Life in a van: on the road with Margaux & Mathieu

Does life in a van intrigue you and make you dream? Discover the adventures of Margaux, Mathieu and Sunny: their Combi WV!

Literally translated from the English expression « Vanlife », van life encompasses an entire universe: that of an alternative lifestyle whose watchword is freedom. Whether in a Volkswagen combi or a converted car, it doesn’t matter which model you use. Vanlife is above all a way of life, a state of mind. To be free to move around as you please, to sleep in a different place every night.

Today, we’re going to find out more about this way of traveling – or even living – thanks to the testimony of Margaux and Mathieu. Originally from the Landes region of France, this young couple decided to expand their family by realizing a shared dream: to embark on an adventure in a converted vehicle. Through their testimonials, they share their experiences, advice and anecdotes with Sunny, their Combi WV.

How did your adventure begin? Why did you choose this project?

Margaux:  » Ever since he was a little boy, Mathieu has dreamed of owning a combi. When he’d go for walks in Biarritz with his parents, he’d see all these surfers with their colorful vans rusted by the salt, their surfboards… and he told himself that one day he’d have one too. « 

 » Then Mathieu passed this dream on to me a few years later, when we really talked about it in the summer of 2017. I was quickly hooked on the project, so we started looking for our future home on wheels. The dream was to find a T2 combi, the mythical van of roadtripping, adventure, surfing and freedom. « 

The feeling of freedom and dream fulfillment was incredible!

 » After 2 months of intensive searching, punctuated by hope and despair (laughs), we came across Sunny’s ad. At first, it’s hard to believe it’s in great condition for the price. Finally, the owner informs us that we’re the first to contact him. He agreed to keep it for us, and the following weekend we were on our way to pick it up in the South-East, nearAix-en-Provence! « 

vie-en-van-combi

Photo credit: Margaux & Mathieu

 » When we left with it, we were the happiest people in the world. Mathieu found his pet name right away: Sunny, for the orange color you see at sunrise and sunset. So we took our first little road trip on the way home, to bring Sunny home! That feeling of freedom and dream come true was incredible. « 

Why did you choose the converted vehicle for lack of other ways to travel?

M:  » Since it all started with a dream, the choice of this trip was a natural one. It was more of an obvious choice than something we really thought about. We liked the idea of walking around with our little house everywhere. So did the potential for improvisation offered by this mode of travel. Indeed, when you travel this way, there’s no need to book anything. It gives you the freedom to go whenever, wherever and for however long you want. We’re also forced to live on the bare minimum, and we like that.

Flee the noise of cars for that of birds, shopping malls for forests…

 » We also love finding spots in the middle of nature to get away from the city. Escape the noise of cars for that of birds, shopping malls for forests. « 

 » However, we don’t close the door on other ways of traveling, many of which appeal to us. Maybe one day we’ll want to travel differently. Never say never! « 

Why don’t you just live out of your suit? What’s holding you back?

M:  » The plan is to tour Europe in our combi. We’ve been talking about it for 2 years now. The aim is to prepare the trip well, to avoid leaving on a whim. As a result, we’re putting some money aside to make sure we’re in good shape. We’re also looking at ways of earning money on the road.

« Of course, the money we’ve put aside will be used to travel, but we also want to work so that we don’t have to dip into our reserves too much and only keep them for emergencies. So our decision was to be patient, which is why we haven’t left yet. « 

« Originally, we had planned to leave at the end of 2020 or early 2021. But Mr. Covid decided otherwise… So we’re wisely waiting for him to leave us alone so we can go! « 

How do you think you’re going to organize your life when you’re 100% in your combi?

M:  » I think we’re ready. Of course there’s a bit of apprehension, it’s going to be a new life, a new adventure! But after 2 years of thinking, researching and asking questions, the moment is approaching. And we can’t wait! « 

Leaving our permanent jobs, our apartment, and everything we own will be in our little Sunny!

« In the end, living 100% in our combi won’t be something for ever, it will be the time of our road trip. On the other hand, we really want to leave this sedentary life behind us: leave our CDIs, our apartment, and everything that belongs to us will be solely in our little Sunny. « 

sunny-van

Photo credit: Margaux & Mathieu

 » After this trip, our lives won’t be the same. It’s unlikely we’ll end up in an apartment, in the city, doing a job we don’t like every day. « 

What are your plans? How will you support yourselves as future « nomads »?

M:  » We’re planning to leave for Europe in March 2022, if all goes well between now and then. To be able to leave, we have indeed put money aside. But also, we’ve been keeping a blog,  » having fun « , the blog of committed adventurers and projects, since 2016, which we’ll continue to develop during the trip. « 

 » Also, we’ll be doing freelance assignments in communications and digital marketing. And then, why not work a bit on the spot doing a few odd jobs! « 

Do you have any doubts or fears about this lifestyle?

M:  » It’s a way of traveling and a way of life that’s become very widespread in recent years, and I’d say our fear is that we won’t be accepted everywhere. More and more countries have restrictions on wild camping, and forbid overnight stays in the wilderness for people traveling in a van. This can complicate the trip and prevent you from enjoying certain destinations… »

An adventure without hardships is not an adventure, or it’s too monotonous!

 » We know that everything won’t be rosy, but that’s why we’re going. An adventure without problems is not an adventure, or it’s too monotonous! « 

What countries/places have you already traveled to with your converted vehicle?

M:  » At weekends, we spend a lot of time discovering our region: the Basque Country, the Landes, the Pyrenees, andSpain too. In September 2019, we left for a month to do the whole Portuguese coast and the north Spanish coast. It was our first big road trip, a great memory! « 

 » And in September 2020, despite the situation, we went away for a month too, but this time to Brittany, and we loved it! And contrary to its reputation, we had very good weather in Brittany… (laughs) « 

What’s your fondest memory and your biggest problem?

M: « It’ s hard to choose, whether it’s for the memory or the hassle! « 

 » I’d say our fondest memory is the day we bought Sunny and the moment we set off with it. Grinning from ear to ear, I remember filming the first few meters after saying goodbye to the previous owner, on October 14, 2017. Mathieu driving, laughing out loud! It was the start of our adventure! A dream come true! « 

margaux-mathieu

Photo credit: Margaux & Mathieu

« Of course, we’ve had our share of problems, like all self-respecting vanlifers!

 » During our trip to Portugal, we were driving along and then… no more gas pedal. On the side of a main road, with cars passing close by, it was hard to do anything. We figure it’s the cable that’s broken, but we’re not too worried because we’ve got the spare part with us. « 

 » Finally, we called a breakdown mechanic who kept us waiting for 3 hours. Knowing that garages are closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays (it was 2pm on Saturday), there was no way of getting us to a garage. After a few random discussions, he spoke Portuguese and… Portuguese (laughs). We finally understood that the plan was for him to drop us off at his depot in the industrial zone. He explains that a mechanic friend of his will come and fix the van for us the next morning. In such cases, we have no choice but to trust him… « .

More fear than harm, but a great anecdote and some wonderful encounters!

 » So the next day, while waiting for the mechanic, Mathieu went through the technical review to try and understand the fault. He looked into the engine and saw a screw lying around. And on closer inspection, the cable was actually connected to the engine with this screw, it had just come loose from the engine! We put it back in place, and it worked!

 » At the same time, the famous mechanic arrives. We explain to him, still in Portuguese… that we’ve managed to solve the problem. He took a look, and all was well. We were able to set off again in peace, 24 hours after our false breakdown! More fear than harm, but a great anecdote and some wonderful encounters… « 

What do you expect from the future?

M:  » For the future, we hope to be able to start our European tour fairly soon! In the meantime, we’ll have to be patient and continue to prepare as best we can for our departure, while continuing to travel around our homes and experience a few microadventures. « 

We hope this trip will help us develop our blog!

 » When we get back, we’d like to find a little cocoon in the heart of nature… why not in the mountains, but still close to the Basque country. We’re also hoping that this trip will enable us to develop our blog so that we can continue working on it when we get back. In parallel, we’ll still be doing a few freelance assignments. « 

 » If not, it’s quite possible that we’ll get a bit more of a taste for travel, so there should be more to come after that… Anyway, we’ll see. A lot is going to happen between now and then! « 

What advice would you give to those wishing to embark on a combi adventure?

M: « You have to take the plunge without hesitation, of course! On the networks and when we’re with our combi, we’re often told « you’re lucky, it’s my dream to travel like this! » and well, it’s all down to one decision: go for it and do everything to make it a reality! « 

sunny-combi

Photo credit: Margaux & Mathieu

 » We bought Sunny when I had just found a job and Mathieu was still a student, so it was a lot of money for young people like us, but we really wanted it. So we took out a loan to buy it and worked a bit more on the side. In short, we managed! « 

If the test goes well, then go for it! You only get one life!

 » If you’re ever in doubt, it’s best to try before you buy a van or other converted vehicle outright. Several rental sites exist (wikicampers, for example, which rents between private individuals), so you can take a roadtrip for a weekend or more, and try out this mode of travel.  »

 » It sounds dreamy like that, but there are also quite a few drawbacks (electricity, water, mini area, finding spots to sleep, mechanical breakdowns, bans…). And if the test goes well, then go for it! We’ve only got one life!

Where are you going to start when you leave? What destinations do you dream of traveling to / living in?

M:  » Hoping to be able to leave in March 2022, I think we’d first head for the north of Europe, to spend spring, summer and autumn there: England, Ireland and Scotland, then continue with the Netherlands, Denmark, to arrive in Sweden and Norway! Then, as soon as winter arrives, either stop and work for a season somewhere, or head for Southern Europe. « 

There’s no point in chasing destinations. On the contrary, we prefer to take our time choosing and discovering them.

 » Our dream is to travel by van in the United States and Canada. In fact, we had thought about it for this project, but in the end we decided to go to Europe. Also, we dream of going to Australia and New Zealand, also to French Polynesia, and Iceland… There are a lot of destinations we dream of going to in fact… A bit like everyone else! « 

 » Even if we probably won’t go everywhere, that’s okay. There’s no point in chasing destinations. On the contrary, we prefer to take the time to choose them and discover them. The choice of the combi wasn’t made by chance. Speed isn’t our thing. On the road as in life?