We fell in love and we want to be together. Sounds wonderful, right? Yes, it is amazing! …but not as easy as that when you come from the opposite ends of the world. Literally. This series is about us, our story and our plan to travel the world in a van just so we can be together, as nomads, for the sake of love.
Due to visa restrictions, we are not allowed to legally live in the same country until one of us immigrates, which in our case is an up to 2-year-long process. Long-distance relationships are not all they are cracked up to be—we have been there already! So we made up this crazy plan of traveling and living full time in a van, jumping borders every 3-months when our tourist visas expire. Just so we can be can be together!
While we already love the nomadic lifestyle van life affords this situation is more complex. We cannot go just anywhere anytime we want. There are rules to abide by. I can, of course, travel freely throughout the EU, but Scott cannot. A treaty signed by most of the central European countries complicates things further. Since the entire Schengen area counts as one, Scott cannot simply move from one country to the next to comply with the 3-month visa waiver program, he has to leave the entire area for 3-months before returning for another 3 months. So this is what we plan to do, together.
The only way we could see this logistically making sense was to build another van and take it on the road with us. We figured we might as well make an adventure out of this long and arduous process since nothing we do can speed up the severely backlogged Swedish migration agency.
After spending 3 months in Sweden this summer converting a 25-year-old VW bus to our new home we are spending the winter in Eastern Europe. We simply drew a boundary on a map of where we cannot go and then started driving south, chasing summer. No research. No plan. Guided by curiosity as much as necessity.
Our story did not begin the usual way, and none of it has been ordinary since. We met just as I was leaving New Zealand after hiking Te Araroa trail in April 2017. We knew right away that what we had was something special and initiated an intense long-distance relationship until Scott came to Sweden for a visit a few weeks later.
We had quite an epic “first date”… an amazing 3-week mountaineering mission through Sarek National Park north of the arctic circle, in my small solo tent. It was a tight squeeze with all our climbing gear and the temperamental mountain weather. It was also a true test of our relationship. There is nowhere to hide on a mission like that. What you get is the naked truth of who you really are, under pressure. We both loved every minute of it, save for a few moments of horizontal hail on top of an exposed ridgeline, and we also learned our love was real.
When Scott had to return back to New Zealand 6 weeks later, I followed him within the month. We converted his tiny Toyota LiteAce van to a more suitable space for two and lived in it for 4 months while working and saving money for our next adventure, hiking the PCT. The Beast was a great little van, a super tiny budget build but we truly loved it and the lifestyle!
Long distance thru-hiking
My plan after Te Araroa had always been to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, a 4265 km trek from the Mexican to the Canadian border. My original plan was another solo hike, but not wanting to be apart for that long, Scott and I decided to do the hike together. Even for an avid hiker and mountaineer as he is, the concept of a long-distance thru-hike is very different and it is definitely not for everyone, but he was all in. The first few hundred miles was a painful endeavor as Scott’s mountaineering injuries healed and got stronger on trail. A true New Zealander though, he did not really let on. Not all relationships can survive 3 months in a small tent hiking for 10 hours each day, day after day, without regular showers, but we really loved being on trail together and cannot wait for the next one.
→ Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), USA (more sections uploaded soon)
We hiked the first half of the PCT together until Scott’s visa ran out and he had to go back home for a few months and work while I finished walking to Canada. We knew that we wanted to give our relationship a serious chance at this point, but this was not an easy task. We have already done the visa dance for the past year in order to be together. I had already maxed out my visa time in New Zealand and was not allowed back for 18 months. Scott is only allowed 3 months at a time in Sweden and we just did 3 months together in the US. So to keep it going we either needed to commit to a perpetual nomadic life, or up our game… one of us would have to immigrate.
We were looking into all our options and had a good long talk about where we would like to be based. Since New Zealand is a tiny island in the middle of nowhere it would be a pretty poor choice if you like to travel–like we do. It would, however, be a lovely place for shorter visits since it is summer there when Scandinavia is cold and dark. Since we could prove that we have been in a committed relationship for over a year by now, we felt that we had a pretty good chance applying for a residency permit in Sweden. There was one catch of course… the process could take up to 2 years!
Another technicality is that you have to apply from your country of residence, and since our plan was for Scott to meet me in Sweden as soon as I finished the trail, we had no time to lose. Scott got his end of the application done and I took a double zero in Ashland Oregon off trail to do my part. Then there was nothing more to do than to cross our fingers and wait.
The waiting game
So what do you do when you are in limbo for up to two years? You could sit on two continents pining for one another while waiting for everything to go through, but as we have mentioned before, long-distance relationships suck, so that was never really an option. Instead we decided to play by the rules of the game but to work the system.
So, we spent the 3 months Scott was allowed to be in Sweden this summer to convert a 25-year-old VW bus to the home we would take on the road while we wait for the decision from immigration to come through. We are spending the winter traveling through Eastern Europe before we are allowed back into the Schengen area, and Sweden, again this spring.
You can follow the epic van conversion as it happened in Building Dory – the blue adventure bus.
While we primarily built Dory to deal with the logistics of the immigration procedure, we would have built her anyway. We really love van life and building a new van after leaving the Beast behind in New Zealand was always the plan. We would probably have taken a bit more time for the build however as two months of building time is really, really intense. But we are super happy with the result and in retrospect would not really change anything.
Scott – 35 from Christchurch (Ōtautahi), New Zealand
What I want out of life has always come down to freedom, happiness and the ability to keep moving forward free from social expectations. Freedom to me is not an escape but rather being apart of something and truly engaging with the world, offering who I am not what I have. I strive to build a simple and mobile life with relaxed work commitments while prioritising dreams and passions over material gain.
I have always loved being outdoors. When I was younger I was all about team sports like rugby or cricket or skating, surfing and mountain biking with friends. Later I began to explore the beautiful mountains of New Zealand where I got hooked on mountaineering and rock climbing which has developed into a true lifestyle and passion. This is also when I first learned the benefits of vanlife, being able to park up wherever for however long to go climbing. So I have lived the before it really became a thing, living out of vans for the past 10 years or so.
Sometimes life events force you to stop and have a good look at who and where you are. For me, it was a serious fall down a mountain that left me injured and unable to continue doing the things I loved and identified with. I am still recovering from that fall and I am working on coming back to climbing again. I am grateful to have company on this journey back to the mountains.
My reboot is ultimately about healing and finding myself again, as well as finding love when I least expected it. So this journey of love, friendship, self discovery is also about learning new physical and emotional limitations on a crazy ride in a van through life with my amazing partner.
Karma – 44 from Gothenburg (Göteborg), Sweden
A life crisis and burnout a few years ago forced me to completely reevaluate my priorities in life as I struggled to find myself again. My reboot taught me that life is about experiences and relationships, not work. So I left a traditional life and stressful career as an art director in favor for a more nomadic and minimalistic lifestyle, and I finally feel whole and truly alive.
In my recovery I basically went for a very long walk, about 8000 km to date, and never looked back. From the Kungsleden trail in Sweden to thru-hiking Te Araroa in New Zealand followed by the Skye Trail in Scotland to a hike from the Mexican to the Canadian border along the Pacific Crest Trail in the United States earlier this year. Nature can heal even the most frazzled of minds, like mine, and long-distance thru-hiking became my salvation.
Moving forward I chose a different path where freedom and closeness to nature plays a central role. Right now that means living and exploring the world in a van for the sake of love. I would do anything for us to be together, but this lifestyle is not a sacrifice by any stretch. I really love our van and I especially love not being location bound and the unknown awaiting around the next bend. For me vanlife is about simplicity, freedom and ultimately about happiness. I feel very lucky to have found a partner to share this life with.