We’ve never been into resort or club holidays at the beach for two weeks. So we travelled a lot by car, did road trips and explored the countries on the road and while hiking. Finally there was a longer trip to Canada and New Zealand in 2018 where we travelled in converted vans – we instantly fell in love with having breakfast in the forest, brushing teeth while watching the ocean from the cliff we’ve slept at and just being much more flexible.
Being so close to nature and often hours from the next village was very relaxing. We did not need to wake up early to catch a ride or drive to some remote place to hike – we simply drove there, stayed for the night and went on in the morning. We could focus on things we wanted to discover and needed no time for research about sleeping places or restaurants.
Fred is a T5 transporter from 2009. Previously it was an electrician’s car which we converted from scratch. First we covered the walls with insulation and went on with the floor. We removed the old flooring, sanded the wooden plate which was under the vinyl and painted it with ornaments. It is covered with waterproof paint, so it is very easy to clean.
We sleep in the pop top whenever possible, if it’s stormy and rainy or if we don’t want to be seen at first sight, we sleep downstairs on the bench which can be converted to a bed.
All the furniture we built was previously made of cardboard to prevent the loss of wood and being sure that all the elements matched to the curved walls. Like that we saved a lot of money by buying the exact amount of ply wood we needed. We painted it all in a smokey green color which should adapt a bit to nature – we wanted to add some color, but not too bright ones. Our handles refer to the forest – they look like leaves growing out of our cupboards and drawers. The inside of the cupboards and drawers are painted in stripes with the left over colors that we used for the floor.
Most of the things we built have more than one purpose – there is not a lot of space in a van and we wanted to use every little corner with intelligent construction to optimize space and storage. We have a water system, a gas cooker, a fridge and lights installed and linked to a second battery. Since last month we have a third battery as well which is portable and works with a solar panel to provide electricity for our laptops and camera gear. Like this we are even more independent.
How long have you been traveling and living this way?
We are traveling part-time and still have our 400 year old flat in the middle of the old town – living in both worlds is perfect for us. We are living like this since Spring.
What made you decide that vanlife is right for you?
We both are working a lot and wanted to have the possibility to break out of this. Since we have the opportunity to drive to the mountains whenever we feel like on the weekends, we are much more connected to nature what calms us down in busy times.
What was your life like before vanlife?
It was similar when it comes to traveling, most of the times we travelled by car but needed to search for motels or B&B’s for the night. We definitely spent more money back then because we could not cook our own food and needed to pay for every stay. Now we are traveling a lot more because we can also stay local – for example a weekend in the mountains would not be affordable for us if we needed to pay for hotels and restaurants every time we are up there. It feels much more like home with Fred than renting a car and sleeping in a different room every night.
What does your typical day look like, from when you wake up to when you go to bed?
Happy to say that there are not a lot of typical days or routines so far. We adapt to the location and what plans we made for the day. But the day often starts by making the bed, stowing away our things and cooking tea and coffee, sitting outside for a while and watching nature to wake up.
What has been your most memorable vanlife experience so far?
Waking up at the Splügenpass surrounded by horses and the most amazing views over mountains and lakes was pretty amazing. And I need to mention Langre – the most beautiful sunrise after a horribly stormy night at the coastline of northern Spain.
Where do you travel to in your van? Any places or destinations you would recommend?
We’ve been to the north coast of Spain and France with Fred, last year before the conversion started. Waking up to the wild cliffs and shores was an amazing experience.
The Swiss mountains are a destination we are hitting quite often, it‘s only around one to three hours driving (depending on which region) and as diverse as New Zealand or Canada. Canada and New Zealand our both on our list to travel a second time by van, it was a life changing experience for us and I miss both.
How do you meet new people while on the road?
It’s something that somehow happens naturally. We met some beautiful souls just parking next to each other. I guess there is this simple connection to nature and a self built home, to a self-sufficient life, that is already a good base for friendships.
How much money do you save by living in a van?
A lot! Traveling in a van is way cheaper and flexible than being dependent on flights, hotels, car rentals, etc. We are still working while not traveling what gives us more freedom in times we are on the road exploring and wandering around. We both like our jobs a lot and this is a perfect match for us.
What is your biggest vanlife fail so far?
Once we forgot to fix the fresh water tank – we found out in a sharp left turn when the tank fell out of the kitchen and Fred was a little swimming pool – luckily it was fresh water.
Any amusing (or annoying) pre-conceptions people have about your lifestyle choice?
Some people are really concerned about us not having a fixed toilet or shower in the van.
Foodie? Fave vanlife recipe?
Fajitas and every possible one pot veggies and pastas (and snacks – essential while on longer drives).
What are you listening to lately?
Our playlist contains a lot of Canadian bands, some garage bands from Teenie Times and never getting odd Oldies like Tracy Chapman.
What’s your next adventure?
The next trip just started, we are currently staying in Switzerland, maybe driving to northern Germany or southern Italy next week if possible with the current situation and restrictions.
We are planning to travel Scandinavia next year. It was the actual plan for this summer, but due to Covid it was not possible. Both of us love the North and this was a goal set right at the beginning of our van conversion.
Any advice for others considering traveling the world in a van?
It’s an adventure that costs a lot of energy in the beginning, but to do all the conversion the way you want and need it and doing it all by yourself is so worth it. The feeling of having built a home is one of the best feelings I‘ve ever had. Traveling in a van gives us much freedom, and you are able to experience places in a completely different way than if you are just strolling by – but really living for some days on cliffs or mountains, where there are no hostels is the coolest.
What inspires you?
Everyone taking risks to live a life not pre-determined by social systems just to fit in.
Inspired? Follow Stefanie’s travels on Instagram @avancalledfred