Home Is What Moves You: The Circle of Van Life

After celebrating our 12,000-kilometer milestone in Frankfurt, to our eternal dismay, our beloved home on wheels, whom we had named Karla, took a turn for the worse. We were coasting along a German autobahn when, all of a sudden, she began making an awful noise: metal on metal. I am not very knowledgeable when it comes to mechanics, to say the least, so I wasn’t too worried until Joey said, “That’s not good.” I instantly began to panic. We slowed down from 195km per hour to a meek 20, where we sat puttering along the autobahn’s hard shoulder. It took us about fifteen minutes to make it to the nearest service station. Joey checked the oil and we kicked ourselves for finding it entirely empty. In a last attempt to save our precious van, we purchased a large jug of oil and a funnel. It felt like giving CPR to an unconscious swimmer. To our surprise and utmost relief, Karla roared to life like a champion. Joe and I were ecstatic to see that all of our invested love (and money) hadn’t gone to waste on this poor hunk of junk. We were in such high spirits that we even picked up a young hitchhiker who was headed for France.

Just like the Little Engine That Could, we pulled out of the station and Karla huffed happily back onto the motorway. We sat side by side in the front seat admiring the scenery and getting to know our new “roommate”, Davide. He was on a journey to meet a friend of his who was living in the south of France and was hitchhiking, as he put it, “just to see if he could”. We admired his adventurous spirit and were more than happy to be a part of his trip. Just as we dove into a profound conversation about our perception of the meaning of life, Karla went ape-shit, to put it politely. The banging of metal on metal was back with a vengeance and she was not at all happy with us. We pulled off to the side of the road and shut her down. We apologized to our guest and my heart sunk into my stomach.

The silver lining to this story is that we had a German-speaking hitchhiker standing on the side of the motorway with us. It was unfortunate for him, of course, but pure good fortune for us. Perhaps it was karma rewarding us for picking him up in the first place, or for picking up hitchhikers in the past. Maybe it was just our luck of the draw, who knows, but this hitchhiker had a working cell phone on him and it practically saved our lives. All I can say is that had we not had Davide with us at that time, I don’t know what we would have done. We were nowhere near an urban city and out there in the countryside, it was rare to find anyone who spoke English. We did not have cell phones or any form of communication and we were standing on the side of a highway with no speed limit.

Davide felt our pain and called us a tow-truck. We offered him a chair and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while we waited to be saved. When the tow-truck finally arrived, the driver didn’t speak a lick of English and so again, without Davide we would have been well up the creek without a paddle, as they say. We watched in dismay as he hauled Karla up unto the back of his truck. She looks so small and helpless up there, I couldn’t help but feel bad that we hadn’t taken proper care of her. I climbed up into the drivers seat when the boys climbed into the tow-truck and spent the journey to the mechanic worrying. My entire life was in this very van alone and she was dying, if not already dead. We pulled into the mechanic parking lot and I climbed out into Joey’s arms, hoping with all my might that they could fix her. Joe was not so optimistic, mainly because he knew exactly what had gone wrong. We sat for what felt like hours in the waiting room while the locals mulled over the van, in German. We just sat there with nothing to do but prepare for the worst.

When the mechanic finally came out, he told us that our van was “kaput”. I began to cry. It felt like all of our plans came crashing down like a hailstorm, but you know what they say, “if you want to make God laugh, make plans.” We chalked it up to a wonderful experience cut short and agreed that we had nothing to do from there but move forward. We emptied our life into the parking lot and handed the keys over to a junkyard. The man who took it away offered us a pathetic €200 for her and refused to give us our license plates to keep for souvenirs. That was a real bummer. I spent a good half hour arguing with him over the price, then another half hour trying to convince him to give me our plates. I had no luck. The language barrier was too thick and he could tell that I was in a very vulnerable state. He took our home and our plates and left us standing in the parking lot with our life scattered around us. I felt deserted and ripped off, but it is in times of crisis that you realize what is truly important. Joey put his arm around me, kissed my forehead and began packing all our stuff into our two backpacks. We left with our life in our arms and never looked back.



98.70.ST : A Memoir


Once upon a time, there was a noble steed by the name of Karla. She was a white stallion, old and wise.

She had been all around the land of Europe in just seventy days; searching hopelessly for a place she could call her home.

Karla had been along the edges and straight through the middle. She wove her way through mountains and across oceans, always looking for a place to lay her head.

She had travelled the majestic Alpine Road, the Romantic Road, and the Fairytale Road in the kingdom of Germany.

She followed the lights of the fairies and the path of the pines. She kept true to her heart and never lost sight of her dreams.

Karla was a nomad, a vagabond. She lived a life of spontaneity and adventure, never parking in the same place twice.

She woke with the sun and slept with the stars. She lived a modest life and was always happy to serve her King and Queen.

Karla was proud, for she was a protector. She had scars from battles past that only made her stronger. Her wounds and welts made her easy to love:

an underdog with a heart of gold.

It wasn’t until Karla had carried her King and Queen far and wide, over twelve thousand kilometers from home,

that she realized she had been searching for something that had been with her the whole time: a home.

Karla realized that she would not find a place to call home no matter how long she searched or how far she travelled, for Karla was a home.

Karla was a nest made of blankets and necessity. She grew from scrap metal into a warm sanctuary for the King and Queen to retire to each night.

Karla was a good trooper, a strong warrior, and a beloved friend. It is with the memoir that I bid adieux to the noble steed with plates marked 98.70.ST

Jasmine Peteran
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Jasmine Peteran

Jasmine is an aspiring writer from Toronto with a passion for exploring. She lives life spontaneously and is driven to find the most desolate corners of the world. Currently attending the University of Toronto, she is working on building her career as a professional travel writer. She aims to have her personal brand, Home Is What Moves You, and accompanying website up and running in 2017. Riddled with good advice and compelling stories, her writing is sure to inspire you.
Jasmine Peteran
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