Nate Murphy on van life and chasing summer

Written by Stuart Craig on 1st October 2020

Nate Murphy is a Youtuber whose interest in rock climbing found him a passion in converting vans into self-sufficient campervans: a way to travel cheaper. His expertise and previous Industrial Designer experience, encouraged him to create guided videos on Youtube where he has accumulated over 240,000 subscribers. 

credit: Nate Murphy – insta nate_murphy1

From this success (and the thousands of questions he received) he put together his own Van Conversion Guide eBook, which has now evolved into the 9th edition. It features concise and useful information, 25 hands-on video tutorials and lots of annotated diagrams to make renovating a big or small van easy. His van life experience has inspired him to be an alternative living advocate where he openly discusses his decisions and motivations to follow what you love to do.

Shield Total Insurance sat down with Nate to get to know more about his inspirations into his journey to van life , difficulties he faced throughout lockdown and his top tips for aspirational van lifers and how to get through the upcoming winter months.

Shield: What was your initial inspiration to get into van life and living?

Nate Murphy: So, I was supposed to be going on a very long climbing trip and van life is ultimately the cheapest way to travel on time. You’re not trapped in one location if it gets really cold and rainy somewhere, as you would be with a hotel, but it gives you a lot of economy and freedom to move to better conditions. 

Shield: Does that happen to you a lot then? Having to move with the seasons?

Nate Murphy: Exactly. I’ve been van life-ing for about four years now, so if I’m climbing in Catalonia then it gets cold, I drive six hours and you’re near Valencia. Then Malaga is good for winter. Or even better, if it gets too cold in Europe, you can park your van in a secure car park, not too far from the airport and fly off, returning later. A holiday within your trip.

Shield: Now that sounds like a continuous holiday. So, what’s your favourite element of it all? Is it converting the vans initially or travelling the world or perhaps meeting like-minded alternative living people?

Nate Murphy: At the end of the day, it enables me to spend the time on what I want to be doing. But the financial side of it – how you’re living in a van and not working to pay rent – gives you a high degree of economy in your life. If you park your van up in a particular secure location for €50 to €100, you can then fly further distances and not pay rent on your van home. I enjoy the social parts of it, but it is really the ability to do something I really love, rock climbing, and at a very low cost.

Shield: Do you spend time with lots of other people who enjoy rock climbing then?

Nate Murphy: Yes but also I meet people all over the world who love outdoor sports in general, whether that’s in the mountains or the coast. Van life is the ideal way to live somewhere really amazing for three months and for it only to cost €600-€700. Off that, it is perfect for competition-based sports, so people can drive to a competition in the Alps, lets say, with all their equipment and no hassle, then drive to the next. I usually travel for purpose but it’s quite rare to find a non-social place.

Shield: You’ve been in Spain over lockdown, how have you been?

Nate Murphy: We were living in Cuba but then came back over because the van was parked in Catalonia. But in general, lockdown was a difficult time for van lifers, especially if you didn’t own an apartment. We took in a handful of van lifers, over lockdown because we have a barn we’ve been renovating. So we were just living with a group of people who travelled full time or didn’t have a base, which was good fun. 

Weirdly now, the van life is the best thing for Covid holidays as you can easily travel to places. You don’t need to go to a hotel but you’re by yourself and can park up anywhere. There’s been a big uplift of van life; it’s the perfect Covid, social distanced holiday.

Shield: Have you been on your own Covid post-lockdown holiday?

Nate Murphy: Spain has been released from lockdown for a couple of months now, so we went to the coast for a few days. But I’ve been focusing on renovating the house and catching up with other stuff in my life right now.

Shield: Do you have any advice for people who want to test the van life?

Nate Murphy: If you want to test it, then the best thing to do is just test it. Decide what you want to do with the van whether that is for long weekends or month-long trips, then try it out and see if you can make it work. You can quite easily rent vans that have been renovated or converted for other van-lifers to test out .

credit: Nate Murphy – insta nate_murphy1

Shield: When you first started, what was your biggest adaptation to the van life?

Nate Murphy: Before this I was backpacking so it wasn’t too bad moving into a van. The one thing most people are worried about is the toilet situation. You can have a toilet installed in your van but if you don’t, like me, then it’s not a huge issue! You get used to going in nature.

Shield: You mentioned you are renovating a house, does this mean you are looking to settle down in one place for a while?

Nate Murphy: The house is technically a base. Initially, I wanted to find some industrial unit to make it a van hang out but there were a lot of technicalities. So, by having the house as a travel base, I can stay here and invite friends when it’s climbing season. Also, I wanted to start a lot of creative projects and that’s one flaw of a van, not enough studio and workshop space, so, this house and barn gave me that.

Shield: What insurance do you have on your van?

Nate Murphy: I’m currently insured with Shield Total Insurance which gives me 240 days EU cover. The policy is really good. In comparison, some people have 90 day EU cover and this limits their holidays and trips, especially if you intend to park up and travel for a couple of months. I haven’t found another comparable insurance provider on the market. 

Shield: Have you ever had to use your insurance, due to a bad situation?

Nate Murphy: Thankfully I haven’t with the van. But I’ve known a few people over the years who have had crashes and it’s been pretty essential to have insurance.

Shield: There has been an increase in van lifers due to the pandemic limiting holidays. What are your top three tips for people looking to live in a van over the winter period?

Nate Murphy: To live through winter in a van you face two problems – temperature and power. So my 3 non-negotiables are:

  1. Heater
  2. Make sure you can power your heater
  3. Insulate the van.

If you’re in the UK you need as much solar as you can fit on the van to get as much battery power as possible, but if you park up regularly you can charge in someone’s home. I would also strongly recommend a heater for comfort, and good insulation stops the condensation build up and it holds in the heat.

Shield: Finally, speaking of the UK, what’s your top place in the UK to visit?

Nate Murphy: I grew up in Cornwall and have done van life a lot round there. It is beautiful but hard to find good, free parking near the beaches. If not, then Scotland. There is so much climbing and beautiful nature to explore, it is easy to have a van life up there. But I would only recommend going to either of these places during summer. The whole point of a van is to go somewhere else, so unless you have a compelling reason to stay in the UK… Also, with coronavirus not going anywhere, you can bubble in the van comfortably.

To find out more about cover for your converted car or for an insurance quote on your van, visit our website. 

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