Vanlife Stories : Project Meraki (Farzan, Julie and baloo)

We met Farzan (Like Tarzan but with an F not a T), Julie and their beautiful home on wheels Baloo on our travels through Portugal. We first got chatting with them through insta and after some leapfrogging of each others vans as we both came down the west coast of Portugal, we finally met up in Lisbon for an evening. We instantly clicked and have kept in touch since, read on below to find out about their journey from living in Amsterdam to living in their van!

Who are you?

Hi! We are Julie (26) and Farzan (28), a Dutch couple who used to live in Amsterdam. December 2017, we bought our Mercedes 609D from 1988 together, which used to be an ambulance of the German military. We called him Baloo (our big and indestructible beast who will protect us during our travels, ha ha!)

A bit of background info about us:

Julie - studied International Hotel Management but decided to teach yoga/breathing techniques/meditation after graduation that’s what she loves doing most. Creating a safe space where people can step out of the daily rushes of life to get in touch with themselves. She also practices Reiki, LOVES cooking (mostly vegetarian), chocolate, lavender essential oil, and creating handmade jewellery/van decorations with shells and other natural pearls and materials (more on website soon)

Farzan - has a background in International Business and entrepreneurship (familiar in the start-up world, consulting and sales training). After his master he also did a course on life coaching, which is a natural talent of his and was born to do (Julie’s words). His first thought every morning when he wakes up is: what are we having for breakfast today?! Plus, he loves having these coffee-with-a-cooking moments, at least once a day.

Why did you choose vanlife?

When we met, we realized that the both of us love travelling and exploring. It always dwelled in our minds to somehow travel the world together but we did not necessarily picture living in a van. That came across our path later. We do not believe in coincidence. And then the first sign came along: one day when driving home by car, we saw a super cool van! It was a VW L35, which used to be an old fire truck. Without thinking, Julie wrote a note saying ‘is this van for sale?’ and stuck it under the wiper shields. The man called us back saying that it wasn’t for sale but he gave us lots of tips and addresses where we could search further. A few weeks later, we were sure we wanted to live the vanlife. We were researching what type of van we wanted and many people told us that the Mercedes 508D or 609D are good options for a world trip. Lots of the ambulances and fire trucks were well maintained and have very little mileage. Therefore, we chose this type of van. We found ours online! Also, since they’re quite old, they’re easy to repair anywhere in the world compared to newly built vans. In addition, it’s quite easy to find missing parts in any country.

How did you convert Baloo

When we finally had our Baloo, we worked on it on and off for about a year (we started converting around March 2018), without any previous DIY experience. We learnt so much along the way, especially Julie… who went from super impatient to kind of patient .

We had several criteria: 1) good quality, 2) low cost, 3) aesthetically beautiful and 4) lightweight materials. So that means that most of our time was dedicated to research. We definitely did not want to rush the planning phase even though we were really looking forward to starting the practical part. When it came to the practical stuff, luckily Fars dad is very skilled and was super helpful with installing the electricity. He supported us with many other tasks, which taught us so much! As time went on, the conversion took place and in the meantime, Julie was buying/making all the details already (door knobs, spice rack, fruit basket, pillows, covers for the mattress etc).

One thing we really wanted to do was to give Baloo a new look by painting him from the outside. But then winter came along and Baloo was parked outside. So we found an amazing young couple who was willing to host us in their warehouse (this couple was also converting their newly bought sailing boat to live on it, so we had much to share ;-) ). We painted Baloo by hand by the way, with a roller! (Emily - And it looks amazing!!)

Who are your vanlife inspirations?

From the beginning we were on the same page when it came to the aesthetics of the interior. We both wanted a bright, homely, natural look with lots of wood/bamboo/wicker/natural colors (brown, blue, green, beige…). Most of the inspiration came from Pinterest for that.

For the practical stuff, we got inspired via Youtube.

We were also part of a facebook page including people who own this type of van. Then you’re sure to get the right advice, or contacts/addresses you need.

We are writing the full conversion process of baloo as we speak including choices/materials and sources of inspiration which you can find on our website soon!

Vanlife experience so far?

We both agree that the vanlife is the best thing that could’ve happened to us. We sold all of our belongings, excessive clothes and stuff, quit our jobs, and left our apartment. All we own fits into Baloo! We also agreed that we didn't want to cling on to a specific timeline/deadline. No attachments. We want to leave the path completely open to whatever comes up. No looking ahead, no looking back. Rather just living in the now and enjoying the beauty that comes along. It might be a new project that attract us, or a country where we’d like to settle, whatever it is, we are open. We are completely letting go of control and rather letting our path evolve to the natural rhythm of things, working with a principal of minimal effort . In the meantime, we are having such diverse adventures and we are learning so much about cultures, countries, people, and food (we LOVE food), but we feel it is also an inner journey. Lots of things are circulating, which triggers our personal development daily. We love that about vanlife. We also love the fact that we can spend so much time together everyday, growing in this together and really doing what we love. That was the whole idea behind vanlife. It’s about making our dreams reality rather than allowing our doubtful thoughts to stand in the way of our dreams. We are very proud to have crossed that bridge. And now, in the end we realize that all the worries about money, ‘career’, time,… was all for nothing hahaaaa! When people ask us: ‘how did you do it?’. We reply, ‘just decide, start doing, and the rest goes naturally.’

What are the BEST bits?

Waking up everyday with the feeling of a new adventure, perfect balance between nature and cities you get to choose your backyard every single day! Slow and simple/mindful living. The core of what life is about in our eyes.Balance between work/life/personal development. No more watching or paying attention to the days of the week. We sleep when we are tired, eat when we are hungry, work when we feel it is needed, … We feel worriless! And lastly meeting new people, and getting to know their story.

What are the Worst bits?

There are no worst bits in our opinion. However, the daily stuff takes up much more time than in a regular household (dishwashing, refilling the water tank, finding showers/WC, cooking, doing groceries, tidying up, switching from bed to couch, laundry…). However, it does not bother us at all, but we can imagine that if you step into this lifestyle with an idealistic vision of it being easy, we guess that it could become a bit of a burden for some.

Vanlife Must Haves?

  1. Wet-wipes, especially for the ones without a shower and the ladies on their moon cycle (real talk)

  2. IKEA storage boxes! So easy to store stuff in an efficient way.

  3. Nothing leaks shower bag. Naturally heated by the sun, put it on the roof and voila, you have a hot shower in case you cannot find a shower anywhere for a few days and start to need it a little haha.

  4. The essential DIY tools. We can promise that you will need to fix something in your van, and it’s going to be much sooner than you think. Think Lloyd and Emily can agree on that ;) (Lloyd - It's true we can)

  5. Yoga/sports mat, and elastic bands to exercise. We love yoga and sports but cannot go the gym daily anymore so this is the perfect solution! We still go to gyms every now and then for a ‘try out’, we get a free day pass, get to exercise, go to the sauna AND take a hot shower (naughty we know but sometimes you just need a hot shower!)

  6. Real wax candles that work on batteries, and other garland lights, they give the van an extra homey touch.

  7. For us one of the number 1 things: Good kitchen gear (pans, blender, fridge…) for yummie meals!! We also recommend a 4-burner stove. IKEA ‘GRUNDTAL’ rack. Best choice! We can literally hang anything on it (keys, jewellery, photographs, paper towel…) and also gives Baloo a nice deco touch.

  8. Plates, bowls and cups made from recycled bamboo. Doesn’t break when you make a sharp turn while driving ;)

  9. A hammock!

  10. And lastly the best thing when in nature is incense for the stinky smells that stay around, especially after cooking with lots of garlic and onions haha!

Vanlife do withouts

A toilet (we haven’t used the one we bought once). We have been peeing in a plastic box since the start and went to public toilets or in the nature for ‘the rest’. There is a lot more hassle trying to find a place where you can empty your portable toilet than it is to find a public toilet or a bush haha.

What does Vanlife look like for you now?

We drove from Amsterdam to France, the Basque region of Spain, the north-south coast of Portugal, the south coast of Spain in Andalusia, and that’s where we are now! We are living day to day, driving slowly.

We are also working on different projects that we will elaborate on on our website soon. But what we can tell you is that it has to do with a ‘mindfulness coffee concept’ and a ‘pop up happiness workshop’, which is about finding your true happiness. (Emily and I already know and think its a great idea!) We believe that true happiness is to be found within, and that living in a van doesn’t mean you will find happiness outside yourself. We did not ‘escape’ Amsterdam. We left the city and all we owned when we were experiencing peaks of joy. We were not trying to find happiness elsewhere. It is a feeling we have inside of us. And this is what we want to share with others in our own unique way. It’s slowly taking shape. More soon on our website.

What might yours and Baloo's future look like?

We don’t necessarily make fixed plans ahead. But we do have something in mind. JAPAN and SUSHIIIIIIII!!! How will we get there? We are not sure but it will see probably be through the ‘’-STAN’’ countries.

Before then we intend to visit the coast from Slovenia to Greece.

We are also dreaming about a 4x4 in the future.. to cross east/south Africa. But these are ideas for later.

What advice would you give to future vanlifers?

We would say, do your research, learn from other Vanlifers and their stories. But at some point you have to just stop thinking and just dive into it, make the first real steps. Because you can think and plan for ages if you have no previous experience on this lifestyle. But the true lessons will come once you will start. You will manage naturally, we promise!

Something completely different that we are very very happy about is that we did not build any storage cabinets above our bed. We wanted to keep it spacious and open, and it helps us avoid knocking our head against them!

Instead, and since Baloo is 2M high and we can stand inside it, we built a raised floor underneath the bed. That is where we store extra stuff. Well hidden and way more spacious.

what tips and tricks have you learned that you would pass on?

  1. Park4Night is the must-have app, almost everyone is using it. Saves us enormous amount of time! Thanks park4night!

  2. When in Europe, Lidl is a supermarket which is always the first option we look for on google maps. Lidl’s are everywhere! They offer lots of cheap and fresh food and most Lidl’s have free and clean public toilets. Since there is always plenty of parking space, we like to park Baloo there when we want to visit a city, knowing there are always people around. It’s usually walking distance from city centres.

  3. If you have don't have a deadline like catching a plane, then switch of paid toll ways in Google maps options. This will save you lots of money, will give you far nicer views as you will be driving through the smaller roads and towns.

  4. When cooking, make a lot! We always prepare food for 4 people so we can eat it the next day for lunch. This saves us a lot of time. Make no-bake brownies (We have a recipe on our insta) make a whole bunch of them!! The base is made out of dates and so you can keep them for approx a month in the fridge. Super yummie during rainy days with a cup of tea ☺

  5. A funny trick we discovered: when parking up somewhere, we place a pan on the stove, put a tiny bit of water in it and see where the water falls. Then we directly know if we’re standing straight! (we do not have these blocks with us where a lot of vans drive on..)

A massive thank you guys for taking the time to be a part of our Vanlife Stories series.

If you liked reading about their story and journey head over to Instagram and give them a follow at @Project_Meraki_ so that you'll be the first to know when their blog goes live. Their blog will cover their full van conversion tips/tricks, resources, do’s & don’ts. Who they are and what they do (what and where you can find them with their projects/workshops) and a Recipes Blog

For those reading, if you are converting or living in your van and would like to be featured get in touch either through our Instagram or through our contact us page!

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