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Two Wandering Soles: A Vanlife Feature by Kimm Otto

1. Describe your setup.

The “boring” way, or rather, the technical way of describing our setup would be that it’s a 2003 VW LT 35 2.5L TDI with 45,000 miles on the clock. It’s tall enough to stand in and short enough to park in a stall without hassle. But to us it’s just home, or as we call it, “Van Diesel.” Basically, it’s a strategic English stealth-mobile. A black body around black windows that leaves only the iconic VW logo visible. The interior is an inviting warm maple wood finish, reminiscent of a cozy alpine cabin or a relaxing sauna when the kettle is boiling our morning tea. It’s a simple setup but contains all the necessities to make it home.

Ireland Van Diesel

2. What is your favorite part of your campervan?

Well this might be a tricky question as I’m sure my favourite part of the van is not the same as Kevin’s. To me, my favourite part of the van is our side herb garden and our dashboard succulent garden. I love plants. I love how a little bit of greenery can make a space feel so much more inviting. I also love being able to cook and eat fresh herbs without having to buy them from the grocery store every single time. It also saves us a bit of money on certain things like green onions and celery - you buy them once then simply replant them to use again and again. The “garden” is a small portion of the van but to me it’s the small things that make the space feel comfortable. Kevin’s favourite part of the van is most likely the bed. It’s where we snuggle up on rainy nights to watch movies, but it’s also where we read our books, write our postcards home, or research the next place we’re about to visit. It doubles as a place to relax but also a place to be productive.

Van Diesel Amsterdam

3. What makes your campervan story unique?

I think what makes our story unique is just how ambitious it seems. A full year to drive a complete circle around Europe is pretty ambitious. Or at least to us it is. The months leading up to our flight was the equivalent of building a house of cards - every small detail had to line up because if one thing failed to happen our entire plan would fall to pieces. Visas needed to be applied for, money needed to be saved, our belongings needed to be stored, jobs needed to be quit. Basically our entire life at home needed to be canceled. To top things off, Kevin and I had just gotten married which meant I had to go through the motions of applying for all new identification (kind of tricky to travel without a passport). Everything came together in the last week before our flights. Looking back I think we’re both a little surprised that we’re actually here.

Green Bridge of Wales

4. Where have you been traveling/living in your campervan?

Well we’ve done a few van trips. All in different places with different vans for various lengths of time.

So far on this trip we are three months in and have circled Great Britain and Scandinavia. Special shout out to Norway the most beautiful and expensive country we have ever been. The increased expense pushed us farther into the van than ever before, homemade meals every night. We couldn’t go to pubs but we hiked over 60km in less than a week. Next we begin the long trek down to Greece through the great unknown of Eastern Europe.

Norway Lofoten Islands

Backtracking to where it began four years ago… it was about six months into us dating when we decided to drive across Canada in our mini-van, starting from Vancouver Island and ending up on the East Coast of Newfoundland. To switch things up we returned back home by coming through the United States. Our setup was simply just a bed with black paint on the back windows to block the morning light. Overall this trip took us six week and drove 19,000km.

East Sooke Park Vancouver Island

Another trip we did was from Los Angeles, California to Edmonton, Alberta. We flew down to LA where we had been met with a fellow that we had bought a 79 VW bus from. This vehicle gave us so much trouble, but we feel that’s kind of part of the old school VW experience. Our muscles were beautifully bronzed from pushing that thing so far. We took approximately a month to complete the trip and spent our days and nights adventuring the beautiful beaches and landscapes of USA’s West Coast

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Another crazy adventure we did was spending three weeks in Hawaii in the back of a 9-foot rental U-haul moving van. The first part of the trip was spent on the island of Oahu. Once again, our setup was super minimalistic. We had brought an air mattress from home and then just bought some bedding when we got there. Our last night on Oahu our bed had caught on something and popped. When we switched over to the island of Maui we bought a “wine-stained” mattress off of craigslist. Gross.

Hawaii

These are just some of our bigger van trips that we’ve done. Me being from Vancouver Island, and Kevin being from Edmonton means that we’re constantly doing trips between the two places. We’re just lucky that the drive from British Columbia to Alberta means we get an excuse to play and adventure in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It’s also not uncommon for us to take off for any length of time just to see different parts of Vancouver Island. After all, that’s half the fun of living in the Pacific Northwest. So much uncharted territory to explore. The only hard part is finding the time to do it.

Peyto Lake

5. Are you a longterm vanlifer or is this a shorter adventure?

What is Vanlife? Getting free accommodation is the best way to travel for longer, so any ideas of going someplace inevitably end up with how can we do it in a van. The van is a literal object but vanlife is more of an ideal. It is on the spectrum of life in between backpacker and home owner, and all things on a spectrum get blurry. We are spending a year in the van but also a week at a hostel in Berlin and have dreams of building a house. Minimalism, realism and the ideals of freedom are our driving factors. We are the sum of all our experiences, so vanlife will always be a part of us.

Norway VanLife

6. What is the most challenging part about campervan living?

I’m not sure if it’s one of the most challenging parts of van living or just one of the most challenging parts of traveling for long periods of time with someone, but what I’m recognizing on this trip is the importance of personal space. Because we’re sharing such a small space for such a long period of time, it’s so crucial to be able to recognize when it’s time to spend a little time away from one another. And I don’t mean where one person spends a week in a hotel while the other gets the van. When you’re traveling with someone, whether it’s a friend or husband or whatever, it’s just human nature to eventually get on the other person’s nerves. Save yourself the inevitable blow-up and just take a walk by yourself every now and again. Not only do you get some time alone, but it also gives you time to reflect and appreciate some of the amazing experiences you and your partner are sharing together.

Green Bridge of Wales

7. What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made to be able to have this lifestyle? 

Supporting ailing family members. The phone calls don’t do much. It is tough to justify leaving for a year knowing that you might never see someone you love again. However, the world is a crazy place and that could happen at any moment to anyone. So we press on. Our families support us so much in our choices and encourage us to “do it all while you’re young”.  

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8. How do you afford this lifestyle?

Kevin - Despite popular belief, you really can do anything you want. Once you free your mind of the invisible boundaries placed upon you, anything is possible. Now back to real life, it is very tough to live outside of society… so let's live on the edge instead. With every dollar spent ask yourself is this something that I really want or am I being told I want it? Do I need to drive a large truck to feel like a man, or is the free car from my mom sufficient? Question every dollar spent. Then work. A lot. I got a job in a remote part of the country and worked 12 hour days, everyday. It sounds extreme, but it took me four months of work to save up for twelve months of freedom. That's a pretty good exchange rate. Once you're living the dream, the same ideology applies: do I need Starbucks or is the van coffee just as good (even better?).

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Kimm - Being on the same page of spending and saving in a relationship can be a tough one. But if it’s something you’re both passionate about then it’s easy enough to motivate and inspire one another to stay on track. I also worked my butt off and sacrificed a portion of my social life to save up for this lifestyle. I don’t make as much as Kevin so that meant that sometimes deciding between making our monthly goal or going out for a few drinks with friends. I guess it really comes down to priorities. I’ve also been lucky enough to have skills that can be utilized while we travel. Right now I do freelance marketing for a company back home and sell some of my travel photos to stock photography websites. It’s not a lot to be completely honest, but something is better than nothing! Plus, I feel like I need some type of structure or else I go a little bit crazy.

Cliffs of Moher Ireland

9. What is the best part of campervan living?

The best part is when the engine is shut off and you open up the back doors to expose your newest home. We look across the epic and ever-changing landscape while laying in bed and remember the fantasy spawned by watching “Bed Knobs and Broomsticks” as a little kid. This is magic - we have a magic bed that can appear anywhere we want. The magic doesn’t end there though. After watching the sunset we pull out the laptop to replay Donkey Kong Country on our Super Nintendo emulator. We approach the final boss and a literal storm has set in and the van is left shaking in the wind while the walls are getting pounded by the rain. After beating the game and having fallen asleep, we awake to a whole new world. Stumbling outside again it’s birds and sun against the morning dew. All of that is pure magic, we live in the future and it is amazing.

Norway Trandal VanLife

10. What is your advice for someone who is interested in campervan life?

Test it out! There’s ways to give van life a go without fully committing to buying and converting a van all in one go. Rent various types of vans, experiment with different lengths of time and distances to gauge where your sweet spot is. Some people prefer to just go on a fun week long camping trip to the mountains where as others are more than happy to spend months living out of their vehicle at the perfect beach spot. This method is also good because it allows you to see if it’s something you could see yourself actually committing to. It’s so easy to be fooled by the many instagram photos of people living their dream out the back of their pinterest decorated van space. As much as that is a part of it, there’s also some downsides to living out of a vehicle that I’m sure some people aren’t prepared for. It’s good to test the waters before spending a ton of money on something that you might not actually like.

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Get in the thick of it. Rent the smallest U-haul, inflate an air mattress and drive off into the sunset. Then in the quiet moments of the night answer the questions of life. What do you like? What are you looking for? Does this have the potential to make you happy? In the morning after stretching out your wrenched back, ask the second set of questions: What would make the van better? A real mattress? A hot cup of coffee? A traveling partner?

Kimm VanLife

A special thank-you to Katie & Ben for featuring us on their website.

You can read the full article here: 

https://www.twowanderingsoles.com/blog/14-inspiring-campervan-experts-and-their-advice-for-you