We found Sam on Ebay and it was love at first sight. We’d looked at every type of van in our price range, from ready-made campers to converted panel vans. We had a few requirements which narrowed down the search: it had to be left –hand drive, it had to have enough space to live comfortably, and it had to be more or less roadworthy to avoid additional expense and delays to our trip.
Carlos, who is a genius in finding the cool and unusual online, stumbled across Sam and sent me a link via Facebook messenger. It was just a few weeks after our wedding and I was back in London and back at work. Carlos was still in Andalucia so we had to discuss everything on messenger and Skype, just to add an extra level of complexity. We were used to it as we’d been living apart for 6 months before our wedding; me in London working for a global hotel company and Carlos in Almeria setting up a business. We found the van when there was just four hours left to run on the auction and had to decide having never seen the vehicle whether to bid. We were in the process of selling my car to fund the purchase and had managed to get a loan to cover the rest until we sold a big chunk of our personal belongings on Ebay. In the end we had just enough. So we bid and won.
We drove up to Kingswinford in the Midlands and met up with the current owner Matt and took the van to a local garage for a checkover. Bizarrely the van is both MOT and tax exempt as it’s classified as an historic vehicle and is an import. We obviously needed to know what we were buying. In the end we negotiated a discount to cover some of the mechanical costs. Sam is in great shape overall. However when you buy a 46-year-old van you have to be prepared to invest in keeping it running and happy. So far we’ve spent money: removing a lot of extraneous wiring for novelty horns, neon lighting and interior LEDs; on a new alternator and electronic ignition, a complete checkover including oil change and brake and gear system check; and more recently after an unfortunate breakdown in the Basque Country, on a new starter motor and a refurbishment of our carburetor, which also caused us two weeks of delay.
So do we regret buying an American import from 1966? Not at all. 'Sam, Sam the Magical Van' has been such a huge part of our journey so far. It’s a love thing. He feels like part of the family and leaving him in the garage to be repaired for a fortnight was emotionally stressful. Sam is vehicle and home and friend. He demands a lot but gives so much joy in return – not just for us but also for people we meet along the journey. He is a bringer of smiles, an inspiring symbol of freedom and a teacher of patience and conscientiousness. We have to check his oil and water everyday. We avoid motorways whenever possible, meaning we actually see the places we are travelling through. He’s not a big fan of traffic jams (who could blame him). Sam forces us to move at a different pace.
Before we left the UK we spent a few weeks preparing Sam for the journey. This meant ripping out the existing camper set up as it was not practical for our needs. We needed storage and a bed set up that was both easy to set up and doubled as a table. In the rush to leave our original design was less than ideal. The L-shaped sofa with storage underneath worked perfectly, as did the modular cushion system and blinds. However the bed/table relied upon a set of struts, which slotted in to the floor space and then two boards to create the bed platform. One of these doubled as a table with legs that screwed on. After a few weeks of setting up and taking down this arrangement several times a day, it was clear this was not going to work for us long term. Too much extra stuff in the van and too annoying and complex to set up and take down.
We’d designed and built the original van set up together so we sat down again to rethink the bed. When we design together we both come with ideas to the table and somewhere in the middle we find the best solution. These conversations can be combative! But it works.
In this case we decided to do away with all the extra struts and replace the extra containers we were dragging along with us with two boxes at the same height as the bed. These would create most of the bed platform and can be placed on top of the storage boxes behind the seats when we need them out of our way. We built the boxes in a friend’s surfboard atelier close to Bilbao and painted them while we waited for the van to be repaired.
On the other side of the gap we built some narrow boxes which double as supports and which now hold items we need to hand like cups, cutlery, tea and coffee and condiments. The rest of the gap is bridged by the table, which can then be attached to the floor as required with a simple slot in system. It’s incredibly efficient and much more practical.
We also started the process of offloading a lot of excess baggage we were carrying around – some items were sent home to be stored, some were sold including surfboards, skateboards, and some beautiful vintage boxes and baskets which looked good in the van but were pretty impractical. When we had to offload the van after the breakdown it was a big wake up call to how much extraneous stuff we had with us.
Our van is now running again, and we have a new more efficient home for the next phase of the journey.
What follows is a very general guide on equipment...
Gas bottle and double stove
Awning for longer stays
Tarpaulin for short term additional shelter
Emergency light and triangle
Cooking pots and utensils
Emergency 10l petrol tank
Emergency food stores - soup, rice, pasta
Eye mask and ear plugs
My must-have items I couldn’t live without:
Garlic peeler and crush
Spices, oils and condiments
Luxurious toiletries and beauty products
Mosquito net and repellent
Folding bicycle for exploring while Carlos surfs
Things I still haven’t used since we left home:
Travel clothes steamer (not that fussed about creases)
Most of the kitchen utensils
My only pair of heels
Carlos must-have items he couldn’t live without:
Carlos’ list of things he still hasn’t used since we left home:
Hand plane (for the non-surfers please google this)
Things we sent to storage:
Guitar – too much space in van and we’re worried it will get damaged with all the moving around
Books already read
Excess clothes – you end up wearing around 30% of what you bring