Rachel with Florian and the van they now live in (Picture: Jam Press)
Two years ago, Rachel Horne was struggling with her job in end of life care and took a trip to Spain.
There she met French man Florian Roquais, who had spent six years travelling, living in a tent and hitchhiking around Europe.
Just three days after their paths crossed, she decided to overhaul her life and quit her job to join him.
Initially the couple, both 26, shared a tent before upgrading to a converted van, where they now live.
Rachel and Florian at the coast (Picture: Jam Press)
They got married last November and as Covid has made travelling around more difficult, they settled in the French mountains and spend their days hiking, doing yoga, swimming and reading – which Rachel documents on Instagram @vertlevoyage.
Rachel says: ‘When I met Florian I had recently finished university and was working in dementia and end of life care while I worked out my next step.
The couple’s tent where they first lived together (Picture: Jam Press)
‘I loved building relationships with so many interesting people with stories to tell but I was so devastated each time someone passed away.
‘Seeing people in their final moments made me realise how short life is and I had been really struggling with the emotional drain of working in care.
Rachel now says she enjoys the simpler life (Picture: Jam Press)
‘When I went to Spain and met Florian, he had been working a season over there and had spent the last six years travelling.
‘He was so free and happy, showering in rivers every day and waking up to chase new adventures – I was fascinated by his approach to life.’
Rachel and Florian have a fire on the beach on the Isle of Mull (Picture: Jam Press)
Despite the connection, moving away with a man she had known for just a few days was a big step – one that left Rachel feeling anxious.
She said: ‘I thought about how humiliated I’d feel if I left everything for him just to come home two weeks later with my tail between my legs but I knew that I had to change something drastically.
A driftwood fire on the beach of an uninhabited Scottish island (Picture: Jam Press)
‘There’s always going to be a million reasons not to go for things, so I tried to trust my intuition.’
Before the couple embarked on their tent adventure in Scotland, Florian flew to England to meet Rachel’s parents and friends.
Rachel on the Isle of Lismore with a flock of rescued battery chickens (Picture: Jam Press)
Things worked out perfectly for the pair and while their relationship has blossomed, Rachel also now has a new approach to life.
She said: ‘Now, I live as close to zero waste as possible and I use plant-based shampoo and laundry detergent that doesn’t pollute the water.
‘I have stopped taking flights, stopped buying clothes etc. Once we take the time to reconnect with nature, it just becomes so much easier to live a simpler life.’
The van when they first bought it, before any work had been completed on it (Picture: Jam Press)
The couple decided to buy their home on wheels last year using Florian’s life savings to pay the €9,000 (£7,852) for the van and set to work transforming it.
She said: ‘My husband has a lot of experience with DIY and trained as an electrician back at school, so he had a lot of the skills already.
The van being renovated (Picture: Jam Press)
‘He started by insulating everything and then he built the kitchen, which has gas hobs and a sink.
‘Then he installed the air heater, built lots of storage and created a pull-out double bed that goes back into a sofa by sawing up an old bed frame from a charity shop.
It took them six months to convert the van (Picture: Jam Press)
‘The electrics run on solar and we have a small toilet and solar shower.
‘We only carry 40 litres at a time but it can last us both a week – we use far less power and water on the road than in a house, and we recycled a lot of the building materials.’
There’s also a desk for them to work from and a water filter so they can drink river water when it’s not possible to get to a clean water source.
The van, with the shower curtain open (Picture: Jam Press)
It took six months to finish the work and it cost just €4,000 (£3,487), as they did most of it themselves.
In November last year, they decided to get married, worried about Brexit and the impact of Covid on their plans.
Inside the van showing the water filter under the bed (Picture: Jam Press)
Rachel said: ‘I realised we wouldn’t have the right to live together anymore and that was unthinkable.
‘He is the love of my life and I couldn’t bear to be limited to three months together then nine apart.
Rachel enjoying the winter sun in the alps (Picture: Jam Press)
‘COVID was the final decider because as borders shut down and the world becomes less predictable and stable, we realised things could change at any moment.’
Sadly, due to restrictions, Rachel’s parents couldn’t attend the small ceremony at the Mayor’s office in the town where Florian’s mum lives.
Rachel with the van (Picture: Jam Press)
Rachel said: ‘I spent the day before the wedding crying my eyes out because my parents couldn’t come.
‘I wanted my sister to do my hair and my best friends to help me get ready, but I had to get ready by myself.
Rachel and Florian after getting married (Picture: Jam Press)
‘I was missing my family so much after a year apart because of Covid, and it hurt so much not to have them there but on the day, the sun was shining and I just felt grateful to be marrying such a wonderful man.
‘It was just us and the witnesses, in the Mayor’s office, then we ate pizza and went for a long walk.
The couple’s van home in the Jura Mountains, France (Picture: Jam Press)
‘Not many people can say their wedding cost £30 and I didn’t have to stress about table plans or the politics of who to invite.
‘After the wedding, we took the van to Auvergne [in France].’
The couple had planned to slowly drive from France to Slovakia over a few years but Covid has now put their plans on hold.
Rachel swimming in a lake in Brittany (Picture: Jam Press)
Rachel said: ‘As we got to the Alps, Covid hit and we were forced to stay quarantined in an empty ski resort.
‘Since then, we have spent the year in France, so it’s been a year of micro travel.
Rachel reading in the van on a long winter night (Picture: Jam Press)
‘Now we are interested in finding a safe place to settle down and if we had known Covid was coming, we wouldn’t have spent so much transforming the van.’
Although Rachel loves her life on the road, she admits there are still some challenges.
She said: ‘It’s not an easy or comfortable lifestyle.
Relaxing on a beach in the Outer Hebrides (Picture: Jam Press)
‘Things break all the time, it’s cramped, you will meet some hostility from people that think you are ‘freeloaders’ or ‘wrong-uns’.
‘It can also feel lonely, especially during Covid as we can’t socialise with people.
‘We keep ourselves to ourselves and I have barely spent time with anyone apart from Florian for a year.
Rachel Horne enjoying the quiet in the Jura Mountains (Picture: Jam Press)
‘Sometimes I feel isolated and alone but I know it’s the same for everyone whether they live in a house or a van right now.’
But she doesn’t regret quitting her job for life on the road and says it has helped with her anxiety.
(Picture: Jam Press)
She said: ‘When you live in a van, you are so much closer to nature; seeing sunsets and sunrises and waking up with the birds, it’s beautiful.
‘I almost can’t remember what air pollution smells like and seeing wild animals every day and the fresh mountain air gives me hope that it’s not too late to turn around our relationship with the planet.
Rescued Highland cows and batter chickens on a croft the couple stayed at on the Isle of Lismore (Picture: Jam Press)
‘When we visit friends in their homes, we are delighted by the fact that you can switch on the kettle or have a long hot shower without worrying about every drop of water.
‘We’ve become so spoiled for comfort and luxury in the 21st century that we forget how precious the Earth’s resources really are and living in a van has helped me to really appreciate all the things I used to take for granted.
‘I feel much calmer and better about my body now I’m not constantly exposed to advertising telling me to drink weight loss tea, buy clothes or wear more makeup.
‘It just feels like such a relief to be me and not feel like my worth is measured by money, looks, or things.’
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