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Married Couple’s Portugal Camper Van Life

Mónica and João are an amazing couple who have overcome a lot of adversity in the last seven years! They now live part-time in an adorable camper conversion. I’ll let them tell their story….

Having a motorhome was an old dream of ours. When we met, about 7 years ago, we immediately arranged a trip to Gerês (North of Portugal) a week after we started dating. And over the last few years we have been cultivating a taste for discovering other realities, traveling through Portugal and across borders. We got married in 2021 and the wedding theme was traveling, so it has always been something that brought us together…

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Exploring Portugal in Parreirinha The Campervan

However, it was only after we had overcome several losses and painful moments together that we decided to buy a motorhome. In March 2018 my father passed away, my mother was diagnosed with advanced dementia in a country where we still do not have the best infrastructures required to deal with mental health issues and I had just moved to a professional project that did not match my expectations.

I hit rock bottom, had a panic attack, and ended up in the hospital. It was there I realized that a misfortune never comes alone. Over time, with the help of my husband, friends and with a change of company/job, I was able to get on my feet again. During the pandemic, life decided to give us another “slap in the face”: both my husband’s parents passed away in 2021, within 6 months. It was a year that had everything to go well because it was the year we got married and bought a house close to my husband’s family, and then this happened to us.

During our grieving process, in February 2022 we started watching the Ricky Gervais’ “After Life” series on Netflix. We thought that a comedy would be good to cheer us up. However, and not wanting to be a spoiler, the series addresses the protagonist’s grieving process after the death of his wife with cancer. As my husband’s parents died of oncologic diseases and these might have a strong component of heredity associated, I couldn’t stop thinking that one day it could be me going through that situation. My husband and I cried together on the living room couch at the end of an episode and that’s when we decided to act, to change our mindset and turn the page.

After all, life is too short and we have to enjoy it while we’re here. I went straight to an online classifieds platform that night and saw pictures of a vintage yellow van that I immediately fell in love with. The following weekend we went to see it and bought it! It was exactly what I was looking for: a different and lovely van. We nicknamed the van “Parreirinha”, in honour of the place where our love story was born, Parreira (Santarém district, in the center of Portugal). It is important to clarify that we do not live in the motorhome full time, but we travel in it almost every weekend and vacation time.

Parreirinha is a 1978 Ford Transit that was renovated by the previous owners. We just personalized the stickers to our own story and trips, removed the old ones and removed the drawings that it had on the bonnet. Most recently, we asked a specialized mechanical workshop to paint the caravan because the ink was already coming off. We also redecorated the interior of the van (small things, like cushions, blankets and other decoration details). More modifications should come in the future, but for now we are happy with it.

Having a motorhome has changed our lives for the better! Having the freedom to travel in our tiny home, with our companion and everything we need, and waking up in a different place, is a priceless experience! The simple fact of planning the next trip already makes us very happy and helps us to have strength for another week of work!

I am a Human Resources Manager and my husband is a Lawyer, and since the pandemic we have been working essentially remotely, even in this post-pandemic phase where we are seeing some companies forcing employees to return to the office. We are lucky to have professions and work for employers that allow us to combine vanlifestyle with work and to make money thanks to that.

Sometimes we work from the van, combining weekend trips with occasional visits to the office or court, which we necessarily must do because of our job’s responsibilities. For example, we went to spend a long weekend at a campsite by the beach, and João had a trial in that city on Monday. He went to the trial and I stayed working remotely in Parreirinha.

We don’t live full time in the motorhome, so we are able to deal better with the
challenges of this lifestyle. There are some peculiarities that do not allow us to live in a motorhome or spend more time travelling:
– the fact that we occasionally have to go to the court or office as part of our work
– the fact that we have 2 cats that don’t love vanlife and we don’t want them to feel stressed on the trips, so they only travel with us on short trips close to home
– the fact that my mother is sick and I want to be with her every week

When traveling in a motorhome, there are some challenges to consider, namely:
– the small space (which impacts the level of comfort and the number of things like clothes, food and drinks we take);
– the water use limit;
– the concern with the use of electricity to not damage the batteries and jeopardize the circulation of the motorhome;
– the challenge of driving and parking a larger vehicle, etc.
With good travel planning, all of this can be resolved!

On the other hand, some of the most rewarding parts are the beginning of a journey, knowing that we have a fantastic adventure ahead of us; breakfasts in Parreirinha with the homemade coffee that tastes so good; when at the end of the day we watch a series from HBO or Netflix in the comfort of our tiny house, and much more!

We recently created an Instagram page for Parreirinha* with 3 goals:

1) Inspire others to understand what makes them happy and work towards it, just like we did! Life is too short to keep putting off plans indefinitely (whether they consist of buying a motorhome or something else that makes people happy)
2) Share some tips for those who want to take their first steps in vanlife
3) Share some trip suggestions, where to eat and where to stay overnight, according to our trips in Parreirinha.

It has been very rewarding to see that through this Instagram page, Parreirinha is recognized on its routes around Portugal; feel that we are inspiring others to follow their dreams through the stories they share with us on the Instagram and seeing this project grow with media attention (our story has already been published in the best Portugal’s travel magazine and on the main Portuguese lifestyle websites). It has been very gratifying to see that we have been able to “touch” people with our story of overcoming obstacles and helping them to follow their passions and what makes them happy.

If you want to live this lifestyle, it is very important to manage expectations, because not everything is as beautiful and perfect as it appears on Instagram! There are some challenges like those mentioned above, which require a good management of expectations and planning.

If you intend to live full-time in a motorhome, it is important to first ensure that you have the financial security to do so. Not all professions allow you to work remotely, and even those that do, sometimes you have to negotiate this condition with your company/employer. Check also some examples of online job roles that we mentioned above: it’s never too late to do a professional reconversion, if that means following our dreams!

Compared to other types of travel, traveling in a motorhome is cheap, but there are always costs to take into account such as diesel, food, expenses inherent to the vehicle, and it is advisable to always have some money aside because unforeseen events happen (e.g. an expensive mechanical problem or health problems).

We also recommend that you check out the places where you can park safely with your motorhome, on apps like Park4night. We like to stay at campsites because they have all the services we need and we can spend the night quietly and safely.

One thing that has come in handy for us when traveling is having a Wi-FI hotspot so we can watch our series and movies, be able to work, research what to visit in the places where we are going, put the GPS on and research where to stay overnight. We use a Vodafone hotspot, as they are the global telecom operator, and it works fine. With good planning anything is possible!

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Our big thanks to Mónica and João for sharing! 🙏

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Natalie C. McKee

Natalie C. McKee is a contributor for Tiny House Talk and the Tiny House Newsletter. She's a wife, and mama of three little kids. She and her family are homesteaders with sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and quail on their happy little acre.

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