17 Countries in 7 Months: Mike + Sophie’s Minivan Adventure
Mike and Sophie had always been fascinated by nomadic living, by minimalism, and by those people daring enough to craft their own path in life. After researching bike tours, backpacking, and tiny living… they realized that “vanlife” was the way forward for them. They had previously roadtripped from Boston to Las Vegas over the course of a couple of weeks and had fallen in love with the feeling of being able to go anywhere, anytime, and the rush of the open road.
They had been wanting to explore various countries in Europe, so they got the idea for an epic van adventure. After some shorter trips around the UK at the end of 2014, they ferried their converted Hyundai minivan to France and began a 7-month journey.
I recently got in touch with them to find out more. Here's their story (along with a few of their photos):
Where were a few of your favorite places and why?
One of our fondest memories of vanlife, as of yet, would have to be the time we drove an old road, Route 307, in Morocco. Route 307 connects the furthest reaches of the Sahara to the lush, fertile valleys that surround Cascades D'Ouzoud, Morocco's most famous waterfall, found on gaudy postcards up and down the country. The road was supposed to be this high-mountain shortcut, but in actuality, it turned out to be a crumbling dirt track that had, over the course of a couple hard winters, begun to crumble away at the edges; the road was slowly being consumed by the Atlas Mountains. In truth, the road wasn't a place our van should have ever driven, it was a little dicey - but the thin, biting air, the jagged horizon views, the mud-built villages, sleeping up in the mountains under the most incredibly starry skies... it was overwhelmingly beautiful, an unforgettable journey.
The Greek Islands were a calmer sort of beautiful; winding roads snaking along the coast; the sea a sheet of crinkled silver, roads lined with gnarled olive trees and abundant lemon groves. The island’s rolling hills and mountains were a springtime patchwork of deep green, dotted with tiny stone houses wrapped in the shade of overgrown wisteria trellises.
Was it a challenge to find places to park each night?
We never camp a night anywhere without the both of us feeling 100% good to go about the spot we're at. Normally we will ensure that the spot is quiet, with few people around, and that we don't look particularly conspicuous.
Most nights, we've had no problem finding a secluded little spot in which to spend the night, though in the cities, finding spots where you won't be overlooked is a little more challenging. We've spent a couple of nights out of our seven months driving around city streets, later than we'd like, on the hunt for somewhere to park up and sleep.
What was the hardest part of this whole thing?
We've backed into a muddy ditch on the Isle of Skye - it was the middle of the night, and there was nobody around. It was also the middle of December, and a storm was raging outside. Mike spent hours in the freezing cold rain and wind, trying to dig the car out of the mud. We were eventually rescued by an old man, who would only speak Gaelic to us, and didn't seem particularly pleased to be helping us at all.
The second time, we found ourselves sinking into a muddy field next to a lake in rural Bulgaria... after we managed to get out ok, with the help from a local driving by, we got the most spectacular double rainbow over the lake.
What was the most rewarding part?
One of the most rewarding parts of living in a van is the views you can find yourself waking up to. Particularly in low tourist season, you can park up for the night perched on the top of mountains, or on white-sand beaches, shared with nobody, in forested national parks, right next to bustling tourist attractions. These are views you would be paying hundreds of euros for, if you were to stay at a hotel.
Also, the sense that we had driven our home from the very north of Scotland to a tiny village named Sidi Ifni in southern Morocco, to the beautiful Greek Islands, to the Atlantic Road, in Norway, where in the summer it doesn't quite get dark during the night, such is your proximity to the arctic circle - that's a real sense of achievement.
If you were to convert your van again, what would you change?
If we were to convert our van again, we'd probably add more storage - there's never quite enough, no matter how prepared you think you are!! If budget was no issue, we'd also add a pop-top! Not being able to stand up has, at some points on our journey, been a little frustrating. There's always the next van, however... =)
If I may ask, how was your trip financed?
For the same cost of what rent would have been, we were able to travel all of Europe. We used some savings and are also licensing photography, music, and doing travel writing - it's a work in progress. There have also been a number of contributions to our adventure via our website, which has been incredible.
Can you give us a few details on showers, bathrooms, laundry, and the like?
We've found a number of ways to keep clean on the road. We've made do with a natural dry shampoo, which is a super, grapefruit-scented way of keeping your hair clean without any of the usual slightly suspect chemicals you'd expect to find in a dry shampoo. We've also made use of baby wipes, and solid perfumes, mostly the Pacifica brand, the jasmine and coconut scents. These perfumes come in tiny tins but last an extremely long time, and smell absolutely wonderful.
We tended to do laundry every 3-4 weeks depending on where we were headed next. For bathrooms we used the bathrooms along our journey when we could, while grocery shopping or getting diesel etc. For pee we had a pee bottle we would use, and for number two, we made a portable toilet seat similar to the Boginabag stool, which we would rarely use.
When we really felt like we needed to shower, we tended to see if we had any friends locally that would offer up their shower to us. If not, we've visited a number of Airbnb's, which proved an inexpensive way to spend a night in interesting locations. We've stayed in wonderful little cottages, and seaside villas, for low prices, this way - and each time had an interesting insight into the culture of the local area, courtesy of our host.
If you're static in a van, staying in one particular location for a long time, it's always possible to sign up to a local gym and use their facilities, or a YMCA, or equivalent, depending on what country you are in. We have also made use of natural water sources, including the mist of waterfalls in Norway, and hot springs on the island of Euboea, Greece!!
What do you see as the future of the vandwelling movement?
We imagine more and more people are going to start choosing to live this way. Vanlife is an economically viable method of living adventurously.
A lesson that we're beginning to learn, is that there is a real possibility, now more than ever, for each of us to craft our own path in life, if we choose to do so. We are living in an age in which the internet allows us to plug in and connect with anybody, anywhere. We are also networking like never before, and this never-ending fountain of communication offers up immense knowledge, on any topic.
People are also connecting the dots, and realizing that the established paths in life are, for many people, problematic. It's no surprise that the vanlife and tiny house movements are flourishing - people are looking for alternatives, alternatives where they aren't laden down with debt, caught static in an unsustainable, unenjoyable life. For some people, vandwelling might just provide some sort of solution.
Mike + Sophie are full time travelers that have been living out of their self-converted campervan, exploring Europe. Sophie is a musician, photographer, and travel writer, and Mike is a photographer and filmmaker.
Well I hope Mike and Sophie's adventure inspired you a little and served as a reminder that a home should match our current path in life, rather than being something that dictates what the path will be. I would also like to say that reading stories about people like this can be disruptive to your status quo, as the possibilities tend to rub off on you! You've been warned…
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