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On The Road Again... this time quite literally: Van Life Realities.

You know that feeling?

When somehow all your insides crumble together and your digestive system resembles a cramping knot, connecting to the chest that tightens up as though you are incapable of drawing in any air at all?

If you don’t: Congratulations. Although, if life never scared you like this, how was growth and evolution of character possible?

If you ever did: Also congratulations, because this marks a stepping stone within the expansion of your soul, your mind, your unique you!

Personally I ever experienced this intensity twice in my life. Surprisingly not when I moved from my birth country Austria to Switzerland.

First time I ever encountered this feeling was when I was tangled up in a love triangle and the one I fell for said he did not reciprocate what I felt for him (and for all those romantics out there, it did turn out alright in the end, no worries!).

Back then, no kidding, the Earth underneath me was giving in and I fell into a chasm, caught between knowing we were meant to be, knowing his reasons for denying it were reasonable and I need to be able to recover from this. And knowing that I had absolutely no idea where to go, what to do, who to be without us coming together- trapped in a foreign country with no allies and absolutely alone, turning back and going home being not an option.

Displaced.

Stranded.

Once again rootless.


The second time this feeling grabbed a hold of me was when I left my security, safety, my beloved Switzerland and all the entanglements there, with truly beloved, wholesome co-workers as well as occupation, friends, volunteer work, sustainable network, and of course the most precious apartment right in the heart of my treasured Aarau. I gave the keys, said my farewells, boarded a train and literally 6 hours later I was hyperventilating. Of course this is a story you can read on here already, it is nearly were this personal blog begins telling my story.

Now, isn’t three times the charm?

Here I was, in a borrowed electric Nissan N-200, driving off from Aird Uig on the Isle of Lewis, on my way to the harbour town of Tarbert, ready to transition from a backpacking, back-and-forth traveller, to a proper Van-lifer.


The journey would take me from the Outer Hebrides with one ferry from Tarbert to Uig, on the Isle of Skye. And from there I would make my way down to the port of Cairnryan, to board a second ferry that would bring Marjorie and me to Lairn, Ireland.

It was planned, it was known, it was mentally, spiritually, emotionally prepared and anticipated.

And yet, while I was driving through the well-known valley just outside of Timsgarry, direction Bernera, this exact feeling befell me.

What was I doing?

And why was I doing this?

(Obviously not in a legal sense, I knew I had to get out of the country for visa reasons.)

Couldn’t I just stop, buy a plot of land, settle anywhere and live?

How is seeking out discomfort every two or so years of any value?

Why was I doing this to myself?

Then set in the lurching stomach, tightness around the chest, panic and anxiety rising together with welling tears and an overall flood of emotions, questions, answers, reasons, and more questions.

Homeless, rootless, loneliness mingled with knowing, urging and longing.

Because as with both times before I perfectly well knew this was supposed to be, meant to be, needed to be brought into existence.


It has been exactly one week since then. I write this comfortably settled, snug and content in the back of said van, a steaming hot tea resting on the top of the bulging out of the wheel bearing on my right side, Marjorie snoring and lying stretched out on my left side, warming my heart, soul, as well as body.

Much has changed even though it’s only been a week.

Sometimes this thing called life does stun me, awe me.

Only one week after this huge flood of anxiety, and several minor ones in the days that were to come, and my whole perception has changed. Maybe even my persona. My outlook on life, my new awakened spirit for travel.

I think going back and forth between the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and Austria somehow became my comfort zone again, somehow made me forget the original urge and craving to keep moving and see the world. Also though, it gave me time and space to connect with kind people, to grow, thrive even. My resilience has expanded, my self-knowledge deepened, my self-worth increased. And all of this was necessary, because truth be told, I think I would have never been able to handle this journey without any of it!

My mantra: What scares you the most, needs to be done in order to grow.

Oh how often I repeated this while facing my fears during this very first week on the road:

First of all, let me tell you, at heart I am a passenger princess. I enjoy driving if there are no cars around, is what I am saying. And some of you, knowing how hard I am working to get a van and transition from backpacking to being mobile on wheels, may shake their heads and think this is a contradiction. But no. I believe, if no one will drive me around, I won’t wait, I’ll have to do it myself then. Same with travelling. Does not mean I thoroughly enjoy it and would not make space for someone chauffeuring me around!

To all those souls out there longing to go on tour, yet holding yourselves back with waiting for any beloved one to join you, don’t wait up, just do it (or join one of those lovely groups, apps or organisations that bring solo travellers together!). So driving in left-sided traffic, with a car the (admittedly not that big of a) size of my BuBu… well, I kept to the hope of finding near-empty country roads and avoid all bigger towns, especially cities, and avoid motorways at all costs.

Of course, despite specifications on the navigation app, Google Maps thought it funny to ignore my wishes and brought me straight onto one between Fort William, Glasgow and Irvine.


That brings me also to my second fear: Running out of electricity.

The thing is, the network of EV (or electric vehicle) charging points in the UK is quite extensive. In Ireland it is alright so far. And yet, a cargo van, loaded with all of my stuff, going up and down mountain ranges, with the expectations of fellow participants in traffic of maintaining a certain amount of miles per hour (instead of my preferred 40 mph default mode), it is quite tricky and requires nerves out of steel to not panic. For the first four days my main concern, and source of sweat, was the constant report behind my wheel of melting miles.

See the car shows me exactly how many miles it anticipates to have left until it needs to be charged, it also shows me the speed and it shows me if I use a lot of power or (my personal pure delight), if I actually charge up while driving. If the bars are green, I charge, if the bars go to the right side and are white, I use power. Especially between Glenshiels and Fort Minor my heart rate did a lot of overtime and countless cars overtook me, while I was turning a blind eye to the 60 mph that were required and chucked away with 40 mph downhill to charge up during the drive.

Immense learning curve there, and quite frankly I think until I am back safely in the middle of November and BuBu (the Van) will be attached at the home base charger again, this orchestra of high blood pressure, stress, ‘will-I-make-it’ thought carousel and ‘annoying fellow vehicle drivers with a 40 mph downhill charging’ sacrifice, will not end. And yet, I am learning and getting more relaxed by the day… of course, not too relaxed. We do not want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere without any option of rescue!

Although I am driving quite far into a mountain range today... let your prayers be with me!

The package deal you get to know now combine an overview of point three. These are not really fears, merely concerns, meaning I was and still am pretty sure I could make them work regardless of my surroundings.

Namely: Will Marjorie adapt, and more, will she like it? Will I be able to keep laptop and phone charged up, mainly for navigation and emergency calls, but also mainly for work? Will I be able to cook with the camping gas pot construction I have, or will the gas explode and kill me? What will I do if it continuously rains and I ran out of clothes? Will I be able to keep my standards of hygiene and push myself to washing myself even in ice cold lakes or waterfalls if need be?

Will I survive this experience and even more importantly: Will I like it so much that I still want to continue van life afterwards as a longterm life choice?

All these questions might seem ridiculous. Yet, they were real sources of wrinkles. Most of them are answered by now. Marjorie is still adapting but I see more and more everyday that she blossoms into a fantastic van life dog: She enjoys the different dog encounters, human cuddles and places to explore. She at first disliked (or maybe simply did not understand) the concept of the back of the van being our sleeping quarters. I might have to add to this that in the first week on tour we only had one evening and one day without rain, so we spent quite some time in the back unable to simply be outside. By now she snores away contentedly, is not phased with any new sounds anymore (like passers-by, heavy rains on the roof or heavy gusts of wind moving the car).

When it comes to my phone and laptop, I am not quite fully satisfied with the charging, they are usually below 50%. This is because I charge them while driving or when the car is in parking mode and still turned on. The charging process takes much longer than through a normal plug (phone with USB and laptop with cigarette lighter). Still I know that I’ll have a portable power station as well as a leisure battery in the longterm version of my van life dream, so for this month of trial and error, it is working perfectly! And so far I was able to work every single day on my freelance projects which makes my heart race, in a good way!

When it comes to hygiene I definitely had to take a few steps back. One week in and I had one waterfall hair wash (with upper body being merely a cat licking), one immensely long hot shower (as the stay at Portree Camping site (LINK) was 25£ and I wanted to make the most of that!), and again one cold, outdoor shower at a harbour visitor centre facility. Then again, truly, I have not been moving much and rain has been pouring onto me for the majority of the time anyway. Honestly though, personal hygiene is maintained as best as possible but there are boundaries. For example, here and right now in Ireland, most camping sites are closed up for the winter already; some don’t have phone numbers or websites or booking systems available anymore, others have such bad reviews I dare not set foot into a shower there anyway. And part of me thinks that paying on average 30€ for a shower too costly to begin with. I reckon I’ll have a few more of those cold, outdoor showers on the way, and a few more lakes for sure. My motto for that: “Wim Hof can do it in ice, you need to step up your game and prep for Iceland!’

In regards to hygiene in the van, I definitely have underestimated the hassle. Mainly because of the rain I had to feed Marjorie inside sometimes, try and hang some dripping clothes from a sandy beach on the sides, change my wet clothes, store shoes overnight… you get the gist of it: When it rains constantly, keeping the interior of a 2m2 van impeccable is not really an option. Certain deductions have been made to not dampen my spirits. Certain necessities are held onto daily as well: Beating the duvets, pillows, sleeping bags and bath mat/ carpet layer of the floor, wipe out the rubber mat of the floor with antibacterial surface cleanser, wash the cooking equipment right away if possible and if not use vinegar to soak overnight. So far I did not need to wash my laundry - that probably will require another overpriced camping site, which on a positive note means I get another hot shower as well (and I will REVEL in it!).



Lastly:

Will I survive this experience and even more importantly: Will I like it so much that I still want to continue van life afterwards as a longterm life choice?

This was supposed to be a welcome opportunity to ask specifically that. And I was scared of the answer because I do not have a plan B. So to speak, I set all my cards on this one dream without knowing if I was made for it, if Marjorie would like it.

Honestly I would love to say YES!

But I am so new to this lifestyle, I do not dare to do so yet.

My soul gets lighter everyday, true.

My smile is bright and having rejoiced in this experienced even through all of this rain, I am inclined to say yes. Imagining Marjorie and myself on the road for an unlimited time, all to ourselves, the world as our oyster, because I so far managed every little thing that turns out to not work within this limited trial of a roundtrip, makes my heart beat faster.

The freedom, the new of everyday, the people and places, the possibilities.

All of it combined make up so much bliss that (so far) not even rain and other minor inconveniences could take away anything positive from the experience. I also am aware though that it has only been a week and as a newbie, I want to wait with a final answer to this last question. I might even take this last question with me during van life itself. Maybe this is a question that someone living on the road, in a home on wheels, always has on their mind.

So far, my beloved souls, it is brilliant.

And because of that my plan still stands: From backpacking to van life in 2024.


With all my heart, from my little changing corners of the world, to all of you:

Love & Light.

Nadine

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