The New Year so far

The following statement may make us traitors to the hashtag-vanlife purists: so far, in 2019 we have not been living in our van. Instead, we have been watching the winter weather from inside a 600 year old thatched cottage, sitting on a huge sofa with a radiator at our backs. We could park our van inside the bedroom, and we have the option of a shower or a bath in the bathroom. It is a temporary home of course, and only living somewhere for a few weeks at a time wouldn’t suit everyone, but for us it is one of the things that makes our van life so enjoyable!We are once again working and living on the holiday cottage farm in Devon, England. We spent a couple of months over winter here last year, and were really pleased when the owners asked us to come back for some more work projects this year. When we were first talking about hitting the road in 2017 and trying to get jobs as we go, we knew that the most important thing for us have a chance at success would be to build a reputation and hope for a bit of word-of-mouth momentum to ensure the next job and keep us afloat. We also knew this would take time to develop, so it was an awesome moment for us to get a repeat booking after just a year on the road. And what a place to be able to return to!

The work for us here this year is mostly rennovation. There are 7 holiday cottages here, all needing a fair amount of upkeep and attention, so we arrived to quite a long list of projects and the list keeps growing. We have been re-painting houses, refurbishing doors and windows, upgrading chicken enclosures, beautifying sheds, chatting with guests, walking dogs and more.

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We have a few more weeks here and will make the most of the treats that living in a house allow. Here are a few that we still don’t take for granted:

  • Having an indoor toilet that we can quickly walk to for a midnight pee. Perhaps we should one day film the clumsy, disastrous debacle that one of us goes through to climb out of the van door to squat outside for a midnight pee. Honestly, having a toilet just around the corner is great.
  • When we are wet from rain or filty dirty from work, having plenty of appropriate places to put clothes without worrying about what else is getting wet or dirty.
  • Having a machine wash our dishes. It feels like putting a robot-servant to work every time.
  • Having an oven – baking cakes, roasting potatoes, pizzas, cheesey bakes… mmmmm.
  • Having pets. This is something that we have seen a lot of vanlife folks enjoying on the road too, but our van is just a bit too small to comfortably accommodate extra companions. Here, we often have a resident cat, and a couple of awesome dogs. We love that.
  • The simple pleasure of sitting on the sofa watching TV.The rest of the year is looking pretty busy at the moment. We will keep you posted with our next plans when we hit the road again! For now, follow our Instagram and we will share more photos of course.

 

One year and counting!

As you may have seen on our social media, this week we celebrated surviving a whole year of living on the road in our lovely old van. In some ways it feels like it was longer ago when we spent the last night in Vienna, sleeping on the floor of the empty flat. Before we left, we hadn’t managed to spend even a test night in the van due to some crazy shenanigans involving the MOT, so we were full of butterflies and really excited to get going. On that first journey, we learned about the importance of heating, the suspicion of German police and the thrill of overtaking since we only managed it once on a 5 day drive.

Since setting off, we were surprised to discover that #vanlife was actually a thing. However, contrary to what #vanlife shows on Instagram, we further discovered that living in a van for us did not really involve practising yoga on our hand-knitted carpets surrounded by fairy lights. With our first stop being on a British farm in January, it was more about sitting in front of the heater, trying not to lean against anything with our muddy clothes and learning to skip really quickly from the van to the room with the shower in underwear avoiding invisible puddles. We certainly did have some idyllic Instagram moments too though – a private lake in Sweden being one of the best of them.

We also aren’t one of those van couples who saved piles of money over years, sold a house and are enjoying infinite holiday travels until the money runs out. We work as we go, and after a year we’re pretty chuffed to discover that it’s turning out to be financially possible. This included some pretty major work being done to the van for the 2nd MOT too. We still have all fingers crossed for the coming year, which is starting well as we’ve got a few months of work confirmed already, inclucing a couple of repeat bookings from projects we worked on in our first year. Hopefully we can find some additional jobs in some new countries as we go!

In our first year we had 8 different jobs. The shortest time we stayed somewhere was 2 weeks, the longest 11 weeks. We painted rooms, refurbished windows, redesigned gardens, planted vegetables, fed animals, cleaned up shit, designed and constructed kids’ play areas, repaired fences, cut grass, built sheds, blow-torched roofs, laid floors, worked online and a few more things. Each project has been awesome, people have been wonderful and each location has been something special.

We are now back in England for festive times with the English family. We have a job in the new year which we’ll tell you all about in the next blog but will surely offer sneak peaks on our Instagram account, so be sure to follow us there of course! After that, we are plan-less at the moment. As long as we know where we are for the next month, we are happy to plod along and see what happens. Thanks for keeping up with our adventures, and Merry Christmas everyone!

We took this when we had just picked up the van!

THE MOT and the next job

The good news is we have been happily living in our lovely little home on wheels for the last five weeks, which means our van made it through its 40th MOT! It was not plain sailing though, but perhaps it never will be for a vintage beauty such as we own. Our biggest problem is rust, and rust hiding rust, and rust in really hard to reach places that require a lot of digging around and welding to uncover and to fix. So it all took a bit longer and cost a bit more than our most perfect plans, but we have a van that is once again fit and ready for a year of being both our transport and our house. Worth every penny. Fixing up our rusty old machine meant that we were a bit later arriving to our next job than we intended. We have been living in der schönen grünen Steiermark on a horse ranch, parked up less than a metre from the nearest horse. They make for really awesome neighbours, but we discovered that some do snore pretty loudly. We were kept busy with plenty of work on the ranch. We built up sheds, repaired and relaced rotten foundations, built up feeding areas for the horses, fixed enclosures, repaired walls, built gates, cleaned out gutters, mended nets, sledge-hammered in more than 100 huge wooden posts and put up countless metres of electric fencing. One of us also managed to squeeze in their first ever horse riding lesson on the slowest, laziest horse that the ranch had.

The plan was to work here for a month, and we extended by a week to make sure we could finish every job that had been put on our to-do list. Over that time we unpacked our extra cozy winter blanket and our heater from storage, though we didn’t always need them (let’s take this moment to give a little shout-out to all those van-lifers that are actually living in their vans as winter approaches. We’ve noticed so many on Instagram packing away their vans now the holiday season is over. To all the winter vanners, hope you’ve all got great blankets and some kind of heating!!). Autumn has been kind to us so far, and as long as we can plug our van in we have the perfect warm house. The only thing we are missing is proper lights in there, which we noticed more and more since the clocks changed last month.So, we have bought ourselves a little upgrade… solar panels! Through these, we will be able to keep our second spare car battery charged, and from that run power to use interior lights in the van. The lights came with the van, but connected to the main battery, so we’ve never wanted to use them for fear of sucking too much power and then not being able to start the van in the morning. Our new electrics will pose no threat to our start-up power, and as long as there’s day light we should be charging! It’s all a work in progress at the moment, so keep an eye on our Instagram for photos of the finished product (hopefully soon!).

We bid a fond farewell to the ranch last week, and have been booked for work there again next year, which we are looking forward to already! The people there are wonderful and welcoming, and being around the horses was great fun. For now though, we are preparing for the next road trip from Austria to England once again. Plans are also shaping up nicely for the next year, and it seems like this working-driving-vanliving thing could be quite sustainable… we’ll keep you all posted, and try to be a bit more regular with our blogs going forwards! For now though, it’s cheerio to Austria, until next year.

From Slovenia to Austria

It’s been a few weeks since we last wrote anything here, so this entry may read a little bit more like a diary than some of our other blogs. Then, by the end of it, all you interested people will know what we’ve been up to, what we’re currently doing and a little outline of our onward plan!

So, as we said at the end of our last blog, we drove to Slovenia. We found a really lovely spot to park up for a couple of days before we navigated our way to the next work project. We’re getting bettter at finding free parking/camping as we go along, which we’ve decided it a really useful skill to hone since the hobo life is not one full of disposable income. We use a handy app for this most of the time, called Campercontact for anyone that’s interested. After some failed attempts at using this to find parking, here’s our tip for fellow campers/van dwellers that might want to give it a go: check the review sections of any potential parking spot. If there are no reviews from the past year/few months, chances are the place doesn’t exist any more, keep on searching! Likewise, if there’s a contact number offered, it’s always worth trying that, at least to see if the number is still in service.

Anyway! This time the app found us a cracking spot and we enjoyed some relaxation. Then, undertook the journey into the Slovenian wine country (read: extremely small roads, steep hills, hairpin bends and vertical drops along the sides. One of us did not manage to keep her eyes open for the whole drive) to arrive at our hosts’ place. We found this job using Work Away, which specialises in work-for-food arrangements for people travelling around on a budget. Hosts write a description about themselves and the work they can offer, and potential volunteers can search by country and see if there is something appealing. There is every kind of work advertised here, from dog-sitting to construction, so with a bit of time taken you can do some research and find a project to suit.

Not the worst landscape

The work here was physically challenging to say the least. We’re both used to hard work, but the terrain of the vineyards and temperatures above 35 degrees made for tough conditions! With a lot of effort and many litres of sweat lost, we were able to do a huge amount of land-clearing work here that was desperately needed to turn a bit of a waste land back into a useable garden again (well, useable if you enjoy walking around an incredibly steep hill… which the humans didn’t really seem to but there were 6 dogs that appreciated it!). It was a two week effort, after which we bid farewell to the project and decided to return to Austria a little earlier than originally planned. On the journey back, we made what was possibly the best diversion of our trip/lives so far and headed to a tiny village called Thal bei Graz to visit the most important museum in all of Austria – Arnie’s childhood home! It’s impossible to describe how epic this was, so suffice to say that you should all just go there. September is the month we have been waiting for. It is the time of reckoning for our beloved home, as the MOT is due. But with some time to kill before then, we lined up some more work to do! By fortune, after sending out a couple of messages and not really expecting to find a ‘proper project’ that we could sink our teeth into for 2-3 weeks, we managed to land exactly that. An old friend had some rennovation work planned and a contractor that had just cancelled on her, so we were able to step in and take the job!

We were tasked with the re-painting of one room of a huge, old house – all walls, plus indoor and outdoor windows – with a side project of turning a massive old set of doors into a shabby/chic table. We’ve had our own private field in which to park up and turn into our current home and generally feel like we totally landed on our feet after changing plans a bit last minute. Everything worked out pretty perfectly – and we can now add ‘painters and decorators’ to our CVs. And ‘door rennovators’? ‘Table-makers’? ‘Furniture restorers’? Maybe we’ll stick with ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.

We’ve a few more jobs lined up in Austria, plus THE MOT as previously mentioned. Perhaps the next blog will be an update on the state of our van… please keep all your fingers crossed for us and send our old timer all your best thoughts for smooth running, minimal rust and no total breakdowns. And of course, follow our Instagram feed for little updates in the meantime!

8000km later…

Since embarking on this adventure 8 months ago, we clocked up just over 8000km, camped in or drove through 7 countries, had 3 different jobs and broke down once. Returning to Austria has been a bit surreal, especially since we’re staying in a flat in the exact area where we lived last year, in a room that one of us lived in for a while a few years ago. We’ve definitely come full circle, and it’s led to some assuming that we’re back now after a few months of van life. We have done the rounds of friends and family over the last week, and have heard some of the same questions a few times. Therefore, why not answer them here for anyone else wondering the same things!1. Are you done now?

No way! Not by a long shot. We haven’t got much of a plan; in fact, we tend to have rough hopes for where we might be and what we might be doing generally for a month into the future, but not much further ahead. However, the general plan is to live like this for as long as we’re able to. Sometimes it’s a bit nerve-wracking to not know where we might be, what job we might have and how we will get an income, but those nerves just add to the excitement of living like this! So no, we’re not done and hope not to be done for a while.2. How do you finance it?

We work! When you are traveling, of course it’s assumed that you’re on an extended holiday, something that you have saved up for and will continue to do until the money runs out. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re constantly on the look out for jobs and projects of any kind that we can turn our hands to, whether it’s for a few days, weeks or months. It has to be something we can drive to of course, but other than that we’re pretty open to any country too. Oh, and it has to be enjoyable. Those are the only rules.

3. Where do you find jobs?

We look anywhere and everywhere! We keep an eye on general job ad websites, search for seasonal work, look at the work-for-food-and-accommodation websites and mention to everyone that we know and meet that we’re available for any short-term projects. Between us we’ve got a pretty wide skill set, so aren’t very restricted in the kinds of jobs we look for. So far we’ve been organic chicken farmers, carpenters, social media managers, bloggers, pet-sitters, lumberjacks and land-scape gardeners.

4. Isn’t the van a bit small to live in?

Well, yes it is small. So far, we’re always the smallest camper on any campsite, in any parking spots or on the road. But our van is perfect! It has a living/dining room, kitchen and bedroom – we just have to do a bit of building up or dismantling to create the different rooms. We always have to be in the same room of course, which wouldn’t suit everyone but is working out rather well for us. The warmer, dryer times of the last 3 months mean that we’ve always had a pretty large garden to utilise as an extra room too – home is where you park it after all.5. What about toilets and showers?

Traveling from project to project means we have so far always been living somewhere with those facilities just next door. Or, we have stopped at parking places or campsites that include a toilet at least. Or, we use the nearest tree for a toilet. Or, a saucepan in the back of the van when there is nothing else around, which seems to be more likely to happen in cities so far. Safe to say, if nice toilets and daily showers are important to you,  we wouldn’t recommend moving into a van :o)

6. Where to next?

We’re off to Slovenia! Stay tuned and we will keep you updated.

If you’ve got any other questions, leave us a comment here, or pop them into our guestbook. We love to hear from you!

Sweden!

It is hard to believe, but we are nearing the end of our 7th week on our project here in Sweden now, and with just one more to go we thought it was time to write a little bit about what we have actually been doing all this time.

We are living in the giant garden of an old friend from Vienna, a property that sits just a few metres away from a large, beautiful lake surrounded by forest. There are a handful of other houses dotted around it, but so far no other people to be seen! The garden attached to this house is vast, and that’s where the majority of our sweat has been spent. Jobs completed so far are:

1. Cutting the grass – sounds simple enough, but did we mention that the garden is huuuuuuuuuge? And the handy little tractor-mower broke down? As did the handy strimming machine? So it was all done with a hand-pushed mower and also pulled out of the ground with sheer muscle power. It felt like quite an achievement, and we can now add “naked lawn-mowing” to one of our CVs.

2. Creating a picnic spot by the lake – the land here had been almost reclaimed by the forest, so we cracked out every blade we could find and hacked down the baby trees. There was a lot of chainsaw work involved here, and one of us trained the other one in the use of this machine. This enables many chances for horror-movie-scene-recreation and is another skill to add to the CV.

3. A potato field – where once stood a tangled mess of overgrown brambles, stinging nettles, small trees and hidden rocks is now a beautifully farmed potato field. And the potatoes are growing mightily! It was some of the hardest hours of work we’ve spent here so far, and we felt every year of our ages at the end of those days. The most sophisticated tools we used here were clippers and spades, and we are feeling quite pleased with our manual labour efforts so far.

4. A tomato field – we cut away the top layer of grass, built some very fancy growing-frames (using old wood and string, very technical indeed) and have watched the tomatoes grow every day since. We feel we are almost ready to add “professional farmers” to our CVs.

5. Household, shed, cellar and workshop organisation – imagine you bought a fully furnished house, with two sheds full of tools. To that house, you brought all of your furniture from your old house. Then, a family member moves in and brings all of their furniture from their old house. It’s a lot of stuff. A lot. Especially compared to the amount of stuff that fits into a campervan. Well, we feel we can now add “professional home organisers” to our CVs. We just Googled it, and that is actually a profession.

6. The slope – in front of the house, the garden has a steep slope leading down to a path to the cellar, and finally to the road. This slope was also a tangled mess of brambles, stinging nettles, random weeds, rocks and small trees when we arrived. Three weeks of work transformed it a little. It’s best described by pictures, so here’s a photo time-line of our efforts. Landscape gardeners: on the CV.

7. Cow-proof gates – as you know from our previous blog, the neighbouring farmer has a few cows on the land next door. To enable an easy walk through the fences from the house down to the lake, we constructed a couple of gates from left-over forest parts that allow humans, but not cows, to walk through.

For a few more photos from our time here, check out our Instagram page of course! And we always like hearing from you, our readers, so leave us a comment or a guestbook message, why not.

A few countries, a few campsites, a few cows

There has been quite some action since our last blog post! Our excuse is that we have been without WiFi for the last four weeks, and just a few days ago we stepped back into the modern world when a router appeared on the property that is our current home. So here we are, with an update for you all. The last four weeks, in brief:We traveled all the way across England! From West to East once again, with a night on a lovely campsite that we had all to ourselves. Basically, we parked in an empty field. It was awesome. Then…

We took a boat and drove across a little bit of France! Then…

We drove across Belgium! Then…

We drove through the Netherlands! We extended our route there to stay for a couple of extra days, as the roads were fantastic and we enjoyed it a lot. It’s rather flat, and there are lovely windmills, just to confirm a couple of stereotypes there. There too, we also had a campsite to ourselves – we thoroughly recommend traveling around outside of peak season times, although one of the reasons we like these empty sites so much is because we’ve now got used to being around no more than  five people at a time. So huge fields with no people is where we are at home. Then…

We drove across Germany! We were ready for a police stop as soon as we crossed the border, but were disappointed. No German police found our almighty van suspicious this time! Then…

We took another boat! Then…

We drove across the south coast of Sweden! We were prepared for a beautiful country and so far Sweden is totally fulfilling our expectations. We stopped at a random campsite and parked about three metres away from edge of the coast, facing the direction of the setting sun. We planned to stay for one night. Then we extended. Then we extended again. Then…We drove to our work project and parked up in what has now become our new temporary home. We are a hundred metres away from a gorgeous lake and haven’t seen another person around it yet (suits us perfectly, see above). Holiday time is over for now though, and we’re working pretty hard here and getting our teeth stuck into some great projects. We’ll write more details in our next blog, and there are sneak peaks on our Instagram account of course. Oh, and we have a group of ten cows as very nosey neighbours here. While watching a horror movie in the car one night, we heard a really weird noise which we thought came from the movie. We rewound it (do we still say rewound, or is that from the days of VHS tapes?), and rewound it again and couldn’t hear it. For a moment, we thought we were having a supernaturel moment of our own, until we turned around and looked out the back window. We saw all ten cows, not moving, staring directly at us. Mooing.

Cows are awesome.

End of Job #2

A rather remarkable thing is happening as we write… the jungle-acclimatised half of us is sitting outside, in the sun, in a t-shirt and feeling warm for the first time since we embarked on our van life! We’ve also finished up Job #2 in Devon and have a few days of relaxation before hitting the road once again. Well, actually every day has been pretty relaxing since we left Vienna, but we have a few spare days now before the next adventure begins.

Final job – swing!

So of course, it’s time to reflect on the last few weeks, and things we’ve learned and observed during our time in the lovely South West of England:

  • The only thing the English need to don a pair of shorts is a glimmer of sunshine. Never mind that temperatures are hovering around freezing – when the calendar says Spring, that means it’s shorts and sandals time regardless
  • There are some hard-core Old Timer fans to be found everywhere! In tiny Devon villages, be prepared to pose for a photo if you’re in a vehicle that’s as awesome as our almighty van
  • Trip to the beach = ice cream. Similar to the shorts, weather be damned. Even when bracing an umbrella against gale force winds throwing sideways rain, there is still a hand free for an ice cream
  • Skype/Facetime/any kind of video call from one country to another still mostly consists of both parties saying “can you see/hear me? Oh wait you’re frozen… I can hear you ok… Hello?”
  • Spring is beautiful!
  • Ducks are bullies
  • Throwing a ball for an excited dog never gets boring

For the last 9 weeks, our version of van life hasn’t involved much living in our van since we were lucky enough to be able to move into one of the holiday cottages on the site, so we’re pretty excited to get back in our tiny house and do some more miles. The job in Devon has been great, just what we were hoping for really. Who knows, our van might bring us back there again in the future…

Testing out the final job

So, Sweden here we come! Our next blog will be an update on the (hopefully completely uneventful) journey from here to there, which we still haven’t totally decided on yet, so watch this space! Watch us on Instagram too obviously, and leave us a comment if you want to say hi.

Spring is here!

After the ice rain, snow drifts and minus temperatures of an early British March, we’re believing the emerging flowers and brave bugs that Spring is now here! Since one of us has been living in the season-less rainforest for 10 years, the changing of the seasons is a novelty being very much enjoyed.

Daffodils with snow hats pretty much sums up British Spring

We’ve now spent about 7 weeks on Job Number 2 at the holiday cottages in the South West of England, and we’ve got into a really enjoyably ‘normal’ routine. Our work is great – it keeps us busy but doesn’t give us any stress and is easily put away at the end of the day and at weekends (which is a novelty for both of us). Our spare time is awesome – the farm is lovely, as is the surrounding countryside here, and we’re pretty close to our English half of the family for a change so we’re making the most of that.

The best thing though has been settling properly into our life together. Since the start of last year, there has always been a countdown running in our heads – time until we could meet each other (FINALLY), time until the end of our holiday, time until we were apart again, then together again, finishing work, and eventually of course the final countdown until we left Vienna. In the last month, it’s dawned on us that there are no more countdowns! As long as our next couple of weeks are organised, we have gas for Gaston and we have somewhere to park everything is a-ok. As for our next couple of weeks, we’ll be finishing up our work here and climbing back on board our almighty van. He is always eager to hit the road, and so are we; Sweden is calling! We’re not sure how to get there yet, and the final destination is so remote that there aren’t any GoogleMap co-ordinates for it, but when you travel in your house there’s no real stress in getting lost.We’re updating Instagram much more regularly than our blog at the moment, so make sure you follow us there and you can check out our Guestbook if you want to leave a message! We love hearing from you all.

Surviving the winter

There were a few reasons why we chose to head to the UK as our first adventure in the van, and one of them was the weather. Since one of us has been living in the rather hot Bornean jungle for a few years, and since we chose to start living in a van from the beginning of winter, we figured the UK would offer a gentle introduction to the cold season. Residents of the UK often lament the lack of proper wintery weather, instead being stuck with constant grey skies, drizzle and decidedly mild temperatures – minus degrees are a rarity, and this all sounded good to those unaccustomed to the cold.Apart from the minus degrees in Germany during our trip from Austria to England, the UK pretty much delivered what we expected. When people complained about how cold it was when temperatures reached 4-5°C, we giggled as our phones told us it was -15°C or colder back in Austria. Though, as one of our earlier blog posts acknowledged, our heater is still one of our favourite posessions and thermal undies to help cope with 4°C are awesome.

This week, however, served up some pretty wintery weather in the UK and had even the cold-experienced among us agreeing that it was bloody chilly out there. We awoke one morning to find that everything had seemingly been dipped in ice, with thick sheets covering every surface of anything that had been facing the wind. We are lucky enough to be living in a cottage at the moment, and have often been taking our breakfast (coffee and smokes) in our second living room in our van. We were frozen out though this week, with a blanket of ice covering the locks, handles and indeed the whole side of the van. We were a bit worried that the ice would have killed our battery, but our very own Beast from the East started up with no problems, the winter tyres ploughed on through the snow and the lead that we spit out of our exhaust melted snow behind us.

Hobos’ survival essentials

Since the weather had knocked out the electricity (and train lines, roads, flights, supermarket supplies… we were smart enough to get out for the essentials before the worst weather hit), we were a bit stuck for work for a while and with no heating it wasn’t much fun to sit around in the cottage. So, we did what all good British people would do and fired up the bar-be-que. It was the perfect way to welcome in the Spring!Other than snow adventures, work has continued on the playroom with more cut outs created and a storage bench added. We’re still really enjoying our time in Devon and will probably be here for a few more weeks. Check our Instragram feed for more regular updates, and you can always say hi in our Guestbook!