VIDEO: Couple who quit their jobs to become nomads travelling around Europe in a £7,000 van say it’s the best decision they have ever made

·9-min read

A young couple are ‘living the dream’ by travelling across Europe in their converted van with two dogs after ditching the nine to five for a nomadic life of wild swimming, surfing and hiking.

Fed-up with the rat race, former IT consultant, Kieran Field, 27, and former accountant, Alice Ballard, 26, gambled everything on a £7,000 van to create their new home on wheels – complete with a double bed, compostable toilet beneath the sofa, one-square-metre kitchen and outdoor shower.

Quitting their jobs and renting out their renovated two-bed semi-detached house in Oxford to fund their new lifestyle, Kieran and Alice began their adventures in the north of France in August 2020.

In the two years since, they have covered 25,000 miles across 16 European countries.

Alice said: “Living in a van has given us the freedom to be where we want to be and do whatever we want to do.

“I am a strong believer that life is very short and you never know what is around the next corner.”

Kieran Field, 27, and Alice Ballard, 26, after buying their van in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kieran Field, 27, and Alice Ballard, 26, after buying their van in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “We have never once regretted moving to a van – it was the best decision we ever made.”

After meeting aged 16, while both studying BTec music at college in their hometown of Oxford, Kieran and Alice quickly began saving for their first home together after they started working.

In 2014, they bought their two-bed house in Oxford,  and set about renovating it into what they thought would be their forever home.

Kieran Field, 27, with their dog Freddie, used to camp in a tent before getting their campervan (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kieran Field, 27, with their dog Freddie, used to camp in a tent before getting their campervan (Collect/PA Real Life)

But after a few years, they were itching for something more.

Alice said: “We have always been really travel-orientated so we would try to squeeze in road trips around America in between work.

“We would go camping in Europe or take two weeks off work to visit places like Indonesia and Thailand.”

A holiday in Vienna before the couple bought their van (Collect/PA Real Life)
A holiday in Vienna before the couple bought their van (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “But it was never long enough and we would use all our savings.

“You leave school and you think, ‘Great, we have this nice house’, but there are all these monthly outgoings and no money at the end of the month.

“We were meant to be living the dream but we were just missing something.”

It took the couple nine months of working on weekends and evenings to convert their van (Collect/PA Real Life)
It took the couple nine months of working on weekends and evenings to convert their van (Collect/PA Real Life)

Desperate to explore more of the world, the couple took a leap of faith in July 2019 and bought a three-year-old white Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van for just £7,000 on eBay.

Naming it Puff the Magic Wagon, they spent nine months and £10,000 stripping, insulating, and converting their van on their weekends.

“We knew if we had the shower inside, it would take up a lot of space for something we use only once a day, so it made sense to have it outside, and we made it with a £20 garden hose,” Alice said.

Alice Ballard working on ‘Puff the Magic Wagon’ in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Alice Ballard working on ‘Puff the Magic Wagon’ in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)

“We created the toilet using the seat with a small bin underneath, filled with sawdust mixed into compost, with a separate urine tank at the front – you literally lift off the sofa cushion and it’s there.

“We spent the first few months using cafe loos and we quickly realised we needed our own toilet so having the toilet in the van was actually really glorious.”

And they managed to squeeze in some luxuries too, thanks to solar panels on the van roof and three high-performance batteries.

Kieran working hard on converting their first van in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kieran working hard on converting their first van in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)

“So long as the sun was shining, our van was like a fully-functioning house.

“We had full lighting, a coffee machine, a fridge, air fryer, gas hobs and chargers for our phones and iPad as well as a surround sound stereo.”

By February 2020, they were ready to head off with their four-year-old Golden Retriever, Freddie, only to be delayed by the lockdown.

Alice Ballard, 26, in the Picos de Europa mountain ranges in Spain, in October 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Alice Ballard, 26, in the Picos de Europa mountain ranges in Spain, in October 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)

“We were locked in until the summer but it gave us the perfect chance to rent out our house and then in August, we could finally go,” Alice said.

“We had put so much blood, sweat and tears into making the van with our own hands and we were so proud.

“Heading off, we felt this massive, satisfying sense of freedom.”

The couple were locked down in Spain in November 2020 for a few weeks (Collect/PA Real Life)
The couple were locked down in Spain in November 2020 for a few weeks (Collect/PA Real Life)

Heading first to Mont Saint-Michel in France for a month, then to Picos de Europa in Spain for two months, the couple later moved on to England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Spain, Andorra, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Germany, Belgium, Gibraltar, Bosnia and Austria.

And they quickly adapted to their new van life.

“For the first time, we had time to explore our hobbies and find out what really made us happy,” Alice said.

Kieran has learnt to surf since they started travelling in their van (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kieran has learnt to surf since they started travelling in their van (Collect/PA Real Life)

“I started running everywhere across these beautiful landscapes and Kieran learnt to surf.

“You have moments like swimming in a beautiful loch around Ireland, with no one else around you, and you just feel so lucky.

“We look around us and appreciate life every single day.”

Alice Ballard, 26, with Freddie, in Sevilla in January 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Alice Ballard, 26, with Freddie, in Sevilla in January 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)

And Freddie their dog, enjoyed it too.

She said: “Fred has always loved it and loves meeting new people and exploring new places.

“He always has his head stuck out the window of the van when we travel.”

Visiting Mont Saint-Michel in France in September 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Visiting Mont Saint-Michel in France in September 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)

In March 2022, they added a second dog to their team – rescue puppy, Sookie, an eight-month-old mongrel they found in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

“When were in Croatia, we saw a large rescue centre,” she said.

“When we visited, there were hundreds of dogs.”

Freddie in front of ‘Puff the Magic Wagon’ van in Loire Valley, France, in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Freddie in front of ‘Puff the Magic Wagon’ van in Loire Valley, France, in 2019 (Collect/PA Real Life)

But Kieran immediately picked out Sookie to take home, she explained: “She was in such a bad way, we wanted to give her a better life.”

With an income of around £1,000 a month from renting their home in Oxford, the pair say it is more than enough to live humbly.

“We are not rich people, but it is enough,” Alice said. “We are really careful to track every penny every month and make sure we don’t overspend.”

Kieran and Freddie driving through France in March 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kieran and Freddie driving through France in March 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)

And documenting their travels on their YouTube channel, KeiranandAlice,  initially for their families, the pair also noticed they were building a loyal community of 11K subscribers.

“We post every Sunday now and have this really wonderful little community who follow us,” Alice said.

“It’s amazing because we can look back and relive those moments and see how much we have achieved as well as inspire others.”

The van in Croatia in February this year (Collect/PA Real Life)
The van in Croatia in February this year (Collect/PA Real Life)

Not everything has been smooth sailing however.

“We started to realise that the weather wasn’t always nice and trying to shower in the wind and rain wasn’t ideal,” she said.

“And living with your partner in a small space was something we had to work on too and know when to drop an argument and move on with your day.”

She added: “We really learnt to communicate our issues and understand each other.”

And some health complications last year briefly halted their travels.

“Kieran started experiencing weird symptoms at the end of 2021 when we were in France, being really thirsty, losing weight and needing to urinate three times a night,” Alice said.

Freddie having a dip in Mostar in Bosnia in March this year (Collect/PA Real Life)
Freddie having a dip in Mostar in Bosnia in March this year (Collect/PA Real Life)

“We kind of brushed it under the carpet but coming back to the UK in April this year, he ended up in A&E, where he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

“But Kieran adapted really quickly to his new lifestyle and routine because he had so much time to deal with the treatment and he always has everything he needs.”

Less than a week after Kieran’s hospital trip, the couple embarked on creating a new van – as their first one had become a bit of a squeeze with Sookie on board too.

With no plans to ditch their van life, Alice and Kieran decided to upgrade, buying a 14-year-old Mercedes-Benz Luton van in London, and converting it in just six weeks – all for £17,000.

“We knew what we were doing the second time around, so it was much easier and the van is so much bigger,” Alice said.

“The biggest difference is the amount of floor space we have and now we have an indoor shower too, which is so good, and there’s still the loo under the sofa too.”

Kieran and Freddie in Northern Ireland in August 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kieran and Freddie in Northern Ireland in August 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “It also has more solar power and battery power which means there is more usable power.”

Travelling 25,000 miles in a van together has been great for the couple’s relationship, Alice said.

“I think there is something quite romantic about building a home with the person you love, with your bare hands.”

Kieran Field, 27, and Alice Ballard, 26, with Freddie, after climbing Snowdon in May 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kieran Field, 27, and Alice Ballard, 26, with Freddie, after climbing Snowdon in May 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “Sometimes it can be challenging living in a small space but we’ve been together so long and we both love each other and it has brought us closer together.”

Currently in County Mayo, Ireland, the pair are making future plans to head further afield – including Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Serbia and Turkey.

Kieran said: “I always knew there was a bigger world out there we had yet to discover, and now, we get to do it every day.”

Alice Ballard, 26, with Freddie, in Sevilla, Spain, in November 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Alice Ballard, 26, with Freddie, in Sevilla, Spain, in November 2021 (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: “It sounds a cliche, saying you find yourself doing something like this, but we have learnt so much about ourselves.

“This has completely changed our lives.

“Who knows what the future holds – but for now, we are just enjoying living in the moment and taking every day as it comes.”

Follow their YouTube here – https://www.youtube.com/c/KieranandAlice