Des Fenêtres Sur Le Monde

Joana and Eric
On the road since 2015
“The meetings, the rhythm of life and the landscapes led us soon to realize that we don’t need much to live and enjoy ourselves.”

Why did you decide to quit your jobs and start traveling?

Life is not always a quiet long river, and we needed a big break. We always wanted to leave, to discover something else without actually knowing where and when, and one day it became a necessity. Our work is rather stressful and with great responsibility. The studies to get there are long. We sold the furniture and left our apartment to start this adventure and live the life that we wanted to live. The start was very hectic. We finished our bags an hour before our flight.

What do your family and your friends say about your decision?

We are fortunate to have very understanding families and friends. They never stop us, and whatever we do, they always support us. We always have with us a letter written by Joana’s brother that he has hidden in our luggage: « Live! »
What’s the story of your van?
It’s a Vanagon from California, then it migrated to Missouri and finally to Quebec where we bought it. We are the 4th owner. When we arrived in Canada, we gave us two weeks to find the cleanest Westfalia that fits our budget. It wasn’t easy, especially in July, the period when everyone takes advantage of his van. In addition, rust is a big problem in this region, fortunately for us, it had never put the wheels in the snow!

What customization have you made to your van?

Not much, to tell the truth, it is almost original. Outside we have just changed the tires for All Terrain, to be able to go off road with fewer risks and better grip in all conditions. We kept the small original 14″ wheels with the chrome VW caps. We put a waterproof bag in the luggage carrier on the roof at the front to free up some space inside. The bike rack came with the van.

Inside, not much either, it is an original Westfalia which is very clean and we didn’t want to distort it. We just added small baskets hanging from the kitchen shelf and folding storage boxes under the rear seats. An Inverter to charge our electronic equipment, a few LED lights on battery and… that’s it! It must be said that we did not have the tools or a place to make big changes. Immediately purchased, immediately on the road trip.

We think we will make some changes in the future. We will install a large additional door for the rear closet (more convenient), a second battery and maybe a heater. We do not need much in fact.

Why did you choose to explore North America?
Why not? More seriously, to see the magnificent landscape, nature, wildlife, but also the big cities that we don’t have in Europe. A change of scenery while we are away from home. At the end of the day, North America is synonymous with road trip, isn’t it ?!
Which are the three most scenic routes you have seen?

We have done a lot of zigzags, and there are so many different landscapes.

The first, we would say is crossing Utah. There is a succession of magnificent national parks, and we camped almost wherever we wanted. The landscapes have followed one another and are really “exotic”!

The road to the West Coast as a whole, including the BigSur part, is a child’s dream!

And last but not least, the Canadian Rockies. Just wow! The color of the lakes, the wildlife, the Icefield Parkway!

There are plenty of other places that come to mind. This question is really difficult!

Which are the most exciting wildlife encounters you had so far?

We met face to face with a bear in the Gaspé Peninsula (Quebec, Canada), another with a Grizzly in Waterton NP (Alberta, Canada) and one with a male Moose in Grand Teton (Wyoming, USA). A mountain lion crossed the road in front of us, on our way to Crater Lake NP (Oregon, USA). These are our closest encounters with the wildlife.

One evening next to Yosemite NP, in the middle of the forest, we had the visit of a wolf who came to turn around our camp just after we entered the van for the night. A sublime experience, with only our campfire light reflecting in his eyes.

Another unexpected encounter took place south of San Francisco. We booked a surfing lesson with Fabien from Sea Surf & Fun, and a sea lion came to play with us, climbed onto our boards and swam in our hands. With the whales at a few hundred meters, it was a magic moment!

What’s the pace of your travel? What’s a typical day like for you?

We move day by day. We do not have a particular itinerary, just a “great roadmap” with the unmissable to see. We make sure to take the time not to miss anything. And sometimes we get lost voluntarily. The meetings with the people often make us detours to see the hidden treasures that only the locals know!

A typical day begins with getting up at the same time as the sun, although sometimes it is very early. Then a good breakfast, and we plan our itinerary of the day, we arrange the van (everyone knows what it has to do with time), we prepare lunch (often a salad or a sandwich). We check if everything is ok for the van (levels of oil, water, and so on). Then we “move”: either a hike, a road to take, or both, or a city to explore, depending on where we are. In the late afternoon, we start looking for where we can camp before nightfall. We always look for free places like in the National Forest. We rarely pay for a campsite, only when we have no choice (as at Big Bend National Park for example but we have chosen some backcountry sites). Then when we find the “perfect spot” we install our stuff, prepare a fire, observe the landscape and prepare to eat. We discuss the day and what we would like to do the next day, then we will read a book or watch a movie before going to bed. Rather essential you said ?! Yes, but we enjoy it!

What do you listen when traveling?

It’s an old playlist that we like to listen: Muse, Lenny Kravitz, Coldplay, 80s 90s (it goes well with the van), and country on the radio for folklore.  But also the motor of the van when the car radio decided not to work.

Your favorite books?

Currently, we devour the books of the adventurer Mike Horn. It makes you want to go always further.

What’s your favourite gear?
We like hiking, no need for much except good shoes and a backpack. Eric loves biking downhill, but we have a small budget, and those we bought at Walmart do not really allow him to have fun. Can be a future investment ?! He drooled in front of the bikes when we were in Whistle. We would also like to buy a canoe.
Where have you found the three best places to practice your hobbies?

This is another difficult question because all National Parks are excellent for hiking and each with its specificities.

Grand Canyon NP. We made a big hike down to the Colorado River and went up another road on the same day, even if not advised by the Rangers. Seven hours of hiking was tiring but stunning.

Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado. We climbed to the top of the sand dunes in the middle of the snowy mountains. It wasn’t very complicated but totally confusing and so amazing.

The Canadian and American Rockies. Probably the best. All the hikes are more beautiful than the others. We have hiked in the snow, on glacial lakesides and glaciers.

How do you approach photography/videography on the road? What’s your favorite photography gear?

We are rather amateurs. Before this trip, unfortunately, we don’t have time for it, although we always loved photography. But for this road trip, we have invested in a high-end Hybrid camera, and we have more and more fun to take pictures. Apart from the fact of seizing the moments for our memories, it’s above all a way to share them with our family, our friends, and the people who follow us. And then, we like to take pictures of Popo. It is more than a van or a house on wheels, it is a member of our family. We tend to photograph him as if he were a person!

We have an Olympus OMD E-M5 MKII with two lenses, 14-42mm and 14-150mm (equivalent 300mm) and an Olympus Stylus TG-860 waterproof as an alternative to a GoPro. We live in our van so we opt for versatile and compact equipment to gain room.

What is the most rewarding part of living and traveling in a van?

Freedom! We move at our rhythm and we camp almost everywhere we want. The view changes every day!

What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome on your trip?

Surely manage the budget and breakdowns.

When we left, after a month the transmission broke. Big blow to morale and for our budget. Luckily for us, we found an excellent garage near Quebec City in Canada. The René Caux Garage which is specialized in Volkswagen van. They helped us a lot! We don’t work on the road, so the management of the budget is critical. A big breakdown can quickly cost a month or two of the economy. At first, we were anguished a little: will we be able to repair it by ourselves, how much money and time it will take? And then, we learned how to deal with problems. We never got stuck, luckily we were able to fix the van by ourselves. This is the game with an old van! We managed our budget; we just needed gas and food. And when something breaks down in the middle of nothing, we think positive!

Does your relationship change?
Yes, after almost 50,000 miles we are closer than ever. We are inseparable. It must be said that living 24 hours a day in a small space we had the chance to get along very well and never come into conflict. It’s better to be in a good relationship because in any case, you can’t go to sleep on the sofa.
Do you think this is a life changing experience?
Of course! There is something to reflect on what surrounds us, our goals and our real needs in life. The meetings, the rhythm of life and the landscapes led us soon to realize that we don’t need much to live and enjoy ourselves.
How do you fund this trip?
We have saved money for several years to allow us this trip. We wanted to live our road trip fully as a real “great holiday” to truly unwind. So we worked hard for that, Seven days a week, sometimes several days without sleeping, no weekends and no vacations. Now the question is: how to continue to finance this lifestyle? Working on the road is a great challenge for us.
Is it worth it?

Yes! We don’t regret it, although it was sometimes difficult before we left. These are just beautiful memories, incredible encounters and moments. This trip allowed us to learn more about other cultures but also about ourselves. It reinforced our desire to discover the world aboard our faithful Westfalia. A van, thousands of miles to swallow and we are the happiest!

What’s your advice to people thinking about van life?
In Europe, vanlife is something “marginal.” The mentality, especially in France, is very different from that in North America. All the people we met here, have all shown themselves caring and interested whether they are in a van or not. We exchange good plans and advice, it is really nice. It’s a beautiful community, a real family!
What are your future projects?
We have just returned to France, and we are already preparing our next adventures. We will also launch a website to tell our experiences in more detail. We must move! After all this, for us, “normal” life is now filled with discoveries. We had only kept our “old vehicles” here, including a ’78 Volkswagen T2 which we restore by ourselves to travel and work with from April. We will spend the summer season on the Ibiza Island, in Spain, like real Hippies to save money.  Next winter we will go to Mexico and Central America with “Popo” next. Then there will surely come South America and Alaska. Everything depends on the surprises that the future holds. As you see, we have adopted the vanlife in any continent. One day we would like to go around the world. After all, we have a lifetime for it…

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