Throwback Thursday – Skåne

Skåne, the most southern part of Sweden was a big unknown to me until last summer. I’ve only been to the big cities earlier and I felt it was time to check out the nature. I started from the west in a nature reserve called Hovs Hallar.

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Hovs Hallar is a nature reserve by the coast with big rock formations. Plenty of nice views and nice spots for swimming but it’s extremely crowded. Try and get here outside peak hours.

Continuing down the coast I passed Lerhamn on my way to the next nature reserve – Kullabergs.

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Kullabergs nature reserve has a few cliffs by the sea that you reach with some easy climbing. Seems to be a popular place for rock climbers (note the two climbers in the mid left of the picture). Kullaberg was almost as crowded as Hovs Hallar and you constantly ran into other people. I bet the sunset would be awesome from here though. Next time…

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I continued inland after a quick dinner on the beach in Nyhamnsläge.

The best nature experience in Skåne was definitely Söderåsens national park. This big reserve proves that Skåne is not all flat and the park is really well maintained.

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I arrived at night and woke up early to beat the crowds; it was a good move and I walked for hours before running into anyone.

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Even though it was a hot summer day it was easy to stay comfortable in the shades in the valley and under the big beech trees.

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After Söderåsen I kept going east and eventually hit the east coast of Skåne dubbed Österlen. Österlen is famous for it’s special kind of light, I have to agree – it is special. Hard to explain. Anyway, the beaches are great 🙂

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The middle parts of Skåne are mainly covered by big fields of crops and the east coast has long beaches of shifting quality.

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All in all I had a nice time in Skåne but it was too crowded for my taste. Going in the middle of July is probably the worst time and I can’t recommend it. I’d love to go here again; in the fall.

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Choosing the right van

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When I started I wasn’t sure of what van to get but I tried to do my research. I posted about my reasoning back then in a post called What car to get? Now, a year later, it’s time to evaluate that decision.

Overall I’m very happy I went with the Volkswagen Transporter T5 but let’s break it down.

Size

Going for the LWB (Long Wheel Base) model was a good move, the extra space is really valuable and it’s not too big to maneuver in the city and you can squeeze into a normal parking spot.

I have a higher roof top, not a high top but the middle one. It’s still not high enough for me to stand straight but perhaps my back aches a bit less from it 🙂 The main benefit I see is that I get some extra storage over the front seats where I put my camping chairs and a folding table. One thing that I didn’t really think of was that there are height limits on a lot of garages and parking lots and that ferries get more expensive. Being below 220 cm turned out to be a life saver more than once; with the solar and roof vent my van measures 217 cm 🙂

Of course having a larger van would be nice. It’s hard to squeeze in two adults and a kid and you can forget about having a shower or even a proper wc. So far it hasn’t been a big problem and the pros exceed the cons. Depending on how you travel and where you stay a bigger van might be the better choice for you but not for me.

Engine

I have the 1.9 TDI BRS 75kW engine. Definitely not a powerhouse but it does what it’s supposed to. I get around 0.8l/10km milage which is quite ok. I once drove up a rather steep and long ski slope which I’m surprised worked at all. Sometimes it’s pretty nice to not even bother trying to drive aggressively.

Options and upgrades

I have some upgrades on my van, some more usable than others.

Removable rear seats – at first I thought this was great. Just pop them in when I want to take some more people with me. Turned out they weigh a lot and take up a lot of space when not used. Next van will be without rear seats.

Side windows – this was a showstopper for me when looking for a van. Now I’m not that sure. I like that I get some more light into the van and that I can check out what is going on outside the van but it’s very hard to go stealth and even have some privacy with a lot of windows. I’m leaning towards getting a van without windows next time.

Single passenger seat – I wanted the double passenger seat but unfortunately didn’t get it. I still want a double passenger seat, especially now that our family has become three instead of two. On the pro side it makes it much easier to jump back without exiting the car and I have fitted a safe in-between the chairs.

A/C – it would have been hard without it.

Cruise control – This is rather handy when doing long drives.

Hill assist – I don’t know, I guess it’s nice to have but nothing I would pay extra for.

Radio – I have the RCD200 CD/radio which feels really outdated. I tried to fit an external 3.5mm cable to the line-in but apparently the radio has to be reprogrammed by an authorized VW repair shop to accept it. I’m replacing this with something more up to date soon.

Hatchback – I love the hatchback. You get rain cover and a wide panorama view. Fitting a bike rack does however get harder. I would still go with the hatchback again.

Color

White is definitely not the best color when you want to do stealth camping. Overall the whole stealth thing is a topic by itself; it’s something that went from a non-issue to a rather important one. Next van will definitely be of a darker color.

Reliability/Service

So far I haven’t had any major issues with it. Things I had to service last year:

  • One glowplug stopped heating up and had to be replaced. ~15€
  • The top break light didn’t survive the winter and has to be replaced.
  • Had to replace the rear break discs.~80€
  • New light bulb. 1€
  • Oil change with new filter. ~100€
  • New air filter. ~15€

Retrospect

When I started the van conversion last year I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know if I would like this style of traveling. Would it be too uncomfortable, too scary, too lonely? Where would I go? Where would I park? I didn’t know what van to get or what I would put in it. I didn’t know anything really except that I needed to put the dream to the test.

Fast forwarding a year it’s been a really good experience and even if I’ve learned a lot last year I have a barely scratched the surface of proper van life. Last year was a good start, this year I’ll shift into high gear.

I’ve started to look back at what worked well and not so well last year and will post a few blog entries about it.

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Throwback Thursday – The upper west coast

Last year I almost did a full circle of the borders of Sweden but so far I only updated the blog with the northern parts. I will do a couple of TBT’s to the other trips starting with The west coast of Sweden – Västkusten – where we went in mid July last year. Living in the capital on the east side I never really ventured to the west side until now…

We took a wrong turn early on and drove two hours in the wrong direction until noticing. Like a lot of times before, getting lost is sometimes the best thing that can happen. We found this really beautiful lake in the small town Svartå. This was such a quiet and nice place that we gave up the idea of reaching the west coast in the first day and instead stayed for hours swimming and relaxing.

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The morning after we woke up to heavy rain and just kept pushing on to get to the west coast. At the time we reached Saltö naturreservat south of Strömstad the sun started to shine again and we had a really nice hike in the nature reserve.

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Unfortunately it was impossible to find a good private spot for the night close to the coast. We anyhow wanted to stay by the water and resorted to Google Maps satellite and found this lake called Bolsjön a bit further in from the coast. It turned out to be a great place, totally secluded and perfect to spend the night.

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The next day we went to Smögen.

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Smögen is the tourist capital of Västkusten. Even though it’s not really my thing this was a must and something I just had to check off my bucket list. Here you’ll find shrimp and fish of all sorts and tourists in every direction. Västkusten in general and Smögen in particular seems to be a real hotspot for campervans – I probably saw more campervans in a single day than all my life.

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Lunch at the Rastplats Såten, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a good view from this roadside service area. A perfect place to stop for a quick lunch.

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Camilla only joined for the weekend and had to take the morning train back to Stockholm from Göteborg while I continued further south. To save time in the morning we spent the night in the city, something we otherwise try to avoid.

To summarize I wasn’t a big fan of the upper part of the west coast. The nature was really nice but with too many tourists and warning signs prohibiting free camping it just took the fun out of the experience.

Countdown has begun…

With less than a month left before leaving on our three month roadtrip around Europe, things are starting to feel real. I actually haven’t looked at the van since I left it for the winter almost five months ago so I guess it will be some busy weekends ahead getting everything in order.

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As usual we never plan in detail but we set up some kind of rough route. We’ll start off by catching the end of the season in the alps with some back-country skiing before continuing down south to Spain and Portugal. The idea is to spend the majority of the time in Portugal and then head up for some hiking in the alps beginning of June.

Going up north

In the beginning of the summer me and my girlfriend went up north on our first real roadtrip with the van. We took the inland road up north to Sarek national park, crossing over to Finland and then down the east coast. In total around 3500km of driving.

Our first stop was Höga kusten/Skuleskogens national park. Amazing hiking and views. A bit of rain but overall really nice.

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Höga kusten bridge.

 

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Slåttdalsskrevan Skuleskogen

 

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Skuleskogen national park

 

After this we went northwest on the inland road, which is a really scenic route.

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We spent a night around Hammarstrand and drove up a hill were we had our morning coffee. One of the best views in a long time.20160611-DSCF3558-01

The water was pretty chilly so unfortunately no swimming. Instead we had “showers” in the bathroom of gas stations 🙂

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As we came further up north the type of nature started to shift and the mountains started to rise.

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All nights were spent boondocking in the van with nature all around…

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When getting further into Lappland we started to see a lot of reindeer

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To our surprise we stumbled on this really nice islands with beaches in Arjeplog.

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A goal was to explore the mountains in Sarek national park and finally we made it. Since we had midnight sun (the sun never really sets during the night) we had an amazing hike during our first night there.

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Driving up Dundret in Gällivare…

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Going east we saw the most amazing sunset in Överkalix. Impossible to catch in a photo but it reminded us of some sunset from south east asia.

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We stayed at the top of Luppioberget near Övertorneå before doing a quick crossing over to Finland.

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After this we kind of did the east coast down in a rush. Doing some stops along the way such as Piteå havsbad and some nice lakes around Gävle.

All in all it was an amazing roadtrip. My first visit to the northern parts of Sweden really made me understand how beautiful our nature can be.

Beta testing

Took a break from the van life and went backpacking in Japan and Korea for 3 weeks. When I came back the weather has started to become warmer which gave me time to beta test the van.

One of my biggest concerns was the electricity. I basically have four things drawing power:

  1. Coffee maker. At 800W@230V this is a nightmare for the battery. I’m running it over the 1500W pure sine inverter. To offload the battery I always start the engine of the van to help out. It’s quick and finish in a few minutes and it seems to work fine.
  2. Fridge. This is by far the most power consuming thing at around 60W (5 Amps) when the compressor is running. I haven’t measured how often and for how long the compressor is running but it’s quite often.
  3. Laptop. I have a Surface Pro 4 and you can power it on 12V which is great for the van. It seems to draw around 1-1.5A which is ok since I’ll mostly use it during the day when (hopefully) you get power from the solar panel.
  4. Lights. I have three sets of 4 LEDs, each set is about 0.2A and even one set is plenty to light the entire van. This won’t be a problem.

I was working from my van during 3 days straight and never ran out of power. During these three days it was sunny and I have no idea how this will work on a rainy day. The battery level on the solar controller indicated the battery to be “empty” a few times during the day but I don’t really trust it.

I’m really pleased the coffee maker worked. Coffee is important and I really like my coffee maker.

Cooking on the gas stove worked like a charm.

All in all everything seems to work pretty well. I’m going on the first real roadtrip in a week and I’ll learn more.

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First night in the van!

I’ve been a bit eager to try out the van for some time now. It’s still pretty cold here in Sweden with lows around freezing point. Anyhow, last week the forecast promised a “warm” 7°C night and I jumped at the opportunity. I brought my date and headed to a lake close by to where I live.

Even though the build is far from finished everything worked out pretty well and it was really cozy. Still a bit too cold to be sleeping in the van but hopefully it will start to get warmer soon.

Some conclusions from the experience…

What worked well?

  • The bed was super comfy. I took a chance and bought the top of the line memory foam mattress from the Jysk store based on good reviews without trying it out and happy that it worked out so well.
  • I was really curious about condensation but there wasn’t almost any when we woke up. So far, so good with my idea with a rich flow of air with intakes in the floor and the big roof vent. It was even raining during the night so the air was really humid.

What needs to be improved?

  • Lights. I was worried the LED’s wouldn’t be bright enough but it turned out to be the opposite. I need to check if I can use a dimmer with these guys. Also I have a set of RGB-leds but the controller really sucks, none of the available colors made much sense so this is something I need to fix as well.
  • Privacy. I guess this is part a mental fix and part a van fix. It feels a bit strange being so visible. People walking by the van can see and hear everything you do. I really need to get some sort of blinds for the windows on the side and the front. 

 

Electricity

This weekend I think I’ll start with the electricity. This is the plan right now:

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Most of the stuff I already have and hopefully I’ll be able to get the remaining stuff on Saturday. I don’t know how much I’ll be needing the inverter but since I anyhow have it I might as well put it in.

I haven’t decided on the lights yet. I really like warmer white (2500K-isch) and I have yet to find LED’s that has a good color temperature.

Anyways. I’m really bad at updating the blog but a bit better on Instagram. Last weekend I got a good start on the interior with the rock-n-roll bed almost finished and the big storage unit on its way. Check it out

Van layout

I’ve been thinking a bit about the layout of the van. I was pretty set on a basic layout with all storage and the stove along the long side of the van but after some measurements I had to go with another setup. Since I decided to keep the heater in the back, the sofa will be too high when fit above it so I needed to move the bed to the opposite side.

This is my very precise sketch of what I think I will build. 😉 The bed will be a rock-n-roll bed (a bed that transforms into a couch). I’ll make the bed 120cm wide which leaves 40cm for the side storage cabinet. There will also be some storage underneath the sofa and along the floor and ceiling opposite the cabinet. The cooking unit will be a two burner gas stove with a small sink and my goal is to construct it in a way that it easily can be moved outside the van to be able to cook outdoors, weather permitting.

I’m pretty sure the design will change a lot but it’s always good to have an idea of where to start.

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