By Jonathan Kalan, Co-founder, Unsettled
There are many forms of travel that are romantic in spirit. But that’s often where the romanticism ends.
For example, traveling the Trans-Siberian railway takes the imagination in infinite directions - old ornately decorated cabins, powerful landscapes, a cast of Russian characters coming and going. Yet in reality, it’s a modern train that follows one relatively straight track. 9,289 kilometers, 168 hours, 21 meals in a steel tube (if anyone was counting.)
Hiking the Appalachian Trail conjures up images of sweeping vistas and stunning natural diversity, a sense of rugged individualism and connectedness to nature. Yet we forget the part about carrying fifty pounds of cooking equipment, camping gear and food, and unpacking it alone in the dark at the end of each exhausting day. We also forget about the bears, snakes, insects, rain-soaked nights, and much worse.
Adventure travel is never what we think it will be. But still, we love it. For me, travel has always been part a solo exploration of getting lost in myself, part personal challenge, and part soaking in new environments, meeting new people, and learning from that which is completely unfamiliar to me.
So, I recently reckoned, what better way to experience the true romance of travel than in a camper van? The open road. A home that’s always moving. A sense of familiarity amidst constant change. Man and machine. The ultimate feeling of self-sufficiency, freedom, and a little bit of nostalgia.
For years I’ve followed the #VanLife on Instagram with envy. There’s a certain predictability and recipe to it, that perhaps you've also caught on to: Beautiful humans (long golden blonde hair and a bikini, or rugged beard and chiseled six-pack), usually spilling out into the morning light as it hits a serene landscape of ocean, lake, or mountains. A cup of steaming coffee in one hand, a surfboard or bike in the other. Insert epic Thoreau quote. And done.
Starting this week, I’ll finally get to live that life. Or, at least the van part of it. Don’t expect the gorgeous humans, steaming coffee, or inspiring quotes. Expect epic failures in cooking and sporadic breakdowns. Struggles to find a beautiful camping spot in the Serbian woods where I can also get a strong enough 3G signal to get shit done. Getting stuck, getting lost, or waking up sweating from a European mid-summer heat wave in what’s basically a funny-looking steel box on wheels.
Expect a regular guy who’s contemplating his life journey and living out his dream through a two-week solo road trip across the Balkans (and, scouting Unsettled locations, of course!) in an old 1985 Volkswagon Transporter T3, provided by some great folks over @BalkanCampers.
Expect reality. Because while travel may never be as romantic as one dreams it to be, it’ll sure as hell be one great adventure. And, in the words of the late great Hunter S. Thompson...
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
And, I promise that will be the only quote for the month.
See you on the road....
Jonathan Kalan is co-founder of Unsettled. In his previous life, he made his way to over 60 countries as photographer and journalist, and for some strange reason has always dreamed of living in van. A 7x3ft kitchen cupboard he called home for a year was the closest he ever came. Follow his adventures starting on June 26 on Instagram with #UnsettledVan