As the famous rapper Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, better known as Q-tip, once said:
‘…things go in cycles’
As we’re writing this, we’re back where at were when our vanlife started out; Wassersleben, Germany. And on our way to Marijke’s Grandparents. This is exactly where we started our vanlife journey up north two months ago. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about the whole month of July, instead of just the 31st day.
July has been a tad different compared to May and June. We had already settled into our ways of van-living. We naturally divided the daily tasks and we started looking for work to do abroad.
Less travel more searching
Finding work took up more time than we’d initially hoped for. Instead of traveling as much as we did in our first month, we spent a significant amount of time job-hunting. Initially, we hoped to find something in Sweden for a few months, so that we could keep exploring the country. Though after looking for a few weeks, and asking around, we’d come to learn that finding work in Sweden (and other nordic countries) is not at all an easy task. This meant that we had to broaden our search area to the whole of Europe instead.
After filling out a fair amount of job applications and having numerous interviews, we learned that dogs and vanlife are not a match made in heaven when looking for work. Not just dogs in general though, the breed of our dogs in particular was an issue as people do not know the breed well enough.
We initially hoped for a job at a campingsite. Due to our decision to travel in the company of two dogs however, we first landed a job picking strawberries on a farm in Denmark. We signed the contracts on Friday, and arrived on Sunday. When we arrived, to keep things short, it was just one big mess. In other words, our search for work continued.
Yesterday, we were contacted by a large customer service firm in Spain. And let it be the case that they are in search of people to back up their team, who can’t only start immediately, but are willing to travel to Barcelona within the next two weeks; us! After a day going back and forth through emails and phone calls, it seems that we’ve made it onto their team! But let’s see how it develops over the coming few days. Who knows, we could be on our way to Spain next month!
This is the complete opposite to what we had initially hoped for, which was to stay in the nordic countries for quite a while. But it does mean that we can keep on exploring Europe (instead of returning to the Netherlands), though be it in a fixed location for a while. It’ll allow us to fully emerge ourselves into the Spanish culture and to finally learn the Spanish language. That has been at the top of our list for quite a while!
Do not postpone finding work
We have come to realize that we have to search for temporary work well beforehand. It takes quite some time to find positions and to go through the approval process, only to find out in the end that you’re not hired.
Instead of waiting to find work for when our next job is over, we’ll start looking well before we’ll need the job from now on!
After sunshine comes…
More sunshine! Though our job search did not allow us to explore as much as we’d hoped, neither did the weather. During the month of July we’ve only had a bit of rain 1 evening and a short thunderstorm two days ago. That’s it. It’s been 25 to 30 degrees Celsius the whole month with almost no clouds in the sky.
When we finished our camper van conversion in the end of spring, it had already been incredibly sunny and warm for three weeks at least. We thought it would be clever to travel to the colder nordic countries. It however feels as if we could as well have driven to Spain immediately.
The higher temperatures did not allow us to go on many long hikes in the mountains as our dogs just can’t handle the heat that well. We’ve had to spend most days parked next to the sea or a lake in which we could cool off as often as we’d like. Mojo and Venus luckily both love to swim. As soon as Mojo smells or sees the water, she’s almost uncontrollable.
A typical day would involve getting up early, going for a swim with the dogs, hoping that our camper van could be parked in the shade, and spending our afternoon looking for work and possibly taking another dive. As soon as the temperatures dropped again in the evenings, we’d take the dogs for a long walk.
Marijke finally swam in open water
Though I love to swim just about anywhere, Marijke has always been scared of swimming (or even standing) in open water. We spent one week in Umeå parked close to a lake with a nice sandy beach and crystal clear water. Finally, after years of hoping, Marijke went in together with me.
At first just the two of us went swimming for a few times. The bottom of the lake wasn’t steep, so you could stand quite far off the coast. Marijke slowly walked in with me the first time and we just stood there looking at the fish around us for quite some time. Marijke then slowly submerged herself in the water for a bit. The second time we went in the water together, Marijke already swam for quite a while! The fact that we could see the ground and that we could stand everywhere made it all much easier.
Afterwards, we took Mojo and Venus swimming with us just about everyday! The dogs turn out to be a great distraction for Marijke, so she can keep her mind of the ‘scary’ stuff in the water – which she still can’t really explain what that is.
Vanlife explorations of the month
As usual, we went on long walks with our dogs on a daily basis (just not in the afternoon heat). Besides that though, we took a few days off of searching for work to hike through Skuleskogen national park and the Skuleberget located just next to it. We climbed to the top of the Skuleberget together with Mojo. You can read all about Mojo’s experiences here. We’ve also written about our experiences in Skuleskogen national park here.
This month, we also spent some time in Uppsala, Umeå, and Copenhagen. We mainly stopped in Copenhagen to pay a visit to the unique community Free Town Christiania in the middle of the city centre. Christiania was mentioned on the Anarchism episode of Stuff You Should Know. Whilst listening to the episode the place seemed very interesting, people living in a self-sustaining way whilst ignoring the authorities. We did however not find there what we expected.
We hoped to find an open and somewhat independent community. Instead, we found a community that seems to be nothing more than one massive tourist attraction heavily focused on drugs and alcohol.
Different but exciting
Although the month turned out quite differently than we’d hope it would, it has been a fun and exciting month. One evening in a forest close to Umeå, we looked out of the back of our van and saw a moose eyeing us from just 3 meters away! How surreal is that for our first encounter with such a stunning animal.
Some other highlights:
- We met a fellow person who is interested in vanlife and zero waste living.
- We discovered that doing the laundry by hand is a tiresome process but more importantly, it works surprisingly well! We’ve truly become so spoiled these days. Our leftover paracord turned out to come in quite handy to use as a clothesline.
- Having a highly contagious skin disease (ringworm) in a camper van sucks. Though it currently seems to have disappeared on our dogs, we’ve read that it could still be on their bodies and in their bedding invisibly for well over a month. We are still treating our dogs regularly with apple cider vinegar and hope that it truly works as a natural remedy!
- Marijke won our first game of Netrunner in the camper van. She lost the other two though :).
- Witnessed our first forest fire, yet luckily that was from a large distance.
- Watched and photographed the lunar eclipse.
- Emptied our gas tank for the first time and realized that our gas bottle isn’t common in Sweden.
- We encountered a large group of deer very close to the path we were walking on.
- Marijke finished the books The help by Kathryn Stockett and Girl on the train by Paula Hawkins.
- Jordy finished the book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
- We took just three showers this month (well, we might take a fourth tonight at Marijke’s grandparents)! We did swim most days and washed our bodies with wash cloths and a soap bar.
Zero waste adventures
Since starting our zero waste adventure in the end of May, we finally visited our first bulk store! In the Netherlands, stores with package free products aren’t abundant, so we were happy to find one on our travels. Umeå Ekobutik is located in the center of Umeå and we were recommended to visit it by our friend Robert. When we walked into the store, the owner immediately gave us a warm welcome into his store.
Jonas, the store owner, let us try one of his favorite products; mulberries covered in cacao powder. They were delicious! He spontaneously shared information about a documentary with drone footage from Norwegian nature; showed us his book about tiny homes; was happy to share information regarding work in Sweden and Norway; and gave us advise on which loose-leaf teas tasted best.
During our time in Sweden we decided that Lidl was by far the best (cheapest) store to visit for package free fruits, veggies, nuts, bread, and most other products. The assortment of fruits and vegetables in particular is perfect at Lidl, though we couldn’t always find package free garlic. Whenever we needed pasta packaged in paper or peanut butter packaged in glass without a plastic seal, we visited Hemköp or Ica.
Sadly enough, not everything we bought in July was plastic free. We couldn’t resist buying a plastic bag of tortellini as we hadn’t eaten it in over two months and we no longer have a pasta maker to make them ourselves. And after opening a cardboard box of frozen spinace, we found that it was packaged in plastic inside! In the Netherlands, frozen spinach is often solely wrapped in cardboard. We bought one packet of halloumi cheese because we missed the taste so much. However, when Marijke started to grill the halloumi to make a delicious sandwich for dinner (unpackaged ciabatta from Lidl), we ran out of gas! So we had half-grilled-half-cold halloumi sandwich that night… Maybe it was a sign.
We did celebrate a small zero waste victory, though! After having discarded our beet greens for years, I discovered a delicious recipe of sautéed beetroot stalks and leaves. I prepared them with some garlic powder and lime juice and it tasted fab!
On July 1st, we started our series of zero waste stories! Five Sundays in a row, we shared a story written by a fellow person living a zero waste lifestyle. We’ve got another story coming out later this week, where Shia Su from Wasteland Rebel will explain all about her zero waste journey. This one will be a bit different though as it is in an interview formate.
We planned to keep posting four blog posts each week this month, and we did it! Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep this rhythm going. In a few weeks, we hope to launch our series of campfire stories and we might just have a couple of interesting vanlife interviews coming soon as well. Keep your eyes peeled for these stories, you’ll get to know some like-minded people!
Our favorite instagram photo of July has to be the one of the moon! It even almost beat our dogs in the number of likes!
Though we haven’t found work in Sweden like we initially hoped, we did possibly both find a secure position in an amazing city. We’ll then be employed for one year and will be able to save up money to travel a couple of months once our contract has finished.
August starts tomorrow, or today as you’re reading this, and we’ll visit as many family members over the next few days as we possibly can. In addition, we hope to schedule an MOT for our van, so that we don’t have to get it checked over in Spain when we live there.
The first week of this month will probably also be spent looking for a small studio-apartment. We’re hoping to find something small where dogs are allowed and ideally with a parking lot so we can keep our van close to home and travel every weekend. We will probably simply put our camper van mattress and the dog bed on the floor, and not buy any furniture straight away. We’ve been able to live with this little in the camper van without any issues, why would they arise now? Eventually, we can find a lovely second-hand store to find some chairs and a table, and other convenient items.
Let’s see what awaits us next month!