20 countries in 12 months

Celebrating our first year of full time travel

It was approaching the end of August 2020, we were nearing our first year of full time travel and the last days of our time in Norway. Now we had to decide which route to take back down to mainland Europe. Along with keeping covid restrictions in mind, we had agreed to meet a friend from Jersey in Amsterdam by the beginning of September, which left us just over a week to ourselves.

Since we’d had to speed through Sweden on our way to Norway, without stopping, we first decided to take some time to slow down and relax in Sweden. Our three weeks in Norway had been glorious but we were absolutely shattered! We hadn’t really had time to stop since we entered Denmark, over a month earlier, and we knew we were hitting a wall physically, mentally and emotionally. Full time travel is a luxury that many people can only dream of, we have been so fortunate to be able to make it a reality and complaining about it AT ALL really feels like #firstworldproblems but the fantastic photos and social media image only show part of the real #vanlife experience. As with all humans, we have our limits and our down days. Driving for hundreds/thousands of miles is tiring, living in a vehicle has so many positives (& we love it) but you are confined in a small space with your travel companion(s) 24/7.

Sweden offered us an opportunity to take a step back & with covid still dictating our movements somewhat we decided to stay away from the big cities and towns and park up for a few days next to a beautiful lake called Stromstad. It was just perfect. The weather was warm, the lake was quiet, we could swim and BBQ, relax and regroup. We met a couple from Germany who had escaped for a long weekend. It was good to see that vanlife was still giving some people the freedom to escape where many people were now finding themselves confined.

After a couple of days we moved to another part of the lake then started to make our way down towards the south coast of Sweden. Over the past 12 months we had made it to 19 countries and taking a ferry from Sweden to Poland then driving through to Germany & onto Amsterdam would take that up to 20 countries in our first year of travel. Not a bad record, especially considering the 3 months of lockdown during the pandemic. We took the overnight ferry into Swinoujscie, Poland and drove on through to Germany the same day. There is MUCH more of Poland to see, but for now we had ticked off our 20 countries and had a date in 4 days in Amsterdam!

On our way through we spent two days in Berlin. The first day was for exploring Berlin on our bikes. There is just SO much to see, including so many historical sites. The East Side Gallery, a part of the remaining Berlin Wall that has been painted with commissioned murals on one side and street art on the other, was a particular favourite of ours along with a sunset visit to the Engelbecken park with a little cafe and terrapins swimming in the pond! We also visited the other remains of the Berlin Wall which, at the time, had an exhibition about Hitler’s rise to power. It was particularly poignant considering what else was/is going on in the world. History has so many lessons for us to learn, unfortunately many don’t see them until it’s too late.

Berlin baby!

We had continued our litter picking campaign, Parkup Pickup, encouraging those of us living in or regularly driving around in vehicles to pick up any litter we might find and leave places cleaner than we find them. Through our social media pages we had connected with Birgit from ‘City Cleaners Germany’ who organises community litter picking in her local area of Wallenhurst. A positive meeting of like minded people was just what we needed so we made our way west towards Osnabrück and spent the day picking up litter in and around the canal. What a fantastic group of people! They made us feel so welcomed and reinvigorated to continue our own project to clean up wherever we visit.

On the 1st September we arrived in Amsterdam. We weren’t meeting our friend until that evening & as it was our 5th wedding anniversary, Callum had arranged to hire a solar powered boat so we could take a self guided tour along the canals. We stopped to pick up kebabs along the way and ate them whilst being overlooked by one of my favourite places in Amsterdam, the NEMO museum. He doesn’t know me at all!!

Anniversary canal tour, Amsteradm

We had visited Amsterdam at the beginning of our trip and a very rude tour guide had, unfortunately, ruined the city for me. This time we were determined to make better memories. It was SO wonderful to be reunited with our friend, Jen, after nearly a year of being apart. She was in Amsterdam to celebrate her 30th birthday so the following days we spent blowing our budget on fun! The first day we visited the Wondr Experience: “an indoor playground for adults”. It’s basically an Instagrammers dream; a maze of rooms decorated with fascinating backdrops and crazy props provided to produce weird and wonderful photos. We spent 2 to 3 hours there and definitely could have stayed much longer. Not everyone’s cup of tea but, for us, it was so much fun.

The following day we went to the Avocado Show restaurant. As the name suggests, everything on the menu includes avocado. Again, not for everyone, but we loved it! Thanks to covid, the restaurant was really quiet whereas usually, the queues would be out the door! We continued the birthday celebrations at XTRACOLD, the Amsterdam Ice Bar. First we were taken into the ‘cold room’ in our little covid bubble of 5 people to have drinks in the -9.5°C temperature! Followed by cocktails in the bar area. A really ‘cool’ experience and again, due to covid, it was much quieter than usual (great for us space & waiting time-wise but less atmosphere than we had expected).

Our last stop was to Body Worlds, a museum showing how our lifetsyle choices affect our body and health using preserved bodies. It is brilliantly done; very professional and scientific. Others have mentioned to us that it wasn’t their taste, but we found it fascinating and not gory at all. Amsterdam has SO much to offer, much more than the stereotypes of smoking cafes and the red light district. The more we look, the more we find. Hopefully we will be able to go back and explore more one day.

Body Worlds, Amsterdam

As Jen left us to head back to Jersey we made our way to Camping Zeeburg to join some other Jersey friends, Pete and Susan. We really like staying at Camping Zeeburg when we are in Amsterdam. It has all the facilities you need, really friendly, helpful staff and it is situated perfectly to cycle into town or get a tram. Again it was SO good to see friends from home, especially as they brought us British groceries and some post. When you don’t have a permanent address it’s very difficult to have things delivered! We spent the next couple of days relaxing with our friends, exploring a bit of more of Amsterdam, swapping travel stories and eating out. A perfect way to spend the last days of our first year of fulltime travel!

Vanilfe Sweden, what it’s all about

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