GIRLS IN VANS - Carrie from The Happylands

A journey with a purpose

I’ve found out about Carrie Dougie last year through their extremely curated Instagram account. As soon as I saw her I knew I wanted her to be part of the Girls in Vans series.

You know me, I can’t really resist a bad ass lady in a van particularly if she is working on a great project like the one Happylands. 

Meet Carrie and Dougie and inspiration for many

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

Hi, my name is Carrie. I’m originally from South London but I moved to the Sussex Coast in the UK about 7 years ago when I got my little dog, Dougie.

What are you currently calling “home”?

My little home on wheels is a 1990 VW campervan called Peggy.

3. Who are you traveling with?

It is just me and my furry pal, Dougie!

How long have you been on the road?

I’ve been on the road for 1 year as of June 28th!

4. What made you click into wanting to travel around with a van? What’s the purpose of your journey?

The decision to travel in a van was never an ‘aha’ moment or an epiphany but rather the result of a gradual process over a number of years. I was running a business working with schools across UK and Europe. I adored the work we were doing with young people and loved my job, but it was all consuming. I had the nice salary, the nice house, and the nice car, but not much else. I knew I needed to make a change, but it took me some time before I had the confidence and the certainty to throw myself into vanlife.

Even then it was a slow, calculated decision. It’s hard to throw caution to the wind and give everything up, especially when you have worked so hard for everything you have. That is why, I decided to combine my travels with a research project I had been planning for my MA in Education, which I had been studying part-time for years.

I had always been interested in mental health. Having worked with vulnerable young people, particularly, young boys, I would see mental health problems daily and knew how difficult it was to get the right support. I wanted to get to the root of the problem and try to understand what makes us, as humans, tick.

Combining my travels with a research project exploring the role of masculinity in men’s mental health in the UK and Europe, just made total sense and The Happylands was born!

In the end though I have Dougie, my dog, to thank for the decision to travel around in a van. There was absolutely no way I was leaving him behind! With Europe’s excellent pet passport scheme and the ease of taking your rolling home with you, travelling in a van was perfect.

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

Weirdly, I didn’t have any fears about the big things like being murdered in my sleep before I started my journey!

My main source of anxiety was actually the tiny little things such as, driving on the wrong side of the road, how to pay road tolls, and how to use automated petrol pumps, which is all very different from the UK. In the weeks leading up to my trip I became fixated on these issues so I read lots of blogs and asked my friends, who have driven in Europe before, lots of questions. In the end those tiny things were not scary at all, but that’s how anxiety and fear work. They are designed to demobilise you.

I also travelled Scotland before I did the ‘big trip’ to Europe. The Scotland trip massively helped me as I learned loads about the van, how Dougie likes to travel, and how I like to travel without the huge culture shock of a different language or country. I can’t recommend doing something like that highly enough for other travellers who are considering vanlife or travelling long-term. Get out in your van as much as possible!

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

Being a woman certainly effects the way I travel. Being a woman alone definitely changes the way I travel. It would be naive to think otherwise. But the thing is, simply being a woman is dangerous. From a young age women are taught to live in fear. We are told to not walk alone at night, it is drummed into us to not leave our drink unattended at a bar in case it gets spiked, and we are told it’s our fault when it does. We are told constantly that it’s not safe to be alone, so it is little wonder then that many, many people quite rightly point out the dangers of travelling alone as a woman.

But I believe by choosing to travel alone as a woman, you are consciously choosing not to live in fear.

That doesn’t mean the fear or danger doesn’t exist. It is still there and I protect myself as much as possible with a set of rules I follow, which I’ve written more about here. But it has taken me some time to differentiate between those who say solo travel is dangerous fear and my own. I’m afraid of many things like heights, snakes, and the dark. Solo travel isn’t one of them!

What I would like to see more of, and I often say this to people who can’t believe I’m travelling alone, is rather than point out all the things that could go wrong say, ‘whatever happens you are a strong, capable woman who can handle anything.’ If we empower more young girls and women then we will truly have an unstoppable generation.

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

In my early twenties I travelled alone to Ghana, America and Canada. I’m certain it was these experiences that made me fiercely independent, street-wise, confident and secure in the knowledge that I could handle anything. That and having 4 older brothers! More importantly, it made me like my own company. I am fine with being alone. I actually quite like it. I even actively seek out solitude.

I think it is important to know and understand that being alone is not necessarily loneliness. You can feel lonely in a relationship, or while surrounded by friends and family.

I feel less lonely on the road than when I was at home surrounded by people. But loneliness is a natural part of being human, so of course, I get lonely sometimes! I’ve written more about loneliness and how to be alone here. Personally, how I cope with feelings of loneliness are;

  1. Having a purpose. The research has really helped with this!
  2. Connecting with other people by going to a campsite or calling friends back at home.
  3. Getting creative.
  4. Hiking
  5. Being my own best friend.

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

Yes, totally! When I bought Peggy the van I believed I would travel for 6 months, fix her up, sell her, then return to work. I had expected travelling in a van would rid me of my restlessness. I had expected it to be a phase. Living and travelling in a van, for me, is now a way of life. It has completely changed my perspective on work, money and success.

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

I can’t imagine this trip without Dougie dog! He has enhanced it in so many ways. It is thanks to him I discovered my love for hiking because when you have a dog there is little else to do but walk. Dougie has also made me go off the beaten track and discover hidden gems in each country as the busy, no-nonsense touristy places don’t suit me or the dog. But above all, he has been a constant source of companionship. He is a wonderful friend.

Naturally, there are challenges to travelling with a dog. For me and Dougie we have 3 main challenges;

  1. Food

Dougie is a) fussy and b) has a sensitive tummy. Since he was a puppy Dougie had a raw diet, but meat in a van without a fridge isn’t nice, but Dougie hated and reacted badly to the various dried food I gave him. In the end, the solution was believe it or not, BABY FOOD. He loves it, his tummy is much happier and the van smells much better too!

  1. Other Dogs

Dougie is nervous of other dogs after being attacked when he was younger. I didn’t realize how bad this was until we were on the road and travelling countries where dogs often roam free. This has been a major challenge and one I plan to work on over the summer with special training and socialization.

  1. Heat

As the weather warms up leaving Dougie in the van, even for quick food shops, isn’t an option. I wait till the evening to do anything that he can’t join me with. I also have thermal blinds that I pop on all the windows that help to keep the van warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They are brilliant. Hot weather is not an insurmountable challenge but it is an important one to bear in mind when travelling with a dog.

  1. Name 5 must-have items any van dweller should have.
  1. Toilet

Honestly, get a portable toilet. I travelled without one for a few months and where, when and how was a constant source of stress. Getting a small, portable chemical toilet transformed vanlife for me and added a little, much needed civility.

  1. Hiking boots

I live in them.

  1. Travel Towel

But a posh, big one that feels wonderful wrapped around you after a rare shower.

  1. Mattress Topper or some kind of luxury.

Living in a van can be uncomfortable so splash out on some kind of luxury. I have a lush mattress topper so I can sink into bed after a long day. Another camper I met had a luxury camping chair, which I was very jealous of!

  1. Google Maps

To stop you getting lost but also to flag places you want to go to or have been!

I have more van essentials here!

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

There will be a lot of ‘what ifs’ holding you back as a woman on the road, but in case no one has told you recently, you are strong, capable woman that can handle anything that comes her way. Tell yourself that every day. You will soon see that it is true.

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

Interviewing men and women from farmers in rural Portugal to football fans in Newcastle has given my travels real purpose and for the first time, in a long time, I feel really excited for the future.

I have know idea what that future looks like though. I have the sense that I am irreversibly transformed after living and travelling in the van the past year so I’m not sure I could go back to the so-called stable path of a career, a house and everything that comes with that.

For now though, I’m exactly where I need to be.

Photo credits:  @thehappylands

Hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I have! Make sure you go

and check Carrie’s blog and  Instagram for some proper inspiration.

Are you a van dweller yourself? Wanna share your story? Reach out here!

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