Writing on the road: Van life


24 November 2023
Could you write and travel at the same time? Author Emma Christie does, and she tells us how she makes it work

I’ve spent much of my adult life travelling – both independently and in my 20-year-career as tour director and guide in Spain. But I’ve always done my writing back home.

Since my first novel was published back in 2020 I’ve massively reduced my tour-guiding workload (Covid helped with that) but my passion for travel remains. My girlfriend and I had a micro-camper for years - a bit like a Postman Pat van with a bed - and absolutely loved it for holidays. But there was no way I wanted to write in such a cramped space.

We bought a bigger van just after I’d signed the contract for my third novel, and headed off for a six week adventure in the Balkans. It was an experiment, really – but I wrote 50,000 words of my third novel during that trip. I’d never been so efficient.

So how did I do it? Simple. I’d wake up at 5.45am every single day, set up my office at the interior dining table and write until I reached 1,000 words – the same word limit I set myself at home. Often I was done by 10am; other days by noon. But whatever time it was the prize was the same – the rest of the day could be spent exploring and hiking and biking. I couldn’t believe it worked, but it did.

When that trip ended we switched our Volkswagen California for a Ford Transit Nugget – less iconic, but the interior design works much better for us. And in April of this year my girlfriend took six months leave from her yoga studio and we hit the road again.

I was about to start editing my third novel and if I’m honest, I was anxious about how that would impact our trip. Sometimes it feels like one deadline after another with edits and that brings pressure; sometimes stress.

Would my sunrise writing routine from the previous summer work for the editing process?

The answer is… mostly. We’ve been on the road for five months and I’ve just handed in my final edits so all in all, it worked. But there were challenges.

When heatwaves struck Albania I switched my timings around. We’d get up early to explore and in the afternoons I’d find somewhere shady to write. I got the writing done  - but didn’t enjoy that routine at all. It meant I had work looming all day, and often by the time we’d finished our hike or bike ride I’d be hot and exhausted.

We also got creative when my big deadline was imminent. After three months in the van, we rented an apartment in Athens for a week. That meant I could work all hours, with air-conditioning, while Mari explored the city on her own. It worked perfectly and we’ve just done the same again for another deadline. This time we rented a tiny village house on the Greek island of Naxos for four days and I hit deadline happy.  

So it’s all out worked out in the end, right? Yes, but there are buts.

The biggest challenge for me has not been the work itself, or the heatwaves or using a van as an office. It’s been coping with the guilt of working every day during our big adventure. Mari is remarkably patient and hasn’t complained at all. She understands.

But when my writing session run on for longer than expected or I choose to stay at the van instead of exploring a new place together, guilt creeps into the van and sits with me.

Content continues after advertisements

Despite that I can say without any doubt that I’ve enjoyed writing this way more than I have done for a long time. Why? Probably because I’m not at my desk all day.

I’m definitely more focussed. People often ask if I’m distracted by the beauty of the places we park up. Not at all. It’s inspiring to open the door as I write and know that within a few hours I’ll be out there exploring it. Shorter working days also means I have more time between writing sessions so I start each day with a clearer mind – and no back pain! In addition, I don’t need to programme exercise into my day because I know I’ll be active from the moment I close my laptop.

With van life I’ve explored and discovered some amazing places in Europe. But it’s also shown me I can do the same amount of work in far less time – while enjoying it more.

For me, that’s the greatest discovery of all.


For more writing inspiration, subscribe to our bestselling monthly magazine and receive your first 3 issues for just £3. Claim this offer here