Why We Decided to Road Trip Across Europe in a Self-Built Campervan

In three months I will 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, for 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 working the “nine to five life” would not be a walk in the park, but we didn’t think it would make us unhappy enough to make such a drastic decision.

What prompted this?

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 our escape from our less than ordinary lives.

Living in York was not easy. The rent was very expensive, a night out cost at least one days wage, and we had both settled into very mediocre jobs due to the poor economy, which seemed to have stayed in a recession from the moment I finished university over five years ago.

Each morning felt like Groundhog Day, and each day we seemed to grow more frustrated and angry, which did not do wonders for our relationship. We both have degrees, are hard workers and have plenty of work experience, but it was proving impossible to find well paid respectable jobs.

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I worked in an office which paid the men more money for the same role while my 22 year old boss patronised me constantly. Andy had started in a bank, full of promise and opportunities, to then be informed that there would be no pay rise or bonus and he was going to be transferred to a different location 30 miles away on the same pitiful wage.

An idea was born

So to hold on to our sanity, we discussed our dreams and where we wanted to be. I dreamt of backpacking across Thailand for a few months there and then, but Andy was very against that whole way of traveling.

In response he said: “I refuse to spend a month in a wet field getting the runs and looking at elephants. Humans have spent the last 10,000 years evolving so that we can have technology and live in relative comfort. I have a better idea.”

His 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.

I didn’t question the decision because nothing had felt so right in a long time.

That is until I received a call at work telling me that not only had Andy found the perfect van, but to my surprise, he had 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 question the decision because nothing had felt so right in a long time.

The preparation

Of course the build-up hasn’t been easy. It has taken up all of our spare time and a silly amount of money. The van was a write-off and needed lots of work, 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 mainly consisted of working 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.

I have had to take a back seat in the relationship for a hunk of metal, but for every moment that we spent money on great insulation instead of shoes and handbags, spent hours discussing the electrical system instead of whispering sweet nothings, bought expensive solar panels instead of going away for the weekend, 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 realised that this would be the perfect opportunity to make a career out of our trip. I decided that it would be wrong to experience so much and not have the ability to write about and share our adventures, so I spontaneously took an intensive fast track journalism course, and Andy purchased a Canon DSLR to work as a photographer.

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.

I didn’t care because I knew that it would all be worth it in the end.

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 have take a back seat to happiness.

People initially thought that we were just going to throw a mattress in the back and not wash for months. They just couldn’t picture how anyone could live in a van, but this image is far from our solar panelled fully-equipped, miniature home.

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

Counting down the days

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 strange 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 is now proving hard to fit them all in.

This week, with our fingers crossed, we will take the van for a dreaded MOT ready 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.

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.

Each year that we plod along working, trying to save for a house, we lose a part of ourselves, and we want it back.

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.

We will unfortunately have to return home in April 2013 for an MOT, although 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 has rained for 8 days straight, and with differing shifts I haven’t seen Andy for four of these days apart from sleeping, but I am finally okay with this because soon I get to spend every single day with my best friend.

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

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

All photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.


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