge garage space underneath, accessible from the back doors. This meant we could bring bikes with us and store them inside, which was really important to us.
Ruben used 3D modelling software to build the van and model every option before we made our decisions, which helped hugely.
Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about building a house on wheels?
Firstly, if you’re even considering it, do it! Who knows if you might get the opportunity again before life gets in the way? Even despite the current global situation, we’re so glad to have done it; the world will always be unpredictable and there’ll always be reasons not to, but it really is such an amazing experience, one we’ll never forget. It’s so refreshing and liberating to escape the 9-5 routine or just get away for the weekend and get closer to nature.
Once you’re decided, get involved with the online self-build community - on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, there’s so many people doing this and so much helpful advice to be found, for any budget and any lifestyle.
We’d particularly recommend Greg Virgoe and The Restoration Couple’s YouTube videos.
How come you choose to install the urine diverting toilet Separett Privy?
We knew we wanted a compost toilet rather than chemical, as they’re much kinder to the environment, easier to dispose of, and less smelly. We wanted to build the toilet ourselves so that it would also work as an end table, so we didn’t want to go for a complete toilet or kit.
We chose the urine diverting toilet Separett Privy because it had great reviews from other van-dwellers, and it’s good value for money. We also liked the seat, which is made of polystyrene, so it doesn’t get too cold to sit on - a very thoughtful detail! 💙
How did you come up with the clever toilet-inside-an-end-table solution?
We debated the location of the toilet for a long time, nothing felt quite right until we came up with the idea of combining it with an end table in the doorway of the van, meaning it could also be used as a surface for when we’re sitting outside.
Inside is a simple pine frame and the outside is covered in birch plywood to match the rest of the van interior, with the top hinging up a bit like a normal toilet. It was quite a challenge to find containers for liquids and solids that would fit in the right space, but once we did, we created a structure to hold them in place under the privy. There’s also space inside to store things like toilet paper and biodegradable bags.
- Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story! Remy Relay is a beauty 🌟🚐