A Citroën Berlingo is not your typical vehicle of choice for vanlife. Not quite a van, more like a car with a hunchback, you might not think a Berlingo has the space to house two adults and three surfboards. But this is how my (now) fiancé and I lived for three months on the Europe-leg of a yearlong surfing trip. With the back seats removed and our surfboards hovering above us, tails resting on the sunshade of the boot and the noses balanced on the driver's seat headrest, we could sleep comfortably, fully outstretched.
It was a simple life led by swell forecasts. We followed the coast north through Portugal, back and forth across northern Spain and into the southwest pocket of France. We parked at many spectacular beaches, some crowded and others deserted, and woke up with the waves waiting for us. In the afternoons or on flat days, we would hike along coastlines, camp out in cafes (for their wifi and power points), test local breweries, read on our well-stocked e-readers, listen to podcasts and chat about where else in the world we would like to explore by van.
Our Berlingo was deceptively small compared to the other campervans and motorhomes with whom we shared the prime beachfront real estate. But equipped with the bare essentials – camping mats, sleeping bags, folding tripod stools, a 15 L water jug, bulk cereal and powdered milk (we didn’t have an esky or fridge) – we tasted the unparalleled freedom of vanlife and were hooked. Although we’d eye off innovative fit-outs built by experienced long-term van-dwellers, we loved our Berlingo for the chance it gave us to be a part of this nomadic community of surfers and families.
In our short time in our “campervan”, we sensed a strong comradery amongst van-dwellers. Smiles were passed around every day at sunset as people prepared dinner on camping stoves and hung their wetsuits out to dry after rewarding surfs. Nods to say, "I understand" were shared on grey, rainy days as we braved cold outdoor showers. Our vehicles may have differed but I think we share common desires: to live simply, to feel empowered by choosing an life not restricted by location or routine, to think clearly with space, to seek adventure and to soak up the wonders of this world.
The inspiration for our Berlingo life was two-fold: the first was a book called ‘Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom’ by Ken Ilgunas. It speaks of the freedom of choosing to live a simple, frugal life and, as the title suggests, is a throwback to Henry Thoreau’s ‘Walden; or Life in the Woods’. The second inspiration was our great friend Carlos, who is 2m tall and swears he sleeps more comfortably in his Berlingo than any hotel bed.
We’re back in Australia now but the vanlife dream is still with us. We smile when we see campervans parked at our local beaches and hope to buy a van soon so we can explore our sunburnt country.
Thanks for reading!
If you are curious about our surfing adventures through Asia, Europe, Central America and South America, check Twitter @clarewhatson or our blog here: https://trackmytour.com/ZSfQ3