From Backpacking Central America to Vanlife in Europe

Chloe and I met while backpacking in Central America in 2016. We weren’t really meant to be together: I was born and raised in Istanbul (Turkey) whereas she’s French. Now what if I tell you we’ve actually met in Mexico almost 4 years ago? Not your typical couple so I wanted to share a bit more about our story from the day we met in Mexico until leaving in a campervan in Europe.

Mexico, where everything started

Back in 2016, I left Europe and flew to Central America… I actually stayed in Portugal for a month trying to find a boat to cross the Atlantic Ocean but my Schengen  Visa was about to expire so I had to leave. My travel started in Cuba: I was walking, hitchhiking, camping and volunteering along the road to sustain my adventure. I’ve actually shared a couple of videos about my trip on Youtube. After wy workaway in an Organic Farm in the Yucatán, I went to San Cristobal de Las Casas and volunteered in a hostel. This is where we met with Chloe. She was backpacking Mexico for a couple of weeks with her friend Roxane and ended up in the hostel where I worked. When you work in a hostel, people come and go almost everyday so you cannot have the same small talks with everyone: “Where are you from? What are you doing in Mexico? Where are you heading next?”. 

But one day I came across Chloe… We’ve met over a pizza night since she was the only one that night asking for a veggie pizza and I was responsible of cooking them all. We got along pretty well and ended up talking the entire night. We bumped into each others a couple of times more after that night but she left after 3 days to pursue her trip so I added her on facebook. We found ourselves texting on Messenger the following days and this how I discovered her friend was leaving back to France whereas she was about to spend an extra week in Mexico alone. My volunteering project was about to end when her friend left so things felt pretty aligned to meet again but we had a problem. Chloe was already in Tulum and I was still in San Cristobal: 910km separated us… so we decided to meet again somewhere in between: Campeche. I hitchhiked for 2 days to reach Campeche on time and she took a 13-hour bus drive, knowing she will had to take another 10-hour bus drive to Cancun to catch her flight in 7 days. We rented a lovely flat (60€ for the week!) and enjoyed our time together: playing music on the beach, eating good mexican food, hitchhiking to visit the Maya Archaeological site of Calakmul, wandering this cute fortified city, enjoying stunning sunsets… the ideal week. 

Stopping my adventure to move to France

So Chloe returned to Paris to complete her graduate program, and in the meantime I flew from Mexico to Columbia to start another volunteer project. I also bought myself a second-hand Macbook to work with my previous advertising agency in Istanbul remotely during my stay in Bogota. My target remained the same in that moment: hitchhiking all the way down to Patagonia, but things changed a couple of months later. Long story short, 3 months after she had returned to Paris, I came back
to Istanbul in November 2016. Flights were quite expensive from Bogota (Colombia) to Turkey so I ended buying a ticket leaving from São Paulo (Brazil). I had one month to make my way there so this how I ended up crossing the amazon river on a boat for 2 weeks until I reached Brazil. Right after I came back, she visited me in Turkey for 2 weeks so that we could meet again and come up with the plan for me to come to France. As you probably know, Turkey isn’t part of the EU so I needed a visa to move in Paris with her… so I became a student in France. (It wasn’t as simple as it sounds, but we will spare you the
paperwork issue). 

Living the Vanlife in Europe

During our first year together, we travelled across Europe by bus, train, flight whenever we had free time. 2017 was still the year of adaptation for the two of us. I kept working for my advertising agency remotely until I found a job in Paris whereas Chloe freshly started her career in management consulting. We were both workaholics back then so our little fun was to go surfing over the weekend but the carpooling/airbnb combo wasn’t that convenient and cheap after all. In the meantime, we encountered many surfers travelling in their campervan and the idea started to rise in our heads. By that time, we had no idea of the whole vanlife thing going on.  The following winter, we went to Austria for snowboarding and got to hop in a VW van for the first time (Hi Mario!). Coming back to France, it took us 3 weeks until we bought our own campervan, a VW T4,  with our little savings. So in February 2018 we started converting our van and had absolutely no idea how to do it. We used it almost every weekend to espace the city, and spent our summer exploring Spain and Portugal. 

A year later, we were ready for our next van conversion to go full time vanlife. Even if we enjoy how convenient it is to have a small van that looks pretty discret and can fit any height limit (we have a lof of them in France!), we wanted a bigger van where you can actually live full-time the four seasons in it. With this first conversion experience in mind, even though it was pretty basic (just a bed, some storage and bit of electricity), we were able to come up with an overall idea of the costs. We roughly set a budget of spending 15k€ to buy and convert a random L3H2 van… but we quickly found that the quality we desired was just not readily available in our price range. We thought we’d buy the van in march 2019 and have it ready to travel in a year. While we were searching for a Mercedes Sprinter online, we encountered our current Mercedes Hymer. The ad wasn’t appealing at all: barely any description and poor quality photos. Yet we felt something, so we listened our intuitions and decided to visit it the following weekend. This part was actually easy since it was located in the suburb of Paris. When we saw and drove it for the first time, it was literally love at first sight for both of us (except for the bathroom look maybe, but come on, there is a bathroom in it. This is amazing!). Despite the fact we never considered buying this type of vehicle, we started to ask ourselves “Why not?” and weight the pros and cons of the situation. We quickly decided this was the right move for us.

In this article, we explain you in depth why we bought a vintager campervan instead of converting our own.

We’ve also came up with a cinematic video explaining our travel story. Don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel to support our work!

So this is our story… what’s yours?