Living freely without being tied down to any one place is the dream for many. This Indian couple has made it their reality, and is currently travelling across the seventh country on their bucket list, in their campervan! Smriti Bhadauria and Kartik Vasan, along with their beloved dog Everest, plan on travelling the world, with no end date in mind. Steering away from the desi stereotype of a ‘well-settled life’, they give us an insight into their #brownvanlife. By Srushti Kulkarni
Smriti and Kartik were stationed in Granada, a city on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, home to multiple Spanish colonial landmarks, when they spoke to Travel + Leisure India.
T + L India: What was the initial inspiration for hitting the road?
Smriti: Initially, the thought of travelling in a van came from Swades, the movie in which Shah Rukh Khan takes a caravan trip in India. Later, in 2013 I read an article about an old man, Gunther Holtorf, who travelled across 172 countries with his wife in a 1988 Mercedes G Wagon for over 20 years. That’s when I knew this is what I want to achieve in life. During the beginning stages of our relationship, I passed the idea to Kartik and he immediately loved it and a few years later made my dream of travelling in a van possible.
Kartik: My dad was an Indian Embassy diplomat and we had to move around a lot. I have stayed in numerous countries and cities thanks to my dad’s job. All the travelling has turned me into a person who cannot be in one place for a long time.
T + L India: For how long did you work towards this goal?
Smriti: It took me five years of planning to get the van and go. In 2017 we started working towards our travel plans and began saving up for the van. In 2018, we got our brown van and we decided to self-build the interiors and get the van back in shape. When we first bought the van, our parents thought we will be going go on weekend trips but we had to gradually instill the idea of living and travelling in the van full time. When we finally put forth the idea, our parents asked us to get married before hitting the road. We had a big fat Indian wedding in February 2020, right before the pandemic engulfed the entire world and it was only after we addressed each and every concern of our parents, we got the permit to live the life of our dreams.
T + L India: How hard was it to decide which stuff from your condo will travel with you in the van? What did you do with the rest?
Smriti and Kartik: Everything was sorted out in a planned process. We lived a very minimalistic life so we thought we never had much stuff but it was only when we began shifting everything into the van did we realise that we had too much. We took a three-step approach. First, we put out all we needed into a room and then we cleared things that were unnecessary, later we picked out things that were absolutely necessary. The final step was giving up things that would not fit in our van. After living in the van for over a month and a half we realized what all we needed in order to be happy and kept eliminating things accordingly.
My pressure cooker, achar, and spices were something I had to have in the van. Kartik would not let go of his electric toolbox and his camera gear was essential of course, while Everest got to keep his collection of bandanas. The rest of the stuff was donated to food drives, clothing banks, and shelters while the furniture was distributed among our friends.
T + L India: How is your life in the camper van different to conventional condos of Toronto?
Smriti and Kartik: There is no comparison between the two. Back in the condos it was work, wake, sleep and eat in the same place. If we wanted to travel, we had to wait for the weekends and would waste time commuting from one place to another. We felt restless and trapped inside our condo. But currently, there is a constant change. We wake up in a new place to a new view every day. There is a sense of freedom to travel any time we want. We are already at the place and we can just hop out and go explore once we are finished with work.
It’s a very fulfilling life and we are extremely happy with what we have. Although we have more work to do in the van, it’s easier to take those simple decisions. We are constantly doing things or making decisions but that does not tire us.
T + L India: Why did you guys decide to travel via a campervan over caravans or trailers?
Smriti: The Van just happened to us. We were on a camping trip in Ontario and on our trail, we saw this 45-year-old van stationed in a non-working condition. It was love at first sight and we bought the 77 Dodge B200 on spot. I always had a thought on my mind that if I would travel the world in a van then it would be vintage. Also, big vans don’t work with our lifestyle. They do not provide the freedom of parking in small alleys or remote places without attracting too much attention.
Kartik: It’s also hard to reach the remote places on our map and this van is easier to navigate. I have always wanted to learn how to fix cars and learn the mechanics of them, this seemed like an easier project to learn from. But we guess our next home on wheels will be a bigger one.
T + L India: How do you manage to strike a balance between your professional life and this form of living?
Smriti and Kartik: Our initial plan was to quit and travel with our savings but coming from an Indian household we knew that would not be possible. I am in digital marketing and Kartik is an IT consultant and we have been working remote since 2018. We work as freelancers and with contracts to fund our trip. We usually work from 6:30 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon. After we grab a quick lunch, we dedicate our time to edit content for our channel, click pictures, go on hikes, explore new places and try not to get sucked into work.
Acquiring a balance requires a lot of planning. We review our calendar at the beginning of our week and month which helps us determine on what days we need to park at a place and on what days we can work on the go.
T + L India: What is the best and worst thing about your chosen travel style?
Smriti and Kartik: The best thing is we get to see new places almost every day and now this travel style has turned into our life. The worst part is we meet and bond with a lot of amazing people on our journey and we have to bid adieu to them very soon.
T + L India: What is the best piece of travel advice you have received and would like to share with other camper van travellers?
Smriti and Kartik: Be patient and optimistic. The van life seems glamorous and easy to get sucked into but it is more than just being able to see new places. There are a lot of people who imagine van life as something very exciting and quit shortly after they begin the trip because it turned out to be completely the opposite of what they had in mind. So, if you are going to live and travel in a motor home then try it for at least two weeks. You need to remember that there are happy days and crappy days, having optimism in life always helps you remember good days are right around the corner.
T + L India: How does Everest like the nomadic lifestyle? Would you like to share any tips for travellers with pets?
Smriti and Kartik: We got Everest just two months after we got the van, so he basically grew up in the van. He has been there throughout the build and loves the van. Everest like us cannot stay in one place, he loves going on hikes and being outdoors. Sometimes we wish we were him, experiencing a carefree lifestyle every day.
A piece of advice for van lifers with pets would be that you need to understand the temperament of your fur baby, train them to adapt to different weather conditions and new places. One has to be open to possibilities when you are travelling with your pets and cannot be too afraid to put them through certain situations.
T + L India: Apart from the time you spend together, how do you catch ‘me time’ for yourselves?
Smriti and Kartik: It is important to openly communicate with your partner. You need to express the need for me time. We are literally in each other’s face all the time and we just tell each other when we need some personal space. We do our own separate activities when we need some time for ourselves like Kartik steps out for a hike with Everest and his photography gear while I stay back inside to read or cook.
T + L India: How was your experience travelling amidst a global pandemic?
Smriti and Kartik: 2020 was our goal to get on the road and Corona happened right then. We did get a little demotivated but then we threw ourselves into building the van for 4-5 months. That was the time when everyone in Canada was isolating themselves and everything shut down. We thought to ourselves we might as well isolate ourselves in the van in a remote location rather than being unsafe and trapped in a civilization. We just hopped into the van with Everest and headed out into the wilderness.
For the first six-seven months we were very conscious and did not meet a single human being. We only entered the city to refill gas, petrol and stock up on groceries. It was only in January or February of 2021 when countries began to open up, we shifted to the USA and interacted with other tourists on our way. Until then it was as if we were the only ones on this planet and even today, we seek solitude in such moments where it’s only the three of us. Just like it was back in the Grasslands National Park where we did our little happy dance together.
T + L India: What destinations are on the horizon for 2022?
Smriti and Kartik: 2022 is a big year for us. In 2021 we scratched the United States and Mexico off our list and we are gearing up for Central America, South America, Columbia, Ecuador and Chile this year.
T + L India: How much longer do you plan on travelling in the van? What will your lifestyle look like after this trip ends?
Smriti and Kartik: Our current itinerary is to get to Patagonia; from there we will decide where we want to go next. There is no end date to this. This is not a trip anymore, it’s our life now. I want to bring the van to India and travel around my country. We are yet to decide on that plan but our immediate plan is to finish travelling to 10 countries.
T + L India: What comes to your mind when we say #TravelIsLove?
Smriti and Kartik: Travel shows you love and life in all its glory. How at the end of the day we all are the same humans with same desires to celebrate our victories, persevere the hard times and open our hearts to total strangers travelling in a brown van.