What has motivated you for a long-term travel?
I became passionate about having a long-term trip when I was 25, at about that age I got to know many people whose lifestyle was about traveling. While I was struggling to pay my bills, they were having their lives filled with adventure and exploration. That was the turning point, I have changed the way I look onto my life and started moving towards my own adventure.
Before, I have never had an idea of changing my lifestyle. I got my first little job at the age of 12, and at 17-18 I worked full-time. When I was 21, I bought an apartment in Rotterdam and over the next two years, I could hardly pay my living. But these difficulties made me stronger and smarter. 🙂
With financial stability life got much easier, I started traveling around and getting to know others who do. They inspired me to travel big! I decided that I had to start my long-term trip before I turned 30.
What kind of preparations did you make to start the trip?
So from 25 years old, to the point I leave before I turn 30 would give me five years of preparations. Five years is a long time many would say. But, I planned it for such a long-term because I didn’t want to lose the comfortable way of living I worked for. Instead of fully committing to the dream, I was moving to it little-by-little and still enjoying the daily life. I started my “light-savings-plan” to form the travel budget and kept traveling on my free time.
In parallel with the savings, I started investigating the best way of traveling for myself. Many things to consider: backpack or suitcase, hostel or hotel, bike or car, where to go and where not to. I decided, that a camper van would suit my needs best. You have a place to feel like at home, to sleep. There is a kitchen, electricity, gas, and you can drive anywhere. So I decided to construct myself one.
Where have you traveled already on RV and where are you now?
I quit my job at the end of April and on 1 of May 2016 I set off. For the following 8 months, together with my girlfriend, we traveled almost half of Europe. At the moment (April 2017), we are escaping the winter in Berlin, we plan to set off again in May.
Here are some random photos from the trip.
Which countries did you like most? Any interesting experiences you want to share?
The most memorable moments are from Romania and Turkey.
In Romania, Transylvania was very impressive! Amazingly beautiful mountains and a lot of friendly people in tiny, unexplored villages. One of such villages is Vadu Crisului. There we were sharing the peaceful life with locals, having dinner and spending time together. They took us for a horse ride to the mountain areas to see the Roma land where some real gypsies are still living. A unique place that could be unsafe to travel to without a local guide. In Transylvania, we went mountain hiking in the west of Romania close to Garda de Sus, visited two different caves.
We very much enjoyed our time in Turkey! We spent almost a month traveling along the west coast. Tried all kinds of crazy things. Rented a speed boat, tried paragliding, got the diving licenses for ourselves. We made few beautiful hikes through canyons and even visited an abandoned mountain village. A great experience was an authentic Turkish bath house, where we’ve been washed and massaged by an old Turkish man. An amazing feeling after a few days in a car with no shower.
How did you entertain yourself during the trip?
Obviously, it could be quite boring to spend most the time inside the van, so on our way, we always looked for some sort of adventures. We always tried to find local events in the areas we went to, it could be a music festival, beer tasting or a free walking tour. We used Couchsurfing hangout app to meet the locals and also kept an eye on Couchsurfing camps calendar. If our route was somewhere close to these camps, then we would go over to have a kickass weekend together with old and new friends.
How much did you stay in hotels and how much in the RV?
Well, the preference was always to stay in the RV, but it highly depended on the area. In some areas, where it didn’t feel safe, I always slept in the van, simply to protect the thing I love.
In the safer areas, I had fewer problems to spend a night in other places than the RV.
Many times we stayed at paid camping areas. Besides hot showers, we could do the laundry and clean the van. And it is always good to simply grab an ice-cold beer and have some rest from driving, without having to worry if you were allowed to camp there.
Many times we stayed at friends’ places. Hotels and hostels – quite rarely, only if we had something to celebrate, or if they had a very good deal.
Why did you decide to construct own RV instead of buying one?
When you buy something expensive – you want to be sure that it fits you perfectly. I have checked around 20 different van models, but couldn’t find the one suitable for me. Engine quality, price, condition, comfort – there was always something I didn’t like. When I saw that an aunt of my friend offered her van for a very cool price, I almost immediately said yes.
So to summarize, customization for my own needs is the main reason.
What kind of car did you get?
I bought a Mercedes-Benz 208d, 1995. It had about 165.000 km on the counter
Can you briefly summarize; what kind of equipment did you buy for installing into RV?
- Second-hand turn-chairs for the front
- Lots of wood to build everything (bed, kitchen, storage, etc)
- Custom-sized mattresses
- Small fridge, 12V
- Solar power system (12v and 230v power)
- Water system
- Gas stove
- Lots of small accessories (basically kitchen and leisure equipment)
Please, describe in more detail, how did you update your car? (heating, kitchen, bed, etc.)
Because I was planning to travel during warm seasons, I didn’t change the car’s regular heating system, but I have isolated the van with the stone wool. I also have added some roof ventilation and a fan to have good air flow and to feel fresh inside.
To have some extra (emergency) heating, I made some candle heaters. It is basically 3 flower pots upside-down with a base for 3-4 little candles. They burn for around 10 hours, the inner pot heats up to 250 degrees Celsius, the outer to 125 degrees. It is not a big deal, but a good addition. We found it useful when we had to sleep in the mountains at -5 degrees! Freaking cold, but an interesting experience.
Because I am a cook, the kitchen was nearly the most important thing to construct. I have a 2-pit gas stove that is running on LPG. LPG was my choice because it is easy and cheap to refill. The gas camping bottles are restricted in some European countries.
The water system is constructed out of 30-liter jerry can and 12V water pump. They supply the water to the regular tap and to the sink. The dirty water tank is only 13 liters, so we have to empty it quite often. Hygiene-wise, I think it is better to have a smaller water tank, and clean-refill it frequently. For drinking, we still prefer buying fresh water in bottles.
In the rear of the car, I have a bed. It can be turned into a table and a sofa and has a lot of storage place. To have enough length for the bed, we attach the kitchen table to it. This kitchen table is multi-functional and can also be attached outside of the van.
Electricity and solar panels
A large solar panel is installed on the roof, it generates 170 watts and charges an AMG battery. The AMG battery is more efficient than the car battery, and I made the system so, that I can start the car using the AMG.
Front seats and table
To have more flexibility and space, I installed turn-chairs as front seats. First of all, they are very comfortable, and as soon as you turn – you are at the kitchen table to have some snack. I would say we use this table more often than the “bed-table” because we don’t always want to take the bed apart.
Well, obviously two people need a lot of storage space, so we use all the remaining place for it. We have ones above and under the bed. The top section of the kitchen is used for storable food (like rice, pasta, in killer jars, etc.). An easy-to-grab storage is also above the front seats.
How much time did it take to create own RV?
It took half a year. It is rather long, but I was doing it part-time. Also, I was working outside, so it was limited to the days when the weather was good.
If you would build a van again what would you do differently?
One of my favorite questions! When I started to build the van, I had absolutely no knowledge in car renovation. I was just doing what felt good and it turned out to be pretty awesome. I have a friend who has constructed a similar sort of van himself. He was making sure I didn’t do any mistakes he had done himself.
After months of traveling, I came up with few things I would do differently. Who knows, maybe I will construct a new van someday.
First of all, I would buy a van, that is around 1-meter longer in the cabin. More space, but still easy enough to park. With this space, I would set a little bathroom with a shower, instead of the basic toilet and the tap that we have now. The additional water system would also mean a bigger water tank, to be installed under the car.
I would make the clothes storage more accessible. Now they are under the bed and I need to take some mattresses away to take them out. With a bigger van, I can have a bed that can be lifted to a wall and have an easier-to-access storage there.
I would also consider on improving the heating/cooling system. It is difficult to sleep inside when it is too hot, and at the same time, the current heating system is limited to the warm weather.
What are your next travel plans?
When we leave Berlin, we plan to visit my relatives in the Netherlands, then we’ll proceed to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania. We plan to make it in 3 months.
Then, when my girlfriend has her visa re-issued, we’ll continue to Greece, Albania, we will get to Italy on a ferry and then will drive the way up to Monaco. After that we’ll simply go along the coastline, passing France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium until we reach my home in Rotterdam.
We plan to come to the Netherlands in November 2017. At that time, I think about selling my van and travel to Russia and Asia with that money.
Do you have anything else to add?
I would like to thank the people who helped me during my preparations and construction of the van!
I was happy so share my story with you! Safe travels to all of you.
And if you are looking for awesome RV around November 2017 you know where to find me 😉
Greetings, Oscar de Vlaming from the Netherlands.
Note from Engineer on Tour:
All pictures are provided by Oscar.