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Relaxed Pace – One Couple’s Tips For Traveling Through Europe In A Van

Sophie, a musician, and Mike, a photographer and filmmaker, of the Relaxed Pace blog have been traveling through Europe in their van since July, 2014. They converted a £2,000 (about $3,100) Hyundai H200 window cleaning van into a warm, cozy home for the road. They were thrilled that the vehicle was left-hand driving and automatic. However, the struggles of importing, taxing and registering the van from the Netherland to Sophie’s family’s home in Birmingham in the UK delayed their trip for several months.

Sophie and Mike of Relaxed Pace converted their van in the UK.

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The conversion took another few months as they stripped the van, insulated it with Flashband (a sound deadening flashing tape), Thermawrap, recycled bottle insulation, and carpet. They leveled the uneven floor with pieces of wood and yoga mats and installed a new exhaust system, new windows, and a roof vent for additional light and ventilation.

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The Hyundai H200 was formerly used as a window washing van.

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The couple also designed and built their own bed, storage drawers, kitchen area, and a foldaway table that locks to the wall during transportation. Sophie and Mike sleep on two twin mattresses that convert into a couch during the day. The bed slat sections slide under the bed above a set of drawers that hold food and clothing.

The couple designed and built their own couch/bed combo.

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Sophie and Mike have a simple kitchen with a single burner camp stove, a 12 volt cooler, and a smart little sink with a pump and two containers for fresh and gray water. A leisure battery was also installed to run appliances like a toaster, a hot water kettle, and a small blender for sauces and hummus.

The sink system is made from two plastic water containers — one fresh, one gray — and a hand pump.

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After the work was completed, the van was baptized “Autumn” and she and her owners hit the road. They’ve traveled throughout the United Kingdom, France, Germany, down to Greece and Morocco and even up to Norway. Along the way they have made various eco-villages like Free and Real in Greece and Findhorn in Scotland primary destinations.

 The decor includes a foldaway table, Tibetan prayer flags, fairy lights and a galaxy sky on the ceiling.

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After various triumphs and troubles, Sophie and Mike were kind to offer other van dwellers tips for living (and loving) their own van life.

They have driven the van through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the Sahara and Transylvania.

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What are your top three tips for restoring a van?

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1. Insulate your van, and keep warm!

We spent a week or so insulating our van with Thermawrap, and recycled plastic bottle insulation, at the beginning of our van conversion process. This proved to make such a difference to our quality of life inside the van. Instead of feeling like we were living inside a freezing metal box, with insulated and carpeted walls, we were protected from the outside environment. Completely cover any metal on the inside of your van, as this will reduce the chance of condensation being a problem on chilly nights. Hang up thick, black-out, curtains to stop heat escaping from the glass windows. These can be sewn into two sides of curtain material, one lighter and prettier for the inside of the van, and one darker, and more stealthy, for the outside looking in. To minimize condensation further issues, install a vent and rain-guards on your front windows. Also, make sure to seal up any cracks you might have in your vehicle’s bodywork.

2. Make sure your van is completely roadworthy.

You don’t want to find yourself with a big mechanical issue in unfamiliar territory. Have a mechanic properly check out the state of your vehicle. We ended up replacing our exhaust system and spent a considerable chunk of money fixing some rust issues from the underside of our van. We also replaced timing belts, tires, and anything that might have caused a problem on the road. Do make sure to check your brakes, too. Having completed all of this work, we’ve yet to have any real issue with our van. After 30,000 km (18,600 miles), that’s really not too bad. Also, make sure to check online to see if you can source parts that need to be replaced for cheaper than your mechanic is offering. We found that we could purchase car parts online for a quarter of the prices we were quoted by a number of mechanics.

3. Remember comfort and storage.

Properly consider comfort. If you’re going to be living in your van for an extended amount of time, you want to be able to live comfortably. This especially needs to be a priority if, like us, you cannot stand up in your van. For us, this meant purchasing two real mattresses, which form a queen size bed when placed together. You want to make sure you have somewhere comfortable to eat, sleep, and sit. Storage is also super crucial — you’ll find that you’ll end up needing more than you might first expect. It’s amazing, how quickly stuff can build up. We had to purchase a number of storage boxes in France.

What are your top three tips for living in a van on the road — especially overseas?

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1. Eat well, and exercise.

For the vast majority of our food, we cook inside the van. We’ve found that it’s been really important to eat wholesome, nutritious meals while on the road – helping your body and your mind adjust to the ever-changing environments you’ll find yourself in. Our food choices have kept us happy and healthy. We make sure to always have a selection of fruits and vegetables with us and our cupboard is full of pastas, couscous, chickpeas, etc. It’s a lot of fun to shop at local supermarkets and play around with various ingredients that you’re not used to. For example, in Greece, we would stumble upon countless little stores, on every other street, that would have shelves stacked with amazing deep green salad vegetables, a variety of herbs, and walnuts. In Norway, unlike nearly everything else, blueberries were incredibly affordable. Do take into consideration where you are. You want to avoid food poisoning at all costs, getting sick on the road is a hugely un-enjoyable and slightly scary experience! Take it from me, I know!

Exercise will be hugely beneficial whilst living and traveling in a van. Go hiking, or if you can, get bicycles. Just try really hard to exercise a little, every day. We’ve found it a challenge to balance getting the right amount of exercise with how many hours we spend on the road, but when we do exercise, we feel rejuvenated, noticeably more alert, and generally in a better state of being.

2. Don’t let stress get the better of you!

A long-term vandwelling experience with another person, whether a friend or a partner, can be challenging. And this is particularly the case when in a foreign country – with stress and uncertainty perhaps a little more present in your daily lives. For all of the companionship, joy and laughter – I really believe that vandwelling is hugely preferable when experienced as part of a team – the reality is that you’ll be living in a tiny space with another person. Despite the romance, of which there is a lot, you are going to get on top of each-other!!

Once in a while, or quite often, depending on your demeanor, you might feel like you need some alone time. This may or may not be achievable, so figure out how to manage your personal retreats. Books, music, photography, and writing, are some of my suggestions. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks. When vandwelling with another person, tiny frustrations might transform into issues magnified tenfold because of a confined space and lack of privacy. Practice empathy, understanding, and perspective. One of the biggest plus points of living such a life with another person is that the confined space will bring you closer as a couple, or team, and the experiences that you will no doubt have together will challenge, and strengthen, your relationship. You are living the dream, together.

3. Safety and security are crucial.

You can’t thrive if your environment isn’t safe, if you don’t feel secure in your home. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher that is the right size for your van, and a carbon monoxide alarm is crucial and potentially life-saving. Ensure you have a first aid kit and some basic knowledge of first aid techniques. Make sure your most treasured possessions have clever hiding places inside a van you can lock. Always carry your ID or passport with you. Back up media on two hard drives. Try to learn the local emergency numbers, and have a plan if things were to go wrong. If you’re getting insured, make sure to read the fine-print of your insurance – even the most reputable companies will try to get out of paying, if they can. Things do go wrong, be prepared for anything!

Can you give the DIYRV readers some information on how to finance a trip like yours? Daily budget? How to make money on the road?

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I think a lesson I’ve started to learn is that there really is a possibility now for each of us to craft our own unique path in life. We’re lucky enough to be living in an age in which the internet allows us to plug in and connect with anybody, anywhere. We are also networking like never before, and this never-ending fountain of communication offers up immense knowledge, on any topic. If you have a passion, there are endless resources and opportunities at your fingertips — you just have to reach out for them! The internet is an invaluable resource for anybody seriously considering life on the road.

Some examples of ways people sustain themselves while traveling, that we’ve come across on our adventure, include travel writing, photography/creative work, blogging, and web design.

Sophie and Mike have crafted their own lives and only spend a few Euros a day.

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Personally, our trip has cost us about what rent would have been. Living out of a van means that your expenses are low — of course, this is depending on how much driving you’re doing on a daily basis. We spend a few euros a day for both of us: eating (van) made food and enjoying activities like hiking and camping. If you’re looking to cut your costs even further, there’s always Workaway, housesitting, and wwoofing.

Photos courtesy of Relaxed Pace




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