While campervans are great for a weekend getaway or a short camping break, they’re also ideal for taking longer trips. Years ago this would only be associated with hippies trekking the famed hippie trail, but now it isn’t just a treat for the wilder ones, it is something many individuals choose to enjoy. An example of this would be Freek and Inge, perhaps not your first thought when you consider #vanlife. They decided to take on a huge challenge, one rarely done before… to travel through South America in their Volkswagen T3! After drooling over their trip through amazing Instagram photos, we decided it was definitely time for an interview.
Warning: Readers may be overcome with immense wanderlust and an overpowering desire to quit their job, sell their house and go live in a van. Goboony takes no responsibility for this, and we advise those suffering to try renting a van first.
So Freek and Inge, how did you guys get inspired to take this trip?
We've backpacked a lot in the past, mainly through Asia. On our last trip through the Philippines, we discussed more and more the idea of heading out for a longer time, and started looking forward to the adventure. Slowly but surely we came to the idea of heading out with a campervan, to travel for a long time with the ultimate feeling of freedom. To set out for the world in our little house on wheels. We thought it would be so cool! Endless roads, music blasting and simply going for it. We had never been to the continent of America and thought it would be a great place to discover stunning nature while camping. We first had our sights set on the entire Panamerica route, but this soon turned out to unfeasible in terms of time. Then we looked at just the North American part (Canada/ America/ Mexico), but after lots of research we realized this was also unrealistic. Our Eddie was too old to insure in America. So after careful consideration - a lot of it!- we decided to gamble and head to South America. The rules for insuring our senior citizen are not as complicated there, and everything was fairly simple to arrange for these countries. We had just never been to a Latin American country, and when it comes to traffic you can’t even compare South American countries to those in North America… so we thought it was definitely an ambitious plan, but sometimes you have to just go for it!
What things did you do to prepare for your trip?
A lot of daydreaming! But we also read a lot about travelling through South America with your own car, emailed other experienced travellers, read blogs and tested the van in holidays and weekends away. It was also a spiritual process, to free us from our daily lives. Yes, we really wanted this, but it also took a lot of work and thinking to actually make it happen. Furthermore, it also takes quite some courage to do something that everyone has an opinion about. “Would you actually do that?” “Wouldn’t it be better to do something else?” “That is totally unsafe!” “Doesn’t seem like a good idea to me with such an old van” and on and on. Fortunately, we’ve always followed our own path and were determined to make this happen.
How exciting was it with Eddie was set in his container on the boat?
That was sooooooo exciting but of course there were some tears about it! The last few weeks we had been busy almost 24/7 with the trip, the van, preparing everything, packing, etc. and suddenly it was out of our hands. It really was a definite step, before this we could always cancel but now we had no way back. We were actually going to do this! At that moment, all the exhaustion of weeks working and preparing was hitting us and all we could do was trust that we would see our van again unscathed. The following days felt so unreal and it was such a strange idea that we would only see Eddie in 2 or 3 weeks in Cartagena (Colombia).
Do you guys plan a lot or take it by ear?
Both. We like to let ourselves be surprised, but not too much. We find it nice to map out a direction for roughly the next two weeks. In the meantime we also gladly listen to tips from other travellers we run into. Our plan is never cast in concrete, but it is important to plan which roads we will be driving on. Eddie is quite the old timer, and he is certainly not an off-road vehicle, so we really have to consider which roads to take. On the other hand, we try not to think about which places and sights we’ll visit, as if you have everything figured out and develop certain expectations, it can turn out so differently in real life. We find it better to expect as little as possible, so that surprises along the way are bigger and better.
What kind of places do you overnight at? Are they easy to find?
We’ve stayed at all sorts of places. We definitely use the iOverlander platform a lot, which is kind of the travellers abroad Bible! The platform is fed by fellow travellers, and anyone can add new places or information, or leave reviews about existing places. There are also many wild camping spots on the website and app, which is useful. Sometimes we also find a spot spontaneously. In Colombia, we wild camped in the beautiful Tatacoa desert and on the Caribbean coast along palm trees. In Peru we wild camped by the Colca Valley where we saw Condors flying by towards the end of the afternoon. It was also epic to camp on the sandy plains of Paracas. But we also often camp in the garden of hostels, in guarded parking lots and occasionally at a petrol station if nothing else works out. That is also part of the experience!
What has been the best part so far?
We have driven a few insanely beautiful routes through South America! Along the unpaved super small road of Trampolin de la Muerte (Colombian Death Road) surrounded by rainforest, through Cañon Del Pato with 37 small tunnels en route and 4000 metres high on the Altiplano; the plateau of Peru/ Bolivia, so awesome! These are the kinds of places you don’t reach as easily as a backpacker. Furthermore, camping at Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia was truly one of our highlights. And although it meant leaving our van for a little while, the trip along the Galapagos islands was unforgettable.
Where are you still planning to go this trip?
Well, we are currently in Argentina. We will head to Chile to zigzag down to the southernmost point of this continent. Then it looks like we’ll put Eddie back on the boat in Montevideo in Uruguay.
What is it like to always be in such a small van together?
It’s actually not a problem and somehow it costs us no effort! These months have shown us that we’re a good team and that having a lot of time together works well and is enjoyable. Whereas in everyday life you can simply pass each other a lot, here we have the time to really be together and experience all kinds of things together. Making memories for life! So valuable and luckily we’re not tired of each other just yet.
Do you think you would have preferred a van with a high roof?
Actually not! Our van is compact and that is very useful, especially with the small streets here. Furthermore, our van fitted exactly in the container. Once we’re at a campsite, lifting the roof offers a lot of extra living and storage space. We just need to make sure not to bring too many things with us. Generally we sleep upstairs in the lifting roof, so that we don’t have to adjust too much in the morning.
Tips and other fun facts
Do you have any tips for people looking to travel with a campervan?
It is useful to know what kind of a traveller you are, so you can choose your campervan based off that. If you like going off-road, you’ll need an off-road vehicle. But this does result in more limited living space in these types of vehicles (sometimes only a pop-up roof). We think it’s nice to have a cheerful noticeable van, and despite the smaller size, a lot of thought has gone into the German Westfalia layout. We really do have a small house on wheels despite it not being a large motorhome, it is great! Also, the advantage of an old-timer is that the technology of the van is simple and mechanical, so easy to understand and repair both for us and the mechanics of South America! That really is something you must consider if you plan to travel in these sorts of countries. Furthermore, it’s so important to not let things hold you back, everyone will have opinions but only yours matters.
Nevertheless it is good to realize that such a journey is not comparable to a holiday. Yeah it is cool, but sometimes it can be hard. There isn’t always a shower or toilet nearby, sometimes your long days can feel boring. Things can go wrong, you can get stuck on bad roads, not find a nice place to overnight or suddenly spend a week in a garage due to vehicle failure. It isn’t always nice but that is simply a part of the deal. It also takes a lot of time to orientate on possible routes, sights, car maintenance, etc., so you might not have as much reflection and peace as you’d expect.
What are things that you really can’t forget if you’re taking such a long trip?
Spare parts for the van (and a workshop manual if possible!), the right clothing for all weather conditions and a little bit of flexibility! It will never go exactly as you planned. And last but not least, don’t forget to give a bit of kindness to those you’re sharing your few square metres with for the long period.
Where else would you like to take Eddie?
Mmmmm, we still have so many plans with Eddie! During our travels here, we’ve been getting so much inspiration for new adventures! The trip to America, Canada and Mexico still appeals to us, so who knows. The old Soviet states also seem very exciting. But we are also never tired of a weekend getaway to the Veluwe, so when we return we’ll certainly take a lot of small trips again.
The sky's the limit for these two and their trusted van, and you can follow their journey and the ones to come at @littlebigbusadventure. Inspired by their tales, why not start your own adventure and take a road trip through the great unknown? You could always hire your campervan through Goboony. Got your own travel stories to tell? Shoot a message to email@example.com and share the freedom!