Our last visit to Europe had been more than 3 years. With another little one added to our family, a trip was overdue. After we found a friend willing to keep our black lab for a very long time, we booked tickets. The plan was to spend the Holidays in the Netherlands, and then to take a train down towards Malaga to rent an Airbnb. Do you have any idea how expensive it is to train 5 people through Europe? More expensive than purchasing a vehicle and driving it there.
The Berry Bus needed a little TLC. New tires, shocks and some welding plus other things that my hubby may not have involved me in. Though we did not know this when we purchased the van, it did have a seating area with dinner table. All we needed to do in the interior was to add proper seatbelts and create beds for the kids. This turned out to be an easy job with help from our handy friends with the right equipment and especially a creative mindset.
After the Holidays, we hit the road. The Netherlands was cold. Belgium, which we crossed in just a matter of a few hours, was cold. France, cold. With small kids we did not feel like braving the weather and camp, so while we crossed France we slept in hotels and a gîte. But as soon as we were getting close to the Mediterranean, we tested the ‘campability’ of our bus. A helpful app brought us to a vineyard where we bought a bottle of red to celebrate our achievement. As we prepared for a cold night, the kids were collecting sticks for their pretend campfire (after all, we were camping), having a blast. This was what it was all about, wasn’t it?
Well, not so much. The constant need to move everything and everyone around while playing Tetris with our gear, did not make Vanlife the joyful experience that YouTubers make it out to be. Terrible wind in Gruissan, getting chased off an ‘aire’ in Spain probably because we did not quite look like the average retired white RV traveler (interpret ‘white’ as you like) and continuous pounding rain really made us question our spontaneous way of making travel decisions.Being crouched down in a tiny van with a 2-year-old seriously tests the boundaries of sanity. Let alone the challenge of keeping everyone safe. After all, we do sometimes have to cook, even when it pours.
After taking a month to build our website and regroup in the south of Spain, we have been back on the road for a little over 2 weeks now. I can’t say that it has been easy, especially since we are hitting subzero temperatures in France, but we are finding our way. The limited space in the bus is being used in an even more efficient manner. We have a completely functional toilet on board between seats, perfect to use as a stool for story time while dinner is being prepared in the back when it is cold and wet outside. We are figuring out what it is that we each need to stay relatively sane. By no means are we experts, and frankly the cold had driven us indoors as well. When we survived another night in freezing temperatures (it is surprising how well 5 bodies heat up a small space) but all of us were still cold by the end of the morning, we drove through hail and snow to Tours where we found a nice B&B hotel. I think all of us spent quite a bit longer than usual under a steamy hot shower that night.
We are enjoying the options Vanlife gives us. We are small enough to fit in a regular European parking spot (just not height wise) and the vibe of the van feels much closer to our biking days than a regular RV ever would. However, our particular vehicle is definitely too small for traveling with a family of 5. With the extra bench for our kiddos, there is little space left to move around. Although the beds are small, we sleep well until our youngest hops in with us. The other ones sleep like rocks and love their beds. I am thrilled that I have a sink with running water and a built in stove. As long as I limit the open doors to one, it works extremely well.
In a short month we will be heading back overseas, to continue our trailer life in the United States. Our Avion is going to feel like a castle, that’s for sure. Even though we have already minimized our belongings, Vanlife is inspiring me to simplify in our trailer as well. How much silverware does a traveling family really need? But I am quite sure that we will get back to Vanlife. As long as our kids are not into biking and lugging their own panniers, it is a great way to get around the continent. When the time comes around, we will probably opt for another Mercedes, but a tad bit larger. If only because our kids will not be able to fit in their current bed forever.