Jessica and Robbie Lefroy gave it all up – and they took their daughter, Henley, with them.
In October 2015, they drove their souped-up Westfalia to a freight warehouse and waited not-so-patiently for it to be shipped out on the high seas to its European destination almost two months later.
They walked away from bi-weekly recycling, work commutes and toilet cleaning. They walked away from Squamish running trails, the softness of their own beds and the comfort of knowing where the next hot shower would be.
The two parents did what terrifies so many: They left everything and everybody they knew and headed straight into the unknown.
And what did they get for turning their backs on the sure life?
The trip of a lifetime.
In December last year, the young family flew to London, England. From there, their wanderlust took them to France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, England and Wales.
Every day was some variation of eating, exploring, caffeinating, adventuring, doing nothing and hanging out.
“We left behind the cultivated neurosis of the daily grind. We left behind keeping up with the Joneses. We reconnected with each other,” says Jessica of their seven-month tour.
The family was happy with life in Squamish, but felt they had settled too easily into a pattern of home and work, rinse, repeat.
They read about mavericks who left the daily grind behind in search of riches available to those who have the courage to step out from convention and toward their crazy dreams.
“We decided the only difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’ was that they had just made it happen. So, we decided to make it happen,” Jessica says of the couple’s decision to take a year off work and take family life on the road.
Planning the trip required more than the usual will and enthusiasm Jessica uses to get things done.
The van was a major purchase and required the couple to spend three years dedicated to careful consumerism.
Jessica says that once the decision to go was made, things just fell into place – sort of.
The truth is that the red-tape requirements for a trip of this magnitude are enough to stop the half-hearted from realizing their dreams of freedom.
The lengthy to-do list got done with the help of Jessica, who admits to a weird penchant for handling logistical details.
“Logistical stuff is fun to me,” she says.
“I had to sort out shipping options for the van to Europe, temporary import permits for the van into the E.U., vehicle insurance, health insurance, Schengen visa restrictions and international drivers permits, among other things.”
To prepare for the trip, the family became weekend warriors and tested the waters of van life with their daughter. They camped out as much as they could throughout the Pacific Northwest – from the Elaho Valley to the Oregon Coast.
They readied their daughter to leave family and friends behind and made sure to bring her dearest toys – Pterodactyl, Dragon and Baby – and plastered a cabinet door with Polaroids of loved ones.
It didn’t take much to make her feel happy and secure, Jessica says, because she was so happy to have all of her parents’ time and attention – as well as gelato in Italy and a midnight viewing of the Eiffel Tower.
While touring with the babe meant that there were no late nights in Flamenco dance halls for Jessica and Robbie, there were evenings with traditional music in Irish pubs and nights spent sharing fireside stories with other travelling parents while Henley ran wild into the night with other children.
There was the complete contentedness born of having nothing to do but exactly what you please with the people you love the most.
“We did it all and Henley did not cramp our style, not even once,” Jessica says.
Jessica gives her husband credit for two major roles in the life of a family on wheels: Mechanic and grill master extraordinaire.
The Lefroys’ days revolved around the hunt for new, yummy, foreign things.
“The quest for the perfect baguette, nata, burek, gelato, croissant, crepes, weinersnichel and cornish pasties was something that we took seriously,” confides Jessica.
Dinner time, however, was usually at home. Here is where Robbie Lefroy’s mad all-weather, outdoor dutch oven cooking skills spared garlic-loving Jessica from a permanently reeking living space.
Like a champ, Mr. Lefroy (rumored to be a descendant of the man Jane Austen based her character Mr. Darcy on) hunkered down in the rain and built fortresses for casseroles.
“We cooked every meal in our cast iron dutch oven, and because our kitchen was essentially our living room and bedroom, we ate a primarily plant-based diet,” says Jessica.
The blue Westy had a name – Storm. The Lefroys purchased the heavily-modified van from Westfalia fanatic and Squamish local Jay Lefstein.
Storm kept its end of the bargain.
‘The van survived two lengthy ocean voyages and saw the family safely through their European vacation, across Canada and on a post-Europe Disneyland excursion just for Henley.
“You are never actually 100 per cent relaxed when driving a 30-year-old vehicle on another continent, but Stormie was an absolute beast,” says Jessica.
There were some issues with the van en-route to the happiest place on earth, but Robbie and Jessica learned to accept quirks and make repairs as necessary.
“We (Robbie) had to replace three CVs and one leaky heater valve on the road. The horn didn’t work the whole time we were in Europe and the heater fan basically only works when the radio is tuned to the AM dial on Thursday morning at 9 a.m.,” Jessica jokes.
There was no homesickness. OK, there was one stop at a European Ikea to check out new couches, but Jessica and Robbie weren’t itching to get home to their ordinary life inside four walls.
“Now we are home in Squamish, but it still feels like the van is home, so right now we are homesick for the road and the comfort and closeness of life in the van,” Jessica says.
The van became home and the family’s return to the daily grind and undesirable distance from each other has not been easy. “Coming home has been a difficult transition. Being sedentary. One of the things I miss most about our time on the road is the closeness. We are far away from each other here, at home, at school, at work – mentally disconnected a bit.”
Jessica says that there are myriad moments that stand still even after the family’s return to the hustle and bustle.
Camping on a deserted beach in Spain. Dipping in the Mediterranean. Hiding from a Belgian rain storm. A deserted Stonehenge sunrise. The Lipizzaner stallions in Vienna. Pasta in Venice.
What did she learn?
Jessica shares what the experience taught her:
“How little you need to be happy. That a lot of the stuff we concern ourselves with on a day-to-day basis doesn’t really matter.
“To slow down. Be present. That your kids grow up so quickly. That bread is not the enemy. That adventure is out there. That by and large the world is filled with kind people.”