The vanlife dream.
It has long been a dream of ours to adopt a nomadic lifestyle and live in a home on wheels. After passively following the vanlife movement online for years, we finally did it! We quit our jobs, sold our possessions and booked a one-way ticket to Berlin to start our 6 month journey through Europe by van.
The risky business of buying a van from overseas.
The most nerve-wracking part of the whole experience, was not knowing what was in store for us. Not only in the sense of what adventures we would go on and what journey we would take....but the fact that we bought a van in the Netherlands while we were still living in Australia. Sending all of your savings to a middleman to buy a vehicle that you have not seen in person is a risky business. So it was with butterflies in our stomachs and awkward grins, that we made our way to the storage yard in Utrecht and first laid our eyes on our "Aramoana".
The gamble pays off.
Fast forward to the happy ending. We couldn't have been more pleased with our purchase. "Aramoana" was everything we were looking for in a rolling home. But that shouldn't come as any surprise to us. After all, we scoured ads online in the Netherlands and Germany looking specifically for her. We'd done all of our research and narrowed it down to exactly what we wanted...
Choosing the right van for the job.
The van you choose is not just any other vehicle, it's your home. Not only will it transport you to sweet spots all around Europe, but at the end of the day it's where you will eat, sleep and hang out. Like most things in life, the key to finding the right van for you is figuring out what is most important. This calls for research. After hours and hours poring over blogs, forums, pictures and videos we identified a few key features that we wanted in our van. Lucky we were able to tick all of the boxes!
Features we love (and searched for) in our van...
1.) Internal kitchen
As someone who loves to cook it was a must that I have a fully operational kitchen inside the van with running water and a gas stove. With plans to travel for such a long period of time, the easiest way to meet our budget is by preparing our own meals. As a vegetarian who is very mindful of what I eat, a kitchen was my number one priority. It also has really helped transform our van from a vehicle into our home. It is so comforting to be able to cook a warm meal after we have had a long, tiring day. Having camped a lot over the years, we decided that using portable gas burners would not be sufficient. An internal purpose built kitchen also means that we are able to wild camp very easily. We have found that most countries who have a "no camping" policy, generally turn a blind eye to wild-camping if you are self contained and not disruptive. Our beloved camper comes with a fridge, an adjustable tap and sink and two gas burners.
2.) High-top roof
We really debated over this one for a long time. While we initially had concerns that a high-top roof would limit our parking options, it has never been an issue. Only once have we had to do a u-turn as we did not meet the height restrictions of a small bridge. There are always plenty of signs to to advise you of any upcoming limitations and I really could not be happier with our choice. It makes all the difference in the world to be able to stand up while I cook. The permanently high roof also provides the perfect home to line up all of our jars, cans and kitchen utensils. The extra room and freedom of movement is an easy trade-off for having one less bed. We figure a pop-top roof is also a dead giveaway if you are trying to be stealth for wild-camping. Our van is 2.3 metres tall and we are both average height, so it's perfect
3.) Compact size
Getting rid of our possessions and deciding to live minimally, it was an easy choice to buy a smaller vehicle. We have navigated some very tight roads (especially in the old towns of Sarajevo and Mostar), which we could not have done in a larger camper. With our bikes on the back we are a total of 6m in length. We figure the more room you have, the more you are inclined to fill it up with things. Having a smaller fridge and pantry encourages us to buy fresh only what we need. This makes us more thoughtful about our purchases and easier to focus on generating less wastage. I can say without a doubt that we do not want for more space. It is absolutely perfect for the two of us. We are the right fit and everything has it's own allocated space. We did take a while getting there, figuring out how all of the jars, bags and containers would fit in but we have utilised the space as much as we can. I enjoy a spring clean and a rearrange every couple of weeks so we make continuous improvements all the time. Although we don't have the convenience of a toilet, we make do and don't have to worry about dealing with the waste it generates. We also realised that by pulling our kitchen tap through the window and adjusting the nozzle to spray, we are able to enjoy our own outdoor shower. It has an extendable hose and the water pump is powered by the second battery. While we tried a few different ways to rig it up, we find it easiest to just get assistance from your other half. Vanlife is not without its challenges but you just have to go with it and step outside your comfort zone.
4.) Swivelling captain-seats
Spending all of our time together without the distraction of jobs, it is so important that we each have our own separate space in the van. Swivelling the front seats to face the rear opens up the van and gives us much more space. This way we can not only seat two extra guests at our dinner table but we each have our own allocated half of the van to work in.
5.) Purpose-built camper
Go the Westfalia route for quality. In the end the VW Westfalia T4 California met all of our needs. It was really important for us to have a purpose-built van. While it has a lot of kilometres (308,000) under it's belt, you can not fault the superior design. Pre-dating the "bigger is better" mentality, they really don't make them like this anymore. The storage space has been so well thought out and utilised. The engine is diesel which makes it cheaper to run and while it may not be extremely oil efficient it was built to last. We were advised that the optimum speed for driving is 80kms which is perfect for us as we like to take the scenic route and generally avoid the autobahn.
Meet our beloved "Aramoana; pathway to the ocean". She has taken us there and beyond...
Was it an easy process for you to find your own dream van? We'd love to hear your experiences purchasing in other countries in Europe!