Student couple decide to live in van to avoid uni accommodation fees

The couple have saved £6,000 in 10 months (Picture: @madspep/Mercury Press)

Traditional student accommodation is becoming increasingly pricey, but one savvy couple has discovered an alternative approach to their living situation.

Madison Wood, 23, and her fiancé, Pepijn Grijpink, 22, used to pay over £1,040 per month when living in a converted one bed garage.

Now they only pay £465 for a home on wheels. This incredible price also covers the cost of diesel, food and water.

Madison, a first-year environmental sciences student, and Pepijn, a masters engineering student, spent July and August of 2021 renovating a Ford transit camper. They moved in fully last September with their dog, Sully, one.

Their self-converted home has solar panels meaning the couple have avoided the strain of the current energy crisis and have even saved £6,000 in 10 months.

And the pair are also discovering more of the world having spent the last ten months travelling through Scotland, Belgium, Netherlands, Holland, France, and Spain.

They have made the vehicle a viable home (Picture: @madsandpep/Mercury Press)

‘I’ve always wanted to travel, settling in one place has never really been an option for me,’ Madison says.

‘We were living in the Netherlands whilst Pepijn studied at university, and I was working at a suit store until I lost my job to Covid 19 and then I became a cleaner to be able to afford our rent which was £800 a month inclusive of bills.

‘When the pandemic hit, it became difficult to afford the rent, I got pneumonia and was out of work for over a month, and it became really stressful.

‘We weren’t treating ourselves anymore, and our diet was strictly vegan as meat became too expensive.

Sully also enjoys the lifestyle (Picture: madsandpep/Mercury Press)

‘We started looking at alternative living options, and within a week, we had the van. We ended our rental agreement in June and moved back to England to stay with my parents, whilst we did the conversion.’

The 2008 Ford Transit L3H3 cost £6,600, and they spent a further £6,000 on the conversion to create a viable home.

The van has a sturdy kitchen counter unit, storage for clothes and food, a hidden table, two chairs, a comfy corner sofa, a fixed double bed, and even a room for Labrador mix, Sully, to sleep and rest in.

‘We saved up quite a bit of money to make sure every part of the van was quality so it wouldn’t need fixing so often,’ Madison adds.

‘We installed solar panels on the roof to ensure we have environmentally safe energy to use on the road and used recycled plastic bottle insulation to make sure the van was warm.

‘It was hard to find any bargains that would have been the quality we were looking for, but I did manage to get a gorgeous glass sink from Victoria Plum for £60 instead of the original £250.

The van has everything they need (Picture: @madsandpep/Mercury Press)

‘We also got a lot of free pieces of wood which we used to create the bed and the chairs.’

‘The only thing we don’t have in the van is a built-in bath and shower, so we have had to compromise and use a solar shower which we hook up to the back of the van, but it also allows us much more room inside the van.’

The couple say there is a huge difference in how they spend and the amount that they are now able to save monthly.

‘Since starting out on our travel journey, we’ve been able to truly live a lot more than we were ever able to before,’ Madison explains.

‘We still eat a lot of plant based vegan meals on the road, but when we go to restaurants, we’ll treat ourselves to a meat dish.

‘I’m absolutely obsessed with prosciutto and fancy hams as well, so love to find places off the beaten track where we can eat food like that.

‘Our main outgoing is now diesel for the van which has cost £400. In the past two months, this has enabled us to travel all the way from Amsterdam to Spain.

‘Our insurance and road tax is £105 a month and food costs are still around £200 a month.

‘When compared to the £1,040 outgoings we had when we lived in a stationary home, we’re now paying £465 a month instead and it feels like a huge weight has been lifted from our shoulders.’

In the current climate, younger people struggle to get on the property ladder but Madison believes van life to be the way forward.

The family have travelled across Europe together (Picture: @madsandpep/Mercury Press)

‘We have no bills, we run our van from solar panels and use bio gas to cook our food which costs £21.50 every six months,’ she adds.

‘I see people struggling to pay their bills, and as a student, it’s even worse as we can’t make a proper wage with part time or full-time study.

‘I love the life we are living without the worry of bills.’

The pair love the van lifestyle and wish to continue living it for a long time to come.

‘We don’t have any plans to settle, we love the freedom van life gives us,’ Madison muses.

‘It’s given us both a whole new perspective on life and allows us to take Sully to a variety of new places and give him the life he really deserves.

‘We adopted him from a Greek rescue, where he was trapped in a house as a puppy, so he hates being in stationary houses now, he just feels on edge.

‘He loves being in the van, swimming in the sea and lakes, going on walks through the forest and hiking up mountains.

‘Being able to travel without money worries like bills has made us truly happy.

‘I’m excited for where the future takes the three of us.’

You can follow Madison, Sully and Pepijn’s journey on their Instagram (@madspep).

Monthly outgoings

Cost breakdown

Bills are monthly

-Diesel: £200

-Water: Free from campsites

-Gas: £3

-Food: £200

-Dog related expenses: £62 including insurance, vet bills and food

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