How We Decided to Road Trip Across Europe in a Self-Built Tiny-Home

By Emma Davies on August 30th, 2016
BootsnAll

In three months I’ll have packed up my life, quit my job, said goodbye to my family and friends, and set off around Europe in a self-built campervan.

For over a year, Andy, my boyfriend, has been, with a little help from me, converting a white panel van into a motorhome that will take us, an amateur photographer and wannabe travel writer, on a life-changing road trip.

You may wonder what would make a couple in their late 20’s want to go against the norm by changing their whole lives to travel the continent in a van?

Well, as a pair who met while working as holiday reps having the time of our lives in Majorca, we knew that settling down in one place and working the “nine to five life” would not be a walk in the park. But we had no idea it’d make us unhappy enough to make such a drastic decision.


What Prompted Our Decision to Pack Up & Go?


Pack up & travel

About a year and a half ago after yet another miserable day at work, returning home to an expensive, damp, and dull shared house, we started to dream up an escape from our expensive, and stressful day-to-day routines.

Living in York wasn’t easy. The rent was very expensive, a night out cost at least one day’s wage, and we’d both settled into very mediocre jobs due to the poor economy, which seemed to have been in a recession since before I finished university over five years ago.

“Each morning felt like Groundhog Day, and each day we seemed to grow more frustrated and angry…”
Each morning felt like Groundhog Day, and each day we seemed to grow more frustrated and angry, which didn’t do wonders for our relationship. We both have degrees, we’re both hard workers and we’ve got plenty of work experience. Even so, it was proving impossible to find well-paid respectable jobs in New York.

I worked in an office where guys made more money than me for working the same exact job that I did, while my 22-year-old boss was condescending and patronized me constantly. Andy had started working in a bank, full of promise and opportunities, to then be informed that there would be no pay raise or bonus; also, he was going to be transferred to a different location 30 miles away on the same pitiful wage.

Planning a RTW Trip in Your Tiny House?

The Birth of a Plan

So, to hold on to our sanity, we discussed our dreams and where we wanted to be. I was ready to leave it all behind and spend a few months backpacking across Thailand there and then, but Andy wasn’t into it. Specifically, the backpacking element of it all.

He refused to spend a month in a wet field “getting the runs and looking at elephants.” His argument was that “Humans haven’t spent the better part of the last 10,000 years evolving to be uncomfortable and live without technology.” He had a better idea, or so he said. I was all ears.

“I knew that the planning and preparation involved meant that it would never be realistic, so I went on with my day without giving it another thought.”

Andy’s dream involved taking a campervan across Europe and staying for at least six months. While I agreed that it would be a fantastic way to live, I knew that the planning and preparation involved meant that it would never be realistic, so I went on with my day without giving it another thought.

That is until I received a call at work from Andy. Not only had he found the perfect van, but to my surprise, he’d gone ahead and bought it.  I remember feeling dizzy with confusion and excitement.

There I was standing in the toilets at work, the place I hated, having a secret conversation about leaving all of this behind.

I didn’t even question the decision (a big one, made without consulting me at all) because nothing had felt so right in a long time.


Getting Ready for Our Trip


Tiny Home Parking in Croatia
Of course the build-up hasn’t been easy. It’s taken up all of our spare time and a silly amount of money. The van was a write-off and needed lots of work to be made into a home, however basic or tiny, our bank accounts were not in the best state, and we didn’t really have a plan, but none of that mattered because we were finally chasing our dreams.

What followed was over a year of planning, headaches, saving, and of course, lots of building.

For a while now, our alone time has consisted almost entirely of working outside in the freezing cold. Every phone call involves electrical problems or van-related challenges. Each rare day off we have together is not spent enjoying romantic meals or out on day trips, but instead with me handing over tools or holding wires.

“…our bank accounts were not in the best state, and we didn’t really have a plan, but none of that mattered because we were finally chasing our dreams.”
I’ve had to take a back seat in the relationship, giving precedence to a hunk of metal, but for every dime we spent on great insulation instead of shoes and handbags, every moment spent discussing the electrical system instead of whispering sweet nothings, we were making a trade for a better future. I didn’t care because I knew that it would all be worth it in the end.

After worrying about what on earth I was going to do the whole time we were traveling, I realized that this would be the perfect opportunity to make a career out of our trip. It’d be wrong to experience so much and not write about or share our adventures, so I took an intensive, fast-track journalism course, and Andy purchased a Canon DSLR to work on his photography skills.

We had gone from being a fed-up couple escaping in a van to a freelance travel-writing team, or as Andy likes to call us, a travel writing phenomenon. People’s reactions have been surprising, most are very happy for us and keen to know how things are coming along. A few have voiced their concerns about what the future holds for us when we return, but life is too short to worry about that. Our family and friends will always be here, and until we are ready to settle down, money and possessions will just have to take a back seat to happiness.

Some folks couldn’t picture it. They didn’t get how anyone could live in a van with a mattress in the back and not wash for months, but this image doesn’t resemble our solar-paneled fully-equipped, tiny home, at all.

“People couldn’t picture how anyone could live in a van with a mattress in the back… but this image doesn’t resemble our solar panelled fully-equipped, tiny home, at all.”

What made this all so easy to plan is the way our families have responded. My family has always been very supportive, but Andy’s parents made it all possible. Since they both come from a navy background, they understand our desire to travel and offered advice and help throughout the whole process whether we wanted it or not.

Counting Down the Days to Departure

Each morning we count down how many days till we leave. Every time work gets us down, we remind each other that soon we will be visiting many countries, taking in different cultures, tasting local dishes, practicing new languages, and most of all just living – having the time to take in our surroundings and forgetting about when to set our alarm or resenting each week passing by without collecting any memories.

The departure day is looming, the van is almost complete, and we are now getting through the last few months of work and preparations. My task at the moment is to plan the route, but with so many destinations within hours of each other, it’s now proving hard to fit them all in.

This week, with our fingers crossed, we will take our tiny home for our first test drive. With a shower, kitchen, heater, and full electric system all powered by solar panels, we can finally test how self-sufficient we really are.

We have both never done anything quite like this, but we also know that we don’t have any doubts. Each year that we plod along working, trying to save for a house, we lose a part of ourselves, and we want it back.  We want to be a bit reckless and take on the world together.

“Each year that we plod along working, trying to save for a house, we lose a part of ourselves, and we want it back. “
So after months of blood, sweat, electric shocks, and tears, our adventure is finally within reach. France, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany, here we come. Our plan is to travel until our money runs out, and then find an idyllic ski resort to work in over Christmas where we can ski on our days off and drink mulled wine snuggled up in our heated van at night.

Unfortunately, we will have to return home in April to renew our van’s MOT paperwork. On the bright side, this will give us the chance to visit our friends and family, enjoy long baths, English food, and decide whether to start the cycle again.

At the time of writing this, it’s rained for 8 days straight, and with our differing shifts at work I haven’t seen Andy for four of these days apart from sleeping, but I’m finally okay with this because soon I’ll get to spend every single day with my best friend.

Whether we’re hiking along the Almalfi Coast, tasting wine in Bordeaux, diving in the Mediterranean Sea, or gorging on cheese in the Swiss Alps, we’ll be living, laughing, and enjoying the best things in life, together.

Check out the following stories and resources to help motivate you to take that leap of faith and make your travel dreams come true:

Photo Credits:Shutterstock.com, Igor Plotnikov /Shutterstock.com, Jaromir Urbanek /Shutterstock.com, xbrchx.