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10 Drastic Differences Between VanLife in Europe vs. the US

vanlife europe, mr and mrs adventure, couple lives in van, vanlife europe vs USAfter working corporate jobs in LA for 4 years, we had saved enough money to take action on our dreams of exploring the world. We had originally planned to teach English in South Korea, but when Drew’s family offered us their 21-foot Sprinter van to explore our own country in first, we decided it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

van life, living in a sprinter, rv life, mr and mrs adventure, For a year we traveled and lived all around the US, Iceland(!!) and Canada, falling more and more in love with VanLife, and each other (see Why You Should Live in a Van Before Getting Married), along the way. We returned to our families in Florida in time for our wedding (I designed our invitations from the road in our van!), and after tying the knot, we took a giant leap – all the way to England – to make our VanLife Europe honeymoon dreams come true (watch how we survived week 1 here).

beach wedding florida, sparklers wedding, mr and mrs adventure

vanlife europe, vanlife holland, honeymoon in a vanIt has now been nearly 2 years since we’ve been living in the Howlin’ Yoweller, an 18-foot Converted Ford Transit (with right-hand drive), and because of it we have been able to call some of the world’s most incredible countries home. From England to Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Denmark, Norway, Sweden… and now we are preparing for our next big VanLife Europe journey through Morocco, Spain and Portugal (little recap of our travels here). VanLife Europe has blessed, challenged and changed us in more ways than we ever could have imagined. So, how is VanLife in Europe different from VanLife in the US?

vanlife europe, how to travel europe in van, vanlife in amerca vs europeDisclaimer: Blanket covering the differences between 50+ European countries is tricky. Some countries vary by a little and some by a lot. England, in particular, is much more developed, which does make it easier to access and find certain things, though this cuts back drastically on the ease and availability of wild camping… of which Norway had an endless supply:

vanlife lofoten, vanlife norway

So (excusing the U.K. from this one), #1 on our list is LANGUAGE. Perhaps the most obvious one of all:

foreign road signs, vanlife europe, achtungThe fact that every time we enter a new country we are faced with not only a foreign land, but also a foreign language, makes everything a bit (a lot) more complicated. In the US we took for granted the ease and uniformity brought on by the fact that all the states are English speaking. Road signs are the same, grocery shopping is the same, the names of most stores are the same and even something as simple as the names of other countries (and states) being the same (they differ in different languages… confusing right?) just makes everyday life that much easier. In Europe, each and every country has its own unique set of challenges and things to get used to, all in their own unique language!

foreign street sign, norway vanlifeEven Google Translate couldn’t figure this one out!

norwegian road sign, google translate app

vanlife america vs europe, bridge to usa

2.Wild camping / “Boondocking” laws.no camping sign europe, wild camping europe, vanlife europe vs americaLike everywhere, if you can read the signs and search for unrestricted parking areas, sometimes overnight camping is ok and sometimes it’s not, except in Europe where some countries completely outlaw wild camping (also BLM land does not exist over there). In Croatia for instance, wild camping is illegal and they will fine you hundreds of dollars if you’re caught! Luckily, we were able to get away with it for nearly the entire 3 months we were there (video on wild camping in Croatia here), we just had to be very stealthy. Then there are countries like Norway and Sweden, where the “Right to Roam” makes wild camping completely legal, in fact they promote it! You just have to do a bit more research when crossing borders in Europe vs. crossing borders in the States where the laws stay relatively the same.

right to roam, travel journal, vanlife europe journal

3.Internet cafes / Digital Nomadism.

digital nomad, vanlifersAs VanLifers trying to make it as digital nomads, those in the US have it made. With Starbucks and local cafes in literally every city and town, it’s not hard to find a chill place buzzing with cool vibes, wifi as powerful as the coffee and power plugs. Or better yet, just get a wifi booster for your van (WeBoost is amazing) and work from the comforts of your rolling home!

digital nomad, make money vanlife, vanlife work on roadIn Europe it’s not quite that easy. Most of the places we go don’t have wifi cafes, England is the one exception. In most places cafes are for eating and so bringing your laptop to work all day is just not the norm / frowned upon even. Also, you have to go to the cities for cafes, where “car parks” are usually very small, very packed, have height restrictions, 2 hour time limits, safety concerns and cost quite a bit. Overall we tend to completely avoid cities, opting to spend our days enjoying the space and fresh air of nature, meaning our wifi is limited to what we get on our phones. Our international data plans (T-Mobile) can be limiting, so we end up experimenting with SIM cards and wifi hot spot devices… connectivity, let alone speed, is never certain.

digital nomad, coffee culture

4.Cost of living.

vanlife cost, how to afford vanlifeFor US VanLife we were able to get by on $1,000 per month per person, but in Europe it ends up being about $1,500 per month per person (including literally every expense). Partially due to the increase cost of gas, food and not being able to save by doing laundry at friend’s (watch us discover roadside laundry in Holland here!), etc. but also due to the fact that there are A LOT more unknowns that we are forced to navigate. Sometimes we get things right, and sometimes (many times), we have to learn the harder (more costly) way. For instance, our van is currently parked at the Gatwick airport because parking there was only £55 ($70) a month, a great deal! BUT, after returning to the US we went to pause our car insurance, since it’s not being driven, but because it’s in a “Public Space” we are not able to do so, as they will literally “tow and crush” any vehicle without insurance found in their lot… so now we are paying the $70 + $100 for parking each month… in our experience, the US tends to be much easier to navigate these sort of specifications.

vanlife europe, vanlife problems, vanlife tow

5.We are foreigners.

bike copenhagen, vanlife europe

As American’s living in a British van throughout Europe, Scandinavia and Africa, we tend to stick out like a sore thumb basically everywhere we go. We don’t know many people, and often times we don’t speak a lick of their language, on top of that, we live in a van and are wild camping everywhere we go, so there are many days (weeks even) where we don’t really get to interact with anyone other than each other, which can get lonely in many ways. While living as foreigners in a foreign land, without a permanent place to call home, can be endlessly difficult, it is still worth it in nearly every way possible.

vanlife europe, mr and mrs adventure, geirangerfjord

6.Ease and convenience.

van life cooking, cooking on the road, amazing roadtrip recipes when on the road, parking in walmart parking lot, sleeping in walmart parking lot, cooking in walmart parking lotDepending on where you are in Europe, it can be extremely difficult to find what you need. When we traveled the US in a van we were able to order nearly everything off Amazon (that we couldn’t find at Walmart) and have it shipped to a post office nearby for pickup. In Europe that option doesn’t exist, in fact Walmart (or stores even like it!) don’t exist, and so the only hope is having things shipped to a friend’s house that falls along our route, and being that we aren’t in our home country, those are few and far between.

vanlife chores, vanlife europe vs america

vanlife norway, kjeragboltenIt’s also important to consider that store names change in nearly every country, and without the convenience of Amazon, “normal” working hours, etc. an otherwise simple task can take a few days, or even weeks, before being solved… refilling a propane tank for instance. Each country uses a different bottle, with a different adaptor, and the refilling stations have different names with unpredictable hours..! We learned to have a back up camping stove for moments like this. VanLife Europe has definitely taught us a thing or two about improvising. Like that one time we couldn’t find a replacement for our sink hose when it sprung a leak in Norway, so we fixed it with a piece of gum!

vanlife norway, vanlife europe

7.Showers.

vanlife showers, vanlife europe shower, polaroid outside showerIn the US it was super simple. We had 24/7 gym memberships, so we could work out and shower at over 3,000 gyms Nation wide! In Europe there is no such gym that spans across the whole of Europe (let alone 1 country!) like that. Most days we swim in the ocean… yes, even in the Arctic Sea in Norway! + search for community centers + campgrounds (though these cut into our budget) + beach showers (which in Europe, they REMOVE during winter), and then there’s the always reliable”gallon shower.”

vanlife showers, vanlife europe shower, polaroid outside shower

8.Customs.

delft blue holland boy and girl first kiss, boy and girl kiss holland, delft blue porcelain dolls, keukenhof tulips, keukenhof tulips kiss, romantic hollandThere are many things we could mention in this category, but we’ll stick with the one cultural difference that we encounter nearly everyday, no matter what country we were in. In the US it’s customary to wave to strangers, whereas in Europe, it is not, often resulting in long, hard, confused looking stares – but we still do it anyway 🙂

never forget your dreams, vanlife america vs europe

vanlife europe, vanlife norway, mr and mrs adventureAlso worth mentioning: shaking hands, appropriate clothing (Morocco especially), table manners, road etiquette, holy-days, etc. each country has its own way of doing things, and we are literally taking a crash course everyday as we roll on through.

blagaj, bosnia dervish

9.History, traditions, architecture, pace of life…

vanlife europe, st maloEurope is different from America in so many ways. Long lunch breaks, war-battered buildings, medieval churches, unique cuisine, lush nature, traditional clothing, family dynamics and so, so much more. While America has its own traits and gems, there has been something so endlessly fascinating about the immense variety of cultures we have been able to roll through during our time in Europe… memories we know will only grow sweeter with time.

paris at night, vanlife europe

10.THE ROUTE.

In the US it was pretty simple. We did a loop from the east to the west, popped into Canada, took a quick trip to Iceland + Alaska and after a year we made it back to where we started (just in time for our wedding):

vanlife in america, how to travel america in campervan, vanlife usIn Europe, there is SO MUCH TO SEE and it’s spread out all over the place! So many nooks and crannies to fall in love with, so many villages, monuments, mountains, trails, museums, surf spots, famous photo ops, new foreign friends to meet (thanks to Instagram), crazy/amazing foods to try, oceans to swim in, views to park in front of and the list goes on, and on. In order to keep things digestible, we have had to break our European VanLife travels into 3 parts (check it out on YouTube). PLUS, as Americans, we are limited to 90 days in the Schengen countries out of 180 days and the same goes for Morocco + 180 day limit in the UK out of 360 days (and NO, “Visa runs” do not work), so needless to say, this adds a bit of a puzzle/time crunch to our schedule.

vanlife europe, vanlife europe map, how to travel europe in campervan

vanlife europe, vanlife scandinavia map, how to travel europe in campervan

vanlife europe, vanlife morocco map, how to travel europe in campervan

GRATITUDE.

reinebringen hike, vanlife norway lofotenPerhaps the greatest of all the blessings of our time in Europe, is the immense sense of gratitude we have for… everything. For the time we get to spend experiencing such rich cultures, for the hospitality we experience from total strangers, for the love of our families and friends back home, for the joy we get when finding a peaceful place to park for the night, for the opportunity we have to be in such incredible places, for hot showers, paved roads, warm cups of tea on cold mornings, camping spots next to the sea on beautiful, sunny days and for the sound of rain on the van, for the breath in our lungs and the incredible earth beneath our feet… for all that we have seen and for the realization that we will never be able to see it all, and that’s ok.

kjeragbolten, chockstone hike, best hikes norway

la tournette, lake annecy hikeBeing completely disconnected from so many of “life’s comforts” has allowed us to create a bond with each other (and our van), with our earth and within, that enables us to feel an incredible sense of home in our hearts no matter where we are.

vanlife honeymoon, vanlife europeFor more insight, be sure to check out our post on how we prepare for VanLife in another country here + our video guide on how to travel across America in a camper van + our VanLife Europe episodes on YouTube! We love sharing and navigating the endless knowns with you.

open road, vanlife america

4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Steph Nie

    February 4, 2018

    You two are amazing and so inspirational with your adventures! I adore how there are real ‘tangible’ non digital journal and polaroids to capture your travels (as well as the public blog!) Keep on keeping on! 👌🏽👍🏽👏🏽steph from 🇺🇸

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      February 5, 2018

      Gotta keep balance with the digital and tangible somehow ❤️ Thank you for taking the time to share such a thoughtful comment 🙏🏼😌

  2. Reply

    Scottie88

    December 28, 2017

    Have to disagree with some of the things you’ve said. Europe is a continent and not one country like the United States so things will vary between countries, sometimes drastically and sometimes slightly. Blanket covering all 50+ countries with the same description isn’t really just. I live in the UK, we use amazon all the time and live off of prime delivery! Ebay too! we have many a supermarket chain you could compare to Walmart, infact ASDA is even owned by walmart now!

    • Reply

      Brittany Rouille

      December 29, 2017

      Very true. It was tricky writing this post because there are SO MANY variables between countries, and the UK is quite the exception, but we had to make an attempt 😉 Perhaps we can follow up with a post (or add a disclaimer to this post) on how VanLife in Europe (particularly England) is similar to the US… England is the one country where we feel the most at home and where everyday VanLife needs aren’t quite as hard to come by – though parking can be pretty tricky. We stopped at an ASDA last night actually 🙂

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