George Cowan


Even a "dream job" doesn´t always allow you to fulfill your dreams. Until November I was the Head Guide for a nature tour company in Reykjavik, Iceland and I was literally getting paid to watch whales, puffins and the Northern lights. Fantastic yeah? Well it was great but I´m a bit of wild boy and having grown up in the countryside of Scotland with my nearest neighbour 1km away, the city still made me feel trapped. So fed up of the city life, with feet itching for adventure and my brain aching for isolation I decided I would buy a cheap van and spend the month of November turning it into my Icelandic winter home. Trying to survive an Icelandic winter in an old van should scratch that itch for adventure I thought. 


Well I was not wrong! Converting a van outside in November was an adventure in itself as I contended with below freezing temperatures, snow and high winds every single day. I was going to record my conversion process but all my energy went into staying warm and finding my way around constantly arising problems, such as rapidly depleting money and hard to find materials in Iceland. 

December quickly arrived and there I was with my converted VW Transporter 4, which apart from all of the normal bedding and storage, contained a beautiful tiny wood burning stove. My van, according to every Icelander and van owner in Iceland is the only one heated with a wood burning stove. If I leave my van in a carpark, lets say a grocery store, I almost always come back to find Icelanders peering into my rear windows and staring confused at the stainless steel chimney rising out my van roof. 
“What´s this, is it a chimney?”, they say. 
Of course to which I reply yes for my wood stove. 
“A wood stove in a van?? This is fantastic! You are the only one in Iceland!”, is the remark that then usually follows.
It feels like I have introduced some remarkable new foreign technology into this land of ice and fire when instead I have taken a step back and gone back to what works best.


Now the month of March is coming to an end and I think I can officially say I survived winter. The winter was long but stunningly beautiful with the shortest days having only 3.5hours of light and 24hours of snow. The lack of light was my hardest challenge and since money was low my van lacked (and is still lacking) a leisure battery so interior lighting was achieved with Ikea candles, many Ikea candles. The cold has been hard too but that little woodstove has pulled it´s weight, heated my van and cooking my food.

I´ve mentioned a lot of negatives but these negatives are challenges and I love challenges. The beauty of winter here in iceland has been astounding! During the day I surf, hike, take photos and during the night I peer out of my back windows watching the Aurora dance. I park as far out in the country as the weather allows and wake up to beautiful views. Vanlife is a constant adventure, even just filling my water up from a pure Icelandic stream makes me feel lucky. As a Scotsman, I´m basically related to the locals and when mentioning my nationality I am instantly welcomed with open arms and a speech about how similar we are. A handy thing when I have to shelter overnight from scarily strong winds behind a building on a farmers land. 

Now spring is here, the whales are here, im writing/illustrating a childrens book about whales and conservation, im helping out an older couple promote their glacial hiking business on the world famous Snæfellsjökull (where they enter the world in Jules Vernes book, Journey to the Centre of the Earth) and im spending every day exploring lava, mountains, the glaciers and the Ocean. Money is still hard but this animal biologist is very happy he chose the vanlife. As you can read in this last paragraph, I can hardly catch my breathe due to the excitement of what´s to come next! on Instagram and youtube @icevanadventure