Ben and Lucy - From Rust to Road Trip
We’ve been on the road for 13 months now, and in that time we’ve visited 20 countries across Western, Central and Eastern Europe, and we’re planning to visit Northern Europe and North Africa in the near future.
We’ve been to some pretty amazing places and also faced some of our biggest challenges on this leg of the trip, having chosen to travel through the Balkans during the winter which has meant a lot of running from snow, a lot of driving through snow and more than a few weather-related incidents. But it’s also given us the chance to experience some incredible places, and get truly into the wild which was our main goal for this trip.
Most recently visiting the Albanian Alps to meet and document the people that live there was possibly the best highlight from this trip- we had to drive for two hours, ditch the van somewhere, take a boat and then hike for another three hours to reach the mountains’ inhabitants, who took us into their home and fed us traditional mountain food and raki. Swimming in 40ºC+ thermal spas under the stars is also a definite highlight, especially when you haven’t had a bath in months! Our favourites were probably the ones in Bulgaria and Greece, but we’ve been in too many to count! Wild camping in the Făgăraș mountains in Romania for a week was also very memorable, being so far from anywhere and just spending our days bathing in a stream and cooking food on the fire. The whole of Romania is wild camping paradise, and traveling around the Balkans has given us a real sense of freedom that we’ve been craving out of vanlife.
Traveling in a van with next to no money is a real challenge, and sometimes it means making sacrifices and not being able to do things you want to do, like missing out on cool attractions because we can’t afford the entrance fees, or not being able to pay for toll bridges to places we want to visit. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and has taught us a lot, and often not being able to do one thing leads to doing something even more incredible and free, so we wouldn’t really have it any other way.
Living for less means that we don’t stay on campsites, so we’re always seeking for wilder and more remote places to stay. It means we drink and fill up our tanks with mountain spring water. It means we sit outdoors at night and cook up a big smokey chill or soup on the fire to save gas. It also means that when our van breaks down we have to find cheap and creative ways of fixing it. Same for things that go wrong inside the van- electronics breaking, plumbing going wrong. These things that would be easy in a house are a little bit more difficult because you essentially live in a tin can with wheels. But there’s not much a toolbox and a bit of helpful advice can’t fix after all.
All of this saving money, cutting corners, bodging, fixing and improvising ultimately means more money for fuel. And more money for fuel = more adventures to be had! It doesn’t matter if sometimes we’re living off of stale bread crusts and beans because we have the entire world to explore right on our doorstep. And that’s the reason why we wouldn’t give up vanlife for anything.
That said, traveling around Eastern Europe has given us so much more opportunity to explore, because the cost of living is so minimal here. Albania was one country we particularly enjoyed, not least because of the stunning nature, but also because you can go and buy your fruit and veg directly from the person who grew it, or buy your bread from the person who baked it, for pennies. It really started to make us aware of the flaws of big supermarkets, food traveling so many miles to reach the shelves, when in Albania everything is produced just down the road. We would buy our veg from one of hundreds of roadside sellers, and buy our household items from any number of little locally-run shops, usually set up in people’s garages or sheds! Everything is organic and freshly-picked, and all of the profits stay local. It’s also a really unique way to experience a country and meet more people.
Our mission to road trip every single country in Europe and beyond has taken us to some truly unbelievable places, and these are the times we like to share with people online. But there’s also a far less glamorous side to vanlife people aren’t so eager to talk about. Instagram would have you believe that living in a van is all lounging around in a bikini drinking coffee on a beach somewhere all day. But it’s a real, full-on lifestyle for us full time vanlifers, and we like to try and portray both the good times and the hardships in both our Vlogs and photos, which we think a lot of people can relate to.
To us it seems that there are two types of people who live in vans: there are those who want to explore the world, and there are those don’t choose vanlife at all but rather are forced into it by astronomical housing prices and the ever-rising cost of living. For us, it’s a mix of both. Living in a van allows us to travel and find new inspiration every day for our photography, writing and filming, but on a more serious note there’s no way we’d ever be able to afford a house back in the UK on our income, and definitely not for the £420 a month we spend while traveling (that’s over half the cost of rent alone in the UK). Living in the van while we’re working for 6 months a year helps us to save up money for traveling quicker as we have no bills, all our electric is solar-generated, all our water is free and we have no rent to pay!
Another great thing about living in a van is you really learn to prioritize what you need. With only 6m² of space there’s not much room for junk besides your clothes, cameras, pots and pans- it’s amazing how you can fit an office, lounge, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and garage into such a tiny space!
It seems that the younger generation like us are beginning to throw away the ideals of our parents, ditching the dream of a big house and a nice car in favour of a life spent exploring, and choosing experiences over material possessions for a more fulfilling life.
Thanks again, and love following the stories on your Instagram page!