From The Freedom Of Vanlife To A Pandemic Quarantine — And Back Again?
SAINT-BLIMONT — Two years ago, my partner and I set off across Europe in our campervan. We called it Foxy — and it was our home on wheels and ticket to freedom. In France, they still call it "la vanlife" — that ultimate mix of wanderlust and practicality that was popularized during the 1960s in the United States with the iconic Volkswagen Type 2/Combi, which has experienced an international revival over the past few years.
The two of us, both 28 at the time, needed a break from the daily routine of "métro-boulot-dodo," as we say in French, and quit everything to explore our spectacularly varied continent. Over the course of 14 months, we visited 27 countries and covered more than 58,000 kilometers. We discovered the Scottish highlands, hiked in the Italian Dolomites and the Romanian Carpathians, kayaked in the fjords of Norway, slept along the Adriatic in Croatia, drove on beaches in Ireland and Denmark, visited exactly 21 capital cities from Sarajevo to Warsaw to Lisbon, and so much more.
Foxy's 2018-2020 itinerary — Source: Foxy the van via Instagram
Our road trip came to an end in December 2019 when our money ran out, and we came back to France. We set up camp at my parents in Saint-Blimont, a small village in the northern Somme department, hoping to spend the winter there before finding new jobs and a house to embark on the next chapter of our lives. And then, coronavirus rolled into town.
With a strict lockdown implemented in France, in the span of less than three months, we'd gone from utter freedom and unlimited access to the outside world to complete self-isolation. We were still together in a small space, but this time the view from the window was always the same.
In the final weeks of our journey, we'd been preparing for the adjustment back home — but this version of home was about as far as we could imagine from Foxy. The essence of vanlife is change and choice: being able to decide where we wanted to go next as we were driving, switching plans at the last minute depending on our mood or the weather forecast. No need to book a room or a campsite, just find a quiet spot for the night in the wild.
Sleeping next to Bleik Beach, in Norway — Source: Foxy the van via Instagram
Everything we needed was with us in our van. It was not just our means of transport but also our bedroom, living room and kitchen, all in one tiny but functional space. Every morning we would wake up with a different view, over mountains, trees or the sea.
During what wound up being a 55-day quarantine in France, waking up every morning in the same place was of course different, and sometimes quite frustrating. We even missed the driving itself — taking winding narrow roads while admiring the landscapes, cruising along with hurried local drivers as music or a podcast played in the background.
In the Italian dolomites — Source: Foxy the van via Instagram
Still, in the face of the grave uncertainty of the pandemic, we also knew we were lucky to be in a safe and comfortable environment, and it felt good to be close to family. We also treasured time with our new dog Pixie, whom we'd adopted in Romania a month before returning from our journey.
Two weeks ago, as lockdown restrictions loosened, we reunited with fellow travelers we had met when in Finland. It was the first overnight with Foxy since coming back from our road trip almost six months ago. Even if we met our friends only 30 kilometers away in Roussent, it was a trip we won't soon forget. Getting in our van, getting on the road was enough to taste a whiff of that precious thing we call freedom.