VANLIFE, THE WAY I LIKE TO TRAVEL BEST
TRAVEL IN A VAN, WITH ONLY WHAT YOU REALLY NEED
Vanlife is new to me and I have never traveled the world all by myself. But I like challenges and new experiences! Even if no one could understand why I was doing this. When I was asked where I wanted to go, I didn’t have an answer. I just wanted to turn the ignition key and decide spontaneously where to go.
Everything that was important to me, I had in the small van. At that time, there was also an apartment, but this served more for security and to store things. I already worked mobile at that time, so that I was quite flexible for a van life.
The small Vivaro, which I had converted myself in two weeks, was not particularly comfortable. It had a simple folding bed, a small refrigerator, a small kitchenette with sink and cabinets for clothes. The highlight was the parking heater, which was already installed when we bought it. It has made its contribution in many a cold night in the van life and also later on our trip to the North Cape, it should become the most important accessory.
So there I was for my first overnight stay in a parking lot somewhere in the south of Germany. The first time sleeping in the car is bad. Every noise is suspicious! You think, everyone suspects that there is someone sleeping in the car. You feel like you are doing something forbidden.
Over time, you discover which sounds are normal and what they mean. Likewise, you realize from the astonished faces of the people that no one assumes that anyone is sleeping in this little van. Until I open the sliding door and the tailgate and start my day. Actually, I did everything right, because the little Vivaro didn’t stand out in any parking lot or city next to all the other parked cars. My van life remained undiscovered, but until I gained all these insights I had to be on the road with it for a while and endure some restless nights.
HURRAY, I’M STILL ALIVE!
I had survived the first night in the vanlife well, I had some problems to fall asleep and woke up often, but against all expectations I was still alive. No one had tried to break into my car, no one had tried to kidnap me. Actually, people didn’t give a shit that there was a Vivaro somewhere in the parking lot. This was impressively demonstrated by some young people late in the evening, when they drank a few beers right next to the van with loud music. Whereupon they were a bit startled when the car suddenly started and I looked for a quieter corner.
I didn’t know about any app made specifically for people like me when I started my journey into vanlife. So Google Maps helped me. I just looked at the map of Europe where I had never been before and started driving towards Croatia. Up until this point, I always found it funny when someone said “the journey is the destination”. But that’s exactly what it was. The road I was on was the destination and I wanted to find out how it felt to have no real destination. How it is to travel all alone and to cope with my own fear. I grew up in the village, for us was already the next larger city an adventure and now I was alone on the road in a foreign country.
The biggest concern with vanlife throughout the trip was not so much about being robbed or hijacked. My anxiety was mostly about the car itself. I worried a lot about what would happen in the event of a breakdown, whether the engine would hold out or I’d end up in the middle of the night somewhere in the middle of nowhere with a blown tire. Actually, a very banal thing, but it was the thing that concerned me the most at the time.
FINDING YOUR OWN RHYTHM
As I drove and slept and drove again and slept again, it occurred to me that I was going way too fast in vanlife. I drove all day to arrive at one place. Then I spent the night there and drove on again the next morning. Traveling alone means finding your own pace and rhythm. But especially it means to get along with yourself and your own thoughts.
It is a learning process to enjoy the moment alone. Staying in a beautiful place without a second person and simply enjoying the fact that no one else was there was more than foreign to me at that time. At some point I had learned to slow down my journey a bit and to enjoy the wonderful places I came to and the people I met more.
When I’m driving or it’s just getting monotonous, I like to make silly jokes. Too bad if these jokes but no passenger or fellow traveler hears. Nobody laughs or talks during the car ride. As trite as it may sound, that was the thing I noticed first and that I missed insanely during the whole time. On the other hand, I quickly learned to laugh at my own jokes and silliness. Monologues were also rather foreign to me before. But the positive effect is that you can sing along so loudly and so wryly to the most awful songs without fear that the passenger will immediately throw himself out of the car.
With time in Vanlife, you develop your own personal rhythm of life. In the beginning, you need morning rituals, which you first have to find in Vanlife. The morning decides how good the day will be. Most of the time I was awake very early and slept in. It feels great to stand by the ocean, open the tailgate at seven and watch the sunrise. With a coffee in hand and still lying in my sleeping bag, just priceless.
What is a very big challenge for a solo traveler in van life from my point of view is filling the daily program in a meaningful way. Walking through cities has a completely different appeal when you’re traveling alone. I don’t want to say it’s more beautiful. I love traveling in pairs. But alone you have the possibility to make your own plan. You decide independently of someone else’s interests. If I wanted to see a city, I went to see it, if I wanted to spend a whole day just sitting in the van and looking at the sea, I chose to do that. If I felt like just watching some movies on the tablet in the van in the best weather, it was just as well. And if I wanted to go for a walk when it was raining, I just did it.
You focus more on your own needs and only do things when and if you really want to do them. You start asking yourself questions in Vanlife about what is important to you personally. How often do you need a place where you can stay longer, how much daily program fills you up, do you need a bathroom or a shower every day, maybe the jump into the sea is enough for you. Do you like to sleep long, or do you like to start the day early?
All these questions that you only have to ask yourself suddenly take on weight and you don’t take anyone but yourself into consideration. But maybe it’s only special for me because I’ve never been in this situation before. I was always in a relationship and always traveled as a couple. Suddenly you are the center of attention yourself with an incredible feeling of freedom, and for me it was overwhelming at first. I had to learn that first and it was a long way.
HOW SAFE YOU FEEL IN VANLIFE
Unlike a campsite, you don’t always have a bathroom nearby. Also, of course, the apparent protection of a fenced camping area is completely absent. But if you consider how many caravans and mobiles are broken into at campsites in a season, this fenced-in gem of a vacationer’s home is not at all as safe as one would surely always like to persuade. Despite this fact, you feel a bit abandoned and vulnerable in the first moment when you stand alone in a small van on a dark parking lot at some edge of the forest.
The first night in the van is very unfamiliar, as described at the beginning. The more nights go by, however, the more exciting the whole thing becomes and this unpleasant feeling disappears. In fact, there are not many things to be afraid of, especially when sleeping in a van. I always follow a very simple principle when choosing a place to sleep. If my gut tells me I feel safe, I stay. If my gut tells me otherwise, I keep driving. Even if it’s the middle of the night.
In certain situations, you just have to be flexible, if the place turns out to be unsuitable late. It’s not camping and unlike a classic camping vacation, you don’t stay for several weeks in one place, which you then get to know very well. You are usually on the road and rarely stay several days in one place and know neither his environment nor the sounds of a new place very well.
The advantage of this rather mobile and less stationary way of traveling is, on the one hand, clearly the cost savings. An overnight stay at a campsite is not only an expensive pleasure in the high season. On the other hand, when you are free-standing, you see places, spots and corners that you would never have discovered at a campsite. Moreover, the thrill and that bit of uncertainty where you will spend the night and wake up the next morning are another highlight of any trip. Of course, you have to like this feeling and also learn to appreciate this little thrill.
THE PERFECT WAY TO TRAVEL IN A VAN
I think many would agree with me that an “ideal variant” of travel as a fixed criterion in the sense of “I will always travel”, does not exist. Much depends on the current state of mind, what you want to experience or even the money you have available. With certainty I can say that campsites and all-inclusive hotels are not my taste. But I can both the overnight stay in hostels on city trips, backpacking or just traveling in the van very much.
With the travel variant described here in the van, the advantage is clearly that you get with a car very flexible to certain and always have a certain comfort available. While you have to do without some things because of the weight when backpacking and are locally bound at least for a certain time when staying in a hostel, you have most of your personal belongings with you with the van and are always highly flexible.
If I no longer like it at a certain place, I drive on and if I like to stay another day, then I can decide that just as freely. By being free, I do not even have to adhere to the arrival and departure times of a campsite and am guided solely by my motivation.
ALONE OR WITH PARTNER
Even though traveling alone was an experience I really wanted to gain, I like traveling with a partner way too much. I like to be able to exchange ideas on the road, plan together and collect impressions and experiences together. While in a hostel you can connect with other people very quickly, it’s not always that easy in a van.
But maybe it was also something to do with myself at that time, because I actually wanted to stay for myself. Nevertheless, I would always prefer to travel in pairs and also have little problems to adjust to my counterpart in different things. So if I go by my current state of mind, traveling together in a van is the form that I like best and will certainly fill many vacations or even my life.
So far my personal experiences, especially from the early days of vanlife. Have you collected other experiences during your travels or would like to share your favorite way of traveling, then just write it in the comments. I would be very happy to see how you spend your vacations or your free time.