We quit our jobs and travelled the world in a campervanSeptember 9, 2017
After two months together in a cramped 20ft camper van, arguing over torn maps, soggy firelighters and even soggier socks, the last thing I was thinking was that my boyfriend would want to spend the rest of his life with me. But there he was, kneeling in snow as the sun set over a Canadian mountain, holding up a vintage solitaire.
We’d met five years earlier, and this was our make-or-break adventure: a six-month road trip through Canada and America, finding local produce to cook on and off the road.
Jimmy’s proposal may have been a surprise, but really, I think I knew I’d met my perfect mate when he agreed to my mad idea to quit our jobs in London to eat our way through 6,000 miles of wilderness in a camper van.
It was a plan cooked up late at night after yet another relentless week for both of us in the world of photography (me) and film (him). After moving to the capital together from Cornwall, where we’d met at university, we lived together in east London but barely managed to even make a weekly date night because we were constantly tired.
However, on the plus side, our lack of free time allowed us to save up for our trip.
Like a lot of people, we spent our daily commutes scrolling through Instagram, gazing at inspirational images. That’s how we came across the #vanlife trend – a collection of accounts of people travelling by camper van, mostly exploring Canada and America.
They were full of breathtaking scenery and we instantly aspired to be part of this alternative lifestyle.
The hashtag has been around since the earliest days of Instagram, but recently it’s come into the spotlight, thanks to a handful of its huge, photogenic stars, such as Emily King and Corey Smith (and their dog Penny Rose) whose feed @wheresmyofficenow has nearly 173,000 followers, and who were profiled earlier this year in The New Yorker as leading exponents of the trend.
Beneath all the Instagram filters we knew there was a real journey waiting to be taken. (And it’s not just on social media that the trend is taking off: last month, new figures showed that camper-van and caravan trips are on the rise, with production of touring caravans up 13.7 per cent in the first half of the year compared to 2016.)
After many sleepless nights and back and forth deliberations, we booked a one-way flight to Vancouver. As well as travel, our passion is food, so we decided to create an account – @theculinarycampers – that would document our journey as a cooking exploration, finding great ingredients and the people behind the food.
We had two months to say goodbye to everything: our jobs, our house and our friends and families. There were times when we thought we’d made the wrong decision: we were gripped by fear of the unknown.
People thought we were mad when we told them our plans (or lack thereof), but we knew there was more to life than work and the stresses of the city.
We packed our belongings into our parents’ attics and squashed as much as we could into two backpacks. We were finally ready to be outside, to learn new skills and reconnect with nature and each other.
We arrived in Vancouver at the beginning of summer and were instantly on the hunt for our new home. We sat in coffee shops scouring Craigslist: the best vans are snapped up faster than rental flats in London – evidently we weren’t the only ones looking to get lost in the wilderness. But as soon as we saw our one, it was love at first sight.
It belonged to an older man who had owned it longer than we’d been alive and had kept it in immaculate shape, in all its vintage beauty. The engine was clean and seemed to run perfectly. It was more expensive than we had budgeted for but if we could sell it for a similar price at the end of the trip we would be all right.
We agreed on a price – $9,000 CAD (roughly £5,500), and just like that the van was ours. We had bought our first place together, a 1986 GMC motorhome!
A few trips to thrift stores to gather pots, pans and other necessities and we were set. At first, we hugged the coastline and stayed at campsites we found en route, but as we went, other travellers and locals shared their favourite camping spots off the beaten track.
We grew into our little space and found that living in each other’s pockets brought us closer. We had to work together and be a team. There wasn’t much privacy so we’d give each other space when we knew we needed it, but for the most part we just enjoyed being together.
Life was good: we spent the warm summer days hiking, swimming in lakes and exploring old gold-rush towns. The evenings were spent cooking with local ingredients either in the van or over a campfire. At times our van would be temperamental, but each experience enhanced our trip and sometimes it took a breakdown to find something magical.
One scorching morning we were driving around the coast of Vancouver Island when there were a few chugs from under the bonnet, followed by an almighty bang.
The engine cut out: our fan belt had snapped and we were stranded.
We hitched a ride to the nearest town and found a mechanic who was cool and had a load of old American muscle cars sitting on blocks out front. He popped a new fan belt on and after about an hour of chatting he told us about a local swimming hole on the edge of town.
It turns out we had driven past it, oblivious to the beauty beyond the road. We pulled up to an empty and overgrown car park and made our way down a precarious hillside, feeling quite nervous about following directions to an isolated location.
As we climbed down below the tree line, we walked out into a stunning ravine with emerald-green water and towering, weathered grey rock. Without hesitation, we jumped into the water, looked at each other and laughed. We stayed in the tranquil surroundings until nightfall, counting our lucky stars.
Before we knew it, our six months as free spirits had flown by. It was time for us to pack up our idyllic, simple life and head home.
Saying goodbye to the van that had taken us both on such a special journey was hard, but the fact that the van was now the only cash we had left made it easier to part ways.
Buyers came flocking to our ad: couples, friends, families, all desperately wanting to embark on their own journeys of new experience, discovery and connection.
We headed home rejuvenated with a new outlook on life, work and the consuming but inspiring city that for now we call home. And if you want the truth, I can’t wait to do it all over again. We’re already on the hunt for our next home on wheels.