Living The Van Life

This week, we're on the road exploring the one sector of the travel industry that continues to explode in popularity across Europe.

Hosted ByPeter & Felice
Van Life

Photo: © GoBoony

Peter Welcome to our travel podcast. We’re specialist travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.

Felice So we want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.

Peter This week, we’re on the road exploring the one sector of the travel industry that absolutely thrived throughout the pandemic and now continues to explode in popularity across Europe – van life. If you don’t know what that involves, keep listening. We met up with Fleurine Tideman, who works for goboony.

Felice Hi Fleurine, welcome to our podcast.

Fleurine Thanks for having me.

Felice Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?

Fleurine Yes of course. So I’m 25 years old and I live in the Netherlands – in Rotterdam, which is where I’m actually from. But I grew up abroad going to British schools. So I got a bit of a mix of culture in there. When I was young, moving and travelling a lot just really fuelled my desire to explore, see new places. Whenever I can, I go travelling and that’s probably what led me to work for a travel company, as I work for goboony, which is a motorhome sharing platform – a bit like Airbnb but with motorhomes and camper vans.

Peter So are you all over Europe? All over the world?

Fleurine All over Europe, mainly in the UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy. And then we just started up in France and Germany.

Peter So how does it actually work? Run us through how someone books with goboony and what’s involved?

Fleurine Yes, so it works really similar to Airbnb where owners will put their van on goboony to hire out through us. Then travellers who are looking for a motorhome will come to the website, they’ll input maybe their location, any specifications they have. For example, does it need to be dog friendly? Does it need to be child friendly? Not quite a filter yet, but should be…whatever they’re really looking for. And then based on that, they can look through the options. Each one has a profile and if they’re interested they just send a request or they can just message to ask for more details. Then if both sides are happy with it, they confirm the booking through the platform, and they can just chat and prepare for the trip. On the day itself, they go to the owner’s house or wherever the meet-up is and they pick up the van. The owner will take them through it. What do you need to know? What tips do they have? How do you drive it? All sorts of things. Then they can go and have their own adventure.

Peter So at goboony you takes a commission on this from the owner?

Fleurine From the traveller. So the owner sets their price, whatever price they set is what they’re going to get. And then the traveller pays a 17.5% service fee on top.

Felice And are the camper vans all pretty similar or all very different from each other?

Fleurine There is so much range as you can have a really cute, cosy Volkswagen vintage camper van, or you can have one of those big boxy motorhomes that fit about eight people in it and have double beds. There is so much difference. You also have converted vans which from the outside will look like any builder’s van, and then you also have much more sleek ones. There’s honestly a bit of everything.

Felice And do they all come with standard fittings like cooking facilities, shower or anything like that?

Van Life

Photo: © goboony

Fleurine Yes. So almost all of them will come with a fitted stove. Once in a while, if it’s a really small converted van, you’ll have a portable stove just like you would for camping. And then in terms of showers, that really varies. So the smaller camper vans don’t come with showers or toilets, whereas the bigger motorhomes usually do. But what I always say to people is…a lot of people will straightaway book a van with a shower and toilet, whereas if you’re going to stay at campsites anyway, you often don’t really need it. So it’s a bit more hassle and money than it’s worth. I would always then recommend going for something smaller and just enjoying the nice warm shower at the campsite.

Peter Yes, that certainly makes sense. Now, van life has become a huge feature of the COVID world and indeed the post-COVID world. Tell us why. Why has it become so important? I mean, it’s a huge demand for camper vans now?

Fleurine Definitely. It’s pretty crazy. I was working at goboony before COVID hit, so since 2018 and you know, camper vans were popular, people like to go on holiday, but it was nothing like it was now. Then COVID hit and I honestly thought I was just going to be out of a job, you know: travel industry, Coronavirus…I was checking my contract to see if I was going to be ok. And then out of nowhere it became so popular, as people just realised that even with some of the restrictions, travelling in a van could still work, as they could just stay close to home yet still have a holiday, and you could also stay safe. A lot of us got pretty scared about being on trains or buses or planes – it seemed like COVID central – whereas if you’re in a van, you just had so much control.

I think it really came down to the control. A lot of us were missing that. So much was changing, so much was out of our hands. Whereas when you’re in a van, you decide where you go, when you go, what you’re doing, and you can even decide on the day. So if the day comes, weather’s rough or something is closed because of COVID, you can still have your holiday. And I think people just wanted that security. And then in particular, van life, full-time living in a van has really gone off the charts. You see it on all the social media platforms – van life is just so popular. And I think that’s why as there, Bernie, we kind of wanted to look further into that and why we started a podcast was just is it as nice as it seems? Is it really these beautiful destinations and very aesthetic photos, or is there actually a less glamorous side or other issues living in a van?

Peter So now you mentioned a podcast. You’re also starting your own podcast today, I think?

Fleurine Yes, this is our release day, so we’ll be celebrating later. We’ve released a podcast and it’s all about van life. It’s called Behind the Wheel and it’s on every streaming platform. And in each interview, we talk to someone else – often van lifers, also a consumer psychologist, an expert on the travel industry. Everyone we could find to kind of go under the cracks of van life. So instead of just taking these gorgeous Instagram photos, we wanted to actually, you know, awesome the rough questions and find out why is it so popular?

Peter So if you’re looking to rent a van for a one-week or a two-week holiday or maybe longer, what are the key factors to look for?

Fleurine I think first of all is deciding your traveling group. Are you bringing a dog? Are you bringing kids? Are you bring your partner or your elderly parents? Who are you bringing? I think that will really help you to filter between the vans and find one that’s right for you. You don’t want to message someone and then realise that you can’t take that. Next step, I would say, is kind of determining a vague idea of what you want to do.

As I said, the great thing with van life is you don’t have to choose. You don’t have to book everything and have strict timetables, you can kind of see as you go. It helps you to have a rough plan. You go north to Scotland, you’re going to do a road trip, you’re going to visit family. As that also helps when you’re messaging an owner, you can mention that as it’s important to remember that these vans are their babies, people are so attached to their camper vans and motorhomes, so they like to just have a little idea of: what’s your plan? Where are you going to go? From there, once you’ve got your van, you can either mark out your entire road trip route will decide where you’re going. Maybe you just want to chill at a campsite and just switch off your phone and you just go from there.

Felice Can you take the camper van to another country? For example, if you rented it in London, could you go to France for a week and then come back?

Fleurine Yes, definitely. All you have to do is inform the owner, so they can apply the right insurance and have the European cover. But almost all the vans on the platform allow that, and it’s not that difficult to do. You can take them in the Tunnel and there’s also ferry options.

Felice Is there a limit to the mileage you can use?

Fleurine So it really depends on the owner. Something we try to do on the platform is we really allow them to retain control over their listing. They choose their house rules, whether dogs are allowed or not, whether you can go to a festival, whether you can go to Europe. They also choose their mileage. A lot of vans on the website have unlimited mileage, so you hit the road, go for it. Whereas some will have a set mileage per week, and above that you pay a small additional fee. But when you’re looking for a van, you can filter based on that. So if you know that you’re going to go to France and you’re going to drive around France and really take your time with it, you could search based on unlimited mileage so that you know all your costs upfront and you don’t have any surprises later.

Felice What can people do to make it more budget friendly?

Fleurine I think that’s always a very interesting subject of van life, the budget friendliness of it. As often when people start booking a van, they might be a bit surprised at the price and think, ‘Oh, I thought it was going to be cheaper.’ But it is cheaper when you compare all the options, which is something I guess we just don’t do naturally. As when you’ve got your van, you’ve got your accommodation and your transport sorted – you don’t have to rent a car later, you don’t have to get a hotel room, campsites are really cheap. So it’s just firstly having that sorted. Aside from that, I think the number one thing I’d recommend is travelling outside of summer. If you travel in the summer, it’s going to be so much more expensive, not just your van, but also your campsite, your attractions, everything else. Whereas if you go in spring or autumn, it is still gorgeous out there and then you really cut your costs so much. I always personally prefer travelling outside of summer because it’s so much less busy. I don’t want to be waiting in line or stuck in traffic the entire day.

So yes, even just pushing your summer holiday ahead to say May, you’ll already save 30% of the cost of a van and campsite. Aside from that, one of the real benefits with travelling in a van is that you can cook your own meals. So really taking advantage of that, so that if you eat out it’s more of a choice – like tonight we want to go for our last night and have a really nice meal. Then for the other nights you could always cook in your van and just really make the most of that. I think also if you look at what campsites you stay at – if you’re going to the really fancy holiday parks, you’ll definitely be charged more. Whereas if you’re in a van and also you maybe don’t have little kids with you who need all the playground and swimming pools and everything, you can go to a much more low key rural campsite. You also now get sites which are just on farmland through websites such as Campspace and you can also find one Pitchup, where it’s just the land and toilet facilities so it’s a much lower price.

Peter And what about wild camping? Can you do that?

Fleurine So wild camping is a bit more difficult; in a van you don’t technically qualify for wild camping. So such as in Scotland, wild camping is allowed, this doesn’t apply to a van, but it’s often fine if you speak to the landowner. So what we always recommend is if you do want to go free camping, you just need to talk to the landowner or contact the relevant person. Like I said, a lot of farms and fields will allow you to camp there. Sometimes they might just even ask you to buy a bit of produce or visit their pub for a drink once you’ve parked up. It’s just always about checking. You can also find overnight parking options, but these aren’t as pretty usually, not as wild. And again, you should just always check for permission.

Felice And do you get solo travellers booking as well?

Van Life

Fleurine’s first van ride – in Australia

Fleurine Yes, we actually get it a lot. Something that’s really interesting about camper van travel is you get a lot of solo female travellers, which I think is really great to see. I’m someone who loves travelling on my own, I have since I was about 18 – and of course, you know, being a young woman, my mum was not happy with that. The first time I told her I was going to Nepal for four weeks, she cried, she was terrified. And that’s why I really love with van travel is it makes it a much more safer option and not just in your actual safety, but also your feeling of it. You don’t want to be travelling alone and constantly looking over your shoulder, sending your location to people and just being so stressed as that’s not why you travel. Whereas I think a van just gives you a bit more comfort and security as a solo female traveller.

I’ve spoken to a lot of women who book alone on goboony to go travel by themselves, and they often say it’s the first time they’ve done that, and their usual fear is just driving it and parking, which I understand…it’s pretty scary. That’s what they’re worrying about, they’re not worrying about being alone or being harassed or having issues because they’re in a van. They can leave whenever they want to leave, they don’t have to wait for a train or something. They can get out of any situation, they have this space that is just for them, there’s no one sleeping near them. I think it’s really cool to see that solo travel in a van is really taking off and giving people a bit more agency in their holiday making.

Felice Do some people who rent vans for a long trip?

Fleurine Yes, so we see that. We actually see it more in our other countries – such as the Netherlands and Belgium – than we do in the UK, I’m not really sure why it is. I think a lot of people in the UK might first travel to France and then travel on for a long trip, but we’re starting to see it more. When people rent for a longer time, they usually just contact the owner and then they can get a big discount – as for an owner, it’s a great deal: someone’s taking it for a month or two. All you have to do is hand it over, explain and then pick it up. So they love that. So if you contact them directly, you can usually get a pretty big discount.

Felice What should people bring on a short trip? What sort of things will you need?

Fleurine It’s something we discuss a lot more in blog posts in case I don’t cover everything a quick Google search and You can always find great lists. I would say you have the basics, you know, you have clothes and so on. In terms of clothing, I always think prepare to layer up as during the day it’s going to be warm, but at night at a campsite it can get quite chilly. So definitely make sure you’ve got a nice sweater with you, that you’ve got a warm blanket, some extra socks, definitely bring flip flops or some kind of slippers to a campsite as those are the best thing and not having it will be a huge regret. Then if you’re popping off to the loo or to take a shower, you can just slide them on and not be lacing up your trainers every two minutes.

Aside from that, I think be wary of a rainy day where you might be sitting inside your van or even just for the evenings, So definitely bring some board games or card games as that can be a lot of fun. Bring everything you usually would, as the great thing with a camper van is that you’ve got a lot more storage so you can really pack, which I love as I hate having to weigh my suitcase and check for liquids and everything when I’m taking a flight. I would say definitely bring some blankets and pillows just to make it a bit more homey, and nice candles are always great, or fairy lights. If you’re bringing kids or dogs, bring some of that stuff from home as this just helps them to feel comfortable. It always feels a bit strange to lump children in with dogs, it’s just you take a very similar approach when you’re bringing them. So I think bringing stuff that smells like them can be great.

Van Life

Photo: © goboony

Peter So presumably it’s quite a good idea to be able to attach some form of an awning, some sort of attachment to the camper van, especially if you’ve got dogs and indeed children.

Fleurine Yes, a lot of the camper vans come with awnings, and then when you take the handover they’ll just teach you how to use it.

Peter Well, that makes a lot of sense, isn’t it?

Felice Yes, that sounds good.

Felice So tell us a bit more about the podcast that’s launched today. Is that international as well or is it just for the UK?

Fleurine Yes, it’s international, but it’s all in English and each episode we spoke to someone else about a topic related to van life. So for the first episode, we speak to Amy who converted her own van and now works from it, as that’s something becoming really popular is that freelancers will just live in a van and work from it. I’ve done it a few times myself, just working from a van for a few weeks from somewhere nice, and it is a great way to work. It really makes the working day go a lot quicker if you’re in a gorgeous location and just relaxing in your own van. Then we have some other episodes coming up every two weeks will release, on Tuesday. And one in particular, which I think is really interesting, is our episode coming up on travelling full-time with kids, where a family lives full-time in their van and just moves to new locations. They really discuss how they do that with their two kids, how they make it work, and whether they think why they think it’s so good for them.

Peter Right. We’re going to put you on the spot here a bit now and say we’re planning to go to a party, a celebration in Yorkshire in July. And we thought, ‘Well, this sounds a good idea; we can rent a camper van for the weekend, go to Yorkshire and come back again.’ It’s a literally a greenfield site where the party is taking place, so there’ll be a marquee on a field owned by  the guy giving the party or a friend of his, I think, and we’re not really very good on camping but we thought this might be a good idea to try it out.

Felice And we have two dogs, so what would you recommend?

Peter How do we go about this?

Fleurine Well, firstly, I think it’s a perfect idea, especially if you guys haven’t tried camping. I always think of camper van camping is kind of like a middle ground between camping and normal travel as you get to be outdoors, you get to enjoy all the benefits, but you have nice mattress to sleep on so you can get a good night’s sleep, especially if you’re going to a party. So for that I would say you go and goboony, you’ll definitely use the dog-friendly filter and you’ll find all the options where dogs can definitely come along and there’s loads of them. But two of you, I would say you can go for a smaller van. I wouldn’t bother with too big a motorhome, especially if there’s restroom facilities on the field or if you prefer to have a toilet and a shower in the van.

Peter I think we prefer to have one in the van. I’m sure there will be some toilets, but I can imagine it’ll be very overcrowded.

Fleurine Makes sense. So then when you’re filtering, you’ll do the dog-friendly and you’ll also do that it has a toilet and shower and those vans will come up. You’ll get the slightly larger van and most of them will be fine to drive on a normal driving licence. They always specify if something else is needed, so I would recommend looking for ones either on the way or close to home. So you have a bit of time driving it.

Felice Do people leave ratings like they do with Airbnb, for example?

Fleurine Yes, people review after their trip, so you can always look through the reviews, you can organise the owners by the ones that have got the best reviews. And if you’re ever in doubt, you don’t have to book straight away. You can just message the owner, ask any questions you have, get clarification on something and see how you feel about it.

Felice So tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved with goboony in the first place?

Fleurine Yes, so I actually joined goboony in 2018. I graduated from university with a degree in psychology and anthropology. I had been planning all along to become a psychologist, a clinical psychologist, and then as I got closer to graduating I kind of realised, ‘Nope, this is not for me. I don’t feel like I’m prepared to give people advice on their life when I have no clue myself,’ and I just didn’t think I was fit for it, I didn’t think I could carry on people’s problems and then go home and switch off. And that’s something you really have to do in clinical psychology and they kept trying to teach us with, when you leave the room, you leave it there and I just could not do that.

I’d always really loved writing since I was about ten years old. I was writing my own stories in little notebooks about, you know, little girls and little fairies and everything. So I was looking at what I was going to do since I’d graduated with a degree I did not really plan to use, and that was a bit terrifying. Then I saw that this travel company goboony was looking for a marketing intern, and I’ve always loved travelling. I grew up abroad and mainly in the Middle East, and I just enjoyed going on holidays. Like I said, as soon as I was 18 I went to Nepal for four weeks, and so working in marketing seemed like a way to combine my love for travel and my love for writing – as I wanted to at some point become an author but I knew that that was going to take a while and I still had a lot of practice and writing to do.

I wanted a day job that still felt like I was doing what I love without actively doing it, and that I could still grow and improve it. So I signed up for the internship and luckily got it. And I was focused mainly on the content marketing at the time, so a lot of social media and also learning about search engine optimisation: how to get a website on the first page of Google. I found that I loved it, I really liked working for a start-up and working so closely, and I liked how much I was learning.

After university, I wasn’t ready to stop learning and this gave me a chance to just dive into something new. It also gave me a chance to use my degree in a different way as there’s a lot of psychology in marketing. So after my internship, they offered me a job and I stayed, and it’s been three and a half years since that and I still love it. Now I’m much more focused on the search engine optimisation, writing blogs and landing pages, working with our backlink presence, and just really building up our website score. I really like what I do and I love the opportunities it’s given me and the people I’ve met.

Felice Do you get a chance to travel or try out any of the vans?

Fleurine Definitely. One of the real perks to working at goboony is that we don’t do fixed holiday days, as we’re travel company and we actively hire people who love travel. So it’s much more about personal responsibility. I can take however many holiday days I choose, as long as my job gets done and I’m doing it well – and hopefully I am.

Peter That sounds very sensible.

Van Life

Photo: © goboony

Fleurine It’s great, it’s a really nice thing as no one really takes advantage of it as you love what you do. So I get to travel quite a bit.

Peter Are you going on a holiday yourself this year? Camping?

Fleurine Yes. So I actually went camping this weekend. I went to a bit more south in the Netherlands and tested a campsite, which we’re hoping to add to our website and to review. That was really fun. Aside from that, I’m also going to France in a few weeks and staying in a van there and just kind of checking out a road trip that we’re hoping to use on our blog. And from that, I have to see. Busiest time is the summer, so I often try to plan my holidays outside of the summer months, so that during the summer I can be really focused and working…and also just to avoid the crowds.

Peter And renting a van, you don’t presumably just have to rent one in your area; you can drive somewhere closer to your destination and rent it and leave your car there, I guess?

Fleurine Definitely. Almost any owner on the website, you can just leave your car when you rent. You just have to let them know in advance. But usually there’s a perfect sized spot in the driveway left open. So that’s something I always recommend doing, is if you don’t like the vans in your area or you don’t want to drive the entire way in the camper van, just pick it up on the way, or pick it up near your destination. It’s something we see happen a lot for Glastonbury is that a lot of the vans right around it get hired for the festival, rather than ones further inland.

Felice That’s a good idea to take a van to a festival.

Fleurine Oh, it’s really popular and I would definitely do the same, I think. Going to a music festival for a few days, I think you would want the quiet and a bit of space after a while.

Peter Well, you have us as an experiment in July in Yorkshire and we’ll let you know how we get on.

Fleurine Yes, definitely let me know.

Felice Fleurine Tideman, thank you so much for coming on our podcast episode and it’s been fascinating talking to you.

Peter We wish you the best of luck with the year ahead as van life gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

Fleurine Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.

Felice If people want to book, what’s the website called?

Fleurine So it’s goboony.co.uk

Van Life

 

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