Live slow, drive slower

Is living in a couple of square metres on wheels while travelling the world as relaxed as it sounds? Enjoy the Algarve meets digital nomads Hedwig Wiebes and Jeroen Bosman in the south of Portugal. “We do worry, but only about where we’ll sleep that night.”
All pictures courtesy of Hedwig & Jeroen 

See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2017

Playing the guitar, selling tie dye clothes and hashish, or knotting bracelets. Those were the options hippies had back in the 1960s and 1970s if they wanted to earn some money while travelling around. Up until a few decades ago, (read: before the internet), you’d automatically work near your home, up to an hour of commuting aside. Recent technology makes it easier to not only live, but also make a living all over the world. Digital nomads they’re called, people who have their home anywhere on this planet because they work remote. Like the Dutch Hedwig Wiebes (31) and Jeroen Bosman (33) (check them out on Instagram). Hedwig, who as freelance journalist was already accustomed to a not-so-steady job rhythm, just needs pen, paper and a laptop with internet connection to write and sell her stories. As for Jeroen, he left his sales job and started learning about photography and drone-filming. Hedwig & Jeroen: “Less costs mean less income needed, so this works for now.”


We wanted our lives to be less predictable

The lower cost of living is because the couple stay in a VW T3 Westfalia ’85 van, called Chewie. In 2016 they sold their Amsterdam-based apartment and belongings and decided to live in a couple of square metres on wheels, together with their dogs Tommie and Olaf. A life changing move, but not a difficult one. Hedwig: “We actually made the decision on a Friday afternoon and right that Monday after we started calling realtor agents to sell our apartment.” The reason for this sudden lifestyle change? “We wanted our lives to be less predictable. We were feeling more and more restless and with that the need for adventure grew. Also, we were getting uneasy with the idea of having a good life with everything we could wish for, but also the accompanying struggles of being able to pay for it all. Travelling in a van is perfect for us because you actually do have something to call ‘home’.”


Have a look at the many vans parked anywhere along the Algarvian coastline and you’ll notice the idea of the Dutch couple isn’t unique. The Romani people in Portugal have already been living in horse-drawn wagons for literally ages. Vandwelling, as the nomadic way of living in a vehicle is also called, comes in all sorts and shapes. From men and women who seek freedom to people who simply can’t afford a house (this mostly happens in cities that are known for their high cost of living like San Francisco (USA)), and from travelling circus performers to those who live to go surfing each day (you’ll find the latter parked on Praia do Amado and other beaches along the Algarve’s west coast). For Hedwig and Jeroen, it had to do with reconsidering their values in life. Hedwig explains: “Why do you do what you do? Because you choose so yourself or because you think society asks this of you? Questions like these interest us – not in the least because that’s what motivated us to throw our own lives upside down.”

Rejecting society’s semi-secure 9-to-5 office job lifestyle sounds like something the hippies did back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Do Hedwig and Jeroen consider themselves modern hippies? “Ha. Maybe we do. We don’t really think about ourselves as a certain kind of people though. We prefer not to use labels to describe anyone. Surely the world will be a better place if we’d all be doing that a bit less. So, there you have it: there are definitely some hippie ideas going on, no doubt. But we’re both just exploring a lifestyle that we’re not so familiar with, finding out what suits us and what doesn’t. It’s priceless to now be in the position to find out what we want in life and see beautiful places along the way.”

Worrying about how to pay the mortgage has become worrying about where to sleep

Travelling the world, visiting gorgeous places and having awesome adventures along the way sounds –and looks- amazing, but it isn’t all flower power. Jeroen’s drone got confiscated upon entering Morocco. Finding a place to spend the night can be a daily struggle and no, Chewie doesn’t have a built-in shower or toilet. So is vanlife really simpler and more enjoyable or are there now other annoying things that take up lots of time? Hedwig: “It certainly isn’t without worries. We’d like to think we approached this whole thing quite realistically, without too many sugarcoated expectations, but one of the things we’ve discovered is that this lifestyle definitely isn’t about relaxing all the time. People often assume that, and maybe at first we did as well. Living in a van takes a lot of effort though; almost nothing is done easily. For instance finding supermarkets and places where we can do our laundry, we have to do that over and over again. Also: a car needs just as much attention and maintenance as a house, especially when it’s 32 years old.”

“On the other hand, our life really got simpler, and that’s where the goodness comes in. So we do worry, but only about where we’ll sleep that night – and not about whether we will or will not be able to pay next month’s mortgage. We live from day to day, as if there’s no past and no future. This creates an unbelievably liberating feeling and helps you focus on what you like and love, instead of on your worries and problems. Of course we miss Amsterdam and all the city has to offer from time to time, but after having lived there for over five years, we found ourselves having too much of a comfort zone. We had no idea how awesome and addictive it is to just get out there and explore the unknown.”


This unknown includes Morocco, where the couple and their dogs currently are, their van battling the steep Atlas mountain roads. On their way through Europe, they’ve stayed a long time in the Algarve. “We never planned to spend over two months in Portugal, of which a great deal in the Algarve, but we just totally fell in love. From the endless deserted beaches to the food. From the varied lush nature to the unbelievably kind Portuguese people. It’s unfortunate that we found the language so hard to learn, but the few words we did know were always accepted with big smiles. What we particularly liked about the Algarve is the relaxed feeling you get out of being there. Nobody seems to hurry and everyone seems to enjoy life as much as they can – and otherwise take it like it is. That’s what we try to do as well. No wonder we felt so at home.”


Happiness has little to do with a fancy house

Vanlife has shown Hedwig and Jeroen many things. “We’ve seen more stars in one night in Morocco than in five years of living in Amsterdam. We’ve seen sunsets and sunrises you’d normally only see in paintings and we’ve driven past places you’d normally only see on TV.” The best moments of their journey, though, aren’t the endless vistas or beautiful beaches they’ve encountered, Hedwig explains, but “the moments shit doesn’t go as planned and we overcome the problems with a smile on our face.” Their motto ‘live slow, drive slower’ partly refers to the fact that Chewie’s average speed is well under 100km/h. But, more importantly, it shows the couples’ desire to skip all the stress and pressure most people nowadays experience in their lives. “We managed to find a new lifestyle and eliminate stress for a great deal. And we’re still learning to be better at it.”

Any other things they’ve learned along the way? “That happiness has little to do with a fancy house and nice stuff. That if you want to find yourself and your true motivation in life, you’d best strip away all the unnecessary decoration you’ve managed to gather around yourself, and be prepared to get confronted with whatever is inside you.” To many people this might seem scary, but give it a go, be brave, the world is beautiful. Hedwig agrees: “It may be frightening at first, and perhaps it might even ask you to completely change the life you are leading – but why not? It’s what we did and trust us, in a short time you can get used to a totally different life. Humans are great like that.”


See the original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine March 2017

Posted in Features, People.