Mirte van Dijk’s parents are the original van lifers. The 32-year-old spent her childhood traveling with her hippie folks all over Europe in bulbous “tube” van. “They got kids very young but kept on doing what they wanted,” she explains. “And that was traveling around Europe. So we always went away with the van, this van.” Van Dijk’s parents camped, explored mountain ranges, and sea shores in a Citroën type HY van, raising her and her siblings along the way. Her parents continue to travel today. “Somehow the Netherlands is nice to come back to, but maybe a bit too boring for all of us to stay in the same country the whole time,” van Dijk jokes.
A few years ago, while traveling of course, van Dijk met Sébastien Jam, a kindred spirit from France, and the two began dating. They have been inseparable since. Both create digital media for travel brands. Quite literally, travel is work. For van Dijk, van life isn’t a social media fad. It’s all she’s ever known. “The funny thing I realize now is that I can live everywhere and am not attached easily,” she explains. “I don’t have a home, I travel light, and am not materialistic. Yet, I couldn’t imagine having a life without this van. It’s the reason I am who I am now.”
Year, Make, and Model of van?
A 1977 Citroën type HY. Also called “tube” in France.
What’s the story behind the vehicle’s name?
We call the van Mister H for two reasons. The “H” stands for the type. Citroën calls some versions just “Type H,” instead of “HY.” And “Mister” is out of respect. We treat the van like a human being. It’s funny. We get a bad feeling when he is alone too long, when we don’t take him for a drive for few days in a row, or when we sleep over at friends and not in the van. We get worried when there is too much wind, the road is too steep, or when it’s raining like crazy. And we talk a bit to Mister H too. When the van is happy, he will keep driving.
How did you get it?
In 1977, my father bought it brand new. Actually it’s even more special than that. His father passed away way too young and with the little bit of money he left behind, my father bought this van. As long as we can remember, my brother and sister and I went with my parents on adventures during the summer; mostly three to five weeks criss-crossing Europe. And something broke every trip. My father wrote these things down on postcards. He bought a postcard to document the stories of our trips at every village, castle, and campsite we have been.
How did you modify it?
When my father bought the van it was empty, just a square box. He built a kitchen, bench/bed, and table that was all very practical for us. But when I was born, the van was actually a bit too small for five people to sleep inside, so he never finished making the “big bed.” My parents always slept outside in a tent while my siblings and I slept in the van. This summer, Sébastien and I finally finished the work my father once started. Now there is a big bed for two people. That was the only thing we had to fix, because the rest is how it was back in the day. Just bit of fresh paint and I made new curtains and pillows. Not many modifications in the last forty years, even the entire inside. The engine, brakes, and transmission are still original.
What do you do for a living?
We work as digital nomads and create visual and editorial content for media, brands, and companies in the travel and outdoor scene. What I do for fun is living. Really, my life is work to travel and travel to work. Sure, I work too much sometimes, like the past two months for example, but it would be worse if our work wasn’t travel related. I don’t feel good when staying in one place too long. It has always been like that. I need a change of scenery all the time. In my case, traveling is the only solution to not being cranky
How many places has it visited? Most memorable place or adventure?
Mister H has been to about every country in Europe over the last forty years. And there are so many memories. There is not one particular moment or adventure that really stands out above another. Every trip was so full of adventures. Things are happening all the time, like breaking down in the middle of the road during a heavy rain, drinking coffee with the police that try to help out, meeting dozens of people, being unable to drive up a road that’s too steep, and rolling backwards after that, wild camping on the most beautiful spots (we have the best camouflage color), being photographed a million times, and so on and so on.
Sports done along the way?
We’ve been doing a lot recently. We were in the Alps for some mountain biking in Austria and a big freeboarding event in Switzerland. It’s like snowboarding but on the streets, comparable to long boarding. After that we drove the French Alps to the Mediterranean Sea to spend some time with good friends that are into kite surfing. We lived there in a teepee for five months last year, so it was a bit like coming back home. Right now, we are heading to the Pyrenees for ten days of hiking and camping. The van stays in the valley.
Pros of van ownership?
You feel at home where you park. You feel free. You go wherever you want and a van is really a magnet for adventure. If you like an easy holiday or get away that always goes as planned, don’t go for van life.
Cons of van ownership?
Travel with an old van is not always easy. Breakdowns and dealing with impassible roads is tough. Sometimes the road is too steep and driving slow can give some stress if you’re not used to it. You always drive together, never alone, because you get tired easily and you need each other to deal with traffic. You can’t park everywhere and finding some spots for wild camping can be a big mission here in Europe. Also, a van needs a lot of time, money, and creativity.
Advice for others looking to do a similar adventure?
If you dream of it then go for it. Do it, seriously. It’s an experience you will definitely not want to miss. But don’t expect rainbows and unicorns all the time, because van life can be tough. Especially when you combine it with digital nomading.