Van Life: Issia
The culture of “vanlife” isn’t just based in the U.S.; there are people all over the world taking to their vehicles to explore the planet on their own. Issia (@issia85_vangirl), a French model, sold her possessions and left everything behind to move into her camper van “Cacou” to travel across the E.U. She made it to 28 countries in six months on her own before COVID struck and she “passed the torch” by selling her van to another young woman.
Vehicle type: 1992 Volkswagen LT35 2.4 tdi 95cv high roof, already fitted out and fully equipped
Time spent in van: 9 months (a European road trip of 28 countries during 6 months in 2019)
Hometown: Marseille in France
Average monthly expenses : Not as much as 6 months trip by airplanes, hotels and restaurants! But more than the vanlifers who take their time living "the slowlife."
What made you decide to move into a van?
Issia: I discovered vanlife in the US. I traveled by van through the American West and I loved this mix of adventure, nature, and comfort.
What were you doing before that?
Issia: I am a former collaborator of architect who does modeling in France and loves to travel around the world. I have already traveled along backpacking before doing my full tour of the E.U. alone in a campervan.
Where are you living right now?
Issia: I’m living in Marseille to be with my friends and family.
How does perception of vanlife differ between some of the countries you’ve visited?
Issia: A woman alone in a campervan in France is still quite rare unlike other countries such as Australia, for example, where it's better integrated into customs.
What do you do for work?
Issia: I saved money before leaving and left everything! I left my apartment, sold my furniture, my belongings, my car…and I did two modeling missions in France during my trip.
How did you shower?
Issia: I didn’t take showers, I took baths! My truck was very well-equipped. I had a large water reserve (120L), a water heater to have hot water, and a sink with a hose. I didn’t have a shower tray but an 80cm diameter roll-out bathtub (long-live the dog pools!)
What’s something that surprised you about living this lifestyle?
Issia: FREEDOM AND PEACE! Imagine your house on wheels and the possibility of changing your garden and landscape every day while maintaining all your comfort, magic! Every day in harmony with nature and in the evening, enjoying the most beautiful sunsets lying on your bed!
What are some of the ups and downs of van life?
Issia: Only positive! I did not find any negatives! Often people ask me if I didn’t feel alone, absolutely not! I think “loneliness” is a state of mind. I left alone but I never felt lonely. First of all, it feels good to be alone and to take time for yourself. And you meet a lot of people, locals but also other travelers and vanlifers. And then there is 4G almost everywhere. ;)
What are some elements you added to your van that are unique or that you personally wanted?
Issia: I put on a light garland and I took my teddy bear and three small plants. But apart from that, I didn’t add anything unique to my truck other than giving it a little name: “Cacou.” It is a French Provençal expression that designates “a handsome man who struts and seeks to attract attention.”
What kind of small touches have you added to make it feel more like home?
Issia: I took my flowery duvet, my pretty old radio set restored as a Bluetooth speaker by my brother, photos of my friends, and I also took games and my drawing material!
What’s one of your favorite spots you’ve camped in your car?
Issia: There were plenty of them! In the forest, in the mountains, at the edges of lakes. But I have a special memory of a shady beach in Greece with other vanlifers. It was December and yet the weather was fine. We all ate together like a family, we ate mushrooms, we sunbathed, we drew, played, laughed a lot, and even made a pretty hut!
What are your favorite outdoor activities?
Issia: To explore! Doing nature hikes, admire the architectural heritage of a country and be surprised by unusual places!
How would you say being a female living in your van differs from what you think or know the male experience to be?
Issia: I’m not sure that men who travel alone in a campervan receive similar reactions to those I received as a woman: “A girl can’t do that, it’s too dangerous!”, “You’ll be assaulted!”, “Girls don’t know anything about cars!”, “What are you going to do if you get sick?”, “Girls are afraid to be alone!”, “I won’t even give you two weeks before you give up!” All these prejudices shocked me! I did not expect to hear these kinds of sexist, almost threatening comments in our time in a modern French society where the motto is “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”! Thousands of women travel the world alone every year!
Did you feel like you had to take further precautions or were perceived differently than men who live in their cars?
Issia: I have listed all the potential "risks" of traveling alone in a van. I analyzed them and I learned as much as possible about the subject to be prepared for any eventuality and to make the necessary arrangements. For example: I took part in boxing and self-defense lessons to keep my cool and know how to act in case of extreme emergency. BUT ! I never felt insecure. I have never had a problem.