Hi there! I'm Daichi of Tabiwa Life, and my wife and I are currently on our vanlife travels around Europe for three months. This story is the second part of the European vanlife series in VANLIFE JAPAN. Click here to see the first part!
We've finally arrived in Europe. Now, our van is our home and our feet for three months. Read on because we’re taking you in for an amazing ride, Euro vanlife-style!
Vanlife overseas was more intimidating that usual
We always feel a little anxious before we leave on a trip. We're also no strangers to backpacking or to Europe. But as our departure date got closer, we weren't simply anxious, we were more like "Oh God, are we really gonna be okay?" freaking out.
Mainly because of the fact that we're trying out vanlife overseas, and that we're going to be winging it in Europe like we did in Japan, either way we're totally venturing out into unknown territory. I actually tried to do our homework beforehand, but I couldn't find much in Japanese and most were geared towards Europe residents. My homework was supposed to help us feel a little more prepared and reassured, instead, I think the lack of helpful information doubled our anxiety.
I was able to find some things but even they were very unclear and impossible for me to understand unless I'm physically there, so I quickly decided to buy our plane tickets. I always think that I wouldn't have done it alone. My wife thinks the same way. We are each other's support and have always pushed the other one whenever a little motivation is needed. I feel like we've been helping each other step out of our comfort zones lately because of this.
Renting a van in Europe
The actualization of our European vanlife was surprisingly fast. Before that, the biggest problem was how we're getting a van. As soon as we figured that out, we got in touch with the van owners and scheduled an appointment to meet up.
The owners were a Belgian couple about the same age as us. They had traveled all over Europe vanlifing the previous year and had just taken a break to work and save up money again. Coincidentally, they were looking for people to rent their van since they didn't have any plans on using it for a while. We actually got another offer on the Facebook Group that we joined to get information about Euro vanlife, but it was a van for sale.
Having Japanese passports, we are allowed to stay in Europe visa-free for 90 days for sightseeing in the Schengen area. Practically, we chose to rent a van.
Face to face with our Ford Transit
The owners of the van were originally from Belgium, but they were currently working near the city of Bordeaux in France, so we took a flight from Japan to Bordeaux with a layover in Barcelona. However, we confirmed all details like the current condition of the van, how long we're going to rent it for, and for how much. We already saw some pictures of it prior to going there so we were pumped up to see it in real life.
The van we rented was a Ford Transit. Its interior was custom-built by the owners for their yearlong vanlife. It was immaculate and ready to go as soon as we arrived in Bordeaux, but the first thing that popped into my head was how easy to use it looked. I already knew what it looked like from the pictures but the real thing did not let down! The hardwood look was amazing as anticipated and the minimalist use of space and efficient design were just perfect for us. We felt incredibly lucky that we're able to take advantage of all their year's worth of vanlife wisdom in this little place.♪
An unexpected problem occurred... We can't pay?
Just as I though, "Alright! Get your van and start the Euro vanlife," an unexpected problem occurred. I promised to pay in cash as the owners requested, but it turned out that the total amount exceeded the cash advance limit of my credit card because it was too big.
It was technically possible to pull out cash multiple times instead of in one go but the fees were prohibitively expensive. For this very reason, we opted to use "TransferWire" for its famous low overseas remittance fees.
The owners were very flexible and allowed us to hang out at the campsite where they worked until the remittance was complete. The campsite that we ended up going to because of our sudden errand was so big (compared to those in Japan) that it was another world beyond our wildest imagination. Hordes of what may be million dollar-worth monster campervans assembled across the whole site. "This is the vanlife country," we both exclaimed. We couldn't have been luckier for running into that unexpected problem!
Overcoming our troubles together
We completed our payment and the van became our home. This time, I was able to express some of my concerns with the owners before I finally set off. I explained that we've had experience car camping for three weeks but three months was uncharted waters for us. And not only were we not used to driving in European roads, we're also extremely worried about the language barrier and car camping regulations across the continent. I told them that had I been the one renting the van, I probably would have backed out already from such risky people like us.
But what we got in return were smiles. They said they strongly supported our "big challenge" to conquer the European vanlife despite our worries. I was so motivated by their words that I clearly remember not being able to sleep that night. The road ahead may not be paved in gold, but my wife and I can overcome any trouble or challenge together.
Tabiwa Life's vanlife journey in Europe has started! Click here to see the first part!