Living a VANtastic life

Daphne Gakes (34) has been living in her campervan ‘Bartje’ in Amsterdam for three years now. Moving from one place to another, she experiences a feeling of freedom and danger at the same time. 

Text by Lisanne van ‘t Riet and Julia Pulm, photos by Lisanne van ‘t Riet  

Stepping out at Station ‘Verrijn Stuartweg’, a ten minute walk leads you through a business area towards the warehouse where Daphne parked her camper. Entering through a big gate with a heavy lock on it, it looks like an abandoned factory. The inside: completely empty, with the van parked in the middle. The lodge is so big that she could race her van from side to side. While stepping inside her ‘home’, the steering wheel and seats are on the right side, with her bed above it. On the left side locates a small kitchen and a table with seats. There is even room for a shower and a toilet: a tiny house on wheels. 

It’s in my veins to be a gipsy.

In a month she is moving to another place again. Daphne has been living this way for four years now. She loves living in her camper, even though it’s not a usual lifestyle. When she was a student, very often she moved with her parents. So it wasn’t a surprise when she moved into a houseboat with her ex-boyfriend. “It’s in my veins to be a gipsy”, she says while laughing. 

Daphne Gakes (34) has been living in her campervan ‘Bartje’ in Amsterdam.

After they broke up, Daphne decided to fully concentrate on her career as a theatre maker. She travels a lot for her job and had performances all over the country. “During touring, you don’t have a place which feels like home. So, I had the idea of taking my home with me.” Like that, the idea of living in a camper was born. Immediately, Daphne started to look for vans and campers on the internet. “This van was the first one that popped up”, she remembers. “It was a very impulsive decision. So, I just bought it.” ‘Bartje’ is Daphne’s first car. “At the beginning I was really nervous, but now I really love the easiness of travelling. You never have to pack again because you always take everything with you.”  

I learned to live with less and less stuff over time.

Moving from a houseboat, with a walk-in-closet the size of a bedroom, into a van with only two small cabinets for her clothes, she definitely made a big transition. “I started with a box filled with stuff on top of my van, because I didn’t have enough space in the van itself.” Now, she even has cabinets that aren’t filled completely. “I learned to live with less and less stuff over time.” She got rid of a lot of clothes when she left her ex-boyfriend. “I really wanted to start all over again with minimizing my amount of clothes.” Daphne actually doesn’t even miss her closet, she appreciates that she was able to minimize her belongings. “It’s good having a small closet because if you have a huge one, you can feel like you have to fill up this space.”

The lodge, in which her van stays is completely empty. The lights are working with a sensor, so halfway through the conversation, it becomes completely dark. “I often get scared of small noises I hear outside the van, but there is nothing going on, most of the time.” A couple of break-ins and a robbery aren’t unfamiliar events for Daphne. She had many sleepless nights in the past few years, while the windows of her camper are only made of synthetics. “The break-ins made me realise I have to protect myself better.”

I was completely done with the fact I couldn’t protect myself as good as I wanted to…

A van is not the same as the brick wall of a ‘normal’ house. “After a couple of break ins, I was completely done with the fact I couldn’t protect myself as good as I wanted to. So, I made sure I had more protection.” Therefore, Daphne bought a weapon in Germany. “I prepare this before I go to bed, so I can grab it easily whenever I need to.” The whole process of buying ‘protection’ and having to possibly use it made her realize how vulnerable she is. And that her freedom of moving around with a van, also comes with a price. “It’s freedom and risk at the same time.”

Parking at camping spots is something she rarely does. Sometimes Daphne even sleeps in the forest, southern of Amsterdam. “Waking up in the middle of the forest, surrounded by the sound of the animals and not one human being in sight, is an amazing feeling. You feel so alive.”