A family of four uses a converted fire truck as a mobile home for their European travels.
Jess Branton and Dave Smith traveled to five countries in 2020 with daughters Poppy and Luna.
The former fire service truck has a double bed, gas oven, and solar panels on the roof.
Jess Branton and Dave Smith are a British couple based in England who converted an old fire truck into a red house on wheels.
Branton, 30, and Smith, 39, who post on Instagram as @firetruck.family, said they bought the truck on eBay for £3,000, or around $4,070, in 2016.
Branton told Insider the truck previously belonged to the fire service, which intrigued them “because it had a bit of history about it.”
She said they spent two years converting the truck into a home they could also use for travel.
“In that time, we sold our house and we just had another baby, so, it was chaos,” said the mom of two daughters, Poppy, 10, and Luna, 5. “We only really had weekends and evenings to get it done so that’s why it took us two years.”
The couple had their first taste of van life years earlier when they placed a mattress in a small van they once owned and used it to travel to France.
“Dave got his van and put our mattress and a little gas stove in the back and we just drove to Saint Tropez,” Branton said, adding that if they had a “better setup” they would have continued their travels.
The couple said their eldest child Poppy was 3 years old at the time, so they decided to build a mobile home that enabled them to travel as a family.
Branton said: “That trip sparked the idea, we were thinking we’ll just look for something bigger and then hopefully can go further in it.”
The fire truck renovation was completed in 2018 and the couple said they spent a further £7,000, or around $9,500, on converting the 23-foot-long, 5.5-ton “big red beast.”
Many of the fire truck’s original features such as its emergency light and distinct yellow and black stickers have been removed, they said. However, the couple kept the fire truck’s signature red color when they were carrying out modifications.
“We did pretty much everything ourselves. We reclaimed loads of stuff but things like the gas stove and the fridge had to be installed by a professional to get a safety certificate,” Branton said.
Inside the fire truck, the couple have two sleeping areas as well as a table that can be hidden away. There’s also a gas oven, stovetop, fridge, and a freezer.
Branton said she and Smith share a double bed while their daughters share a bunk. Another spare bed can be created when the family’s dinner table is hidden away under the double bed.
Branton added that the fire truck holds a bookshelf and there’s space for extra storage when the sofa seats are lifted up. There’s also a shower and toilet as well as a log burner for warmth.
The family’s vehicle is powered by solar energy, generated by two panels on the roof.
“We’ve got two big solar panels, which are enough,” said Branton. “We’ve never really run out of power, even in the winter times, there’s enough to run it.”
For their hot water needs, the family said they fill up in local areas and use a gas cylinder on the base of their fire truck, or the small boiler they have on board.
The family mostly travels through Europe in their fire truck, and they visited five different countries in 2020 and traveled through the UK in 2021.
“We drove from Dover to Calais. Then, as we drove through France, we stopped at loads of different locations,” Branton told Insider of their 2020 travels.
“We drove through Austria, Germany, and Italy, and then back through France again. We also spent some time in Scotland,” she added.
The freedom to move around and wake up in an entirely new place is what draws them to van life. “It’s our adventure truck, really,” said Branton.
According to posts on their Instagram account, the family embarked on local travels in 2021, taking trips to locations in nearby Snowdonia, Wales, and Galloway Forest Park, Scotland.
While the family no longer lives in the fire truck and only uses it to travel, they have a number of storage solutions on board.
“We’ve got a little wardrobe and we’ve got quite a lot of storage in there. Underneath the chairs, I’ve got plenty of storage, and then we’ve got little cupboards here and there,” Branton said.
She added that when they originally sold their house to live in the fire truck full-time in 2018, they downsized their possessions. “We had hardly anything. We just had a few clothes,” she told Insider.
Branton also said that they didn’t feel the lack of space as they were often outdoors: “With being in a van, the main thing is being outside. We would just try and spend as much time outside as possible.”
While many van-life couples travel together in a tiny home, it’s less common to have a whole family on board. Branton said their daughters Poppy and Luna “absolutely love it.”
“Even if we’ve been somewhere for a couple of days, they’re eager to move on and see something new. They just love travel and adventure,” she said. The children attend school in person but have experienced some homeschooling during periods of travel.
Branton added that Poppy and Luna are quickly outgrowing their bunk bed but are able to sleep on the sofa when it’s converted into a bed. She hopes they will continue to travel as a family for “as long as we can. Well, until they get sick of going away with us.”
Branton said that the UK has a growing van-life community because house prices are rising and remote working has become more popular.
“I think a lot of people are deciding to live in vans now because of the way things are going for people, rent and mortgages are just ridiculously expensive, and it’s just a bit more of an easier life,” she said.
In December, The Guardian reported that the average UK house price had risen at the fastest pace in 15 years with property values increasing by £20,000, or around $27,170, compared to values in 2020.
Branton added that people are also now working from home more often or considering alternative ways of making money: “There are a few people who I follow on Instagram who do stuff like weaving and carving which they sell on Etsy. It’s really amazing.”
The family have warm memories of their time on the road and want to empower others to try alternative living.
Branton advises making use of Facebook groups to connect with the van life community.
“There’s a page called Self Build Campervans, and anything you need to know is on it,” she suggested for anyone feeling intimidated by the research process.
She added that people should do their research and then be brave: “If we could do it then anybody can do it because we’ve never done anything like this before.”
Read the original article on Insider