Last Updated on August 23, 2022 by Nellie Huang
After dreaming of buying a camper van for 10 years, we finally took the plunge. We are currently driving it around Europe. Follow along on our journey!
For a long time I’ve dreamt of having a camper van. Way before #vanlife became a movement and years before it turned into a global trend.
It all started back in 2010. We first fell in love with van life in Australia, when we went on an epic month-long road trip around Australia. We explored and drove all over the Red Centre, Queensland, and South Australia on camper van, and absolutely loved the freedom that came with van life.
Then in 2017, we hired a camper van again to drive Iceland’s Ring Road, a scenic route around the Arctic island nation. Even Kaleya, who was 2 years old then, really enjoyed it and had a blast! We saw spectacular waterfalls, went on short hikes, and stopped to cook or sleep wherever we wanted. That experience reminded us of how much we love camper van travel.
We knew camper van travel was 100% for us.
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Perfect Timing for Campervan Travel
We started scouting for a van in 2018 after moving to Amsterdam. After all, the Dutch have a reputation of being campervan enthusiasts. There was definitely no shortage of second-hand camper vans for sale on Marktplaats, a Dutch online market place.
But we had a long list of requirements and we didn’t want to do any conversion ourselves. You could say we were pretty picky. We found a few we liked and even went for test drives, but we never found anything suitable for us.
Then this March, things changed.
Covid19 became a global pandemic and disrupted travel worldwide. Our trips to Egypt, Ecuador, Lithuania, Belarus and Moldova got cancelled. It became apparent that flying would not be an option for a while. So our search intensified.
Finding the Perfect Van
During the lockdown, Alberto and I started spending more time researching on van life and looking for the perfect van for us. We felt like this would be the perfect time to get a camper van. Traveling by camper van would be the best way to explore our backyard, while social distancing from others.
In mid June, we finally chanced upon a 2008 Volkswagen Crafter that ticked everything on our list and the price was really reasonable (22,000 euros). It was already converted into a family-friendly camper van and it had everything we’d need (including a separate bed for Kaleya, which was essential for us!).
Within a week, we became official owners of a VW camper van!
Introducing Our New Home on Wheels
We are so stoked to introduce to you our new home on wheels! We don’t really have a name for our van yet as we can’t seem to agree on one — I want to call it Zephyr, Alberto wants to give it a Dutch name, Joris; while Kaleya wants to name it Mia (she seems to think our van is a girl!).
Our Volkswagen might be a tad bit old, but the engine is in tip top condition and the previous owner has done a pretty good job in the conversion. What we really like about our van is its family-oriented layout. Even though space is limited in the van, we have everything we need to traveling comfortable.
The Interior of Our Camper Van
It has a dinette and a proper seat for Kaleya when we’re driving. The driver/co-pilot seats swivel to form a dining area. We also have a cassette toilet behind the dinette (which can function as a shower too, but we’ll need to convert it ourselves later on).
The kitchen has a 2-burner gas stove and a small sink next to it. Below that is a lot of storage space for kitchen cutlery and utensils. Next to the kitchen is a 80L Dometic fridge and freezer that works with gas and electricity.
At the back of the van is our custom-built double bunk beds which can fit up to 4 persons. Alberto and I sleep at the bottom, while Kaleya is at the top (she gets to watch the stars from our roof window). I was worried about feeling claustrophobic sleeping at the bottom, but it’s actually not that cramped. We’ve slept in it every night for the past 2 weeks and I’ve felt pretty comfortable in there.
How the Camper Van Works
Our van is fully decked out, so we haven’t had to make much changes. We made some minor updates, like building a bar counter that flips open on the outside, replacing the dinette table, and installing small fans. We also spent some time decorating the van to give it a personal touch and make it feel like home.
Since sharing news about our camper van on social media, many of you have been asking about the basic features of our van, so I thought I’ll share here:
- Toilet — Our van has a cassette toilet, which looks like a normal toilet, except that we need to empty the waste tank once a week.
- Water — We have a 100L freshwater tank that can be easily refilled at gas stations or campsites. We get instant hot water in the sink.
- Shower — Our simple shower head hooks up to the sink, and is used for outdoor showers. We hope to install an indoor shower in our toilet in future.
- Gas — We have an external LPG gas tank that supplies the gas for the cooking stove and fridge. It’s easily refilled at gas stations (and very cheap too, at 5 euros for a full tank which lasts us 5 days).
- Electricity — The van has an electrical system powered by an extra battery that is recharged by driving or plugging to an external power source. It’s a 12v system, and can power our laptops, cameras, lights and kitchen for 3/4 days before it needs a recharge. Hopefully we’ll get solar panels in future to go off grid for longer periods of time.
- Fan — We only have air-conditioning in the cab (driving compartment) of the van, but we have installed mini 12V fans above our bed for warm nights.
Traveling Europe by Camper Van
I’m currently writing to you from Granada, Spain! We’ve actually spent the past two weeks traveling in our camper van from Amsterdam to Granada, via several national parks and charming towns in Belgium and France.
It’s been an awesome road trip so far: we took our time to slowly explore the South of France, driving only 3 hours a day and camping at scenic, remote spots every night. For the first time in years, we didn’t have a plan or itinerary. We just decided where to go as we went along, and parked wherever we felt was suitable for the night.
A Road Trip through France and Spain
We wove our way through the lavender fields of Provence, got lost in beautiful sunflower fields, and visited quaint mountaintop villages like Gordes and Rousillon. Driving along the stunning coastline of Cote d’Azur, we stopped for delicious seafood and refreshing dips in the Mediterranean Sea, and even made a day trip to the independent nation of Monaco.
The highlight of our trip was definitely crossing the Pyrenees Mountains that straddle the France-Spain border. Driving our camper up the winding roads and steep slopes that criss-cross the impressive mountain range was such an experience. But the best part of all? Parking at a viewpoint, watching sunset from our bed and then waking up for a hike in the mountains.
How It’s Like Travel During Covid19
We are spending two weeks in Granada with family, before driving back to Amsterdam. (In case you didn’t know, we lived in Spain for 7 years prior to this.) On our way home, we intend to take a different route and explore a bit more of northern Spain.
A few readers have expressed their concern about traveling amidst the pandemic. We have been careful to avoid areas with higher infection rates, such as Catalonia and Aragon in Spain. Also we have been wearing masks everywhere, even in places where masks aren’t mandatory.
Life has pretty much returned to normal in most places we visited, and we’ve noticed that most people in France and Spain are respectful of Covid19 rules, keeping their distance and disinfecting as much as possible.
As for future travels, we already have several Europe road trips in mind. We’d love to drive up to the Finnish Lapland in winter, perhaps a summer road trip to the Balkans, and maybe a hiking trip to Austria and Switzerland in spring.
To be clear, we don’t intend to live in the camper van like many vanlifers do. We were actually nomadic for a short while back in 2013, but we realised it wasn’t for us. We like having a home base in Amsterdam, and we plan to travel with our camper van from there as often as we can!
Follow the rest of our journey on Instagram, where I’ll be sharing live updates along the way.
Thank you for following along!