Starting Our Van Life Adventure: How the Dream Began

How we came to Van Life: Featured photo

If you’ve read about How we met in Thailand during COVID-19, then you must be dying to hear the rest of the story of how we started our Van Life adventure.


How Did We Come to Van Life?


Arriving in the Netherlands was a nail-biting experience. It was far from a normal arrival. COVID-19 restrictions were being set in place, keeping me on my toes the whole time. The plane was only half full, most people had already evacuated back to their home countries, and travel for tourism was not being encouraged. Luckily, I received a boarding pass in Malaysia and was allowed to enter the Netherlands for no reason other than love.




Denise was waiting, very impatiently at the airport. She had no idea what to expect. The last update received was that I had a boarding pass and expected to be on my way.


We greeted each other excitedly, both were short for words but feeling a sigh of relief. We walked around the airport car park until finding the car and nervously drove out of the city. Denise’s parents had agreed to host me initially, even though we had not met. This would be quite an interesting time for an introduction.


Van life dog at the beach


A New Start

The first days went well, thankfully we all got along. Denise and I set up a temporary room in the attic above the garage. Two single mattresses in an a-framed room that neither of us could stand in. Unfortunately, Denise’s job was still on hold and with the city in lockdown, we were unable to do much socialising.


We spent the next few months waiting out the lockdown, hoping that we would soon regain some freedom. At least we were together, though we knew there was still something to fix.



My tourism visa was only valid for three months, we planned to go to the UK for a quick stop so that we could apply for a longer-term visa. The last requirement to be eligible was to be outside of the EU while applying, so the UK would be a great solution.


Little did we know, this would not be possible in the end, the restrictions became tighter leaving me with no other options than to return to Australia. This was a sickening thought for the two of us. It was going to be difficult to reunite quickly and it seemed like we were coming to a goodbye.


Main Beach car park in Byron Bay


Returning to Australia


Returning to Australia was confronting. A quarantine was mandatory, meaning I was locked in a hotel room alone for the first two weeks. I found myself stuck in the European time zones, unable to find back my Rhythm. Netflix past the time through the night and sleep would keep me busy each day, only waking to collect my food delivery each time the door would knock.


I was anxious to get outside, to see the sun and feel the grass. Finally, I was allowed to leave, though I would have never realised the impact of isolation before this. It felt like the biggest culture shock, just to be back in contact with people!


It took a few days to settle back into society, and then I had to jump back into work. My goal was to get back to Europe as soon as possible, but until then I would pass the time at my old job.


Visa Accepted

My visa was eventually accepted, though it seemed to take forever. The next problem became a border exemption, to be allowed to leave my own country. I had requests denied, time after time, and only when I was about to give up was it accepted.


It took me one week to get everything packed again and arrive at the airport with a ticket in hand. Four months later I could finally go back to Europe.


Life in the Netherlands


I was welcomed back into my Dutch family and retreated to our a-framed room. We were determined to stick together this time, though we needed a place to ourselves. It was a difficult time for us financially, unable to find any work. The lockdown had kept most places closed and naturally our past ventures had hurt our bank accounts pretty badly.


With no money coming in, it was difficult to justify renting an apartment. We still had a small amount of savings we needed to make last for the foreseeable future, or at least until things returned to normal.


Opel Movano. Buying our first van for van life

Finding Our Van

Here we were in a position with limited options, a small budget and quite a lot of spare time. The logical option was to buy a van. The biggest challenge was where to begin. Neither of us had any experience with campers in the Netherlands, and we didn’t know where to look.


We searched on marketplaces such as Auto Scout and Marktplaats to find a few options. We did not have many criteria at this point, it only needed to be cheap. At a glance, we were overwhelmed with the number of options available, though we quickly narrowed them down. Of course, we wanted a running engine that was worthy of being on the road. After some readers have we found that there are quite some things to look out for when buying a second-hand van to avoid buying a defective vehicle.


Getting Started with Van Life

Eventually, we found a cute little van, it was an Opel Movano from a used car dealer. We took a drive to see it for ourselves and instantly fell in love. Luckily Denise’s father joined us for the visit, as he was quite good at bargaining. The price was negotiated to fit our budget, and we were allowed to take it for a drive. This became our first van and very soon after, our first big lesson in van life.


The van had been unregistered for a few years and used personally by the company. We expected that they would have looked after it well, being a garage and car dealer themselves. Now we will always recommend having a vehicle inspected by a good third-party mechanic before buying a vehicle.


Lessons Learned

Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way. After a trip to our local mechanics, we were told some work needed to be done. We were shocked to see the quote was almost the same price that we bought the van! The mistake was made, and we had to pay our part and move on. It was indeed a shame though we had a lot of preparations to be made.


The Van Build itself is a whole other story though I will tell you this: Buying a van at this point was one of the best decisions we have made to date.






If you enjoyed reading this post, then you may be interested in checking our blog pages. We have covered a range of topics about Van Life, Van Build, Van Travel, and our Van Buddies, where we share our experiences from living in a campervan for the past two years. You can follow us on Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date with our latest posts and to take a closer look into our daily lives.


We are Bai (Aussie) and Den (Dutch), living in a van for over two years.

 Together we have lived in two self-built campervans over the past two years. Through this experience, we have gained many storiestips and tricks.

We have kept track along the way to share everything Van Life with you.

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