van life

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

16515703785_fde8112427_o.jpg

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”.  

35137491661_450f16470f_o.jpg

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?).

38485231724_1804fa477b_o.jpg

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.

35420117713_baabe67e83_o.jpg

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

Skimming Through Scandinavia by Kimm Otto

Okay.

How has it already been just about two months since my first post? I guess time flies when you're living in a van. Now that September is here a few things are brought to my attention. One being that I recently just spent two months traveling Scandinavia and all my site has to show for it is one post about a week worth of hiking in Norway.

Trolltunga.jpg

Another being that people who don't know me and are reading this have absolutely no idea what this blog is even about. And finally, September reminds me of some of my previous bad habits. Two years ago on September 17th I decided to quit smoking - cold turkey. I'd say I haven't looked back but I'd be a liar. Sometimes I miss it so much. Other times I walk by someone smoking and want to puke. I wish I could channel that kind of commitment into other aspects of my life. Like writing blog entries or completing photography projects...

Day Drunk in Ireland.jpg

Alright. Well. Pointless ramblings aside, perhaps it's time to back track a little and explain a little about myself and my intentions behind starting this project. As some of you may or may not know, my name's Kimm Otto. I started this to share some of the photos, stories and adventures of life on the road with my partner, Kevin Otto. More than anything, I wanted it to be a way for our friends and family back home to follow along while we spend the next year of our lives road tripping Europe. 

Lonely Planet Books - Van Life

A little about us?

Well, Kev and I met almost five years ago and are in our first year of marriage. A lot of people think that this trip is our honeymoon but the truth of the matter is we were planning this long before we decided to tie the knot. We both love traveling and road trips have seemingly been our means to do that. Most notably in some form of van. After only six months of dating we drove straight across Canada and USA in a mini van. Shortly after that we did LA - Edmonton in a 79 VW bus. After that we spent three weeks exploring Maui and Oahu in a rental U-haul van. Of course these are only the big trips. I've lost count of how many Vancouver Island and Edmonton trips we've done. Long story short - we like to travel and we like vans because accommodation is cheap and it allows us so much more freedom to roam.

Norway Van Life

The plan?

Spend a year driving across Europe. We started this journey at the end of May this year in London, England (which means the steering wheel of our van is on the wrong side). It was nice that we started in the English speaking part of Europe. It was also great that Kev's brother and famjam live downtown London. Looking back on the start of this trip, I'm beyond grateful for their hospitality while we overcame our jet lag and got used to our new surroundings. It was also really nice just spending time with family. 

Family Drinks in London

As of now, it's been three months since we landed. So far we've driven over 10,000 miles already and have visited twelve countries - spending most of our time touring the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. Next we begin the long trek down to Greece through the great unknown of Eastern Europe. Our goal is to hopefully make it to Athens by December 21st in order to make our flight back to London for Christmas. 

Van Life Post Cards

Now that the boring basics are covered I can briefly touch base on the past two months in Scandinavia. If you read the last post then you're basically caught up on our Norway experience. Mountains. We climbed a lot of mountains. And it was beautiful. 

Hamnoy Lofoten.jpg
Arctic Surfing Norway.jpg
Hiking Norway.jpg
Lofoten

Finland. 

Senate Square Helsinki.jpg

We were there for two weeks but five of those days were spent lounging in a private cabin up in the Northern alpine forest. Something that was completely necessary after spending a month hiking and freezing our buns off in Norway. We spent another few days trying to figure out where/how to get the oil changed, and then the remaining time was spent sight seeing the cities of Helsinki and Turku. It's always kind of mind boggling to look back at how much time we spend in some places and how little we actually got to see.

Helsinki.jpg
Daddy Greens.jpg
Helsinki Art Gallery.jpg

Norway was so ungodly expensive that we almost never went out for food or coffee. To put it into perspective, one can of cheap, crappy beer from the grocery store was $7 Canadian dollars. If you wanted that same beer from a restaurant then you were looking to spend at least $15. So in other words... you just don't drink in Norway unless you're a millionaire.

It was bitter sweet leaving Norway, but crossing over to Finland meant that we were switching back to the Euro. Still a pretty bad exchange rate, but not nearly as bad as the Norwegian Kroner. Beer and coffee shops were an option again. An option we were super thrilled about having again. 

Morning Coffee.jpg
Finland.jpg

Fast forward a ten hour boat ride across the water to Stockholm, Sweden. 

Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

Our time in Sweden was short lived. Just like Finland. We spent at least two days doing all things Ikea, including the Ikea museum and visiting the very first Ikea. The most notable memory I will take away from Sweden is having a sewing competition with Kevin in the Ikea museum. The result was three very poorly made tote bags. To be completely honest, by the time we made it to Malmo (where the bridge over to Denmark is) we were exhausted and looking forward to relaxing a bit at our friend's house back in Copenhagen. We had some time to kill so we had another library day. Electricity and wifi is a rare combination to have when you live in a van. But it just means that we spend some days just hanging out in many different libraries. Which is also okay, cause just look at how epic some of them are. We also have a pretty wicked collection of library cards from across Scandinavia. Woo. Souvenirs! 

Malmo Library.jpg

Denmark.

About seven years ago Kev made friends while traveling Asia. We're lucky enough that one of those friends lived in Copenhagen AND was kind enough to take in two very tired van people. On two different occasions, at that. Before we headed up to Norway we spent some time with them, exploring their city and being shown some of the amazing traditional Danish food. It's very possible that their generosity and amazing hospitality was what revived us after a tiring two months in the North.

Danish Breakfast
Copenhagen

The country of Denmark, in my mind, is completely underrated. I guess it's pretty tough living in the shadow of places like Norway and Iceland. Maybe it's just because we had some very lovely locals showing us around but the city of Copenhagen is probably one of my favourites so far. So clean. So friendly. So beautiful.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark

Thus concludes an incredibly shortened version of our time driving through Scandinavia. One day I will do a blog post with all the photos from my Nikon, but in the mean time I'm more than content with just using some snaps from the Iphone. But that's for another time and another post. Till then, keep it cool fam. 

Kimm. Out. 

Covered In Dirt & Sun Burnt by Kimm Otto

Can we just talk about Norway for a second?

I know this is my first blog entry and I should probably talk a little bit to who I am, the intentions of this website/blog, and possibly even what the heck I'm doing in Norway.... but that doesn't even matter at this point. You guys... Norway. Stating that it's amazing here may be the biggest understatement of the year.

NorwayForest

Coming from the land of sky scraping trees and the chilling bite of the Pacific Ocean you would think I would be immune to some of the scenery here.

That is not the case. Norway is basically British Columbia on steroids.

NorwayFjord
CliffNorway

In the past week, spread out between three different hikes, Kevin and I have hiked 62.5km.

The first being Preikestolen - an 8km round trip that leads to a cliff that drastically drops 608m into a frigid fjord. Reflecting on the past week I'm very glad we started with this one. Definitely the lesser of evils in comparison to the other two. Such a beautiful hike if you ignore being shoved by the groups of hooligan school kids that are racing each other to the top.

PreikestolenNorway
Preikestolen

It had it's challenging parts of sketchy stairs but like any other hike, just be careful of your footing. Something I thought to be common knowledge when entering the outdoors but I guess not as someone had to be airlifted from the trail on the way back.

Preikestolen

Next up on our hiking list: Kjeragbolten. A boulder located in the mountain range of Kjerag that is the result of glacier deposit which left it wedged between two cliffs. Sounds pretty boring till you realize it's suspended above a 984m deep abyss.

For those who don't know meters, that's 3228 ft.

Kjerag

The only word I can think of when I think of this trail is absurd. Just. Absurd. I would not even consider it to be a hiking trail as 90% of the time you're either scaling the side of the mountain or just straight up rock climbing. There are four peaks you must summit in order to get to this rock. "Thankfully" there are large chains placed in order for you to repel down or regain your balance as you scale the side of the mountain. But they basically just shred your hands. 

Kjerag
Kjerag

Kev likes to refer to this place, as well as Trolltunga, as Norway's Disneyland. Basically, people from all over the globe travel to this one destination where you're forced to wait in a ridiculously long line up to have a 30 second thrill. 

Kjeragbolten
Kjeragbolten
Kjeragbolten

I, on the other hand, have a crippling fear of heights. Probably something you wouldn't assume based on some of the places or things I agree to do. My philosophy is, "well this may be the only time in my life that I'll actually get to do it. So I might as well."

I did not get on the rock but I was more than happy to photograph the surrounding areas away from the other tourists. And, I did go below the rock. Close enough, right?

Kjeragbolten

Out of the three hikes we did I still believe that this was the most challenging. Although it wasn't the longest (16.5km round trip) it was definitely the most psychologically and physically demanding of the three for me. Not being good with heights makes it very difficult to comfortably scale down the side of four mountains. And as hard as it was getting to the rock, getting back was even worse.

Kjeragbolten

There were points on the way back where I would finish climbing down and would be on the verge of tears from being so scared. Looking back, it's kind of crazy how far you can push yourself out of your comfort zone. Can't say I'll be doing this hike again any time soon, but I'm thankful I pushed through.

Kjeragbolten
Kjeragbolten Defeated

Huge shout out to Kev for helping me push through those scary parts.

Oh. Also. The road to the trail head? Nothing crazy. Just a silly ol' road with 27 hairpin turns complete with a 1.5km long one way tunnel. 

Kjerag Switchbacks

Last but certainly not least, Trolltunga.

Now, if you know me, you know that I've been talking about doing this hike months before leaving Canada. I've done my research, or at least tried to, for this hike. I was expecting a 24km round trip; however, this was not the case. We clocked in our round trip at almost 40km and it took us about 10 hours.

Trolltunga Hike

We started our day with some poached eggs at 5:30 in the morning and were on the trail by 6:07am. To be completely honest, after doing the Kjeragbolten hike, this was kind of a breeze. It did have some steep parts and there were sections where you were walking across snow patches, but it was manageable. There were no chains chewing at the flesh of your hands and you didn't feel like you had blown your knees out by the end out it. 

I actually didn't take a lot of photos during the Trolltunga hike. There was this one section where you crest the peak of a mountain and you get your first glimpse of the sapphire blue waters of the lake. Just. Amazing.

Trolltunga
Trolltunga

This section of the hike was a little over half way to the tongue and the perfect spot to have lunch and restock the water bottles from the glacier streams near by.

Trolltunga
Trolltunga

I don't want to say that this hike is easy because it was definitely challenging to persevere the entire length of the trail. By the time we got to the tongue I was exhausted and so sun burnt. To top things off, there was a three hour wait just to get out on the rock. Norway's Disneyland strikes again.

Trolltunga
Otto Trolltunga

Overall, it was a pretty active week. We camped about 2km away from the Trolltunga trail head the night before and made friends with our neighbours - a German couple touring Norway in their converted firetruck. We drank beers, discussed Norwegian norms, and swapped van stories. Strangely enough we ended up crossing paths a week later at a different spot. We took this as a sign that we should exchange contact information and make plans to grab beers when we're passing through Germany. 

Side note - the guy's name was Adrian and after a few drinks this just resulted in us quoting the Rocky movies.

Van Life

So I guess this is the end of my first entry.

Cheers to blistered feet, supportive husbands, new friends, and challenging the borders of your comfort zone. Can't wait to see what the rest of Norway has to offer.

Shoes Trolltunga