Van Life Scandinavia – A Travellers Guide To Living The Vanlife
20 June, 2018 by Sebastian Santabarbara
Welcome to Scandinavia, the home to the world’s largest population of Arctic reindeer herders, more lakes than you can shake a stick at, and of course the Vikings! You don’t need to run for the hills today though, because it’s not the sword wielding Lothbrok’s that we’re reporting on. We’re here to look into travelling around the amazing world of Van Life Scandinavia!
Our next vandweller that you’re about to meet as part of our Van Life Global series is @myscandinaviansaga. Carolien is a solo female vanlifer who’s travelling around Norway, Denmark and Sweeden. From snowy mountain tops to ice cold ravines, Carolien has already seen so much of this wonderful region that we thought we’d ask her a few questions to help you get the best out experience out of some of Europe’s most beautiful countries. Take it away Carolien!
Van Life Scandinavia – A Travellers Guide To Living The Vanlife
Hey Carolien! Introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about yourself and your van!
My name is Carolien, I am 34 years old and I embarked on my Van Life Scandinavia journey last April. I have a Swedish mother, a Dutch father, was born in Germany and raised in the Netherlands. Before I started travelling I had been living and working in Amsterdam for 10 years. I studied International Business with a major in finance, and after working in the corporate (finance) world for 7 and a half years, I made a shift to a dutch social enterprise / start-up, where I was CFO for about a year after which I spent one year in Australia. And I think I may have caught the travel virus over there! I love the city of Amsterdam and still have my ‘base’ there. It feels nice to know that I can always return there when I would feel like it
My van is a Ford Transit from 1995, and I bought her last January with just over 300,000 km’s on the clock. Mechanically she is still in very good condition, but before leaving on this journey my dad helped me massively with giving her a thorough anti-rust treatment, and I had a few rusty parts fixed. The van was completely navy blue when I bought her but I didn’t really ‘feel it’. My first van in Australia (Wombi) was the most colourful painted van you can think of, and that added such a great dimension to my van journey over there. So I decided to give this new van a paint-job and painted her by hand. I chose white for the roof and a greyish blue colour for the body. I thought it was such a difficult decision to decide on which colour blue, but when I saw that the name of the colour I was leaning towards was ‘nomad’, that was a confirmation that that was the right pick! 🙂 And then on top of the blue I painted a nordic pattern all around the van.
“Scandinavia is so big with lots of beautiful nature to get lost in”
Last winter I was visiting my grandmother in Sweden and we were talking about knitting (on of my hobbies) and she took out her hand-knitted woolen sweater, a true masterpiece! It’s one of those typical nordic / scandinavian sweaters and it was so beautiful that I asked her if she could put it on (together with a matching beanie) and made a little photoshoot out of it. Later, I was looking at those pictures with my auntie and I said I wanted to paint the van in that colour blue. And then she added in the suggestion of putting the nordic pattern on it as well. And so I did, with great help of my mom and brother! It really turned into a family project. The van didn’t have a name (nor gender) yet, and of course I thought to change that. So I decided that she was definitely a she, and I named her Saga. It fits perfectly into the Scandinavian ‘theme’ of my trip. Next to it being one of my favorite names at the moment, the word “saga” also has the meaning of “story” or “fairytale” in Swedish.
What was it that made you want to become a Vanlifer and how are you finding the change into your new life.
I discovered Van Life Australia where it actually just happened. In June 2016, I decided to take a break from my life in Amsterdam after my 7 and a half year relationship coming to an end and quitting my CFO job in Amsterdam, and I set out to Australia. I was thinking about doing a backpacking trip around the world but wanted to start in Australia as my brother and his family had emigrated there a year earlier and I really wanted to see them. Before I knew it I had bought my first van – a colourful 1984 Mazda E2000 hippie-van called Wombi (love at first sight!). At first I only had a three month visa, and I drove down the eastcoast with Wombi from Cairns to Byron Bay where my brother lived. By the time I got there my visa was about to expire, but I knew that I wasn’t done with that way of travelling and living and managed to extend my visa for a full year! Then I decided to go all around Australia.
Pretty soon the thoughts of exploring other continents in a van entered my head and as soon as I got back to the Netherlands from Australia I started to think about my next steps. I never had the intention to stay in the Netherlands for a long time because I just knew that I wasn’t done travelling yet and had so much more to explore, both around the world and about myself. But this time I wanted to try and create a sustainable lifestyle in which I would be basically location independent, meaning I would be able to keep on moving and basically work anywhere as long as I had my laptop and the (internet) connection to the world. Living in a van provides so well for that type of lifestyle, as a big element of travelling is covered: you always have your home with you. You don’t have to spend a lot of time and/or money for accomodation, and you don’t have to plan so much. When you feel you want to stay longer in one place, you just do, and if you feel like moving, you move on. It’s as simple as that. It is mainly this sense of freedom that comes with vanlife that makes it feel so good to me. In addition to that, there are other aspects that come with vanlife that I’ve come to appreciate so much, such as being closer to nature, living more simplistic and more consciously.
What’s Van Life Scandinavia like? Is there a big community and do you find parking up in places difficult?
I have been on the road for about 1 and a half months now and I’ve spent most of that time in Norway. I don’t get the feeling there is a very big vanlife community here yet, but perhaps I still have to discover it. I am in touch with a handful of other vanlifers in Scandinavia through Instagram, but I haven’t met any of them in real life yet. I guess vanlife comes in many different forms, and of course there are a lot of people exploring Van Life Scandinavia in big white campers so consequently there are a lot of facilities in terms of camping sites and places to shower and hook up for electricity etc. But I haven’t met people who are also roaming around Scandinavia as full time vanlifers. Most people I’ve met so far were on a few weeks holiday trying to see as much as possible in a limited time. There are certainly vanlifers here, but I think the numbers are much less compared to for example the US, Australia and Portugal, and Scandinavia is so big with lots of beautiful nature to get lost in, so I feel the chances of actually meeting each other are pretty slim.
“I get the feeling that people are not used to being alone anymore and perhaps scared of the idea of being alone.”
Parking up in places is not difficult at all. Around the more popular / touristy places it can be a bit harder to find places where you can park up for free, but otherwise it is very easy with so much beautiful nature and parking area’s. I find the app park4night very helpful, especially around towns, but otherwise there are so many places where you can just park up and stay for the night.
I was preparing for a lot of rain in Norway, but so far I have been amazingly lucky with the weather. I can count the rainy days on one hand and have been treated to some extremely warm summer termperatures throughout May and June. I do find it hard sometimes to find public toilets and showers whilst being off grid and away from the camp sites, and the water of the lakes in Norway has been sooo super cold with all the melting water that I hardly managed to go in, so I had to find some other shower alternatives. In Sweden on the other hand, the temperature is just perfect at the moment (early June), such a great feeling to refresh yourself in a natural lake on a warm day!
How do you find travelling compared to your previous life? You’re also a solo traveller, how do you find life on the road in Van Life Scandinavia?
To me, travelling is not just about seeing certain sights, but rather about really experiencing other countries and specific area’s in those countries. Therefore, I like to travel slow and really take my time to soak up the nature around me or feel the atmosphere of a city. Being able to work along the way allows me to continue to explore, and at the same time it forces me to travel slowly. A big difference with my ‘previous life’ is that I used to work (more than) full-time, whereas now I am taking on project-based work that may last for a few weeks for example. And then there can be a period of time without work until the next project starts. So less work, and more living.
“Being alone on the road works very well for me… I love to be able to do exactly what I want and when I want.”
When I have a work project going on I try to organize my weeks as much as how I would do it back home. Working the weekdays allows me to be available for the people I work with and for conference calls with the team and/or clients during their working hours. The environment I am now working in is just completely different from the offices I used to work from in my ‘previous life’. I have noticed that I find it nice to have a fixed base during such a period, so that might mean I stay at one spot for the week. And then the weekends and weeks where I am not working are for moving on and exploring. I’ve also noticed that I actually even love to take Saga for a short ride after a long day of work, as it immediately clears my mind to drive through beautiful scenary and change my surroundings, especially here in the middle of Van Life Scandinavia where the days are so long. It is less hot in Saga and the light becomes more beautiful in the evenings, so I automatically get more eager to get my camera out. In my ‘previous life’, I would often spend my evenings either still working, hanging out with friends or crashing in front of the television. The only thing I’m sometimes missing is physically hanging out with friends, as this is now replaced by video-or phone calls. If I compare my lifestyle now compared to my ‘previous life’, I would say that I simply feel more alive.
Being alone on the road works very well for me. A few examples of why I like it are that I love to be able to do exactly what I want and when I want, I’m more likely to make new contacts when travelling alone, and I’m welcomed and helped warmheartedly by all the mechanics that I had the pleasure to visit (with Wombi and now also with Saga). 🙂 But ofcourse it also has drawbacks, being confronted with yourself all the time can be pretty tough, and I don’t always feel comfortable to camp or hike everywhere by myself. In Australia it was super easy to just join up with other travellers, but I find it a bit more difficult here. But I also feel I still have to grow into this.
In May, I had the luxury to share my Van Life Scandinavia adventure for two weeks with my boyfriend, who I met in the short period I was back in Amsterdam in between my travels, and I have to say that that felt like the icing on the cake. 🙂 We are now looking if he can join me for the summer months, so hopefully that will work out!
Just a last note about travelling alone, as I’m noticing it is a bit of a topic. I’ve never really minded being alone and being alone also feels as something that is really good for me. I don’t experience the feeling of missing people very often or strongly, because my loved ones are always there with me anyways, regardless of the physical distance. Back in my ‘previous life’ I used to get caught up a lot by work and social life that I found it very hard to really hard to carve out (highely necessary) time for myself. Based on how often the first question I get asked is “do you travel alone?!”, often followed by amazement, I get the feeling that people are not used to being alone anymore and perhaps scared of the idea of being alone. And although I am at the moment hoping strongly that my boyfriend will come back to join me for the summer months, I still very strongly feel that embarking on my travel adventures by myself has been the greatest gift I have ever given myself. It has contributed to my personal development in an enormous way and brought me closer to myself.
Tell us about a a couple of of your favourite places that you’ve been to whilst on your travels through Van Life Scandinavia and why they are special to you.
The west coast of Sweden was simply amazingly pretty with all the cute coastal towns, islands, and all of the water around. It was the start of my trip and was treated on so many beautiful sunsets, which contributed a lot to my feeling of living the vanlife again and being closer to nature. It was the end of April, so still off-season, which meant I had many stunning places pretty much to myself.
And honestly, my time in Norway has been a concoction of the most beautiful places, ranging from snowy mountain tops to magnificent fjords. It’s quite hard to name my favourites places, but some of experiences that are definitely special to me are:
Preikestolen – My boyfriend joined me for two weeks in Norway and one of the things we did was a sunrise climb up to the Preikestolen (“Pulpit Rock”). We mainly decided to climb up before sunrise to escape the crowds, as it is one of Norways most touristy natural sights, but the circumstances were so perfect that it became a pretty magical experience. Just the whole adventure of starting the climb in the dark with headtorches on, and then noticing how it got lighter and lighter along the way, and then seeing the sun come up as we sat on that big plateau at the top. I always think a sunrise has something magical, but to see if from that location with such a beautiful view over the fjord and to share that with my boyfriend was just amazing and the best start of the day!
Bergen – I spent almost a week in this pretty city and absolutely loved it! I could walk endlessly through the beautiful little streets with all the cute colourful wooden houses and enjoy some tasty cappucino’s at cosy cafe’s and just soak up the atmosphere. It felt like a lively young student town and I was also there during Norway’s national holiday, which was a unique experience in itself, seeing all the women dress up in their pretty traditional dresses.
Oldevatnet – I spent a few days working from a campsite near Olden, at the Oldevatnet. It was near the pretty touristy Brikdalsbreen glacier, but where I was staying was so peaceful and beautiful! I was parked just in front of the beautiful coloured water, mountains all around, views to various glacier tongues and hearing the continuous sound of the waterfalls behind me. I had a great connection to the owner of the campsite and felt I could’ve stayed in that area for months. One early Friday evening, after finished up my workweek, I hiked up to a beautiful waterfall and as I sat there watching it all by myself, all of a sudden, two dear came running down next to / under the waterfall. Another magical moment in Van Life Scandinavia. 🙂
Instagram doesn’t always show the tough nature of Vanlife – have you had any troubles or van problems on the road?
So far, Saga has been doing an amazing job!! I had one minor issue with the hose of the power steering liquid when I left Copenhagen, but managed to keep going with a quick tie-wrap fix and had the hose then replaced in Helsingborg Sweden. And then there was one time in Norway when driving through the magnificent fjord country that I had this horror-scenario that popped into my head that my brakes would all of a sudden break whilst driving downhill. I had the worst night and somehow couldn’t let go of those thoughts. The next morning I was so scared to drive further as the direction I was about to head in was downhill. On moments like these I have a hard time being alone on my Van Life Scandinavia journey, but after some comforting calls with my dad and boyfriend, I decided to drive further for a little while, take a rest day (it was a public holiday so nothing was open), and drive past a garage the next morning to ask if they could check the condition of my brakes. So I did that and the brakes were fine. But I was happy I had it checked and could continue with more comfort. 🙂
Tell us about a top tip that you’ve learnt from living on the road in Van Life Scandinavia that you would pass on to other Van Clan members
Be open to receive what is presented to you on ‘the road’ / your journey. It may sound a bit vague but along the way opportunities will present themselves and it is up to you whether to be open to them or just rush by. It may come in so many forms, places you end up in (intentionally or unintentionally), people you meet, be it fellow travellers or locals, or maybe nature will decide to share some of her magic with you.
Finally, sum your Van Life Scandinavia adventures for us up in three words.
Exploring alternative routes.
Thank you so much Carolien for sharing your Van Life Scandinavia story! The way that you talk about Van Life Scandinavia and your amazing pictures have made us seriously consider stocking the van up with wood and heading out into the wilderness!
Follow Carolien @myscandinaviansaga to learn more about Van Life Scandinavia first hand from a girl who is too ‘cool’ for school (that was a cold country joke…)
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