Travel Year 2018 in review: Paris, Canada, Van Life in Europe, and a new chapter!


Travel Info, Travel Stories, VanLife / Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Let me tell you, 2018 has been C R A Z Y and I can’t believe it’s about to end! I don’t know if I’m happy or not about that, but I’m absolutely excited about 2019 because it’s going to be a big change for us, and for the first time we basically have zero plan and no idea of where we’re going – literally and figuratively.

Before writing this post, I’ve had a look at last year’s 2017 review post and it made me laugh to see that once again we’ve done so many things and we welcomed a lot of unexpected in our lives. In 2017 we went from drifting around the world to settle as expats in Belfast in Northern Ireland, to going back to live in Paris for me to find a decent job and… try to make a baby. Well, it only took us to leave EVERYTHING behind – again – to make that happen and throw all of our plans of van life through the window but the happiness is real so here’s what we’ve been up to in 2018!

Our Travel Year 2018 in review

Our Travel Year 2018 in numbers

Countries: 6
Cities: 58!
Kilometers in the van: 10500+
Homes: 3 (Paris, our van, Grenoble)

Living and working in Paris [January to June]

Alice in Paris in Butte aux Cailes

We started the year 2018 in Paris, as we’d gone back the summer before. We were both working full-time in Paris, with not much time to live the life, and a pretty stressful one at that. I was working days, Simone was working evenings/nights and weekends… I started every day by getting super angry at everything in the over-crowded metro,… Honestly I was happy to be able to see my loved-ones again and to enjoy all of the amazing things Paris has to offer (gorgeous architecture, beautiful sunsets, lots of shops opened late, thousands of bakeries, too many cinemas to count, amazing vegan food,…) but we were not happy and we both really felt the need to go back to travel… So we had long discussions, and decided we would once again leave everything behind (so we resigned from our jobs, sold everything we didn’t need and stopped renting our apartment) and go on a van road trip around Europe for an unlimited amount of time. There. Back on the road.

Articles we wrote about Paris in 2018:
A local (me!)’s favourite vegan restaurants in Paris
What to wear in Paris – Female Packing Guide

Magical Harry Potter weekend in London [February]

Alice in Harry Potter Studio in London pushing the cart in the wall of the platform

Just thinking about this trip gives me the (good) chills…. In 2017, Simone gifted me 2 tickets to the Harry Potter Studio in London for our wedding anniversary. HUSBAND. OF. THE. YEAR. So when Eurostar private sales opened in winter, I jumped on my phone, called the Harry Potter Studio to book the right day, made sure it could work out with a BritMovieTours bus tour (we worked with them for our Game of Thrones bus tour in Northern Ireland and I couldn’t wait to do so again for Harry Potter – and wasn’t disappointed at all!), and booked the Eurostar tickets faster than you could say Quidditch. I even woke up earlier before work to do that. If you know me, this speaks volume about my excitement. Once that was done, I started to research everything we could do to make it the most magical experience and I regret nothing!! We even managed to catch the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library before it ended, and had great vegan food in magical looking places. Best weekend ever.

Articles we wrote about our Harry Potter trip to London in 2018:
A magical Harry Potter Weekend in London
Visiting the Harry Potter Studio in London
Harry Potter filming locations in London bus tour

Going to Canada for the first time: Montreal & Quebec city [March]

Alice in Quebec City on an icebreaker boat

We had the opportunity to both take extensive paid vacations in March and since I still had not been to see my brother in Canada where he relocated a couple of years back, it was perfect! Simone had never been to Canada either and we couldn’t have been more excited – if a little scared of the cold. It ended being amazing, with a great time in Montréal and Québec city, and great blogging opportunities which made us enjoy our trip even more (and work a lot more too, but that’s one kind of work I really can’t complain about!).

Articles we wrote about our trip to Canada in 2018:
(Vegan) Things to do in Québec city
Château Laurier Hotel in Québec city review
Skiing at Mont Orford
Space for Life in Montreal: Botanical Garden & Planetarium
Visiting Montreal in March

Express trip to New Jersey for a wedding [June]

Alice at the wedding in New Jersey

Simone has family in the US, and one of his little cousin was getting married and invited us. We couldn’t pass the opportunity so I took so days off (right before the end of my contract… ahem…) and we hoped on a Norwegian Air plane to New Jersey! As usual we had an amazing time over there with Simone’s family as they’re always treating us like special guests, and the wedding was absolutely lovely! I was so excited to see my first American wedding and celebrate that day with Simone’s family! It was too short of course, but we had time to see everyone – however briefly – and even for me to get completely washed off by big waves while sea kayaking (no shame!).

Van Life road trip across… Europe…? [July to November]

Our van trip all around France

At the end of June, we had no more jobs (I was starting a part-time remote job in September, and taking the blog as an official company in August), no more apartment, no more furniture… but we had bought a converted van! We bought it already converted because we had no time, no space and no skills to take care of converting a van in the amount of time we had between making the decision to leave, and actually leaving. And on the 2nd of July… we left Paris behind and went on the road for that “once in a life time” road trip.

General articles we wrote about our van trip in 2018:
Living in a van full-time
How to have sex in a camper van
Van Life for beginners like us

Van Life and festival in Belgium [July]

A street in the city of Ghent in Belgium

It started with Belgium, since we had booked tickets (Simone got them for my birthday!) to Rock in Werchter Festival. We started by visiting Ghent first, but we were not super comfortable with everything van life yet, and didn’t take too much time away from the van. Then we went to the festival, which didn’t live up to its expectations (sad, but true), and decided to skip the rest of Belgium because we just wanted to leave. Well…

France… a lot more France than we expected! [July, August, September, October]

Alice walking in Beaune during our van trip in France

The plan was to take our time to go all the way across France from Belgium, tour Brittany, spend some time there with my dad, go down to see some other family members, then be around Bordeaux at the end of August to go down to the French – and then Spanish – basque country, and keep following the coast down to Portugal, etc. etc.

It started according to plan: from Belgium we went to Lille (North of France), Rouen (North of France), Saint-Malo (Brittany), Mont Saint-Michel (Normandy), Dinan (Brittany), arrived at my dad’s in Brittany where we spent some time with a friend and where I then left Simone to go back to Paris for some administrative nightmare, went back to my dad’s, spent some time with him, and then started to explore Brittany from South (Vannes) to North (up to Pointe Saint-Matthieu). What we didn’t realize at that time, is that we weren’t just two anymore, but a little peanut had snuck in with us. I was tired and felt sick, which didn’t really make the van trip easier. It’s only a bit later, once we were with my family in Auvergne, than we learnt that indeed, what we had gone to Paris for – make a baby – had finally happened… after we left Paris.

Articles we wrote about our van trip to Brittany:
15 gorgeous places in Brittany you MUST visit
Van Life Weekly #1
Visiting Saint-Malo
Discover the Inter-Celtic Festival in Lorient

Of course, all of our plans went to the trash and we had to try to wrap up our heads around this new info to understand what we would do and make new plans. We kept going South, from Auvergne to Bordeaux and then the basque country with Biarritz. We made the decision to visit two birthing centers, as I refused to give birth at a hospital, and it was easier to find a place in France in terms of administrative stuff. We started with Grenoble, so we drove across South France from Biarritz to Grenoble. Then we decided to visit another birthing center closer to the North of France, in Nancy (not that far from Strasbourg, if that makes more sense to you). So we drove from Grenoble to Nancy. Then decided it would be Grenoble. So we drove back down to Grenoble for an ultrasound and a midwife check, before we could finally leave France for another month before our next appointment! In the meantime of course we got to discover some amazing places like Dijon, Beaune, Langres,… We both realized how gorgeous France was and how diverse it could be once you got away from Paris!

Articles we wrote about our van trip around France:
Van Life Weekly #2: Auvergne
Van Life Weekly #3: Bordeaux, Cap-Ferret, Agen
Van Life Weekly #4: Hossegor, Seignosse, Biarritz
Van Life Weekly #5: Biarritz
Van Life Weekly #6: Biarritz to Grenoble
Van Life Weekly #7: Grenoble, Lyon, Dijon
Van Life Weekly #8: Dijon, Nancy, Burgundy
Van Life Weekly #9: Burgundy, Grenoble, Occitanie

We made it to Spain! [October]

Alice in the van in Tossa de Mar in Spain

We thought that day would never arrive, but we finally made it out of France and arrived in Spain. Simone had chosen our first place to stop in Spain, and he couldn’t have chosen any better! We stopped at an amazing camping in the city of Tossa De Mar, with a gorgeous view on the beach from our hill-side camping spot. It was lush, and glorious. We loved it! And we were back to the sea, the first purpose of that trip!

We decided not to stay too long as we wanted to make it as far as possible down to the South of Spain to chase the sun. Next stop was close to the sea but pretty shitty. However it ended up not really being any matter since a hurricane had gone on in Portugal and the remnants of it were hitting Spain – and us – with scary winds and never ending rain.
At that point, we changed our plans again and decided we were better off going to basque country. We knew that if we didn’t find a good spot in Spain, we’d love to return to Biarrity, Hossegor and Seignosse. What more, it was much closer to us at that point than South of Spain, and it would also be closer and easier to reach Grenoble back by driving or by train for the next appointment.

So the next day we packed the van and started to drive on the direction of the basque country. As we had almost reached Saragossa, we received tragic news from a loved-one of Simone’s and didn’t even need to talk to decide that Spain was out, and on we were driving to Rome.

Almost the end of the trip: from Spain to Rome [October]

As it was a matter of urgency, we drove practically non-stop for the 1600km we had to go through from where we were in Spain to Rome. The road was awful, the weather was worse, and we were so tired I refused to check myself in any mirror that would cross my path. We then made it to Rome, where we parked the van and stayed two weeks at Simone’s uncle.

And back to France: from Rome to Grenoble [October to November]

Alice in Firenze on our van trip in Italy

At that point, we were physically and mentally exhausted, and we knew that this trip needed to be over. It was really hard for us to come to that conclusion… At the beginning the first thought we had when we learnt I was pregnant, was that maybe I could give birth on the road, where we would be at that time. In Portugal? In Italy? In Greece even? In only 3 months we had gone from “let’s conquer Europe on this van and if we have to stop for a birth then so be it” to “okay, let’s be real and face the fact that we have to shelve that trip for a while”. So we did, and drove back from Rome to Grenoble, but not without making a stop in Florence to take the time and at least briefly explore the city. With the promise of maybe stopping there for a few months at a later time, since Simone felt it could be a nice spot to spend some time one day.

The end of our van trip (at least for now): settling down in Grenoble [November to ?]

The view of the mountains with the snow from Grenoble

With the exponential growth of my belly, the trip ended. We spent a couple of weeks in an appart’hotel to visit apartments, and actually found one (I wasn’t betting on it so fast!), spent a bit of time in Paris, and moved in our new apartment in Grenoble, where we’ll be spending the end of the year festivities, and probably 6 to 9 months more before our peanut is ready to go on its first trip around the world!

Now we expect to discover all of what Grenoble has to offer, including all the city trips we’ll be able to take without me bursting. Simone is also going to go on as many sports trips as he can, especially snowboarding day trips to every mountain resort in the vicinity. And I intend to test the nice little chalets with their cosy fireplaces and yummy hot chocolate, watching the snow-covered landscape while people enjoy the pleasure of skiing!

I hope you all had a great year, let’s make 2019 even better!

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