Last week, my wife and I were looking at places to stay in southern Portugal.
Like plenty of people do, we started to look on AirBnB. But something caught our eye. It was more of an amusement, at first. Somebody had posted a camper van on AirBnB. Intrigued, we went through the booking process.
We thought the woman on the profile rented out her only van.
And that would have been the case, two years ago. But Nina Solyukova and her partner, Peter Schulze, have since expanded their business. They now rent seven vans, under the name, OceanCamper.com. These aren’t high-end campers with toilets and showers. They’re small, clean, well-equipped vans that cater (mostly) to budget conscious travelers.
We booked one of their vans, and Nina met us at the airport.
The bubbly 26-year old drove us to her business’ location…about a 10-minute drive from the airport parking lot. We rented a Kangoo, with a small bed in the back. It had an outdoor shower.
As with Nina’s other vehicles, she included plates, bowls, cutlery, towels, chairs, a small table, a portable reading light, a propane cooker, pots, a wine opener, dish soap, body soap and clean linen. Before we left, she also gave us a choice of several sunscreens… at no extra charge.
For an extra 3 euros a day, we rented a portable Wi-Fi hotspot unit. Portugal might be one the last places in Europe where “Wild Camping” is easy. Officially, people are supposed to stay at campgrounds. But as long as you don’t leave camping chairs outside your rig at night, you can stay almost anywhere.
Prices are based on a variable pricing model, starting at 29 euros a day. You could also rent a tent from 14 euros a day, a surfboard from 7 euros a day and a stand-up-paddle board from 15 euros a day.
But are there drawbacks? Sure.
I’ll explain the main one…from an angle of perspective. When we turned in our van, we met a guy named Alexis. He, too, was returning one of Nina’s vans, after enjoying a fabulous week with his girlfriend.
We chuckled about having to search for public toilets every day, and he said, “This morning, I went to a restaurant where we ate the night before. But it was closed. And I really had to go to the bathroom.” These red, Renault Kangoo campers don’t include toilets. It might be one of the reasons why, after the first night in our Kangoo, my wife said, “I don’t think I could do this for more than five days.”
After five days, our rental time was up. My wife and I had to take the Kangoo back.
That night, we stayed at the Opus One Guesthouse in Faro, Portugal. Nina had said, “That’s the fanciest guesthouse in Faro.” And we weren’t disappointed. It had a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi, a sauna, a great morning breakfast with all the food we could eat (a big perk for me) and incredible rooms with…toilets.
But after two nights of luxury, my wife wanted to go back to a van, so we rented another Kangoo from Nina.
This brings me back to Alexis.
He couldn’t find a toilet, so he wandered down the street. He came to a construction site and saw, in the distance, a portable potty. As he got closer, he prayed it would be open. “I couldn’t believe my luck when I opened the door,” he said. “And best of all, it even had toilet paper. It felt like I had won the lottery!”
This isn’t just a story about toilets and camper vans. Instead, I think it’s a metaphor for life. My wife and I had previously spent 17 months in the Shangri-La of vans (our personal, Winnebago Travato) while traveling in Mexico and Central America. Compared to our van, the Kangoo was a shoe box.
But…we enjoyed the Kangoo just as much. Like Alexis, we took huge pleasure in some of the most basic things. We were able to bathe in a lake, with nobody around for miles.
We slept alongside a beach, closer to the water than any five-star resort could get.
And we camped near some cliffs, overlooking crashing water from the ocean below.
Renting a simple, ocean camper wouldn’t be for everyone.
But for us, it was a perfect 2-weeks of simplicity and bliss.
Photos by Pele & Andrew Hallam
Find out more from OceanCamper.com