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Follow the sun and go with the flow
Sandra and Joriën have fulfilled their dream. They now live in a van that they renovated with the help of sustainable materials and are free to travel wherever the wind blows them. Their van is a valuable asset to their flexibility and gives free rein to their creativity. Such a life is in many ways a special and unique form of luxury. In this interview, Sandra and Joriën are talking about the renovation of their van, what they think of sheep wool as van insulation and what tips they have for prospective van couples.
Sandra and Joriën, what motivated you to quit your “normal” life in a house or a fixed home and tackle this demanding project on your own?
Joriën: We realised that we both love to travel. That's why we decided to start this life. We tried two other vans before we bought the one we have now. The first one was actually Sandra’s florist van. After this one we bought a bigger one, but seven months later, we realised that we still needed more space to be able to travel longer. With our current van, we can move around easily and can also grow our creative skills. We expect this van to our home now.
Sandra: Covid also contributed to our decision. I was a freelance florist in the event industry, so at the time, I lost all my income. I then went back into graphic design, which what I had been doing before being a florist. Joriën was a pastry chef, but his work was not without its challenges either. Because of the issues we both encountered professionally, we decided to do something completely different. Neither of us have a professional background in building or restoring a van. My part is to take on a creative role, whereas Joriën is really good at the crafting side of the work. Our roles are a good fit for each-other and we make a great team. We are learning a lot on the go.
What was the biggest challenge during the van conversion?
Joriën: Ten years ago, I would never have believed that I would be rebuilding a complete van and installing the entire power supply or a gas installation or water. Everything just fell into place for it to happen. We did ask some friends to help us, especially with the electricity. But the rest we actually did ourselves. The electricity supply in particular was our biggest construction site. All the cables are mounted behind the walls, and it took two weeks until everything was in the right place. Even now, when we’re on the road, there is always something that needs to be repaired.
Sandra: It's a lot of work but in the end it's all worth it. And that’s the point that we worked towards. But every now and then, it can be a bit of a challenge to sit down and get to work on repairing something. Especially when the weather is nice, and you'd rather go to the sea or just relax outside.
What was the biggest thing you had to give up to start your van life?
Joriën: You do give up a lot. Also, in terms of your own safety. You're out in nature 24/7, so it can happen that someone wants to break into your van. You also have to make some sacrifices in terms of comfort. You don't have as much space in a van, you can't store a lot of stuff.
Sandra: The main question at the beginning was, can we live together in such a small space? When the sun is shining and you can go outside, it's not a problem. But if it rains for several days, you have to find your way around in this small space with two people. That can be a challenge, there is no space for either of you to retreat for a moment. Your moods automatically reflect on each other. Sometimes it can be challenging. But we are very fulfilled by this way of living and feel like we receive a lot from it, we can travel wherever we want, we can meet new people and we are free.
What was particularly important to you during the conversion and why did you choose sheep wool as a renovation material?
Joriën: Sustainability and reused materials were essential for us during the renovation. Especially for the van insulation, we spent a long time searching for something natural that also endures challenging conditions. We tried spray cork and hemp, but then we heard about sheep wool. Not all of what we heard was positive feedback. However, when we talked to people, we found out that none of the negative feedback was true and that sheep wool would be an ideal choice.
Sandra: And we are now more than satisfied. The sheep wool was not only very easy to install, it also does what it promises. The van is incredibly well insulated. It doesn't get too cold or too warm inside. The indoor climate is also very pleasant. Especially when we compare it to our previous vans, where we had noticed that the walls were often very cold in the morning and wet with condensation. However, this changed completely with the installation of sheep wool insulation. For the whole van, we needed about 7 roles of sheep wool.
Where will the rest of your journey take you? Do you have any concrete goals so far?
Joriën: We're following the sun at the moment. One could say that we're experiencing our fifth consecutive summer.
Sandra: We are planning to travel to Morocco in January. But it's not set in stone yet. It could be January, February, March or even later. We just have a goal and a vague plan, but it changes all the time. That's something you also have to get used to with van life. In the meantime, we have a very flexible schedule that corresponds to our needs – we manage without worrying that we have to be somewhere at a certain time. In Spain, it is relatively easy to stop overnight with a van. In other countries, it's often a bit more difficult because it's much more regulated. Overall though, more and more people are living in vans. Unfortunately, many don't pay much attention to the environment. Nonetheless, I hope that we can live like this for a long time. We will just see where life takes us and will go with the flow.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to start such a life too?
Joriën: Try a van. On Instagram, most people only show the good things about van-life. And everybody at home thinks “oh, I can do that too”. If you are worried about a job, there are so many ways to make money on the road. As for myself, I’m learning to become a graphic designer. This does however mean that we struggle with certain aspects of this life.
So, our advice would be to try a van and see if you can live in such a small place, also without a normal toilet. Normally vans are equipped with a Porta Potti, where you add chemicals to prevent any smell. In our previous van, we put biological substances in, so we could dig a hole under a tree to dispose of any waste. Now, we have a composting toilet. So, we don't have any chemical waste at all. But you really experience this first, to see if you can handle it.
How long will you be on the road, without a fixed home?
Sandra: We don’t yet know how long we’ll be doing this. We have also met couples who live in their vans for 8 months and then fly to Bali or wherever for 4 months and stay in one place. They can then have a little break from van life and enjoy the luxury of a normal toilet or washing machine. Joriën could probably live this way for the next ten years. As for myself, I'd like to find somewhere in the next five years where we can be comfortable and settle down. Maybe in Italy or Spain. But we'll just see how it goes and if it feels good for us.
Van Couple Sandra & Joriën
©Sandra & Joriën