In a short space of time I went from believing my vegan cafe would one day rule the world to feeling like I needed to leave my cafe and go see the world. So why did I decide to leave my hometown to travel Europe in a converted Sprinter camper van?
About a year ago, my husband, Andy, and I started talking about how we really wanted to go to Amsterdam for a month or more and spend time exploring it’s beautiful canals, windmills and vegan cafes by bicycle. My one condition: I must be able to bring my miniature poodle, Peanut, along for the ride (literally). Anyone who knows me well knows that me and Peanut are essentially one being in two bodies. We are obsessed with each other, and I love nothing more than bringing her along with me on my adventures.
Our Amsterdam adventure was, of course, hypothetical. The Plant Academy cafe was all I had time to think about and I certainly couldn’t leave the cafe for more than two to three days at a time. Even when I did take those two to three days away I was filled with anxiety about what was happening at the cafe at that moment. The idea of going on an extended trip to The Netherlands was a distant dream, but something we would still talk of from time to time, imagining ourselves cycling around Amsterdam’s many parks together, drinking oat milk lattes in the sun, and Peanut’s ear’s flapping lightly in the wind as she enjoyed the view on the front of my bike.
When we decided to close the cafe and explore other options, we realised we needed a break. Headspace would be essential for The Plant Academy’s future, and where better to have some headspace than The Netherlands? We realised our dream could become reality.
Since our dog, Peanut, was a big part of our trip we started looking up driving there and checking out Airbnb’s that would let us stay with her there. Even in the most unusual parts of The Netherlands we found it to be expensive, and inspired by friends and our trip in Quirky Camper’s ‘Sir James’ camper last winter, we decided to open our minds to the idea of buying a camper van and seeing The Netherlands for a month or so that way. Not only would it keep Peanut feeling settled and comfortable whilst we traveled, it would also give us the opportunity of many weekend breaks whilst we were still running the cafe.
We looked around and couldn’t really find any van’s that we liked in our price range, and then a lovely couple turned up in our lives who were also vegan and converted panel van’s for a living. Could we be any luckier in that moment?! We saw the van they had just finished and it was beautiful, unique and in our price range. We wanted something slightly different and asked if they had any projects lined up and would they consider building us a van. They had another project coming up but agreed to hold it off a couple of months and built us a beautiful converted 2012 LWB Sprinter camper van for the price we could afford. We loved working with them and getting to make so many decisions with them on our van. I know that a fair amount of people who want a camper van convert their own vans to maximise their money and to make all the creative decisions themselves. Those people are way more skilled in that area that me. I can bake an amazing vegan cake, or cook you the best vegan meal you’ve ever eaten, but ask me to use a drill… yeah, it wouldn’t end well. So getting to have the input you’d have of a self build with out the ‘self’ part was such a luxury we hadn’t expected, and one we will always be grateful for having. If any of you are interested in our friends Annie and Anthony’s camper building business you can check it out here.
We loved going away each weekend in our new camper van. We would keep things affordable by wild camping most of the time, meaning we don’t stay at campsites, instead opting for ‘wild’ locations.
Usually these are not-so-wild pretty park ups in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales, or along the side of canals, and once at a nice park in Brighton. Of course we have had the odd not so glamorous night in a camper friendly car park on long journeys South.
In March, around the same time as we bought our van, the lease ended on our flat in Waterloo. We loved living there, right by the beach, but couldn’t afford it in the long run knowing that we wanted to go traveling for a short time, and had no guaranteed income from the end of April, since the cafe was only 4 weeks away from closing. It made sense to move back to my parent’s house in Southport temporarily. The van became the only space we had that was ‘ours’ and since we had such involvement in it’s interior, it was a space we felt happy, comfortable and at home in.
I can’t tell you exactly when, but at some point in the past few weeks, I went from being convinced I wanted to make The Plant Academy a success as a pop up business to feeling so lost and unsure and unenthusiastic about the possibilities of pop up’s. That’s not to say we won’t do something along these lines in the future but I suddenly felt like this wasn’t the right decision for me or The Plant Academy right now. I just wanted a bit of freedom.
It was this that made us realise that life wasn’t going to cost us any more abroad than it would in Southport, considering we already have the van and all it’s insurance and other costs. We’d budgeted for a certain amount of money and time before we needed to be making money again and decided we may as well spend that time exploring Europe.
We left this week and are now on the road indefinitely! It’s such an exciting time for us, and of course, our first stop is The Netherlands.
I’ve packed my bike and Peanut’s dog carrier that fits on the front. After we’ve thoroughly explored The Netherlands’ cycle lanes, our current plan is to head North for summer to Sweden and eat our body weight in Oatly chocolate ice cream whilst enjoying the natural beauty this country has to offer in it’s mild summer temperatures. Assuming we want to stay out past summer, we will most likely drive to Spain and Portugal for the winter months so that we can still see the sun, even in December.
I felt so broken when I wrote that blog post two months ago explaining why were closing, it was such a difficult thing for me to put out there. But I feel like by sharing more of my struggles and reality I’ve been able to connect with many of you even more and I’ve learnt a lot about myself personally. The struggles of the past couple of months have turned in to blessings. And whilst I still feel utterly lost, I’m feeling more positive and determined than I have been recently.
Love and Good Vibes, Ellie x