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Van life vs. surf life (or the story of a love-hate relationship)

surf life van

Van life vs. surf life (or the story of a love-hate relationship)

Surfing in Portugal is already an established sport. What you may not know is that it arrived in the country in the 1960s, when foreigners passed through the territory in their vans on their way to Morocco.

They came from countries like Germany, where they acquired the well-known Volkswagen Kombi van. They headed for the French coast, northern Spain, entering Portugal and following the coast on the way south and passing to Moroccan lands for warmer winters.

Since then, with 850 kilometers of coastline, surfers roam the Portuguese beaches in search of the best waves.

Irresistible van life

If this was the origin of surfing, perhaps you can say that it was also the origin of the so-called “van life,” a travel style (and even life) that leads people to exchange a physical residence for a house on wheels.

The concept may seem appealing, especially for us, travelers and surfers, but the truth is that this format is less and less well regarded by local communities or users of the most sought after beaches.

“But why is that?” You may be asking.

Because of the uncontrolled proliferation of this type of tourism and its consequences.

The fact is that since the pandemic caused by COVID19 began and with travel abroad conditioned, campervans have become a preferred means of transport since it’s a car and a home all-in-one and provides social distancing.

The associations representing the sector [of rental vans] speak of an increase of between 400% and 500% in the number of Portuguese customers.

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The big problem we now face, especially on the beaches, has no other reason than some (many) of these travelers’ actions. From uncontrollable parking to the assembly of physical structures to the garbage left behind. Unfortunately, caravan drivers, whether they are surfers or not, are looked at with discontent in many Portuguese locations.

van life Portugal

It’s not too late to change

However, like everything in life, we can learn from others’ mistakes and better approach van life. Just follow some good examples of living together, not only with local communities but also with the environment where we are.

If this is a means of travel you use or plan to use in the future, here are at least four essential tips:

  • Use the appropriate places to park your motorhome
  • Respect protected cliffs and natural parks
  • Don’t make the beach or the cliffs your bathroom or garbage dump
  • Don’t occupy the space outside the van with camping elements, such as awnings or stoves (unless you are in a designated area)

Above all, remember to respect the people who live and use the parks or beaches you are now visiting.

Do you usually travel by van? Is it the kind of trip you would like to take? Share your opinion in the comments box below.

(If you normally use a camper van or are planning to travel on one, check out IATI insurance. You get a 5% discount by being a Marlene On The Move reader)

In times past, surfing and van travel went hand in hand. But today, surfers look sideways at these means of transport and the so-called van life that have invaded the beaches.


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Marlene is the creator of Marlene On The Move. A journalist by profession, she created the blog to share her adventures, in Portugal, destination on which she writes for Portuguese digital publications, as in the World. It's not uncommon for her to travel to new countries and discover new cultures.

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