Amelia Earhart once said, “There is more to life than being a passenger.” For Emily Chaplin, a truer word has never been spoken.
A celebrity hairstylist based in London throughout the summer months, and a campervan crusader in the winter months. She traded the normal bricks-and-mortar life for the thrill of the open road in 2022 and has spent her winters driving headfirst into liberation and lunacy across the Sahara Desert and deep into Africa in her Little Blue Van.
“Take risks, leap into the unknown, book that adventure even if your GPS hesitates, and share your smile wherever you go. Because you have no idea what is waiting for you on your life path,” says Emily, with her deep golden tan, long flowing blonde hair and with a smile that could light up the darkest nights in the desert.
Whilst so many of us often idly sit by doing nothing, simply lamenting another mundane Monday morning, looking out the window, watching the rain fall like tears from heaven, Emily is adventuring into the wild world that surrounds us.
A fearless soul, with wanderlust seeping through her veins, she is the definition of an intrepid explorer, taking on every challenge that comes her way. Emily has taken the ifs, buts and maybes that often haunt us, and instead decided to grab life by the balls.
“The nomadic way of life I chose to live is such a contrast to my glamorous work life which funds my travels for half the year. My job has seen me fly around the world working on everything from runway shows to television and red-carpet events.
“A working day in London might see me have my hands in a supermodel’s hair, but then the next day I’ll be back in the van emptying my Portaloo… or it might be the other way round but that sounds a bit gross.”
As I’m speaking with Emily, she is at a tea stop in Guelmim, Morocco, contemplating crossing the Senegalese border, one of the world’s most notoriously corrupt borders. It is not a challenge that phases her in any way. In fact, it is a prospect that excites her.
“You can do absolutely anything when you go in with an open heart and mind,” she explains. Her enthusiasm and lust for life are palpable, and you can only admire her character and strength of determination to squeeze every last drop out of life.
She has seen her clutch perish in the middle of the Pyrenees’ mountain range, woken up in the wild landscapes of Africa, found friendships that will last a lifetime, and had a dalliance with a mechanic hotter than the sun. “Living in a van means waking up to a different outside world every morning,” and with that, brings a new and exciting experience every day. To sit down with Emily as she told us all about life on the road in her Little Blue Van was a reminder that we should all adventure often.
adventure beyond life’s conventional path.
I spent a big part of my existence engulfed in the chaos of Central London, burning through every hard-earned quid on wanderlust not to mention the saga of finding a sublet search to cover my costly London living situation whenever I wanted to go away.
When I heard about this thing called ‘van life’, I realised it could be my solution to sustaining a travelling lifestyle and seeking an adventure beyond life’s conventional path.
Because my work is freelance, it also means that I can use my van to travel around on the job. I now have the benefits of parking up in exclusive shoot locations and trespassing into luxurious wedding venues alike. I can use ‘work’ as an excuse to mark my territory, and no venue is going to kick a supplier out!
I will use random people’s addresses for my deliveries and strategically park outside the unaware victim’s house.
Making compromises is part of van life, and sometimes you have to get creative. With a continuous stint of work in London, my van has become a semi-permanent fixture, and people can’t help but wonder about my bathroom situation.
I’ve got a toilet onboard, but the whole sewage system luxury has been replaced with a bit of creative labour. I bought a carry cot for my Portaloo and I take it into the McDonald’s toilets pretending it’s a baby. If it leaves a bad aroma in the McDonald’s lavatories, I just exclaim that it was a ‘bad nappy!’ on the way out, and make a swift exit. The carrycot seller from Gumtree was so disheartened when on collection I told her that her baby’s beloved cot was being handed down to my toilet.
I was also fed up with not having a way to receive mail whilst living in my van, so I decided to nail a post box to a tree, complete with the appropriate postcode and road details. I sent a letter to myself to see whether it would work, and the letter arrived!
As for hungover takeaways, I will use random people’s addresses for my deliveries and strategically park outside the unaware victim’s house. Despite putting ‘Blue Van Outside’ in the notes, you have to keep an eye out. This one time in Kensington I had to ring on a lady’s doorbell to collect my food, and awkwardly explain why I had a burger delivered to her house.
the border is supposed to be one of the hardest and most corrupt .
I am currently sitting at a tea stop in Guelmim, Morocco, contemplating my next move to conquer the challenging Senegalese border.
However, the border is supposed to be one of the hardest and most corrupt borders in the world to cross. It involves a lot of bribing, and right-hand drive vehicles are not favoured.
I might be on the wrong side of my vehicle, but I’m certainly in the driver’s seat of my journey and I’m ready to take on the challenge.
I’m keeping an open mind on what could happen, because the en-voyage isn’t always a smooth ride on the highway, and van life isn’t always full of fires and Kumbaya’s as it may seem on Instagram pages. It’s extremely unpredictable.
I’m currently in the process of writing a book which will contain all my funny and very personal stories from my life on the road. Some of the stories I haven’t told anybody yet, so it’s going to be pretty dramatic and a real documentary on life’s rockiest roads as a solo female traveller.
a gorgeous, dark señor, hotter than the Saharan sun.
At the very beginning of my recent trip, I was nothing but a driving disaster. After missing 3 ferry crossings, I finally arrived in France and my clutch perished in the middle of the Pyrenees’ mountain range. I detoured away from the tourist areas and found a rural Catalonia garage in the hope that it would be kinder to my bank balance. A new turbo, clutch and £3000 later, my savings sufficed and suddenly felt like Monopoly money.
However, I felt like I had landed on Park Lane when I saw my mechanic – a gorgeous, dark señor, hotter than the Saharan sun, who I ended up temporarily moving in with whilst my van got fixed. Now I can honestly say that this has been the only time I have taken my van to a garage and enjoyed having my pants pulled down!
I always have a tendency to leave garages with more than what I paid for. In Morocco last year I lost my wing mirror whilst driving through a souk, so I went on a quest to find a local garage to fix it. I was greeted with the ultimate first-class Moroccan customer service as 5 keen and curious mechanics(?) gathered around the van. For the bargain price of 1 Euro, I became the proud owner of a bathroom mirror gaffer-taped to the side of my van. Sure, it didn’t show the whole road, but it screamed authenticity and came with a touch of Moroccan flair.
nothing beats waking up in the wild landscapes of Africa.
Travelling the world in my van has brought me so much joy and I’m so pleased that I traded four walls in the concrete jungle for endless horizons. It’s like living in a fairytale movie when you’re nestled in the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains, with the Moroccan candles casting a warm glow against the wood as the hearty aromas of a curry on the kitchen hob fill the van.
Living in a van means waking up to a different outside world every morning. From meteor showers in the desert to impromptu festivals in the woodlands, my van has also hosted more parties than a frat house. Yet after the overpopulated house parties, you’ll find me serenading seagulls with mantras in the van on the beach – it’s all about finding your equilibrium, right?
My favourite feature about my van is the blacked-out windows which give a panoramic view, meaning that I can lay there on my bed staring at the passers-by and no none knows I’m in there. It’s like a TV screen with the majority of the time streaming live from nature, and nothing beats waking up in the wild landscapes of Africa.
However, one New Year’s Eve in London it took an unexpected turn, as there was a queue of people waiting to use her tall structure as their sheltered Portaloo. My TV screen went from being PG-friendly to watching each man whip their wotsit out in front of me at my bedroom window, and it wasn’t quite the firework display that I was expecting to see.
The best adventures come when you let go of the steering wheel and embrace the chaos of the road
Of all the places been so far, Morocco stole my heart. The people were always looking out for me, consistently giving for nothing, and I received the warmest of hospitality being welcomed into people’s homes and integrated into their lives. This is a true representation of Morocco.
People walk around with their eyes looking up instead of to the floor and with an abundance of curiosity and awareness. Forget the cautionary tales; this country showed me the beauty of simple living and how personal space is overrated. Strangers became family, and I learned that sometimes, the best adventures come when you let go of the steering wheel and embrace the chaos of the road.
You can do absolutely anything when you go in with an open heart and mind
When I first set off from the UK, I was nervous about putting the wrong petrol in my van in a foreign country. I even went on Tinder to get a guy to come and help me put air in my tyres. But fast forward 7 months, 10,000 miles, and an abundance of memories, challenges, acceptances, and transformative experiences later: I’m feeling like a strong, independent and resilient version of myself. I’m still in one piece; the van has a few pieces missing. But when people ask why the van looks rusty, and I look dusty, it’s because we have driven across the Sahara Desert and we have so many stories to tell.
You can do absolutely anything when you go in with an open heart and mind, and you’ll learn lasting skills whilst navigating some of life’s rockiest roads – both metaphorical and pothole-ridden. So, my unsolicited advice to everyone would be: take risks, leap into the unknown, book that adventure even if your GPS hesitates, and share your smile wherever you go. Because you have no idea what is waiting for you on your life path.
With all our thanks to the quite brilliant Emily Chaplin.
You can follow Emily on social media to keep up to date with her adventures