On Wednesday 17th of March we woke up early, voted and started our journey towards China. We said goodbye to our parents and headed East. For the night we decided to stay in The Netherlands near the German border, just to make sure we packed everything, we are happy with how we arranged the box and wheel on the roof and to see how Alexine is doing.
We stayed at a campsite on the land of a farmer. We were the only guests and the first ones of the year. The day before he fixed the showers so he now had hot water again. Good for us because it was a very cold night. It was -1 so we slept in our thermo underwear, socks and under extra blankets to make sure we wouldn’t freeze. It wasn’t the best night as we woke up often because of the cold and getting used to the little space we have now. In our home we have a big bed, in the van, well… you can imagine, we don’t have much space.
However, waking up to the sound of birds not cars makes us forget the night easily. And not long after the birds the chickens started waking us up while scurrying around the van. A hot shower was very welcome and soon we were on our way to the first border crossing. Not before Yuri lost his wallet. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how small the van is, you can easily lose things in it! So, we turned the van upside down in search for the wallet. At least now we know everything we have with us and I can tell you; it’s not that much. We still have to figure out what we put where and how we are going to organise ourselves, but we don’t have much stuff with us so that’s a good thing.
Some very necessary things like a volleyball, stroopwafels and peanut butter are of course with us. But we also brought a GPS tracker, satellite phone and MiFi (internet) with us. We also have a lot of camera gear with us and some basic things like pans, cutlery and cooker. Spare parts are on top of the van, we’ve got very good oil (10 liters) with us and a jerrycan with gasoline.
But, because we were in a rush I just threw everything inside the van without really thinking about what should go where. We will figure it out on the road is my believe, as long as we have everything with us.
Our second leg will take us to a friend in Germany. We met each other on our trip through Svalbard. Will tell you more about this in a next post.
Wow! You are going to drive all the way to China? What route will you take?
A question we, not surprisingly, get asked a lot lately. So, let’s share our route. This will be it roughly. Of course there will be things we will add, things we will skip, roads we will take and ways we will omit. The route isn’t written in stone but in Google so it’s ready for changes made while we’re on the road. But, it gives an idea about the route we take and the things we wish to see along the way.
The past weeks went by so quickly, we hardly had time to breathe. We were both in full speed working on the van, emptying and cleaning the house, Yuri was busy finishing his projects and I tried to get everything online ready for our adventure. We will sleep when we’re on the road, we will relax at our first stop, we will unstress the moment we leave. For now, too many things to do, too many stuff to arrange and too much going on. Travelling is working. It’s not like you pack your bags and unpack at the beach. At least our way of travelling is not. But the more we have to arrange now the better the reward will be when we’re on the road.
And oh my, am I ready for the road. I can’t wait for the adventure to start. The last couple of days also meant saying goodbye to some people. Besides the standard questions about travelling with Covid-19 restrictions, people now also start to ask me whether I’m afraid of something, what my biggest fear is or what to do when we get stranded and a Nomadic tribe is coming our way. And to be honest there is nothing I’m afraid of, I don’t have any fears haunting me at night, and when a Nomadic tribe comes our way I hope I have enough ‘stroopwafels’ to share with them and make friends. Of course there are things that can go wrong, but more things can go right. Funny that no one asks about that, no one asks about what I’m looking forward the most, or what I’m most confident about.
So, let’s answer these questions.
What are we looking forward to the most
I asked Yuri and he replied ‘the nice sceneries’. I totally agree, but what I’m looking forward even more I think is the freedom. I’ve travelled a lot in my life, even dedicated a study to it. I have lived in several countries and the feeling of freedom and the ability to explore the unknown has always made me feel so alive. I guess that’s what I’m looking forward to the most; driving and living in a van and the freedom that brings. And of course we look forward to the explorations into cultures we do not yet know, the incredible nature we will witness, the most delicious food we will taste.
Ah, there is so much we are looking forward to. From seeing our friends to meeting strangers, from eating food we know to food that is new to us and from driving in the mountains to driving in deserts. We are looking forward to strange money, languages and road signs. To waking up to the sound of birds to going to sleep in the quietest of places. Watching amazing sunrises and glorious sunsets, tasting all kinds of beers, wines and honey. Hiking great mountains and jumping in the most clear water. Visiting historical sights, religious places and crowded cities. Wearing flip-flops and sunglasses or hiking boots and outdoor clothing. Capturing memories by photo and film. Exploring the world together, sharing one of the most thrilling adventures of our lives together, travelling together.
What to miss and not to miss?
Yuri is going to miss running water, especially running water from The Hague – it’s delicious. I won’t miss a thing, but I will miss my family & friends. But it’s always a good kind of missing and the internet makes the world so small nowadays.
What will we not miss? I won’t miss the noise in the street when I’m trying to sleep (sorry people but I love the curfew). Well, and of course the waiting in line while grocery shopping, the diversion of Netflix, my mobile phone, internet and I won’t miss the hasty lifestyle of the Dutch.
Yuri will not miss the annoying and very busy traffic in The Netherlands. That’ll be fun when we drive through Istanbul, Teheran or Xi’an.
What are we most confident about
We are very confident that this is going to be one of the most amazing trips we will ever take and we will be taking so many beautiful photos, making wonderful memories and meeting the kindest of people. We are confident that when something happens we will be able to make the best of it, we are sure that we can turn bad things into good things and good things into even better ones, we are certain that luck is on our side.
We feel as confident about this trip as we are sure the sun will rise tomorrow. When people think about the bad things that can happen on a trip like this we think about the good things that will happen. Don’t forget that there is only bad because there is good, that there is dark because there is light and that safety doesn’t exist if there is no danger. No yin without yang.
When you feel confident, when you are positive, when you trust in luck, good things will happen.
Are we really not afraid that anything bad happens?
That corona doesn’t throw a spanner in the works?
Of course we know travelling during a pandemic has it’s challenges. Yes, we understand that driving an oldtimer is daring. But Covid-19 is a challenge at home as well, driving an oldtimer is always daring but has it’s charme, the world is always full of bad things that can happen. If you focus on the negativity it will happen to you. But if you focus on the good, the good will happen.
Four more days
So, now you know our mindset it’s time to focus on whats left to be done. And even though we have only four days left we have lots of work to do. We still need to finish the roof, sew the curtains, fix the couch/bed, get the solar panels to work, get new sunshades, install the door panels, fix some electricity issues. We need to install fog lights, get an oil sump and buy spare parts.
Besides that we need to move, so empty the house, clean the house, pack our stuff and leave the house. We’ve got four days and after that; freedom!
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It was our first date in 2015. Both a bit excited as we cycled to the pub. The weather was gloomy, and a bit wet, like cycling through a big cloud. It was quiet in the pub, good for us – at least we can hear each other.
Little did I, Milene, knew it soon became clear that Yuri came here more often. Yuri had just come back from his round the world trip of four months and I just came back from living abroad for 3 years. So, of course we had lots to talk about: countries, cultures, food, people, languages, adventures. We talked about all that we had experienced on our travels, laughed about the miscommunications and very Dutch habits, and about our dreams.
As I’ve been travelling alone for a while and stand my ground when it comes to achieving my goals and chasing my dreams I was quite clear to Yuri. First date, who cares!? So, I told Yuri my dream: “I would love to buy a Volkswagen van and drive to China with it. I want to follow the footsteps of Marco Polo, Alexander the Great and thousands of merchants, but in my own way. Not on a horse, boat or camel but in a van. I will chase my dream so you are either in, or you are out.”
It’s 2021 now, in 2 weeks we will be driving to China, together. So, (lucky for me) Yuri was in!
The Volkswagen Van
But, back to 2015. In May we had our first date and in November I bought a Volkswagen T2 van. Before going on a 10.000km trip we first needed to find out if this really was for us. Somethings are better when dreaming and become a nightmare when you are actually living the dream. So, we took some getting-used-to-the-van trips to Scotland, England & Wales. Oh and of course The Netherlands. Turns out we are made for this life. We don’t need lots of space, we don’t need luxury, we don’t need much. We are very happy parking the van in nature, washing in ice-cold rivers, cooking outside and not being able to stand while getting dressed when it’s raining outside. We are perfectly capable of living as nomads.
In the summer of 2020, right after the first wave of the epidemic, we decided it was time to plan our big trip. First things first, the van didn’t look so great. So we had to refurbish her, I write more about this in ‘The Volkswagen Van‘ post. And while most of the dents, rust and paintings were outsourced to people who are actually good at it (not me!) we were mapping the route, did lot of reading, finding out about the customs in countries, where we needed a visa, if we could actually cross borders while driving a car. We checked about corona measurements, places we really wanted to visit, people we wanted to meet.
And I can tell you, it takes a lot of time researching a trip like this. Not only do you need to know your car, you also need to know bits about the countries you will be driving through. Like the need to have a guide in some countries, local car insurance or like in China the need for a Chinese driver license.
For choosing the route we used Google Maps (love it!) and made our route from country to country, city to city and highlight to highlight. It’s not written in stone, it’s written on Google Maps, so this route can change at any time. But, check out our Silk Road Route here. You can see there are different routes we are thinking about, many highlights, many options. That’s the wonderful thing of travelling by van, you are free to drive wherever you want.
Traveling during a pandemic
When we tell people about our trip, we only get very positive reactions. A few ask us about Covid-19. For a year Covid-19 is changing the world, hanging as a thunder cloud above our heads and while the world is turning corona tries it best to slow it down. But, even though the virus has had a huge impact on the world, for many people it did stop the world turning and lots of people lost their lives or their loved ones because of it. It doesn’t mean we have to let corona rule our lives. A virus shouldn’t make decisions, it shouldn’t stop us from dreaming and chasing those dreams, a pandemic shouldn’t tell us what we can or cannot do.
That said, we have to deal with the regulations made by our governments, we have to be careful, keep our distances and wear face masks. And I know that our governments say travelling is a luxury and you should only travel when it’s absolutely necessary. But, there are so many countries that depend on tourism. So many places for which tourism is the main economy. Poverty increases, inequality increases, depression increases. While driving through so many countries we will be taking precautions and we will be careful not to spread the disease. Hell, I think we will be tested more than any person on earth, so I guess if we get sick we will know quite soon and are able to go in quarantine on a mountain where we can infect no-one.
We will be driving dusty roads, bending mountain trails and through Covid-19 obstacles. It will be a different journey than we ever imagined; less crowded on normally very crowded cities, a visa in every country we pass in the form of a PCR-test and having to deal with curfews, closed borders, quarantine and more. Nonetheless it will be a journey of a lifetime, and a very special one.
Impossible is not a word in our dictionary, adventure is. When someone says we can’t, we will. Obstacles are just challenges in disguise.
In 2015 I bought my second car. From a Mini Cooper 1300 to a Volkswagen Van T2. I was quite lucky when I found this precious on the internet. The van had been used by a French man who only drove from The Netherlands to France and back with the van every year. The van wasn’t perfect, it had lots of rusty bits, some dents and the most ugly colour ever. But the engine, which is the most important part, worked as ever before!
So, November 2015 (she just became 39 years) I bought the van. Of course I had a goal buying it. Not only was it a smart investment (these vans only increase in value) but it was an essential part of one of my dreams. That dream being; driving to China along the silk road. But before that dream could come true lots had to be done.
First we had to discover if we actually like sleeping in a van. Cause, well, it’s not a camper, it’s not a house on wheels, it’s not big. We travelled to Scotland, England, Wales. We crossed through The Netherlands and ventured into Germany. For four years we explored travelling with and in a van. And after five years living together in The Hague we felt it was time for the next step.
That next step being; it’s time for Alexine (yes she has a name) to get rid of the rusty bits, the dents and that awful colour. With some help of VW Airhouse we took care of her. The dent now being in our wallets but oh my is she a beauty. She isn’t perfect, but neither are we. Actually, who is? To us she is amazing. She looks amazing, she drives wonderful and we have so much fun in her.
Summer 2020 we decided before we can drive to China we actually need to know a bit more about her, so we joined a car maintenance course. A week full of lessons about the car engine, fixing tires, changing oil. We changed the break fuel, finally had time to start emptying the interior and changed the spark plugs amongst other things. It was a week in which we got to know more about our van but also met a great bunch of people with vans of their own.
In the mean time Alexine became 53, she might be old but she’s still going strong. She got a new interior, solar panels on the roof and a beautiful roof rack. We managed to paint her internally, got a new radio and new chairs. To ventilate her a bit more we changed the back windows so we can open them and put isolation so we won’t be freezing to death.
I was thinking of writing a lot of blogs about our work, about her transformation, about preparations but I found out that’s not really my thing. Even though I love working on her (sometimes) I do not enjoy writing every little detail. Besides, we did outsource a lot of the work. Call us lazy but I just want things to be done well and as I am not a perfectionist, neither is it my hobby to work on cars I figured this would save me a lot of stress, disappointments and frustration. And I guess I’m more the adventure type writer.
But, if you have any questions about our work, the van, the engine, solar panels, changing oil, breaks, fixing rusty bits etc. Send us a message!
Hi there! We are Milene & Yuri. We are travelling the world together since 2015. Our endless curiosity and will to explore has resulted in many cool, and somewhat extreme, adventures. On MYgrations you'll read all about our adventures, you'll find lots of information about the countries we visit you won't find anywhere else and more. Enjoy!
We’re also grammin’
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