This amazing photo is taken by Emma Peijnenburg! The rest are taken by Jeroen and Hedwig.
Hello Jeroen and Hedwig!
For the people who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about the story behind you.
We’re Jeroen and Hedwig, 33 and 31 years old, and together with our two dogs Tommie and Olaf we travel though Europe in our 32 year old Volkswagen Vanagon named Chewie. In October 2016 we sold our house in Amsterdam and almost all of our belongings, and we took off.
Currently we are exploring marvelous Morocco, but besides that there is no plan. We don’t even know how long we will be doing this. Eventually it will be nice to have a steady place of your own again (not too big, though, we love living small!) we figure, but our horizon is nice and empty.
How was your life before van life and how is it now?
Before we started van life we lived a fast life. Like most people of our age we were busy with everything at once. We lived in a big city, so there was always lots to do. We had many good friends, so between work and social contacts there was little time left to actually relax.
Now we are getting better and better at living slow. There’s always more in the world you miss than what you see. So we just accept that and enjoy everything we’re able to experience. This life gives us so much more in the terms of nature and relaxation. We still have deadlines for our work, but they feel less heavy.
What does the van life mean to you and why did you choose this lifestyle over your previous life?
Right now, this is the only life we want to be leading. Therefor it means the world to us – and in a beautiful literal way we get to see and enjoy that world at the same time.
We chose to do this because we wanted our lives to be less predictable. That’s what started it. We were feeling more and more restless and with that grew the need for adventure. Also, we were getting uneasy with the idea of having a good life with everything we could wish for but also have the accompanying struggles to being able to pay for that. We lived in an awesome penthouse in Amsterdam, but obviously that doesn’t come for nothing. Combine those feelings and add our lust for traveling and a plan was born. Travelling in a van is perfect for us because you actually do have something to call ‘home’.
To be honest it wasn’t even a difficult choice. We actually made the decision on a Friday afternoon and right that Monday after we started calling realtor agents for selling our apartment.
Of course we do miss Amsterdam and all the city has to offer from time to time, but after having lived there for over five years, we found ourselves having too much of a comfort zone. Still, we had no idea how awesome and addictive it is to just get out there and explore the unknown.
What do you miss the most when you are on the road?
Surprisingly little, we have found. Of course, there’s the usual: friends, family and Dutch peanut butter. Although, what we sometimes do miss is hanging out with people our own age. Even with us being quite happy to be on our own. In the United States there seems to be somewhat more of a van life movement going on than in Europe, with more people being on the road. On the other hand, we’re going towards spring and summer and that’s when many get moving. We’ll see!
How did you realize that it was possible live in that way against the common life path? Was it difficult to take the plunge?
We had already began to explore this path a bit. It starts with small thoughts, like who actually decides whether you should work at least eight hours a day? And why is our society partly based on these dogmatic ideas, with very often outdated values? Why can’t three people get married, if they want to?
Look, we’re not hippies or anarchists, but we feel that we can do with this life what we want, respecting others and everything around us. So that’s what we do now. To us that wasn’t difficult at all, but that could have to do with the type of people we’ve gathered around us and also coming from the liberal city that Amsterdam is.
Is it worth it?
Yes. Even during the difficult times, which can make them so much more agonizing, thinking: there’s not even another option, there’s not even something else I would want to be doing.
How do you afford it?
Hedwig kept on working as freelance journalist, partly still writing human lifestyle articles for magazines like she did before, but spending more and more time on reflecting on our journey – and trying to make money off that as well.
Jeroen is currently learning himself to make videos and edit them. Next to that he’s using his old sales skillset to sell our stories to magazines and sites.
Tell us a little bit about your van, what is the story behind it?
We lived in Amsterdam and in that city a car is not something you’d really want or need. So when we decided to go for van life we still needed the van. We went to a good reputation garage where they sold classic Volkswagens. Most of them T2. We’d seen a green T2 online and we were quite sure that one would suit us. After the test drive we came back and we weren’t really sure. The drive was not what we hoped it to be and we had second thoughts about the price. We were also doubting about adding a canopy to the van, so Jeroen walked across the lot to a brown Vanagon which had one, to check if that was something for us. To cut a long story short, that’s how we met Chewie. She’s 32 years old and it was love at first sight. She proves us right every single day now.
How would you describe a normal day in your life now?
To be honest, there are no normal days. In the beginning we tried to make up a certain routine, which then worked, but would totally fail once we moved on to another place. Now we just accept the unpredictability of this life and try to see it as one of the perks actually. Not knowing what our tomorrow would look like is precisely why we left Amsterdam and started all this.
So the one day we could be getting up real early and pack our stuff and within the hour we will be on our way to a new spot, and the other day we’ll snooze, have lazy breakfast with green tea and oatmeal and crackers with cheese and jam, we’ll talk some, read some, laugh some, walk with the dogs and get ready to prepare an early dinner again. Other days we have a lot of errands to do, or time planned to update our website – or edit a video. And sometimes we’ll act as complete and perfect tourists and we’ll go about and explore where we are.
Sometimes we think we should get a bit more of structure going on, because otherwise it’s just impossible to get the things done that you want to do. It’s crazy how fast a day can pass by, van life is unfortunately no exception.
What are the best moments you have lived in this adventure?
Obviously everything new we see. We’ve seen more stars in one night in Morocco than in 5 years in Amsterdam. We’ve seen sunsets and sunrises as in paintings and we’ve driven past sites you’d normally only see on television. But what’s the best of all are the moments shit doesn’t go as planned and we overcome the problems with a smile on our face. We managed to find a new lifestyle and eliminate stress for a great deal. And we’re still learning to better at that. That’s the best.
What are the worst moments you have had to face?
Surely those were in the first few weeks. We left late in the season and it had already gotten quite cold, so in a weeks’ time we drove all the way from the Netherlands to Portugal – while still trying to enjoy the trip and keeping the amount of kilometers each day to a minimum. By the time we arrived there, we were both exhausted. The beach we parked next at welcomed us with a beautiful sunset, but we couldn’t even really enjoy it. Was this what our life was going to be like? Some minor setbacks in the beginning, such as an overheating engine and problems with our coolant, made us feel that way too.
Luckily there’s been a lot of getting used to it all the past few months and now this totally feels as our life, with ups and downs like every life has. And we now know how important it is to accept that what’s happening and just do what you can, instead of despair. Because things will never go the way you plan anyway. This goes for everyone, but even so much more when living in a van.
How long have you been living on the road?
We are now on the road for 3,5 months. We took off on October 30th 2016.
What’s next? Short term, mid term, long term.
We’d like to plan as little as possible. Right now we’re thinking about what route to further take through Morocco. We like it so much here that we think about staying the full three months, the length of our visa. After that, it’s unsure. We’d really like to go to the UK and Summer seems like the perfect time for that, us being people that have had enough rain when we lived in The Netherlands – so now we don’t necessarily look that up. So that’s an option. Or we might keep on heading more east and enjoy the Mediterranean. Eventually we want to see all of Europe. And after that, who know. Maybe we’ll end up driving down to Asia.
PRACTICAL STUFF. How do you deal with the next things? Can you give us a couple of tips?
First of all: it’s incredible how much stuff you can still get to fit in a van like ours. Not big stuff like inflatable canoes or something, but really everything that we would like to take with us. But of course this was after we had asked ourselves the question: what do we REALLY need? Not so much, we discovered. Camp stores have amazing gear that saves a ton of space and with two people, you really only need two of everything. On the other hand, we have allowed ourselves to take stuff with us that makes us happy – but isn’t necessarily very practical. For instance: for Hedwig that’s not only having her yoga mat, but also a meditation cushion and large bolster. Although they make for great lounge pillows too.
Eat on the road. Stay healthy.
Our meals vary from simple cheese sandwiches and canned sardines to homemade soup and fried chicken. Either way we try to eat lots of vegetables and we use many spices and herbs, preferably fresh and locally grown. And we never forget the magic van life potion: might one of us feel a bit under the weather, we’ll be making fresh ginger tea with turmeric and honey.
Also Hedwig has just started growing sprouts again, a healthy addition to an omelet or a salad, and we’re keen on brewing our own fermented kombucha drink.
Shower and hygiene on the road.
When camping in the wild, we use soap and a wash cloth and every few days or so we’ll look up a paid campsite with facilities in order to take a shower – hopefully a warm one. If it’s nice or when they have good WiFi we stay longer. It’s nice to be able to go to the toilet without having to worry where. We have no space for a port-a-potti and thus depend on what’s out there: whether it being a public toilet or a nice tree in the woods.
Find a good place to spend the night.
In Europe you can’t go without these two apps who show campsites, from paid to wild camping: Park4Night and Camper Contact by NKC, the Dutch camp association. Sometimes we just turn in a small winding road and see whether we end up somewhere we can park, other times we pinpoint a spot on Google Maps of which we think it can be nice.
Relationships with family and friends.
We have no idea when we will see people again. On the other hand: it’s not like we’ve emigrated to the other side of the world. We told everyone they can tag along for a little while, if they want. Being able to remain in touch through WhatsApp and Facebook, and the occasional Facetime conversation, makes it less hard to be away.
Most important and useful things you can’t live without on the road.
Internet. To keep in touch, to be able to get our work done, to find solutions when something goes wrong, literally for everything. Second must come our woolen blankets. They protect the original fabric of the van, keep us warm during cold nights or evenings outside, and make for nice personalized decoration. Also, a sharp and versatile knife is indispensable.
Travel routine, how much time do you spend in the same place?
Too often too little. For now we feel that we like to spend about four nights in the same place, or a week if it’s really nice. After that it’s always nice to be driving again, getting to see new things. Make sure you realize what the goal of your trip is and make a good compromise between those things: is it solely exploring this lifestyle, is it leaving the city behind for nature, or is it also seeing places that you don’t know yet? For us it’s all of the above and that can be very challenging.
What are your favorite and most van friendly places you have been?
So far Portugal is the most van friendly country we’ve been. Lots of spots to go wild camping and also plenty of cheap camper sites for the occasional hot shower. We were told that off grid camping Is more difficult there during the high season, but in the low season it was absolutely fine. In Portugal our favorite area was around Amado beach down to Sagres.
Where do you look for van life ideas, resources, inspiration, help?
After having made up this whole adventure, we spent hours and hours on research: mainly on Instagram. There’s a load of information on van life to be found there. From seeing ‘what it looks like’ (to already get a bit used to it) to reading personal stories and advice. Just browse the most popular hashtags that van life accounts use. When it comes to more particular issues it helps to just google it, as specific as possible. There’s a huge community out there and many people have experienced the very problem that you are trying to solve – and blogged about it.
What advice would you give to the people who are doubting to give this huge step?
Trust in yourself: deep inside you know what to do. To avoid having unrealistic sugarcoated expectations of van life it would help to talk with people who have already undertaken something like this. Because it’s really not all picture perfect campfires and hipster coffee grindin’. It can be really harsh.
That way you can also ask questions about the things that scare you the most. Funny thing is though that the insecurity of this lifestyle is what most people fear the most, and that actual van lifers don’t have a solution for that. They just do it, and things get along and it always works out. Because they just always do. So don’t worry and take the leap, if you feel this is for you.
Where can we follow you and learn more from you?
Our main channel is Instagram. We try to upload something every day and reflect a little in the process. Our account is @liveslowdriveslower. Next to that we are on Facebook. We also have our own website in Dutch, on here we publish longer blogs and our vlogs. Just bookmark www.liveslowdriveslower.com to read more about us. If you can’t read Dutch, don’t worry. In the menu on the right is a little globe, set google translate to English and you’ll be fine.