GIRLS IN VANS - Emily and Loki from Breath Of Wild Air

Ready to giggle, tear up and be inspired by a fellow traveling lady?


I virtually met Emily a little while ago, when she was planning to fly over to Europe with her handsome dog Loki to start a van journey.

What struck me with Emily is her honesty, humour and relatability.  I must admit, I’m a bit of a fan girl of her.

Emily (who is originally from Australia) has been traveling since last year,  crossing many countries and taking breath taking pictures (find her here)  she is also a VERY talented writer and blogger, you can find lots of helpful tips on traveling with dogs and van life in general on her blog.

Don’t let the length of her answers put you off, I assure you you will be glad you read through it!



1.What’s your name and where are you from?

I’m Emily (or Em) and am from Melbourne, Australia.


2.Who are you traveling with?

I’m travelling with my 4 year old border collie, Loki, who is about the best travelling partner I could have ever asked for. I guess everyone says that about their dog when they travel with them, but it’s totally true.


3. What are you currently calling “home”?

Our home is a blue Peugeot Expert van. I guess I called it Robbie once since that was the name that popped into my head but I’m not very good at naming ‘things’ soooo it’s usually just ‘the van’ which is so original and creative. I got it fitted out for me by an awesome company in the Netherlands called CustomCamp because I knew once I got to Europe I might only have a year to stay and didn’t want the stress and time wastage of having to search for or convert something once I got here. Similarly I didn’t want to buy something that had previously been converted without seeing it in case I arrived and it was a pile of junk.

Getting Evelyn and her team at CustomCamp to make my van meant I could tell them all the colours and design elements I wanted, I could add extra windows, it would have lights and a sink and insulation and I could arrive, pick it up and just go. Evelyn was totally amazing and I loved working with her to make this happen, she even included a couple of surprises for me like the top shelf which she added I think just cos she was excited that I was coming from Australia! Having such a great experience with her was so important for me and my stress levels leading up to the trip, especially since I’d organised everything via email and Facebook messenger!



4. What did you do before embarking in this journey? Describe a typical day.

I was a primary school teacher. So I would get up around 6,  get stuck in traffic for an hour or so on the way to school, teach all day, get stuck in traffic for an hour on the way home and then hopefully squeeze in either a walk or some agility training – both if I was lucky and had enough light. I actually did enjoy many aspects of my job. I loved the kids I was teaching and had a really special bond with a bunch of them. It really broke my heart leaving them halfway through a school year. But there were other parts that just weren’t working for me any more.

The long drive, no matter how much I loved my school, was driving me (ha! Excuse the pun) crazy, and not being able to do as much with the dogs as I’d like to. Some nights I would teach agility at my place until 9, some nights I would drive for an hour and a half (one way) across Melbourne to go to some training place. Weekends were spent driving an hour or more to somewhere I could let the dogs off lead (legally(…ish), and hopefully without snakes).


5. What made you click into wanting to travel around with a van? Was it a sudden realization or a long time dream of yours?

Travelling around in a van was certainly not a long term dream for me. So the story goes that one day I found out my (now ex) husband was cheating on me. As I lay in bed that night I asked myself: “If you could do anything in your life right now, what would you do?” The answer came to me instantly: I would take Loki and move to Europe and we would train and compete in agility.

Later I met my (also now ex) girlfriend who was from Germany. She told me about her dream of buying a Bulli/VW van and travelling around living the van-life. This idea of hers planted a seed in my mind – what if, instead of just moving to one place in Europe, I took the year and hiked mountains, explored lakes, and trained with some of the best names in agility?  That seed started to grow.

At some point (and this is no joke) I found an online DailyMail news article titled: “Woman quits her office job and spends £500 turning her minivan into a home so she can travel the world with her rescue dog.” The article was about Pamthevan and totally made the whole thing seem doable, and fun, and cool. (Imagine me, then, getting an Instagram video message from the one and only Pamthevan asking me to be part of her Girls in Vans series, and freaking out just a little, like an excited fan-girl. I still have the link to the article saved on Facebook)  I began to research in earnest. The more I researched, the more it seemed like something I could do. Something I should do. Less than a year from her suggestion and I was flying over and picking up my van.


6. Which were your main fears before starting your journey (if any)? How did you conquer them?

Yes! How I was going to survive winter in the van! Being from Australia, I had this vague notion that Europe was cold – especially all the places I wanted to be (I’m not that into Spain and the warm parts of Italy… give me the mountains of Austria or the coast of Norway any day). I knew I was going to have to be here over winter, though I had a place to stay in Germany for much of it. Somehow I ended up about as far north in Sweden as you can go, in November. So basically I overcame my fear of how I would survive winter in the van just by doing it. I learnt how to start the van when it didn’t quite want to turn over because it was -15 outside. I learnt how to drive in the snow, both on “highways” and camping places.

I learnt that sometimes you just need to look after yourself, go to a damn campground, plug your van in to power and run a heater so you’re not constantly miserable. Since then, we’ve slept in the van without a heater down to -7 outside, woken up to all the water frozen over, I’ve gotten dressed under the blankets and heated up the can of butane under my arm because it won’t work otherwise and I want a cup of tea or coffee to warm me up. It certainly wasn’t all sunshine and happiness, but I feel sooooo much stronger and more capable than when I started because of all these experiences.



7. How do you think you being a girl affects your traveling, and how do you respond to people saying that solo traveling is dangerous?

This is a funny question for me, and I genuinely love seeing people’s responses when I tell them I’m travelling solo, as a woman. Because I’ve basically always travelled solo, except when I was married. It just… seems logical to me. Why would I travel any other way? I’m quite an introverted soul, so being alone, doing things my way… I just can’t imagine travelling with someone. I’m sure it’s great but I’m also sure I’d want to kill them. Being a woman is just… another part of that. I don’t consider myself defenseless. I did a self defense class in high-school and I have Loki who is at least a visual deterrent and has decided lately that he might bark at people, sometimes. I tend to park and sleep in really remote places, which some people think is way more risky, but let me put it this way:

Where I am right now, there is absolutely nobody around. The town down the road is tiny. Occasionally (maybe twice in the three days I’ve been here) some kind of forestry worker truck drives past. The road I’m beside goes nowhere, and this isn’t a “tourist attraction” area by any means. It’s some completely random valley in Italy that probably nobody except the locals have heard of. Once I put my curtains up and hunker in for the night, nobody knows who’s in here. I could be some 6’2” karate blackbelt dude who’d kick your ass for trying to break in. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t go around attacking random vans if I didn’t know who was inside. And since nobody saw me coming or going, nobody knows who’s in there.

I think I would feel more concerned at some rest area, if you’re wandering around and people see you, a lone woman, and piece together that you’re by yourself. Or if I was in some super touristic place where vans are more likely to get robbed anyway, but…. We rarely go to those places.

There’s only been two times I’ve worried about my safety and neither of them ended up being remotely a problem. One was when I got talking to this guy in Germany who was driving a remote controlled car around. He was nice, we chatted for a while with my limited German, then I excused myself and went to the van. He stayed for another couple of hours driving that car around, knowing I was alone and in my van. If I’d been creeped out, I could have driven off, but I locked the door and kept half an eye on him. That’s probably about as paranoid as I get. Call me naïve but I’d like to believe that not everybody is a murderer or a rapist.


8. How do you deal with being alone? Where you used to being alone or was this the first time?

I sort of started answering this in the last question, but I am an “alone” kind of person. I’ve travelled alone before, even though people thought I was mad then. I love the solitude of a forest, of a mountain all to myself. I don’t often feel loneliness. I’m sitting here by myself right now, Loki sleeping beside me, complete silence all around except for the nearby waterfall, wondering how that feels, aloneness. I honestly don’t know. What does that say about me as a person?

I will say though, that Instagram in particular has been amazing at forging connections in the dog community (particularly the dog agility community). The amount of people I have met through instagram in real life has really blown my mind. Because they see I’m in their country (or I see they’re in a country I’m going to) and we message each other and organize to go for a hike. I really love those little meetings, those brief moments of making new connections, sharing experiences. Of those, I have a couple of people I now consider “friends”, and the rest good memories, great people, people I’m looking forward to visiting again. Maybe those moments are enough to abate any loneliness for me. Once a week socialization. The rest of the time I just spend talking to Loki like a crazy person.


9. Is traveling in a van different from what you expected?

Yes. Though I’m going to have a hard time explaining why.

I think when you’re looking at #vanlife, you’re looking at these beautifully posed photos on Instagram, with the perfect blankets and the beach view out the back door and the sunshine, and bare feet and nice clothes.

And then you get here and sometimes it’s damn cold and you realize you haven’t gone a day and night without socks in six months (the other night I slept sockless because it was warm enough and nearly threw a party). And you try and set up those photos with the back door open but your shelf takes up most of the view and it doesn’t work, you’re in ugly tracksuit pants (trackie-dacks in Aussie slang) and a big hoodie and you can’t find the perfect blanket…. And then you realize that none of that all matters. And it doesn’t matter if you’re driving along a mountain valley in Austria with the most stunning scenery ever but you can’t take a photo because there’s nowhere to pull over… because they’re your experiences, and the perfect blanket doesn’t make it your experience. It took me a long time to let go of how this trip “should” be. What I “should” be doing and where I should be going, and just… do whatever the hell I wanted to do.

I will say though that Loki and I are travelling in a very particular way in that we are often tied to dates and places because of training or competitions, so we often find ourselves kind of “waiting around” in an area, and I think that has increased my frustration and has meant we haven’t been able to be as “carefree” as most vanlifers. We can’t just wander off wherever we want, we have to be back at a place on a date, and that sometimes limits where and how far we can go. If you had no set times or places, I think the experience of vanlife would be very different.

I think travelling in a van has also demanded a lot more resilience of me than I had originally. Sweden both broke me down and built me up, stronger, more capable, but changed.


10. Which challenges have you faced by traveling with Loki (if any)? How do you think your journey will differ if Loki wasn’t there?

Really, he is the easiest dog to travel with. I never would have considered this trip if he hadn’t been the dog he is. He is easy-going, calm in most situations, he can handle crowds if needed and is totally trustworthy off leash in forests and on trails (except for annoying every single other hiker by putting a stick at their feet to throw. We’re working on that). He is as happy to sleep through two rainy days inside the van without going crazy, as he is to go for a four hour hike. He brings a kind of joy to the outdoors that I never would have experienced without him. He pounces and bites the snow, going crazy and getting silly, he obsesses over lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, dams and any other body of water, hoping I’ll throw a stick in. He explores the forest with the most perfect energy, enjoying simply being a dog. So challenges are few and far between. Summer could prove a challenge in terms of getting groceries, but I can do that in the morning before it’s warm (and we’ll probably be in Sweden so how warm is warm anyway? We are from Australia, after all.).

I had to take him on a bus the other day and he completely shut down because he’s scared of the brakes hissing. Oh. And he’s always wet, and his bed is my bed. And truly, those are the only two issues we’ve really had. I think when you have a pet with you, you have to consider their needs above your own comfort. For example, if it’s 10pm and -15 outside because you’re in the north of Sweden for some inexplicable reason, and you just want to curl up and go to sleep… you have to get your three jackets, mittens, hat, scarf and boots on to take him out for a last toilet run before you can go to sleep. You can’t just decide to not go out for an entire day. He needs to go out, even just for toilet breaks, and he will come back with muddy paws.

If Loki wasn’t here, I think then I would feel loneliness. I would probably be overwhelmed by some of my anxieties that he fixes by letting me cry in his fur. I think in a way I would be a little lost as to what to even do. With him, I know we have to hike and go walking and find lakes. Without him, would I be quite as adventurous? Would I stick to safer, more well-known ‘tourist’ areas? I’m not sure, it’s difficult to imagine this trip without him. I mean, the trip wouldn’t have happened without him, literally. I don’t think I would have come if I didn’t have him.

I will say though, for any reading this who are thinking of a similar adventure, that having a dog-friendly dog, a dog who can go off-lead and one who listens to basic commands and can wait, tied up outside some toilets for five minutes without freaking out is really important. They also need to be pretty comfortable in most situations you’re going to encounter along the way, or you need to be prepared to make exceptions for those things. For example, I won’t be going on a bus with Loki again any time soon. Of course you can manage things; don’t meet other dogs, don’t go off lead, etc.  But everything you have to manage is another stress for you, and possibly another stress for them.


11. Name 5 must-have items any van dweller should have.

  •      Warm blankets (and/or a sleeping bag, depends how extreme you want to get).
  •      Fairy lights.
  •      A Bluetooth portable speaker
  •      Shoes that you can just slip on or off without much effort
  •      Woooooool socks. I also have wool underwear which sounds weird but they dry so much faster than cotton and have a heap of other cool travel-friendly properties. And merino wool socks are the best. American & Australian readers: Costco have the best ones ever.


12. Do you have any advice for girls in particular wanting to hit the road?

One thing that’s really struck me about this trip is that we go through so much of life just waiting for the good stuff. Waiting for something to happen. Waiting to grow up, or retire, or have enough money, have enough time, have enough… People said to me, when I was planning this trip: “You’ll regret it if you don’t go.” And I think that’s the thing, we don’t get a second chance at life. If you have a chance to do something crazy, to take an adventure, then do it. Even if it’s for a year, for six months even. Sub-let your house, put your job on hold (or quit, I dunno) and go do it. People will doubt that you can because you’re a woman, but we’re way stronger and more capable than we think we are.

Go learn about yourself, about the world. Meet new people, see amazing things. Some of the places Loki and I have found by accident have been some of the most incredible natural places I’ve ever seen. Do something that will make your heart sing. Do something that will make you appreciate all of it. Write about it, if you can. I found when I challenged myself to write on my blog every day for a month, that I started to notice everything. The brown-orange of leaves left over on a bush from autumn against the pure white of snow. The blue, blue water of the secret swimming hole Loki found. The explosion of green that seems to have happened over the last two days as the leaves begin to shoot. If you’re sitting here reading this, thinking: “Maybe I should…” then DO it. You won’t regret it. It won’t always be easy and maybe you’ll hate the nomadic life, but I still don’t think you’ll regret it. By the end you’ll have seen things and done things and met people and gathered this whole wealth of experiences and it will be amazing.

I have a couple of little things on one wall of my van. “Souvenirs” in a way, but not your normal tacky fridge-magnet type souvenir. Little things I’ve seen and collected. One is a postcard I bought in Innsbruck (my favourite town ever, maybe). It says: viellecht sollen wir manchmal einfach das tun, was uns glücklich macht und nicht das, was vielleicht am besten ist. Now I’m hoping my German is good enough to translate this right: Maybe we should sometimes simply do what makes us happy, and not what may be best.

Maybe that wasn’t advice as much as a push to go do it… Whoops.


13. Do you plan in going back to a more stable lifestyle? If so, how do you think this journey will affect your future life?

Yes. By the end of this year I think I’ll be looking to “settle down” a bit. Partially because in order to stay in Europe (which I’d very much like to), I’ll need a visa that will let me do that. The easiest one to get will be a working visa, and that involves staying in one place. I’m also not convinced that the nomadic lifestyle is for me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the freedom, the hiking, the sights, spending time with Loki, but there’s also something to be said for a “home base”, for building more solid connections with people, for getting to know a town. Plus I’m really, really missing having regular access to agility equipment.

I’ve been musing over the second part of this question for a few days now and I’m still not sure I know the answer. It’s one of my favourite kinds of questions, philosophical, reflective, predictive. How will this journey affect my future life. I think I’ll have more confidence. I hope I’ll be able to keep the appreciation for things that I’ve gained. That sense of gratitude at being here, being alive, seeing things, doing things. It’s easy to lose that when you settle into a normal routine, a normal life. I would like to think that my future life will be less cluttered, less full of “stuff”. I love the idea of a tiny house, now. Of having what you need, rather than all the things you think you want. Being forced to live small has made me evaluate the things I buy. Do I have space for it? Do I really need it? Sure, I’ve bought things along the way that I don’t need, we all do. My cushion from Turkey, the pretty candle holder, the two chalkboards that I’m having fun designing cute messages for, the twenty scarves I knitted myself (three. It’s only three.) (and a half). But looking around right now there isn’t a lot of “stuff” – I just don’t have space for it. Most things I have were bought for a fairly practical purpose. I’d like to try and keep that in my future life.

I think my bond with Loki is something that is going to prove a challenge for the future, in a way. I’ve spent every day of the last 8 months with him, almost 24/7. We are about as close as a human and non-human creature can be, I think. The times I wasn’t with him I felt wracked with guilt that I wasn’t with him - the few days spent watching the Agility World Championships and visiting him every couple of hours for a quick walk around the block… with a long walk either in the morning or afternoon. Despite spending a good portion of the day with him, it wasn’t all of the day and it felt awful. How will I go about working in a job and leaving him home all day? In Australia, my school let me bring him with me as a “school dog”. I can’t see European schools being as accommodating. So leaving my rock, my constant companion is going to be really difficult. Not being able to devote the time to exploring and hiking and doing agility as we are here. But it’s so impossible to say what the future will hold, and there’s no point in worrying about those small things before I even have a way to stay over here in Europe yet. Big things, then small things.


Hope you enjoyed this interview. Go find Emily and Loki on Instagram, on her blog and on her facebook page!



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4 thoughts on “GIRLS IN VANS - Emily and Loki from Breath Of Wild Air

  1. Wow, Emily is very inspiring! Marina was also my first glimpse into van life, simply because I’ve searched for traveling around Europe with a dog! Not that I have one, yet, that’s one of the things I’ve been too scared of: With my unstable lifestyle, will I be able to be a good dog-mom? Am I willing to give up a part of my freedom for quite a few years to be responsible for another being? What I’ve promised myself is, that the next time I fall in love with a dog (I’ve been volunteering at shelters), I will find a way to bring him into my life. Because as you say, this is our one life and it is too precious to waste on being scared of what is important to you. So who knows, maybe adopting a dog will be my path to van life…?

    1. I hope Marina doesn’t mind me replying to comments on her blog, hahaha.
      I think that as long as you put your dog responsibilities at the top of your priority list, you can’t go too wrong. I don’t think a dog has to travel the world to be a well-loved and happy creature, or to have someone at home 24/7, or to always live in the same place. I think if they have someone that loves them and they go out for walks, they’re pretty ok.
      I like your plan though, about the dog who steals your heart. That sounds perfect to me. 🙂 There was a thing I read the other day that said: “There will never be a perfect time”. So maybe just the perfect dog, and who knows where that will take you!! 😀

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