Guest post: A Surf Bums Life in Van

My brother has spent a couple of years a surf bum, so I asked him if he could give some free but fun tips on those countries. I guess the life and to do’s of a surf bum are a bit different from the “normal” tourist though, so we agreed on him giving some insight on how to deal with life in a van, and me adding on some pictures from the free but fun times I had when I travelled with him and his van in Portugal (last in the post).

In my opinion Portugal is a beautiful country, we stuck most to the shore, but I also loved the relaxed little town of Faro in the south and the ancient town of Sintra next to Lisboa, where there was loads to see just by looking around. In addition, van life was fun, breakfast at sunrise on the “patio”, loads of bbq, looking for a suitable and safe spot to stay the night in (and then spying on people when inside – we could see out and hear people stopping next to the van but they could not see in. Childish but fun), and just cruising were in my opinion the best parts of it. Oh, and having a “shower” in the cold water… 

If you want to read more about my brothers life as a surf bum, and you know Finnish, you may want to read his book Aallon etsijän päiväkirja that was published in 2012. 


Living and traveling is never free or cheap, but as a surf bum most extra activities didn’t cost a lot. Getting to surf was the most important and where my money was mostly spent in 2004 – 2006, from the shores of Europe to the Pacific Islands.

First I thought of sharing a few travel tips as my sister suggested. Soon I realized that I’m not into top lists, that’s not how I think. Also many of the places I would mention are very secluded or confided to me by locals, and that’s how I think things should remain, publicly anyway.

Therefore my tips will be about easy and cheap living in an old van. At times there were up to three people living in my model -96 Ford Transit, but most of the time I spent by myself.

Temperatures get low also in southern Europe at winter time which makes a set of 100 % woolen underware your favourite peace of clothing and pyjamas. I also appreciated the odourlessness properties of wool.

Repairing your van is cheap if you know how to do it yourself. If not, the second cheapest option could be fixing it outside a car repair shop and only pay for borrowing tools, spare parts, and instruction.

Not everywhere peeing anywhere is accepted. Especially in busy cities you might want to use a plastic bag from your kitchen roll in your van bedroom before going to sleep. Stick it in, finish with a sealing knot, add another bag for extra security before dropping the warm package in your trash bag by the door. Works for males, I wouldn’t know of an equivalent for females.

When leaving the north in snowy conditions you may not want to store your winter tires in your living room/kitchen through all of Europe. I changed summer tires when it got warmer in the south of Sweden and left the winter tires in the woods by a small road. There was a little hole in the ground about 10 meters from the road, and a few branches finished the hideaway. I had already checked there weren’t any houses with curious people close by.

Vehicles of height up to 2 meters used to be cheaper than bigger ones on ferries between Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

A small, rusty cargo van – though cosy inside – doesn’t appeal to thieves as much as high end camper vans that come with a promise to contain valuables. Wrinkled tinted films on the back windows add up to a practical camouflage. And with a cheap van home you are left with more money to stay alive and surf!

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  1. […] London (please don’t shoot me for saying this! :)). Some of my favourites on the list are Lisbon, Sydney, and Budapest. St Petersburg sure is interesting too. Of the ones on the list I […]

  2. […] Quiet time in PortugalMore about the life as a surf bum there here […]

  3. Beautiful sceneries and interesting van life! Must be real free and easy! I am sure peeing is difficult LOL!

    1. Haha, it’s my brother alright, writing about th realities of life 😉

  4. What a great post! I had heard the surfing was wonderful in Portugal when we visited there. Yet another amazing part of Portugal. 🙂
    I think this would be a great way to travel, maybe we could handle it with just one little one. Hmmmm…. Maybe not, but it sure would be cool. 🙂

    1. It was quite fun to visit the van and travel like that for a while when young and without a family. I’d opt for the more expensive campervan or caravan with kids though, you just automatically have so much more stuff with them… And rainy days in a van with toddlers…

  5. […] 4. Guest post: A Surf Bums Life in Van – by the best brother in the world. […]

  6. […] 5. Bist du Einzelkind oder hast du Geschwister? I have an older brother who used to be a surf bum and live in a van […]

  7. is the book available in english?

    1. No, sorry to say it is not.

  8. What a wonderful way to live…..reminds me of my 20’s……wee device very insightful!! Nice one

    1. Missing the 20’s? 🙂 It is a bit different to travel now with kids in tow, isn’t it? I am happy my brother did what he enjoyed.

      1. Ha haa totally different!!!! I only hope they have as much fun as I did in my 20’&30’s 🙂

  9. Now I wish I read Finnish. Congrats on the book publication!

    I did once hear of a female stand-up urination device but I can’t remember what it was called.
    (Oh here, google and Wikipedia know lots about them:

    I love the little picnic table setup. Looks perfect.

    1. Oh man, I think I will settle with the bushes also in the future… 😀

      My brother really had it all sorted in the van, there was bedroom with up to 3 beds, kitchen and then dining room on the patio. Good times.

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