“He lifts the cap off the Leffe Royale and each in turn, we take a sip. We sit in silence. I stare into the distance and spot a few wild moose. A few days ago, I asked Ben to stop for a picture of the first one we came across – by now I’ve lost count of how many we’ve passed. My legs feel tense and my feet sore. The 8 kilometer walk that led us here guided us along streams and rocks and through rough nature. I can’t find the right words to describe what’s in front of me, but I’ll forever hold this moment dear. I never dreamed of this place, but here I am: the North Cape. Added to our itinerary by mere coincidence, but serving as a kind note to self: the places that have impressed and surprised me the most, were never the ones on my bucket list.”
“Esther was a colleague of mine. We were the same age and got along well. When she suddenly got sick, the doctors assumed it was pneumonia. It wasn’t. At 21, she unexpectedly passed away from a pulmonary embolism. It was the first time I was confronted with the loss of someone so young and close to me. Esther’s death made me face the fact tomorrow is never guaranteed. Throughout the years, what happened to her has been a lingering reminder for me to take action.
More with less
I had long had the dream of living abroad. After spending my childhood summer holidays on campsites in France, I had slowly started exploring more of the world with my first serious boyfriend. We travelled to Greece and Turkey together – and after those trips, the itch to discover new places became a constant companion. In my first job at a large multinational, I worked with international colleagues and really enjoyed the experience. A few years later, giving in to the call to take action and move abroad, I asked my employer if I could take a 6-month leave of absence to volunteer. They declined. Not long after, I handed in my resignation letter and decided to take a full year off instead.
I ended up in Canada on a working holiday permit. I can still see myself in my old bedroom, struggling to pack, because there was only so much I could take in one suitcase. Looking back, it was the first time I realised how little you actually need. Ever since, I’ve become way less materialistic. Before, I had several pairs of shoes; different colours that matched different outfits. But moving around from one place to the next requires you to prioritise and let go of unnecessary stuff. The consumption society we live in wants us to believe otherwise, but in the end, we all know it: happiness isn’t tied to owning things.
Five weeks after I returned from Canada, I fell in love with Ben. Everything came full circle: I met him while on a campsite in France with my parents. He was there with his. Both of our families had been regulars, so they knew each other. One day, Ben’s dad invited me to go fishing with them the next week. When I arrived at their car that early Wednesday morning, Ben was the only one in it. It wasn’t until we drove away from the campsite that I realised his dad had set us up.
Mission accomplished: before long, I was head over heels. We spent the next year doing long distance; I went to see him in his hometown of Cornwall as often as I could. After twelve months of travelling back and forth, he joined me in the Netherlands. He continued his online teaching job and we settled in a rental house close to the office I worked at. Life was good, but I knew it could be better. I just couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to move abroad again.
We eventually did – and called Malta home for three years. We found jobs, made friends, and moved apartments five times. While we built a new life on the island, we always knew it wouldn’t be our final destination. We started looking into France instead; both of us had fond memories and it’d be close enough to our families. Since we had no clue where in the country we wanted to settle down, we started talking about buying a camper van. It would allow us to travel around and see which place felt most like home.
We bought our camper in 2019 and named her Valery. While we were patching her up to prep our drive through France, I spotted stunning pictures of Norway on a friend’s Facebook account. I showed them to Ben. We agreed to take a detour and travel there first. Ever since we made that impromptu decision at our kitchen table, we’ve crossed 16 European countries off our list. When we started our adventure on the road, we had the final destination in mind – now we’re just enjoying the journey. We have no idea when we’ll put Valery to rest, but take every day as it comes.
Finding my voice
Regardless of societal expectations, I pave my own path – but fighting the current hasn’t always been easy. A few people who’re close to me say they accept my choices, but make it clear my decisions would never be theirs. It weighs on me sometimes, not experiencing the approval I’d get if I was living a more standard life. My decisions have impacted other relationships too: I’ve parted ways with several friends who didn’t understand or support me anymore. Those shifts are difficult, but my self confidence has evolved over the past years. A Mexican teacher once told me: “Believe in yourself, have faith and be patient.” I often remind myself of his wise words.
Ben and I make the most of this life we chose. We’re the type that works to live, not the other way around. What I love about Valery is the freedom she gives us. If we both get off work on time, we jump on our motorbike and explore the area we’re staying at. Or we head out to a park to exercise in the open air. We don’t plan too far ahead; if we want to extend our stay somewhere, we do – if not, we move to the next place. Our lifestyle has connected us closer to nature too: at the first ray of sunshine, we bring our morning tea or laptop outside. Sure, we have to be well prepared in case of storms or freezing temperatures, but I’ll never get bored of waking up to the sound of birds every morning.”