Amsterdam, Netherlands- I have been hesitant to write about living in the van. I envy the awesome Instagram travel posts #vanlife and the like. My expectations were that picturesque pimped out Westfalia with all the mod cons and the interior designs of an Anthropologie store. Being a novice and in a foreign country I wanted to take the approach like we do in nursing for medicating old people with opioids, “start low and go slow.”
While still living in a flat in Ganzenhof, I scoured Markplaats (Dutch Craigslist) for a suitable vehicle that I could convert into a proper sleeping mobile. I found a super nice Volkswagen for €3500 in the Jordaan. The biggest turn off here was that the dude had named it something horrible. I can’t remember but it was Bess or Sissy…is was Sus, yep Sus. He had taken it for a quick spin to Spain and it had higher mileage than what I wanted. It was also my first “newsflash!” that I would have to learn how to drive a manual transmission, I needed more time to think. I also didn’t want to be driving a bright green van around the city, sleeping and working until I got my bearings and deciding where to go next. I needed something stealthy and not a RV.
Although the culture of campervans and aires is quite common in Europe, it is harder in The Netherlands, especially in/around Amsterdam. This is common sense really. I don’t think the Geemente wants a bunch of people like myself living in vans, making shanty towns and going for wild plassens, despite the general tolerance for prostitution, soft drugs etc. I will say my experience(s) with the Politie and Eurocops in general has been quite friendly. But, go to France and you can sleep in hundreds of aires for free, Spain, just park wherever you want and carry on.
I didn’t know a lot about cars except that German ones have intricate engines and are expensive to repair. Solution, go with a Ford. This sounds very American, but hey! I needed cup holders damn it. I found the Transit for €1600 and it came with three free driving lessons! No, not exactly but once I admitted to not knowing how drive a manual, Jan (the owner) thought it necessary to make sure I wouldn’t kill people, especially cyclists.
After the first driving lesson in Zaandam, Jan dropped me off at the train station. Before that he asked me to make the money transfer. I whipped out my iPhone and transferred the money straight away as HE drove away…in my van. My heart sank. I called him hysterical and crying. Useless shitty wimpy girl I was. He was totally helping me out with the driving lessons and registering the car. He said, “Uh well you know where I live.” Which I did, but I had NEVER bought a car myself, like without a parent or significant other to say “Yes, good job Haley!” typical, I know. I will credit my mother with giving me the confidence to drive a large van. In high school I had to drive her van. We called it the party-bus, it was dank. I picked up the van after two more lessons, barely knowing how to reverse. I’ll never forget the back and butt sweat on the way home, stalling out on an uphill, stopped on a bridge letting a barge through or something. Terror on wheels-it was. I made it back to Ganzenhof and promptly took a three hour nap.
We (my companions to be described at a later date) started making some renos on the van. In The Netherlands you need a few specs to register it as a campervan, one being a certain height requirement that I didn’t have. Instead I insured it as a business van, Haley Wool ftw! which earned me the name “Haley Lawless,” along with making U-turns every chance I got. Alas, transforming the van- we needed a place to cook, storage and a bed. Now, some campers get a portable toilet. I have made a career out of cleaning up other people’s feces (sometimes really joyous patients throw it around the place) so I chose to forgo a toilet sloshing around every round-about. The goal was to make the van sleepable with a bed, insulation, buy a stove and give up all belongings unless they fit snugly in the van. Plans to install an aux battery were and still are alive, but winter came quickly so we had to move fast.
I bought the van in July and by August we were camping every night. It was lovely but as the weather changed and I realized I was in Northern Europe, I began to unravel by Halloween. Planning is key here and a big misstep on my part was that I started way late in the season. However, if you find an opportunity to live in a van and a willing partner to travel alongside you, I suggest you go for it no matter what the length of time. As the spring is warming me up now, I am certainly thinking about getting back out of the road.