Van life: Meet the nomadic couple who built their own mobile home
At Workaway, we absolutely love getting to know you all, whether it’s meeting you on the road, at a Workaway trip or hearing about your adventures through e-mails and social media. We couldn’t be prouder to be involved with such an inspiring community of travellers, which is why we just have to share some of the stories you tell us!
Since we dare to bet that you have daydreamed about leaving your day-to-day life behind and driving off into the sunset at least once, we couldn’t wait to share Workawayers Norbert and Dóra‘s story with you. This young, adventurous architect-journalist pairing from Hungary didn’t just hit the road, they decided to do so in a mobile home that they built themselves! We caught up with the couple for a peek into their van life.
Since we were teenagers, we both had this calling to experience what it’s like to have a free, independent, and long-term trip somewhere far. We’ve been on a few shorter adventures before; we hitchhiked a lot with our backpacks and camping gear. After going on these trips, we wanted to take travelling more seriously. So we thought “it’s now or never”. The timing will never be better, as we are young, we are not in debt, we don’t have children or any other serious commitments, and we do have the resources—both financially and mentally.
Thank you! We’re really proud of it as well. As we have built the van— we named her ‘Debella’— ourselves, we made a great connection to it, the kind of relationship a captain has for his ship. Norbi is an architect, so we were confident that we would be able to do it. It took us 4.5 months from start to finish. Actually, the process was almost as fun— and of course really hard work, but so is traveling— as the trip itself!
There are so many great blogs, articles and videos about the van life online, I guess this way of travelling is experiencing a renaissance. It’s quite appealing to young people with an independent mindset. We thought it would be the most convenient for long-term travelling and for reaching different Workaway hosts. It allows flexibility.
We left Hungary in October 2016 and we actually just finished our trip this summer. We’ve been on the road 8 months altogether, out of which we volunteered via Workaway about 2.5 months in different places.
Living in a van is a very special way of travelling: it does give you a lot of independence, proper comfort and privacy compared to backpacking. It’s also very easy on your wallet. On the other hand, it does separate you a bit from the environment and restrict you in some ways: you have a big home you have to take care of, you have to find good parking and sleeping spots, and you spend quite a lot of time just driving. And last but not least, it’s a very good test on your relationship: you’ll find out if you can deal with being together intensively in a tiny living space!
We both grew up in a city, and we were curious about other ways of living. That is why we searched for more simple opportunities in remote places, as we wanted to learn more about the relationship between people and nature. We picked olives in Tuscany, learnt about permaculture gardening, worked with horses, and lived in dome houses on an Eco-farm near Tarifa, Spain, did some construction work in the middle of nowhere in the Sierra Nevada, had an amazing time in a sculpture garden in Spain and enjoyed the warm friendliness of the people in Morocco. Most importantly, we got to know all of these people with very different ideas about life. It was an amazing experience to learn from them first-hand.
Travelling creates a strange, surreal sense of humour. You’ll find yourself in situations that you never imagined you’d be in, and are hard to believe. For us a lot of these situations involved animals: imagine opening your window blinds in the morning and being faced with camels peeking inside your van! Or finding peacocks picking at their food just next to where you park, curious goats and ponies trying to get in while you’re making tea… so many random, fiction-like events have happened to us!
Yes, it’s impossible to highlight only one thing…! some moments that come to mind are our engagement in Morocco, hiking in the Atlas mountains for three days straight, surfing in the ocean, attending our friends’ secret seaside wedding, and all of our cultural exchanges through Workaway. We could go on and on, there were a lot of top moments!
We really moved between extremes: sometimes we lived in very simple circumstances and experienced what it’s like to live life when you have little, and other times we lived like kings. One our Workaway experiences in Spain— which was in the middle of nowhere— inspired us to buy a little plot of land one day. We would like to live a self-sustainable life and be in a place where you can hide from the world. In Sierra Nevada we learnt a lot about permaculture and sustainability, and we would like to use this knowledge later. We were also hosted by a successful artist couple; staying with them enabled us to enter into deeper layers of the art world, and they brought us to special events we would have never been able to attend if it wasn’t for them.
Volunteering and travelling really makes you realise that there are so many good-hearted and helpful people everywhere. With so many dark stories on the news these days, it is an amazing counterweight to see that basically people are good. Travelling is also a very good self-exploration process. We learnt that being complete and happy doesn’t only have to do with where you go or live: it really happens inside your head. And one more important lesson is that less is more – you really can be happy without many material things. Money is important, but only to a certain level… this was a great takeaway point for us. We’ve learnt the real value of things.
After our long trip, we would like to settle down for a bit and create something. Norbi wants to design furniture, Dóri is planning to continue working in journalism and who knows, maybe we will write a book about our trip! We really would like to have a little piece of land where we can create or own paradise and try the Workaway experience as hosts! As we are both travel addicts, we don’t want to completely stop our journey: our next destination is Slovakia, where we want to climb the The Tatra Mountains.
For us, building our own van was an amazing experience, so if you have the chance, do it. You’ll develop a deeper connection with your future home, and when it’s finished, you can use spaces and functions that you created with your own hands. Another piece of advice would be to be very persistent. Living this sort of life doesn’t just mean having beautiful freedom, you’ll have to deal with some difficult and stressful moments as well. Changing locations all the time, and getting acclimated to your new surroundings takes up more mental energy than staying in one place, especially if you live in the van and you have to rely on yourself all the time. But it’s worth every moment of it!!
Norbert and Dóra, thanks a bunch for telling us more about your van-adventures!
Are you interested in digitally travelling with them? Then be sure to check out and follow their Facebook page and beautiful blog!