- Laura Woodley, 35, has always liked the idea of living unconventionally. Then she moved to a boat.
- She decided to start documenting her experience on social media to connect with like-minded people.
- She likes this lifestyle, but warns that it is more difficult and expensive than it seems.
This recounted essay is based on a conversation with Laura Woodley, 35, a TikTok creator who lives on a narrowboat. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I have always been an unconventional person. The standard, standardized standard of living never appealed to me.
So, when I could no longer live alone in London due to rising rents, I decided to start looking for alternatives. Many people in London live on canals around London in “narrow boats”, which are six feet wide.
Whenever I walked along the path next to the canal, I always looked out at the narrowboat community. I saw people sitting together on boats and I knew I wanted to be part of that.
I spent a lot of time online researching what it was like to live on a boat and watching videos of other people doing it. The more I found out about it, the more it attracted me. So I decided to take out a loan and buy a narrowboat to try it out myself.
Making the move during the COVID-19 lockdown was stressful. I was away from my friends and family and had to learn to do a lot of things on my own, but the experience helped me become more confident and self-reliant.
I started posting about my life on a narrowboat on Instagram and TikTok to connect with like-minded people. I love living on a boat, but I want to make it clear that the lifestyle is not for everyone.
My first few months on the boat were a struggle
I had a fantastic experience living with housemates, but by the time I reached 31 I was getting to the point where I wanted to live alone. Living on a boat seemed like the obvious next step.
At first it was difficult. I have a phobia of fire, so using the gas stove was a struggle. I’m also really scared of machines, which seems silly because I live in a machine.
After a week of living on the boat, the UK went into lockdown. I bought it in Northampton, which is about 60 miles from London, and was hoping to be able to take it back to the city, but I couldn’t get there in time. I was away from my family, friends and community and no one was allowed to come see me because of travel restrictions.
It was very stressful at the time. But looking back, I think it was a good experience. Knowing that I took care of things on my own helped boost my confidence.
I started making videos about boat life to connect with others in similar situations
My day job is on social media, so right after I bought the boat it made sense to start posting videos on Instagram. I liked the sense of community that came from connecting with people online who did similar things.
After about a year of making videos on Instagram, I started making TikToks too, showing people what the inside of my boat looks like, answering questions about my work and explaining how I do basic everyday tasks, like doing laundry (at home). from friends, generally).
I didn’t expect my videos to be so popular, but some of them have gone viral. From reading the reviews, I learned that there are a lot of misconceptions: some people think it’s too cheap, while others think it’s too expensive, and many people assume that living on a boat means I don’t work.
Many people think that living on a boat means always staying in the same place. But I don’t have a permanent mooring, which means I have to move the boat frequently, staying in different parts of the canals depending on the week.
Living on a boat is not as easy or as cheap as many people think
People were particularly interested in my video explaining how much I pay to live on a narrowboat, which received over 1.3 million views.
A lot of people think I’m living on a boat to save money, but I actually spend more than I did when I was renting, even though I now live alone instead of with roommates.
Living on a narrowboat is not as simple as having a set of fixed monthly expenses as if you lived in a house. I took out a loan to buy the boat and the payments are about £650, or $810, per month, but I hope to have paid it off by early 2025.
The other main expense is the license required in the UK to keep the boat on canals and rivers. This costs around £60, or $75, per month. I don’t have access to utilities, but other bills like laundry (when I don’t have access to friends’ houses), coal and firewood for heating, and the cost of pumping out toilet waste come to about £190 a month, or $ 235.
Maintenance costs around £175, or $215, per month. However, this can vary and I keep savings in case something goes wrong. A few winters ago, half my chimney fell down and my heating broke and I had to pay £700, or $860, to get it fixed.
When little things go wrong, I often have to fix it myself because there is no one else to help me, which is difficult because I’m not the best at DIY. I can’t just call the owner.
I’m now a pretty competent boat driver, but I still get a little nervous because every time I have to move the boat, I’m moving my entire house. I don’t want anything to go wrong.
Other things also involve a lot of unexpected time and effort. Sometimes I have to walk three kilometers just to dispose of the trash. There were times when I ran out of gas and had to fill the tank. This doesn’t happen very often, but you need to be prepared. Many boaters will tell a story about a time when they had a bad day and tried to make a cup of tea but discovered there was no gas.
Sometimes the toilet breaks down or the heating system breaks down. Keeping track of everything can be like having a part-time job in addition to my full-time job. Before living on the boat I rented a house, so I’m not used to having that responsibility on my shoulders.
Occasionally I wanted to give up this lifestyle, but the boating community makes it all worth it
I had a difficult time on the boat. I’ve even had fleeting thoughts of wanting to give up completely because it’s too much work. But the community keeps me going. I’ve found that other people who own boats and live around me are very supportive, helpful, and friendly, and it’s incredibly diverse. We all look out for each other, help each other, and spend time with each other.
When you live in a house you can just stay in your little bubble, but on a boat you need to be kind because you will probably need help at some point too.
However, it’s important to approach this with realistic expectations. I wouldn’t tell people to just move on because it’s a hard life. From the outside it may seem very peaceful and idyllic, but this is not always the case. There can be a lot of stress.
Part of the reason I wanted to live on a boat was to make me braver, and it worked. I had some struggles, but I think they all had positive results. I’m a much braver person than I was before I bought the boat.