Brit says he's saved £15,000 after moving into a done up police van

Couple who live in refurbished police riot van reveal they’ve saved £15,000 on rent and bills in two years – and claim living in such close quarters makes their relationship stronger

  • Cameron Smith, 30, from South East England, bought police van on eBay in 2019
  • Spent £3,000 doing £8,000 the van up after leaving £650-a-month bungalow
  • Reconnected with old friend Rachel Franklin, 25, now girlfriend, lives with him
  • The couple said they had saved £15,000 on rent and utilities since living on road 

A couple who gave up their £650 a month bungalow to move into an ex-police riot van and save for their future – have revealed they’ve already saved £15,000 in rent and expenses in under two years. 

Carpenter Cameron Smith, 30, from South East England, decided to buy the van off eBay in 2019 after his housemates announced they intended to leave the home they shared, paying £650 a month per person.  

Smith, who was dreaming of a more nomadic lifestyle, took the chance and bought an old police van for £8,000 on eBay, which he spent £3,000 doing up and named ‘Kevlar,’ after the bulletproof material.

He now lives in the van with his girlfriend Rachel Franklin, 25, who moved in after they became a couple in 2020, and their dog Odin, Cameron

Carpenter Cameron Smith, 30, and his girlfriend Rachel Franklin, left, from South East England, claim they’ve saved £15,000 in expenses since moving into a refurbished police riot van Cameron purchased for £8,000 in 2019 

Cameron, pictured, used to live in a bungalow where he paid £650-a-month for a room, but decided to buy the van when one of his housemate announced he was moving out 

In 2019, Cameron found himself living in a rented room in a bungalow – paying £650 per month for the privilege. After coming across ‘van life’ videos on YouTube, the carpenter began to dream of living a nomadic lifestyle.

‘I remember sitting in my £650 a month room in a shared bungalow watching YouTube and stumbling across van life videos,’ he said. 

‘I was hooked and couldn’t believe that it was a real lifestyle that people live,’ he added. 

A few weeks later, an opportunity to live the dream presented itself when one of Cameron’s housemates announced he’d be moving out, leaving the rest of the house-share in limbo.  

Cameron, who saw van living as a way to save on rent, bought the van, pictured, for £8,000 and spent £3,000 on doing it up 

Cameron and Rachel, pictured with Odin, are reliant on solar energy, which saves them money on bills. Rachel added that living in a smaller home means you spend less on possessions because there’s nowhere to put them 

‘With ten years of carpentry experience and one-hundred hours of van life videos behind me, I knew what my plan was. I was going to move into a van,’ Cameron said. 

He explained that it would allow him to put money on the side by not paying on rent, but he also needed a big van with enough space for all his work tools. 

‘I needed plenty of storage space to store my tools for work and I needed something I could easily stand up and move around in,’ he said. 

‘When the riot van popped up on eBay, I knew it was perfect, with all the additional security that comes from its former life, as well as the box shape which makes for an easy conversion,’ Cameron added. 

Sales professional Rachel and Cameron were introduced to one another by a mutual friend in the summer of 2013 and immediately felt a connection. However, as September approached, Rachel left to attend university and the pair lost contact.

But the pair reconnected in 2019 and romance soon followed in 2020, with Rachel moving into the van with Cameron.  

Rachel, left, said that the couple’s relationship had only grown stronger, in spite of sharing a small space 

As a carpenter, Cameron spent hours looking at ‘van life’ videos on YouTube before taking the jump, and said the boxy shape of the riot van made it easier to convert 

The couple say that their love and appreciation for nature has only increased since living in the van full time and being able to live sustainably by generating all of their power from solar is very important to them.

For Rachel, one of the hardest parts of van life is not having a warm bath to soak in, but she admits that this is a small price to pay for the idyllic life the couple share together. 

‘We love being so close to nature all the time. Since living in the van, we definitely look outdoors more for entertainment and we have so much more appreciation for the world we live in,’ she said.

‘Obviously the ability to cut out a lot of expenses is brilliant too, we get our electricity from the sun.

‘There isn’t rent to pay and because of having a smaller home, you don’t spend as much money on material possessions,’ she added. 

Cameron;s van from outside. Rachel explained her boyfriend could work from anywhere, which was the beauty of living in a van 

Cameron and Rachel climbing on the top of the van. The couple said the van pushed them to become more environmentally conscious and connects them more with nature 

And Rachel added living in a reduced spaced had taught the couple to be more ‘environmentally conscious.’ 

‘We know exactly how much water, gas, and power we use each week and despite living in a vehicle, our carbon footprint is so much lower,’ she said. 

‘The beauty of living in a van is that Cameron can pretty much take work anywhere, without worrying about a commute – this means we also get to explore places that we wouldn’t necessarily visit on a holiday.

However, the pandemic lockdowns throughout 2020 did prove to be a challenge for Cameron and Rachel since waste disposal and recycling plants were closed, leaving them reliant on finding a large supermarket or help from friends to get rid of their rubbish. 

‘Having a home on wheels means we never have to pack or plan around our work commitments – we can be as spontaneous as we like,’ she added. 

Rachel, pictured with Odin and Cameron, said the couple can be as spontaneous as they like thanks to their van, and have plans to travel around Europe 

Staying in. Rachel said that clear communciation is key for the couple, but insists that living in such a small space together has made their relationship stronger

Rachel also said that communication had been key when you share a small place with your partner.   

‘We don’t find the constant proximity an issue and we still spend our down time doing things we love,’ she said. 

‘When we aren’t spending time outdoors, Cameron likes to sketch and I like to read, and we often find peace in just doing activities we enjoy.

‘On the occasions where one of us needs a little bit more space, the other can take Odin out for a walk, or go and meet friends, or busy themselves elsewhere,’ she added. 

But Rachel said living in the van with Cameron had only made their relationship stronger.  

‘We actually find that living in close proximity to each other has made our relationship really strong,’ she said. 

‘We know each other very well and are able to freely ask for alone time when we need it,.’

Rachel and Cameron have no plans to change their living arrangements anytime soon and plan to travel around Europe when the time is right.

‘We have no immediate plans to move away from van life because we want to travel around Europe and in particular Scandinavia, and freely explore even more of the UK,’ said Rachel.

‘Our long term dream would be to buy land and build our own tiny home on it, or to restore an old property and create a new sustainable home in its place.

‘Regardless of where our future takes us, we have no plans to get rid of Kevlar and will be keeping her with us.’

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