Life is too short! We sold everything we own, left our life behind, bought a motorhome and now we are travelling Europe with our cat.
We are Callum & Philippa, a husband & wife from Jersey in the Channel Islands. It took a lot to get us here but now we are loving the travel life!
The escape plan started in the summer of 2018. Lots of things in our life were holding us back. We were both working every hour that we could and were drained from being constantly “on” with no end in sight. Our busy lives were affecting both of us; mentally, physically and emotionally. Something had to change.
Eventually hypothetical conversations turned into planning sessions, and by the end of the year we’d read so many blogs and travel vlogs that we knew we were headed for a road trip. It also became clear that if we were taking our cat (Theodore) too, we needed something larger than a converted van. The initial plan was to go travelling for six months, although the more preparation we did, the more it made sense for us to leave for a year or more.
By Christmas 2018 we’d started setting our life up for travel and everything began to fall into place; we handed in our notices at work, started to tell our friends and family our plans and made lists (so many lists!) of everything we’d need to do. The first thing we needed was a motorhome – we started looking for a 4 berth van to give us room to live and work without being on top of each other.
After a few months of searching, we found a motorhome for sale locally, which meant we knew the seller, could go back to them with any issues and could try it before we bought it. It was much bigger than we’d planned- 6 berth but with everything we wanted & more. We started to sell everything that we owned; by March we had no sofa, TV or anything on our shelves. With 3 months to go all we had left was our bed, kitchen and computer. One month before we left, Philippa had moved into the motorhome with Theodore but the flat had still not been sold. Our boat to France was booked, we had sold, donated or given away our clothes, the car, motorbike, businesses and nearly all our posessions. It was freeing, exciting and terrifying at the same time. The last 3 months in Jersey were ridiculously stressful; our travels depended on the flat sale to finally go through & that had fallen through twice already. The day before our boat left we signed the flat sale paperwork. We were finally free to go!
Our blog name comes from a phrase in Jersey’s local dialect, Jèrriais. “Man Vyi” literally means “My Old (friend)”, and is used as a term of endearment in the Island. After all, it’s true what they say – you can take the people out of Jersey, but you can’t take Jersey out of people!
Travel life isn’t always as glamorous as Instagram makes out, but we can promise it will be an adventure. From sunsets and beach bonfires to flat tires and wrong turns, we’d love you to come along for the ride – See you out there!
From our new home in Portugal we had been keeping an eye on travel restrictions, covid levels and ‘R numbers’. Watching and waiting for our opportunity to make a break and head back to Jersey for the first time since we left in September 2019, when the world was a much easier place to navigate! We had already made the decision to take Stevie (our motorhome) back to Jersey for a whole host of reasons; we didn’t need such a large vehicle now that we have a base in Portugal, we won’t be living in the motorhome full time anymore and more importantly, importing a vehicle into Portugal is prohibitively expensive. As we were now Portuguese residents we also couldn’t legally drive Stevie around Portugal anyway so we started to look at planning our journey back.
Living on a beautiful, sunny island has so many benefits but getting to and from Jersey is always has to be a well planned mission. Your travels are dictated by the tides, the weather and the availability of transport and now, added into the mix, covid travel restrictions. Taking Stevie back to Jersey would mean a gruelling few days of solid driving all the way up through Spain then France and finally crossing the English Channel by taking the ferry from St Malo to St Helier. Our options in March 2021 were few and far between. The ferry company was only running boats for passengers with vehicles every other Sunday and at a much reduced capacity so the spaces were very limited. We initially booked for March 28th, hoping to be back (& out of the 10 day quarantine) in time for the Easter weekend. Unfortunately, that particular ferry was then cancelled, due to government restrictions, so we were moved to Easter Sunday (March 4th). We begrudgingly booked our new date and told our friends and family that we were headed back and would see them the week after Easter. We were happy to be headed back but sad that we would be missing the Easter weekend when all our friends and family would have time off together… until we took the chance to ask the ferry company again and they squeezed us onto the boat for March 21st. But this time we decided to surprise our friends and families so didn’t tell that we would be coming back earlier.
By then it was the end of February so we had less than a month to organise ourselves, have Stevie serviced ready to be sold and plan our trip back including the dreaded PCR tests. Servicing and deep cleaning the van went well in the Portuguese sunshine and we had given ourselves a week to drive up to St Malo, with time for a rest day in the middle, PCR tests in Spain and a quick visit to our friends in Cubelles, near Barcelona. Thankfully our wonderful friends John & Kate offered to look after our home, Theodore and newly planted garden in Portugal whilst we were away. We have been so lucky to meet them. We decided that leaving Theodore in a place where he had just started to settle, without us there, with no confirmed return date and always a possibility of being stuck in Jersey should covid numbers suddenly skyrocket again, would be too stressful for all of us, so he would be coming too!
Monday 15th March rolled around, we loaded up the motorhome for the last time and just had the last checks to do and then Theodore to move into the van when he escaped from our home and hid underneath the neighbours static. We spent the next half an hour trying to extract him, to no avail, until Callum commando crawled under the static, pushing Theodore towards the gap he had jumped through where I caught him by the scruff of the neck. He was not amused to be leaving Portugal (& his new cat friends) and going back into the motorhome but thankfully, as always, he settled back into vanlife well (after a couple of days of sulking, of course!).
We were back on the road again and it felt so strange. We fell back into travel life straight away and were feeling a bit emotional about having to sell Stevie after all the adventures we had been through together. The crossing into Spain from Portugal went smoothly with just a check of our passports. We spent the first night wild camping next to a reservoir and the second day driving all the way to the east coast of Spain where we had booked to have our PCR tests on the Thursday afternoon, giving us 72hrs to get across the border into France then up to northern France and on our boat on the Sunday.
Whilst we were parked up in Benicarlo on the Wednesday evening, we met a lovely Spanish couple called José-Luis and Maria-Terésa, who told us all about their years of motorhoming. It was so nice to spend time with fellow travellers again and just live in the moment, watching the sunset together as we walked along the beach, without worrying about the craziness of the rest of the world. We have definitely missed that. After our horrendous PCR tests (the technician literally held the backs of our heads whilst he thrust the probe up our nostrils and deep into our sinuses) we treated ourselves to churros and continued north to meet with our Spanish, Catalonian and Argentinian friends for one night in Cubelles. Then up early the next morning to drive from the Spanish beaches, through the Pyrenees and across the French border where we were met with no checks at all but we did find lots of snow!
Saturday meant another long driving day up through France until we reached a small motorhome stop just outside of St Malo where we met up with our Jersey motorhoming friends Neil and Chantal, who were heading back to Jersey at the same time as us. One night catching up with them and another early start got us to the ferry terminal on Sunday morning. The ferry journey was unusual as all passengers had to be escorted to their pre-booked cabins by staff, where we stayed for the duration of the voyage and then escorted back as we arrived in Jersey. We were delivered a free breakfast of croissants and orange juice though so we can’t complain!
After much, much gentler PCR tests at the harbour in Jersey, the next step in keeping our arrival secret was the most nail biting, as we drove from the port in the south to Callum’s parents house in the west of the Island. There is no way to stealthily drive a 7.5 meter, 3.5 tonne motorhome on a tiny 9×5 mile island! Thankfully we got back without being seen and parked up on the driveway which would be our quarantine hide out for the next 10 days (& 2 more PCR tests!). Hopefully we could keep the surprise going until then!
We’ve been living in our new home now for about a month and we are loving it! Some days we do miss the adventures and excitement of new experiences of travelling full time in the motorhome but right now, this is where we need to be. As I’m sure you know, the number of covid cases has been dramatically increasing in many places, including here in Portugal, which has led to renewed lockdown restrictions. For a couple of weeks now we have been advised to stay home whenever possible and are not allowed to travel between municipalities. Shops are only open for the sale of essential goods (groceries etc) and all bars and restaurants are closed except for contactless takeaway services. All great reasons for us to be very thankful that we were able to find our new home.
We left the motorhome site in Tavira & said goodbye to our friends (Midlife Migration & The Travelling Pilchards) on the 28th December to come and live at our new home. To begin with we were still living in our motorhome fulltime (which we can conveniently park right outside our new static) whilst Callum worked online and I set about clearing, planning and redecorating. Our home here in Cabanas de Tavira is made up of a static home (2 small bedrooms, a lounge area, a toilet room and a washroom with basin & shower) in addition to that space we have a fully covered awning that runs nearly the full length of the static and outside there is a partially decked, part gravel area. It adds up to lots of space compared to what we have been used to in the motorhome; room for Callum to have a separate office/work area, space outside to relax & entertain but still a nice, small home.
My first job was to sort through and clear all the belongings that the previous owners had left… and there were A LOT! It seems to be traditional that homes are sold furnished here in Portugal and as this was a holiday home for the previous owners they already had everything they needed at their main home. That meant a good few days work to sort it all and decide what we would keep but it also meant that there was a lot that we didn’t need to buy (a kettle, dining table, bed, fridge freezer, curtains and maybe even a sofa, but more about that later). I found a charity shop to take what we didn’t need and also to sell us a couple of beautiful vintage looking dressers and some dining chairs.
I love to cook so having a kitchen with reasonable worktop space was a big priority for me, especially after struggling with the cramped kitchen in the motorhome. When we bought the property the kitchen area was inside the main static room but it was small and cramped, with very little counter space, the walkway to the bathroom was right past the kitchen space and just wasn’t going to work for us. I wanted to move the kitchen into the awning so we had more room, could fit in a dining table and chairs and in the summer, open up the sides of the awning to have an inside/outside eating & entertaining space. The kitchen cupboard doors were the first to go, followed by the units. With them removed the static was already looking more spacious. After a bit of imagination, planning and lots of measuring I found that the kitchen units could be cut down & reused in the awning. That was a huge win, both for our budget and for sustainability. The unit & worktop section with the hob was cut off from the rest of the kitchen to be repurposed as a stand alone unit which would house the current gas hob & a new electric oven. Next to it (just) fits the fridge freezer. The rest of the kitchen would sit opposite it, in the awning, housing the kitchen sink, drainer and cupboards and would look out over the garden/decking. The big storage area that sits above the lower garden shed would be the new pantry. I was probably a little too excited about having a pantry!
A successful trip to IKEA, our local hardware store Leroy Merlin and the charity shop gave me everything I needed for the transformation. After sanding back the doors I sprayed the cupboard doors, units and dining chairs all in a dark grey, sealing with a clear coat. The chairs had new seat ads from IKEA, the pantry storage was a mix of shelves & storage that was already here but repurposed plus 3 IKEA storage trolleys. Staff on site came to disconnect, move and reconnect the water pipes and gas from the static to the awning. A dining table that had been used in the outside kitchen was brought into the awning & made a lovely eating area with the refurbished dining chairs and the ‘piece de resistance’ is the beautiful green, vintage dresser that now sits at the entrance of the awning holding our crockery, cutlery and glasses.
After using the kitchen for a couple of weeks I knew that it still didn’t work how I needed it to and I was going to need more worktop space. After watching van conversions for years I knew exactly what I wanted; folding worktops. I made ours using 2 x large IKEA Lämplig chopping boards & 4 x folding brackets, a total of about €35. They have made a huge difference to the kitchen and how I use it, giving me more room to chop, prep and plate up. You can find the video of our whole kitchen transformation here, on YouTube.
Subscribe to follow our tiny home renovation, with 5 more rooms & outside yet to transform!
We were definitely on a high after meeting friends in Amsterdam to celebrate our first 12 months of full time travel. Although it was difficult at times, we have absolutely loved travelling around Europe in our motorhome, Stevie. Visiting 20 countries in those 12 months was something we never thought we’d be able to do, it’s changed our lives, our whole persepctive on life and our priorities. We are so glad we took the plunge and did it.
After Amsterdam our vague plan was to explore a bit more of the Netherlands then head south through Germany towards Switzerland, onto northern Italy then slowly make our way back to Spain as it got colder and then finally to Portugal for the winter. We started well by visiting beautiful Apeldoorn and Giethoorn, which had both been on our lists for a while. The weather was starting to turn more Autumnal and even more worrying was news that covid numbers were on the increase again. We had planned to meet our friend Petra (& her young daughter who had been born since we had left Jersey) in Germany on her way back to Jersey from the Czech Republic but with covid numbers rising & countries closing their borders and restricting movement again, her plans kept changing so we decided to take our time driving down through Germany… and we are very glad that we did.
Germany is such an interesting country with a wide variety of natural landscapes. With huge cities like Munich and Berlin, the German countryside is often overlooked. We’d already fallen in love with the Black Forest and southern Germany last year but there was even more to see! The last throws of summer brought with it a heatwave as we headed south through Osnabrück then Düsseldorf so our main priority was finding water to swim in, which we did in the most wonderful lakes and rivers. On through Koblenz then onto the (now) second longest suspension bridage in the world; the Geierlay Bridge. It is situated in the low mountain range of the Hunsrück, in western Germany. It was opened in 2015 & at the time was the longest suspension bridge in the world, overtaken by the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge, in Switzerland, in 2017. It has a span range of 360 metres (1,180 ft) and is up to 100 metres (330 ft) above ground. On one side of the bridge is the village of Mörsdorf and the other Sosberg. We stayed overnight in the car park at Mörsdorf, paying €18 for overnight parking & electric hook up. They also have water/toilet emptying & filling facilities there, as you exit the car park. The village itself is very small but really sweet & the walk through the forest to the bridge is nice too. We went to the bridge for sunset, which gave us a fantastic view over the valley as the sun was setting and the sky lit up but it also meant a walk and cycle back through the forest in the dark (not our greatest decision!). Due to covid restrcitions the numbers of people allowed on the bridge at one time were greatly reduced, which suited us fine. It was still busy but we found that to be much better.
We continued on toward Heidelberg, one of my Mum’s favourite places in Germany. She loves the quaint old town and the permanent Christmas shops, as did we, but we also found a more modern, cool Heidelberg. Using the Park4night app we found a perfect parking spot right next to the river Neckar, which also happened to be directly next to a skate park that had been built under the bridge. To many people a night next to a noisy skate park surrounded by graffiti probably doesn’t sound ideal but it felt safe and the people congregating there were friendly. We relaxed on a manmade beach with a takeaway and drinks from a kiosk at the riverside (only non alcoholic drinks sold here) watching people coming and going past on their bikes as the sun set over the river. The following day we took the bikes out into the town and visited the historic sites including more bridges and the castle. It really is a beautiful place and one we’d love to go back to.
We continued to head south passing through Münzesheim and Ulm when we had an unexpected message from fellow motorhome travellers Claire & Sam from Next Stop Everywhere. They were on their way back north and, if we took a little diversion, we could meet up with them in Lichtenstein. It seemed like too good an opportunity to miss so we drove down through Austria and met them, high up in the mountains in Lichtenstein. We had only planned to hang around and say “hi” for a few hours, before continuing our journey to Switzerland, but we got on really well so stopped for the night. We had great fun playing games, swapping travel stories and eating delicious food (thanks Claire!) when the next day, the whole area was covered in a thick layer of snow! It was magical. Our short stay turned into two days with fantastic new friends and memories of snow covered mountains. Exactly the kind of things we love about travelling in a motorhome full time!
The following day we parted ways and we continued on to Switzerland, our first stop was Zug, next to the Zug see, to see a friend I hadn’t seen for 10 years! We spent a night next to the stunning lake and the next day we met up for lunch and to catch up with my friend, Melanie. In the meantime, our friend Petra, had been given the all clear to leave Czech Republic now and was heading back across Germany to Jersey so we arranged to drive back up, only a few hours away, to meet up with her in Löwenstein. It all seemed pretty simple. She had a LONG drive ahead of her, with a toddler and we just had to meet her in the middle. What we hadn’t factored in was the Swiss police. Our 5 hour journey turned into 2 very stressful days as we were pulled over by the police, 20 minutes from the German border, and for the first time ever we were weighed. Unfortunately for us, we were overweight and that meant hours waiting at the weighstation and a huge fine. After 6 hours & unburdening ourselves of excess weight, we were finally allowed to continue our journey onto Germany where we finally met up with Petra (& her daughter) the following day. Thankfully, Petra had booked us all an air bnb for 2 days where we could relax and enjoy each others company without worrying about the motorhome or anything else. It was so good to be together again and finally meet her wonderful daughter. Friends really are what we miss most whilst travelling.
Our plan had been to head south again, back through Switzerland and through northern Italy for a few days before driving back through southern France then further south to Spain but, since we’d already had enough trouble in Switzerland and covid numbers were on the increase again, we changed our plans and decided to head straight down to Spain to see our friends near Barcelona, whilst we still could. After a service from José at Cactus garage and a few days spent seeing our friends again, our spirits were lifted so continued on, north back up the coast where we met up with more full time motorhomers Suzy & David from Midlife Migration. Again, we got on so well immediately and spent 2 days with them in the picturesque mountains of Villanova del Sau. Little did we know that we would be seeing them again sooner than we thought… Friends really are what make our lives so wonderful ❤
Covid certainly was making full time travel life more difficult and didn’t look to be going away soon. With Brexit looming in just 3 months and covid back again, would this be the end of our travels? Would Portugal bring us what we were looking for? Here’s what happened next…
Travelling by ourselves, making our own decisions and only having to worry about what we want to do has been a hugely positive part of our travel adventures (it’s definitely brought us closer together as a couple) but there is nothing like spending time with friends, especially in times of stress. We were finally reunited with our friends, John & Kate, after 7 months apart and it was fantastic to see them again! Emotional for sure, but so wonderful to be able to talk to people face to face who share your hopes and dreams and understand the ups and downs of motorhome/van life.
We set up camp in the motorhome park in Tavira and booked in for two weeks, so we had a base should the predicted lockdown run on further than they had announced. Covid has made us be more prepared and flexible in our decisions. Whilst we were there we spent time with our friends and used the facilities at the site they live on. Swimming in a luxurious (but absolutely freezing) pool and having a proper hot shower is a luxury we will always make the most of! On one visit to their site we saw that one of the other static homes was for sale so we made enquiries and found the contact details of the seller. The weeks rolled on and we explored the town and surrounding area a little more. It wasn’t on our list of ‘suitable places to live’ (or even on our radar!) before we headed down here, but as we found out more about the area we started to feel at home. Through more discussions with the seller of the static and a viewing (or three) we made the decision that yes, it could make a great home for us.
We started making offers to buy the property and apply for residency. We finalised the sale of the property (number 30) the week of Callum’s 30th birthday. The residency process wasn’t complicated either, but it was longwinded and required lots of paperwork. It meant lots of toing and froing between the main town hall in Tavira and the smaller junta in Cabanas on our bicycles but finally, last week, we got our residency paperwork!
The more we explore this area of Portugal the more we find to fall in love with. Tavira old town is beautiful, the Anchor Beach at Praia do Barril has white sands and crystal clear water, the marina and salt flats at Fuseta are home to flamingoes and numerous other wildlife species. It’s convenient location is just a short drive to Faro, Loulé and Olhão (with everything we need to redecorate our new home) and 30 minutes from the Spanish border in the other direction. There are miles and miles of cycle tracks for us to navigate and so much more yet to find. Faro airport is only an hour drive away so friends and family can come to visit when covid (hopefully) calms down and the world opens up again.
During our time in Tavira time we have been joined by other travel friends; Suzy & David from Midlife Migration, Kat & Ewen from The Travelling Pilchards, travel duo bollox_2_it and Richard who we met in Norway. We had met David and Suzy in Spain earlier in October and got on really well. As we’d made our way down through Portugal they’d travelled south through Spain and we’d arranged to meet up in Portugal for Christmas. Now that we had a base and were on the campsite long term, we had a perfect place to meet up and (with social distancing) celebrate together. Again, it has been wonderful to spend time with travel friends who just ‘get it’ and to feel a little bit of normality by hanging out with friends, whilst we plan our #vanlife Christmas celebrations, with BBQs, shared meals, a curry take away for Callum’s birthday and even venturing out for a girl’s lunch with the ladies.
Theodore too, has enjoyed being in one place for a longer period of time, again being allowed to let himself in and out of the van. He’s especially enjoying sunning himself every day and not having to drive around, which is by far, his least favourite part of being a ‘van cat’. He’s even happy with the close proximity of the dogs belonging to our fellow motorhome friends. We are very much looking forward to introducing him to our new home.
We’ve still got a lot of work to do on our tiny home. The interior was VERY pink, the outside has been neglected and the previous owners left a lot of belongings behind which we just don’t need. We can’t wait to put our own stamp on it and make it our own home. After living full time in the motorhome for 15 months we do miss the travelling side, exploring new places and meeting new people but we are very much looking forward to a little bit more space (even though it’s still a small home), running water and the luxury of flushing toilet!! We are hoping that 2021 brings us new opportunities and more memories to make here in our new home.
I still have a little bit to write about from our full time motorhome travels but right now the most important thing that has happened is… we have moved to Portugal!
Our last blog was about celebrating our first year of full time travel and meeting up with friends from home, back in September. Between then and now (December 2020) covid has reared its ugly head again and with Brexit looming on the 2021 horizon that meant we needed to make some big decisions and fast!
We had been trying to get to Portugal since March of his year, but we were stopped in our tracks by the first covid outbreak which meant we had to lockdown in Spain for 9 weeks. When borders reopened we took the opportunity to travel whilst we could, heading north to Scandanavia, meeting with friends in Amsterdam and heading back south through Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France and Spain. Finally, in October, we made it to Portugal, country number 23 on our travels. For some reason, for which I have no reasonable logic, I just knew we’d find something special in Portugal. Neither of us had ever visited Portugal before (although we did get engaged in Madeira) but I was just drawn to it from talking to other people and reading about it. We have quite a big Portuguese and Madeiran community and friends in Jersey; we liked the people, their culture and, of course, their food. It ticked a lot of boxes for us (a temperate climate, green and lush, safe and low in crime, good healthcare and low cost of living) and through our research we knew on paper that it was a place that we could call home. But what would it be like in reality?
We entered Portugal through the north of Spain. Again, another totally different landscape from what we had experienced along Spain’s east coast and further inland from Valencia. It was beautiful, we found some fantastic park ups & experienced the most incredible sunsets but we were eager to get to Portugal so drove through quickly. We will need to head back up to explore the Spanish north coast further in the future, there is so much more to see. We were thoroughly enjoying exploring the north of Portugal, stopping in the river town of Chaves and at Bom Jesus do Monte (a religious sanctuary and pilgrimage site) in Braga, through Coimbra on the way to the west coast. Following our friend’s recommendations we headed to Aveiro (the Venice of Portugal) for a day out on the gondolas then down the coast through the seaside town of Costa Nova (with the striped houses) and to Figuiera da Foz to watch the surfers and the waves crash on the beach from the Atlantic Ocean.
Around this time the weather had started to change. We stopped outside Porto for one night but due to the storms we were forced further inland, away from the coast. Again, it’s another place we’ll have to head back to later. Our next stop was a little village just outside of Leiria where we celebrated Halloween with Bruno and his family. Bruno has a small, 6 space, camper stop on his land. With covid numbers rising again and travel restrictions in place in Portugal over the Halloween/Day of the Dead bank holiday weekend we needed a place to stay for a few days. We spent 5 nights here, up in the mountains, took a tuk tuk tour to Leiria and were treated to such generous hospitality by Bruno and his family that we really didn’t want to leave.
Unfortunately time was ticking by and we needed to decide our future. With Brexit looming and Jersey being dragged along with the UK we needed to either head back to Jersey or find a place to live in Portugal and apply for residency. We loved what we’d seen of Portugal in the short space of time we’d been here and from the research we’d done, had found that gaining residency in Portugal wasn’t too complicated, especially compared to other European countries. Our next step was to decide where in Portugal we would be happy to build a home. After hours of research and exploring through the country we concluded that the middle/west of Portugal would be best for us. Not too hot in the summer, or too cold in the winter. Some rain but not too much, close to Lisbon airport for family and friends to visit and the coast or rivers for our love of swimming plus reasonable property prices and access to shops etc without being in a big city. We booked in lots of property viewings and started searching through them. The estate agents were all really helpful and gave us lots of options but covid numbers were again rising, especially in the north and centre of Portugal, with rumours of another lockdown pending.
We had met John & Kate during our first visit to Spain, in March. Originally, we planned to travel with them into Portugal but were split up just as lockdown came into force. They hurried on through to Portugal as we were locked down in Spain. During the past 7 months they had found a little home in southern Portugal and finalised their residency. We’d kept in touch during our time apart and now needed their help, as we were again looking for a safe base to park up, should a second lockdown come into force. They lived in Tavira, 5 hours away in the Algarve, but we were still in central Portugal. Our options were to return to Bruno’s site near Leiria or head south to our friends. After a mad, full day of non-stop driving we were finally reunited with John & Kate. It was an emotional reunion, which seems crazy since we’d only spent two or three days with them in Spain, but we’d messaged nearly every day in between and got to know each other really well. Whist travelling, we’ve found that strong friendships can be made so quickly, especially when we’ve met genuine, honest and open people.
Our plan was to park up at a motorhome site in Tavira, just a 20 minute cycle ride from where John and Kate now live. Little did we know, this would just be the start of our Portuguese adventure…
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.
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!!
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.
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!
One of our favourite things about full time travel is meeting interesting people. During our time in Denmark and Norway we had met up with lots of fellow travellers, many of whom we follow on social media. It was August 2020, after the first lockdown and coronavirus had made meeting new people a little more difficult but up in Scandanavia things were a little more relaxed. The pandemic here had had less of an impact on people’s lives; villages and towns are further apart, there’s more nature to move around in and the government had been really strict within their own country and monitoring movement from others. We had timed our visit really well.
After Trollstigen we headed south through Geiranger, around the fjords and over the mountains. We found snow capped mountains and more crystal clear lakes. Again, the scenery was so perfect, it seemed surreal. We stopped at the side of a lake for photographs and even introduced Theodore to snow… he was NOT impressed at all and ran straight back inside the motorhome! He’s definitely more of a warm weather cat!!
Whilst travelling full time might seem glamorous it isn’t always ‘photo ready’ but it certainly does focus your priorities. For us those are: water, power and laundry! Whilst wild camping is allowed all over Norway the facilities for living in a vehicle aren’t as accessible as in other countries such as France, Germany and Spain. With all the driving we’d been doing our leisure batteries were constantly charged but we desperately needed to fill the water, empty the toilet and do some laundry! That meant finding a campsite, which we usually try to avoid due to cost, but we had no other choice: we had found three laundrettes as we were driving around and they had all been closed!
Lovatnet Lake had been recommended to us as a must see and we decided on staying at Sande Camping. It took a big cut of our budget (€75.22 for one night with power, water, laundry, row boat hire for 1 hour & a packet of crisps from the shop) but what an incredible location!! It was just what we needed after so much driving, Theodore loved relaxing right next to the lake too. The campsite is small, with not much room between pitches but it is right on the edge of the turquoise lake, in a valley surrounded by snowcapped mountains. The snow melts and the water runs down the mountains right into the lake. Of course we HAD to jump in for a swim! It was breathtakingly beautiful but SO cold!! Our swim only lasted a few minutes and the next day we took a rowing boat out onto the lake, a far more sensible option!
We made our way down to Innvik, Laerdalsøyri & Vestland taking a ferry from Mannheller to Fodnes where we were reunited with Tom, Liz & their young son Finn from RVenturefamily at Laerdal Lake. We’d previously met them in Denmark on the car beach and had been following each others alternative routes around Norway. They’d come across on the ferry from Denmark then Olso and clockwise up to the north. We’d taken the bridge to Sweden then anti-clockwise around Norway. After a (much warmer) swim in Laerdal Lake we camped together and had a BBQ before again parting the next morning and heading our separate ways. They are much braver than us and were planning on staying much further north, in Norway and Finland for the winter and Christmas whilst we would head south to find winter sun in Spain and Portugal.
Next on our list was the longest road tunnel in the world, the Laerdal tunnel. A crazy 24.5km long, (3 times the height of our little island of Jersey!). It’s SO long that it has coloured lights and pull in stops in three places through the tunnel. It cost a whopping $113.1Million and took 5 years to build! An incredible feat of human engineering and definitely worth a visit if you’re ever driving through Norway.
As we exited the tunnel we found Viking Valley, which turned out to be one of the best places to visit in Norway AND even made the list of our favourite paid places to visit in Europe! You can find the full list here. It’s an authentic village that has been built as Vikings would have lived, using contemporary materials and craftsmanship to construct the houses, fencing, gates, a longboat and even a blacksmiths. The staff are all experts in their chosen field; weaponry, construction, bead making, iron works, fabric making, agriculture etc and are enthusiastic to share their knowledge with visitors. We tried archery and axe throwing (which is MUCH harder than it looks!), joined the free guided tour of the village and spent hours exploring the houses and talking to the incredibly knowledgable staff. 197 NOK (€18.50) well spent! (The bearded hat was ours, I do have to mention that Viking helmets did not have horns on)
We continued our journey through Gudvangen, past money drop waterfalls, Vaksdal and onto Bergen. In Bergen we explored the old town on our bikes and took the furnicular railway up to the top of the mountain overlooking the town (€24.73 return for 2 adults). After Bergen we headed back out into the countryside to park up at a marina and enjoy another sunset BBQ at the lakeside.
All our driving through the mountains had taken its toll and we were in desperate need of new tyres, living in a vehicle is not without large expenses. We’d hoped to last until we were back in Germany, to save a little money, but safety must come first! €387 later and a chance meeting with Mads at his mechanics garage, we were back on the road and heading from Eikelandsosen towards a tiny beach we’d found on the map next to a tourist attrcation called ‘Rex Garden‘. It turned out to be a park with BBQ areas, seating, a volleyball court and grassed areas next to the side of the fjord. Further round was a beautiful tiered garden full of weird and wonderful carved wooden statues and a children’s park. That evening we swam in the clear waters of the fjord as we watched the sun go down. With all the craziness in the world, it was a moment in time that made us completely happy with our decision to travel full time & will be one travel memory we will remember for many years to come.
We really didn’t want to leave but unfortunately motorhome parking overnight was not allowed so we continued our journey toward Vestvika then on to Stavenger. Whilst talking to our fellow travellers, Stavenger had been recommended several times. Again we were thankful to have the use of our e-bikes to explore the city. A really cool town with a castle/fort on the hill, cobbled street old town and a huge park with fountains. Our favourite part though was the unexpected discovery of the ‘urban playground’ situated just outside the oil museum, built on abandoned oil platform and made from oil rig and fishing ‘scraps’. Covered in colourful graffiti and right next to the marina we weren’t sure what we’d found but we knew it was exciting… and provided us with so many opportunities for awesome photographs!
On our way our of Stavenger we stopped at the famous 10 m high giant Sverd i fell Swords. at the edge of the fjord. They commemorate the historic Battle of Hafrsfjord which by tradition took place there in the year 872, when King Harald Fairhair gathered all of Norway under one crown. The largest sword represents the victorious Harald, and the two smaller swords represent the defeated petty kings. The monument also represents peace, since the swords are planted into solid rock, so they may never be removed. Norway is just brimming over with fantastic photo opportunities!
Our last stop in Norway was one of our most memorable; Elgtun, a visitor centre with tame moose. We’d parked out overnight in their car park so we didn’t miss their small window of opening times, which you can find on their website. Even though it was pouring with rain we made our way into the centre, watched the very informative video, watched for the moose in the huge forest and waited for feeding time! One of the things we loved about Elgtun was the huge forest area that the moose have to themslves, where they can’t be disturbed by humans. It’s their choice whether they come out or not. The skies cleared and the sun came out just as staff brought out the food. There were 2 adult female, 2 adult male and 2 calves when we visited. At this time of year (August) the females were certainly in charge, fighting off the males for the food. During mating season, we were told, the tables turn and the male moose take centre stage. They are extremely impressive, large, powerful animals but as they have been hand reared at the park, they are also docile and happy to be hand fed… you can even feed them bananas with your mouth! Even though the weather was against us it was one of the best things we did in Norway.
The weather was changing, the summer was coming to an end and that was our cue to end our time in Norway. After a jam packed three weeks we had covered hundreds of miles, seen some of the most breathtaking nature in Europe and fantastic feats of human engineering, met wonderful people and experienced things we will probably never have the opportunity to do again. We were safe, we were happy but we were exhausted! The next question was: would covid restrictions allow us to travel down through Sweden and Poland to get back to Germany for the next part of our travel adventure?
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Denmark, far more than we expected, but now it was time to head to Norway. We could have taken the ferry from northern Denmark over to southern Norway, without crossing through Sweden but we wanted to cross the Øresund Bridge. Callum had done it before with his friend but wanted to show me. It was another thing to tick off our ‘must do list’. It was expensive, costing us €123.50 and more diesel than taking the boat, but definitely worth it.
We still weren’t sure if we’d even be allowed to cross into Sweden with their Covid restrictions in place. We had done so much research on the internet and the that latest we’d been told, from other travellers who had driven the same route recently, was that we could drive up to Norway through Sweden but we couldn’t stop. That meant a gruelling 9 hour drive through Sweden, strategically detouring through only safe ‘green zones’ so that we would be allowed to cross into Norway. All we had to do was stay calm and explain that we’d left Denmark that morning, we even had a diesel receipt to prove it if necessary. Just as we approached the border I saw a wild moose grazing a little way away from the side of the road and was so excited that by the time we arrived at the border crossing I could just about tell the border control officer that “yes, we had been in Denmark that morning” and “no ,we hadn’t stopped in Sweden”. He very confused about why I was acting so strangely until Callum said “Sorry, she’s too excited. She’s just seen her first moose”!
We were finally in Norway! It was the beginning of August, 6 weeks later than our original plan, thanks to Covid delays, but we had made it! Hopefully the Scandanavian summer would hold out long enough for us to explore enough over the next three weeks. After our long day driving we just needed to relax and unwind. We found an urban park up near Mysen with our park4night app. It wasn’t in the greatest neighbourhood (we did some litter picking) but it had a water refill point, black & grey waste emptying and even free electric hook up (this is like finding treasure to a motorhomer!) After 2 weeks of wild camping in Denmark it was a welcome top up to our supplies.
We drove through mountains and valleys, breathtaking views at every turn. Our next stop was at a beautiful lake near Kongsvinger. We ate dinner and breakfast outside next to the lake and watched the geese swimming on the lake and some locals brave the icy mountain water for a morning swim. This is what we’d been hoping for from Norway.
We’d had a couple of days to rest and recuperate so we were ready for our next challenge. We had read about ‘the second highest road in Norway’ which involved a steep ascent up a gravel, one lane ‘road’ to the top of Tronfjell, a 1,666 m (5,466 ft) tall mountain. From the information we found online it was recommended for use by 4x4s but we had found one photo of a (much smaller) motorhome at the summit. That was enough to entice us to give it a try. As we approached the base of the mountain track (you couldn’t really call it a road) we met a silver transit sized camper van at the bottom who looked as if they were weighing up their chances of getting to the top. We waved as we drove by. Their expression immediately changed to “if they can do it, we certainly can” and off they went. We let them pass us just in case we needed to roll back and didn’t want to hold them up. In our 3.5 tonne, 7.5 metre motorhome, we were certainly going to be much slower than them!
After nearly a year on the road and approaching 15,000 miles driven, Callum is practically a motorhome driving professional. He expertly handled the (lack of) road, the tyre tracks left by previous users and the increasingly steep angle of the road. Only once did we think we weren’t going to make it as we hit a patch of mud in too high a gear and had to roll back down the hill to gain traction with our front wheel drive vehicle. To make things even worse it had started raining and the fog was rolling in, to make the visibility even worse. We were nearly there though. I counted down the hairpin bends as we approached the top… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… We made it!! The silver van was waiting for us at the the summit and the driver jumped up as we parked up “I didn’t think you were going to make it”. Neither did we!! You can find that drive up on out YouTube channel. Try not to hold your breath.
Unfortunately by the time we arrived at the top of Tronfjell the view was entirely obscured by the fog. We decided to sleep at the top and wait until the morning- one of the best things about driving around with your bed in the back is you can sleep anywhere! We’d expected it to be cold, but we weren’t prepared for it to drop to -6°C overnight. I cooked dinner in the oven, to warm us and the van up. We put on multiple layers and went to bed with hats, gloves and scarves on. We woke up at 4am to catch the sunrise. It was a mere 7°C inside the van and -1°C outside but what a view!! We could look down on the valleys below and even see over the top of neighbouring mountains. It was one of the most magical things we’ve ever seen and totally worth the drive up. You can find our drone video here
The drive back back the mountain was equally exciting as this time the fog had disappeared and we could actually see over the sides. After a bit of sheep wrangling at the bottom we were on our way to our next stop: the famous Trollstigen. Sometimes called the “most dangerous road in Norway” we were pretty excited to drive it, especially after our escapades up the mountain at Tronfjell. Trollstigen is a popular tourist attraction due to its steep incline of 10% and eleven hairpin bends up a steep mountainside. During the top tourist season, about 2,500 vehicles pass daily. The road is narrow with many sharp bends, and although several bends were widened during 2005 to 2012, vehicles over 12.4 metres (41 ft) long are prohibited from driving the road. At the 700-metre (2,300 ft) plateau there is a car park and several viewing balconies overlooking the bends and the Stigfossen waterfall. Stigfossen falls 320 metres (1,050 ft) down the mountainside. The pass has an elevation of approximately 850 metres (2,790 ft).
Before we decided to try it ourselves we met up with Pete and Brydee (@Champers and Campers) who also live full time in their motorhome & travel with their dog Molly (check out their podcast). They had just driven down Trollstigen from the other side of the mountain and had a bit of trouble with their brakes on the way down. After a quick BBQ and meet up with them we decided to wait until the next morning to try it ourselves and would go up before sunrise when the road was at it quietest. This turned out to be a great decision as we had the whole road to ourselves and drove up and down it a couple of times, getting some fantastic drone footage, before anyone else was awake. The roads were as challenging as we’d expected but the views and the waterfalls coming right down the mountainside were so much more impressive than we had imagined .
We explored a bit more at the top then had a little sleep and some breakfast before we were joined by Richard, another fellow motorhome traveller. The sun came out. It was a warm, clear, beautiful day. We spent the rest of the day swapping travel stories and watching the sheep as we sat by the river bubbling down the mountain. It was a perfect way to spend the day and we’re so glad we met up with Richard. He’s been to so many places and had so many tales to tell! We spent the night in the camper car park next to the information building and the next morning we parted ways with Richard, ready to resume our exploration of Norway & sure to meet again one day.
The other end of the Trollstigen road runs through Geiranger. It’s a steep climb up the mountain then an equally steep decent down into the valley and the fjord harbour of Geiranger. The views from the top of the mountain, over looking the valley and through the fjords are just breathtaking. To get back out of the valley it’s another climb back up and over the other side of the valley through more tiny, narrow winding mountain roads. With every turn Norway had shown us picture perfect views, since we’d entered from Sweden, but this area in particular was just incredible. The vistas at times didn’t look real, they were so perfect it felt like we were on a movie set. It was overwhelming at times, to be surrounded by such beauty and the constant driving (over mountains and through tunnels) did take it out of us, but what an experience! Something we’ll likely never see again. Definitely one to tick off your bucket list!
Motorhoming in Denmark post coronavirus, summer 2020
After our ‘release’ from lockdown in Spain & France and a couple of weeks pet sitting in Belgium, we were ready to head back out in Stevie (our motorhome) and explore this new ‘post covid world’. Scandinavia had been on our list before we even started travelling but would we be able to get there now? Thanks to coronavirus and lockdown, we were already 6 weeks behind our initial plan for being so far north by the beginning of June, to catch the Scandinavian summer.
Callum had briefly visited Norway and Sweden previously for esports tournaments (computer gaming conventions) and had driven to Sweden with a friend on a couple of occasions, so we were pretty confident about that part. We knew it could physically be done. What we were becoming more unsure about was if we would actually be able to enter Denmark or Norway at all. Our plan was to drive from Germany to Denmark, spend two weeks exploring then two weeks in Sweden followed by another two weeks in Norway but that was all looking more and more doubtful as we read about people being turned away at the Danish border and Sweden going in and out of ‘red zone’ classification.
What we could gather was that we needed to be able to prove to the border officials that we were going to be in Denmark for a minimum of 6 days. Most people would prove this by showing a campsite booking or an onward boat ticket to head to Norway, south to Poland or elsewhere. We had neither and we were nervous. We were planning on wild camping our way around Scandinavia, it’s the only way we were going to be able to afford the next six weeks of our travels. Thankfully our new travel friends came to our rescue. We had been in contact with Eva & Malthe from @evaogmalthe.dk through Instagram, during quarantine in Spain, swapping the latest quarantine news and regulations whilst keeping each others spirits up. Luckily for us they lived in Denmark and were back home right when we needed them! After a phone conversation with the border official (that seemed painfully slow to us, as we waited with baited breath), they were able to vouch for us and reassure the police that we would be spending time with them in the next two weeks, so we were allowed to cross into Denmark. Travel friends are the best!
We usually try to take driving slowly but this was a case of “foot down & just get there”. We drove through four countries in three days to get to Denmark, now it was time to relax and take things slowly. Denmark was just supposed to be a nice step towards our actual goal of Norway, which we had read so much about but “wow!”, what a beautiful place it is! We entered from Flensburg in Germany then headed west along the North Sea coast. Our first stop was Vadehavscentret, a park up on the coast where the sea comes in over the mud flats. Apart from the views, the most impressive part of this place was the wooden pole marking the heights of the highest tidal water- most of them taller than Callum’s 6ft! The rules in Denmark regarding wild camping are quite strict but straight forward, as you might expect. Wild camping isn’t actually legal but you can sleep in your vehicle for one night, if you are too tired to continue your journey and are parked sensibly (not causing an obstruction, blocking any entrances or on private land). That suited us perfectly.
We hadn’t yet dared to take Stevie onto a beach, for fear of getting stuck, but I convinced a trepidatious Callum (& far more sensible than I am) to drive onto the Vejers Autostrand where there were numerous other vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Of course, the mud grip mats went straight under the tyres as soon as we parked, just in case. It was a kind of surreal experience to be allowed to drive and park on the beach and it felt really special, not something we’d ever done before. We dipped our toes in the North Sea, adding to the list of seas & oceans that we’ve been in (I really must add them up some time) and we met the wonderful @rventurefamily. Tom & Liz had just started travelling with their young son Finn, in their motorhome. As always, when we meet fellow travellers, the chat turns to what works or doesn’t work in our vans. What we like and what we’d change. After so long without talking to other ‘travel folk’, it was so nice to once again meet people who just ‘get it’, are friendly and happy to talk to you as if you’ve known them forever. We parted ways but promised to keep in touch & meet up again when we were both in Norway the following month.
We slowly made our way north up the west coast stopping at Esbjerg and Thorsminde via Lyngvig to see the ‘Men by the Sea’ statues. We had the most delicious ice creams at Hanstholm Mad Bar and saw the Hanstholm Fyr lighthouse, staying the night at a tiny little campsite on the harbour at Vesløs for 100 DK (about €13.42) so we could do laundry. Doing laundry in Scandinavia was going to prove one of the most difficult things to do during our six weeks adventuring. We have found that generally, the poorer the country the better the public laundry facilities. When the population is a bit ‘better off’ they are able to own their own washing machines. Great for them, not so helpful to us.
We moved on to Mosesøen and met some van travellers from France when they parked next to us in the forest. The following day we attempted to do laundry again, but the two laundrettes we found were both closed for holidays. On we went to Skagen, the most northern point of Denmark, which had been recommended to us. We stopped at the lighthouse for a photo but the car park at Skagen was packed and parking, with no amenities, was going to cost us €20! Thanks to park4night we found a better place to spend the night and watched the most magnificent sunset with our latest travel friends, the newly married and completely adorable, Mirko & Nikolene @the_schochs. More about them later…
We’d been saving our budget so far for some activities we had been looking forward to over the next couple of days. Our first stop was the Randers Memphis Mansion; a replica of Elvis’ mansion, Graceland, recommended to us by Claire & Sam from @nextstopevwhere, more travel friends that we hadn’t met yet. Having grown up with Elvis music thanks to my Mum, this was a must for me. The museum is excellent, containing lots of memorabilia telling Elvis’ story from birth, through his rise to fame. The restaurant though, has to be the highlight. It was an expensive day (€82.16) but that was the museum & a huge lunch for both of us and some postcards from the gift shop. You can park up in their car park if you sign up to pintrip.eu. Definitely worth looking at, it is similar to the France Passion scheme providing unique park ups to their members.
The following day we crossed the Odense bridge and headed to Camp Adventure to climb another treetop tower, our first being the Baumipfelpfad in Bad Wildbad, in southern Germany. There is so much to do at Camp Adventure, especially if you have children with you. A really cool place to explore nature whilst clmbing trees and sliding down zipwires, plan at least a whole day there!
Denmark had so far been really clean and litter free but as we parked at Solrødstrand a litter pick was needed! Coincidentally, the following day we headed to the beach across from the car park and found a great initiative ‘Projekt Ren Strand’: litter picking baskets positioned at the entrance to the beach to encourage visitors to pick up any rubbish from the beach and bin it when they return the baskets on their way out. Brilliant idea! We spend a lovely day at the beach, a totally unexpected hot & sunny beach day in Denmark, even swimming in the Baltic Sea (which was indeed ‘baltic’, but another one for the list!).
Nearing our time in Denmark we headed to meet our friends Eva & Malthe, for the first time in real life. They welcomed us into their home & cooked us a traditional Danish dinner as we swapped travel tales and recommended a visit to Bakken, the oldest amusement park in the world! We had a fantastic evening, again meeting wonderful, kind, like minded people and, thanks to their recommendation, a fun day out at Bakken. The rides are pretty old school so don’t expect anything too advanced but it’s reasonably priced, good, old fashioned fun… we especially loved the water ride!
Finally we could head towards Copenhagen, which Callum had been eager to show me. As you’d expect for a capital city whose main mode of transport is the bicycle, it is fantastic for exploring by bike! There are cycle tracks everywhere, with some places only accessible by bike or foot. We only had one afternoon to explore Copenhagen and saw so much, I wish we’d had longer. I would definitely go back again. It is in fact, one of our favourites, making the list of our Top European Cities from the past year.
We had planned to leave Denmark the following day but recieved a message from the Schochs, Mirko & Nikolene, who we’d met at the beach. They asked if we’d like to join them & Nikolene’s family for brunch the next day, before we left Denmark. Of course, we said “yes”. Again, we were overwhelmed with their generosity & hospitality. They’d put on a full spread of pancakes, bacon, eggs, pastries and assorted drinks to welcome us and to celebrate Mirko’s home country national day, Switzerland. Travel friends really are the best!
We were a little bit sad but it was time to leave Denmark, over the Øresund Bridge. It might have been cheaper to take the ferry to Sweden but I love bridges and this is an exceptionally impressive one! We LOVED Denmark and we highly recommend it to anyone; for a long motorhome exploration or just a weekend trip to Copenhagen, it is well worth the visit!
What most people want to know is: how much has a year of full time travelling cost us? It’s your lucky day as we look back over the past 12 months and break down exactly how much we’ve spent. This doesn’t take into account the purchase of the motorhome, initial insurance, van equipment (including our ebikes) and getting to Europe from Jersey via ferry (totalling approximately £29,000). We funded our travels by selling nearly everything we owned (our flat, car, motorbike, my businesses and anything we didn’t need to bring with us), by working extra jobs & hours for over a year and by working whilst we’re travelling (Callum is a freelance digital marketer).
2019 was a big year for us, deciding to leave everything we knew behind, buy a motorhome and travel Europe full time. It took us a few months to get into the travel life, figuring out how best to divide our budget between accommodation, food, fuel, fun and other expenses. Our budget was positively affected when we started wild camping which, of course, saved us lots on our accommodation expenses & gave us scope to spend that money elsewhere (doing fun things, going to attractions and eating out). Our budget changed as we visited different countries: some were more expensive but we drove more (Denmark, Norway & Sweden) and others were cheaper but we spent more on accommodation rather than wild camping (Albania & Croatia). Greece was a pretty much perfect 5 weeks for vanlife as we embraced wild camping, visiting natural wonders and also everything else was much cheaper: eating out, groceries and fuel.
A huge part of our budget in December (a month’s worth) went on ferries and accommodation over Christmas and New Year as went ventured to Malta to spend a month with friends and family and then we had extra expenses as we paid for activities and eating out with our friends and family, but for us, it was totally worth it for those memories and we would do it again! We decided to do as much as we could during this year, within our budget. Sometimes that means ‘splurging’ on fun times and cutting back on other expenses like a week of cheap pasta dinners so we can hang out with our friends.
2020 was a big year, not just for us but for the whole world, with covid-19 and that certainly affected our budget: reducing our fuel and van expenses drastically (because we were in lockdown for 3 months in Spain and then France) but increasing our accommodation and food budgets. Spain, like Greece, was one of our favourite places for van life and was great value for the money paid out per experience balance (a night out, free street carnival, tapas and sangria for €16.50 for the two of us!). After lockdown we had to adjust our budget again as we headed up to Scandinavia over the summer, stocking up on food supplies in Germany before we entered Denmark. Fuel in Scandinavia was REALLY expensive and we did a lot of driving so stocking up on cheaper food & the ability to wild camp & sustain ourselves certainly paid off.
Our last couple of weeks of the year, in September, were a little more expensive as we celebrated with friends in Amsterdam, but again, that was definitely worth it. We could have cut down our budget in lots of places and there are certainly ways of living this life more cheaply, but we’re happy with how we have spent our budget this year; doing as much as we can, whilst we still travel freely (thanks Brexit & covid!!).
Since we have mainly be spending Euros that’s what our budget is in, all other currencies have been converted to Euros using the exchange rate of the time. We were initially looking at a budget of about €1,000 per month all in, for the both of us, but looking back we probably should have been a bit more realistic and planned for about €1,500 per month. Dividing our total yearly spend of €20,515.62 by 12 months we have an average monthly spend of €1,709.64. Bearing in mind that during our year of travelling we have visited 20 countries and driven over 15,000 miles. Our life in the motorhome is less than the cost of our monthly expenses living in our flat in Jersey with mortgage payments, electric, water, internet, gas, phone, service charges, groceries and fuel considered… but no holidays. You could certainly travel less, relax more and save lots more money. This is what worked for us and we’ll break it down for you.
Food Food was our biggest expense of the year at €6155.18, nearly double the second biggest cost, fuel. Food in our budget includes groceries, drinks, take aways and eating out, plus food for Theodore (basically anything we might buy at a restaurant, cafe or supermarket). An average of €512.93 a month does seem quite high and varies depending on where we are, what we’re doing and who we’re with. A big part of our ‘fun’ budget is eating out or going for a drink, especially when we are with friends so it’s kind of part of our ‘activities’ budget too, but counted in ‘food’. Our cheapest months for food were August and September when we were in Scandinavia and had bought food in Germany for those 6 weeks, hence the expensive food bill in July (and we found a ‘British Shop’ in Belgium where we stocked up on goodies from home). During lockdown (March, April and May) our food budget was still over €400 per month whilst nearly all our other bills (except accommodation) were €0. I do cook a lot from scratch & we waste very little, which does bring our food budget down from what it could be.
Fuel & Accommodation Our second and third biggest expenses were fuel (€3814.64) and accommodation (€3689.65). Fuel varies wildly from €520.88 & €593.89 in Scandinavia during July & August to €0 in April during lockdown in Spain. January-March were pretty cheap as fuel is usually under €1 per litre in Spain, another reason why we love it so much! We use an app called ‘cheap refuel’ as often as we can to direct us to the cheapest fuel stations but it isn’t available in every country, unfortunately. Having a smaller, lighter van would save you money on fuel and was certainly a consideration when we were choosing our motorhome but overall living space won out.
Accommodation costs vary hugely too; from just €18.42 in July when we were wild camping nearly every night to €712.56 in October, right at the start of our travels, when we thought we had to pay to stay at a campsite every night (rookie error!). Discovering aires and wild camping (sometimes called ‘off grid’ camping) have been some of the best things for us (& our budget) over the past 12 months. There’s lots of great advice out there, we’ve written our own tips for wild camping in Europe here. Our accommodation costs at air bnbs in Malta were split between all who stayed & our lockdown accommodation was more than we’d usually spend in a month but kept us safe whilst we couldn’t drive anywhere. Got to choose those priorities!
Repairs & Ferries Repairs and ferries are next on our list at €1710.57 and €1767.40 respectively. Repairs cover any maintenance to the motorhome, including new tyres that we bought in Norway and servicing to the van that we had done in Malta and Spain (so far). If you know how to do vehicle repairs yourself you could save a bit of money here but keeping the motorhome safe and in good order isn’t something we’ll do without. It’s our transportation AND our home so is worth the money.
The ferries were partly a treat to ourselves (to get to Malta over Christmas and New Year) and also a choice we made between driving from Greece to Spain or taking ferries. It was about €500 more than if we’d driven when we weighed up fuel, wear & tear to the van/tyres and time taken on the road. Like I said above, we wanted to get the most out of this year of travelling & that meant seeing as much as we could whilst enjoying ourselves. We didn’t have many definite dates booked in for places we had to be but Malta was booked before we left Jersey, as a way to meet up with friends and family 3 months into our trip.
Activities When we are looking at our budget the first thing we look at adjusting is what we spend on activities, which can be anything from visiting museums and theme parks to taking canal rides and hiring a rowing boat. Most of them are not necessary but they are fun! We have made some of our best travel memories at places that are pay to enter (find our favourite ones here) but we also love wild swimming, exploring nature and cycling on our bikes. Our e-bikes have actually been one of our greatest investments & allowed us to see much more than we would have been able to without them. They were a reasonably large cost to us before we left (around £1,400 for both) but have more than proved their worth. You can find our top free activities in Europe here.
The rest We try to avoid toll roads now. Another thing we’ve learned during the year is that the shortest, quickest, most direct way isn’t necessarily the best. We prefer ‘life in the slow lane’. Toll roads can save you money on fuel & vehicle wear and tear but some of our favourite travel moments have been discovered on the ‘road less travelled’. Sometimes toll roads are unavoidable or an experience in themselves; the Øresund bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden, for example, was something that we were happy to pay to do as were the ferries and tunnels in Norway.
Laundry we do about every 7-10 days and is about €10-€20 depending if we can line dry our clothes instead of paying for a dryer. Sometimes the cost of laundry is included in our accommodation costs so I haven’t always split that up (just in case you thought we were super stinky in the months with €0 allowance for laundry!)
Our van, travel & health insurances we paid before we left Jersey, so they’re not included in the year’s budget as such but extra insurance for countries outside of the EU are (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro & Albania). Our annual vehicle insurance for full time travel in the EU is somewhere in the region of £1,600. It’s a bit trickier to find full time travel insurance (where you can be travelling for more than 90 days in a row) and coming from Jersey makes it even more difficult as some of the UK insurance companies don’t cover us. It definitely pays to ring around though and ask for several quotes.
Miscellaneous expenses cover everything else: postcards & stamps, repairs to the bikes, taking Theodore to the vet, medication, clothing etc. Minimising what we own and living in the motorhome for a year has helped us to see exactly how much we can live without. This year we have only made 6 clothing purchases between us: 1 pair of trainers, 1 pair of swim shorts, 2 t-shirts and new pants (underwear) for the both of us and they were all because what we had was now unwearable after being worn so often. We reuse & repurpose as much as we can including reusable shopping bags and net vegetable bags, using empty food packaging as rubbish bags, wax wraps, tubs and jars in the kitchen instead of cling film or aluminium foil, refillable plastic bottles instead of one use bottles, soap bars and shampoo bars instead of plastic bottles etc. It all cuts down on waste, to help us in our quest to become more sustainable but also cuts down on cost, which helps our budget.
We keep a note of every cent we spend, for our own budget but also because many people have asked us how much things have cost over the past year. We hope this has been some help to you if you are planning a full time van life adventure. Please let us know in your comments!