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Couple Ditches Their High-Paying Jobs And Luxury Apartment To Live In A Van With Their Dog

Jon, Emily and Loki (PA Real Life/Collect)

A Home Counties couple quit their jobs and a luxury apartment to live in a souped-up van with their dog. Now they feel “liberated" by life on the road, as they tour through Europe.

Emily Ashley and Jon Edwards met two years ago online. They bonded over their passion for travel, and soon fell in love. But their jobs as a senior occupational therapist and his in engineering for a robotics company left scant opportunity to spend quality time together.

Their wake-up call came when Edwards was signed off work, exhausted and with his mental health under severe duress. That prompted them to buy and customize a part-modified bright blue van, before quitting their jobs in March and focusing on travel.

Jon and Emily hiring a boat for the day in Germany (PA Real Life/Collect)

Ashley loves life in their home on wheels with Edwards and their Belgian Malinois dog Loki.

“We better appreciate a simple life now, without the need for too many luxuries. You don't realize how little you need to live until you try, which also means we consume less and have a smaller negative effect on the earth," she said.

“It's too easy to just buy things to solve a problem back home, but you can't waste money on rubbish from Amazon if you don't have a postal address."

“The freedom to have a different back garden every day is a big plus, too."

The van's exterior (PA Real Life/Collect)

They bought the van for $6,800 through eBay in Spring 2019, and Ashley admits she insisted on certain specifications before she would call it home.

“There were a couple of must haves that we wanted in our van," she said.

“First, that it was tall enough for Jon to stand up in, as he's 6ft 1in, second that it had a fixed bed, so we didn't have to pack it away every morning and third, that it had a shower and toilet – a girl has to have some luxury."

Emily and Jon (PA Real Life/Collect)

By the end of 2019, their van was beautifully renovated and now has an L-shaped sofa which converts to a single bed, storage underneath housing a solar panel charge controller, a diesel heater, water heater, batteries and dry foods.

It also has a kitchen complete with an oven, hob, sink, and fridge. A double bed, and even a dog kennel to keep Loki secure when the vehicle is in motion.

And, a full bathroom.

The van's interior (PA Real Life/Collect)

“The oven is particularly handy, as it means we can cook proper meals rather than using a little camping stove," she said.

“I love baking, too, and I've still been able to do that on the road."

Working right up until they departed from England, Edwards and Ashley finally left their jobs and hit the road in March 2020, taking with them about 75% of their remaining belongings and just leaving larger items like mountain bikes with family.

Some banana bread Emily baked on the road (PA Real Life/Collect)

“We had people telling us to turn back and stay in England, but I'd already rented out my flat to some tenants who had signed a year-long contract and our families couldn't put us up," she explained.

“We had no choice but to keep going. We left the UK right before the lockdown and extensively researched where would be safest to go."

“We found that some campsites in the Netherlands were still open, so we took a ferry overnight from Harwich in Essex to the Hook of Holland," she added.

“Actually taking the plunge and going was easier than I thought. The build-up was difficult, as I thought about leaving my family and the home I'd worked hard to buy."

“Once we were on the road, though, it felt more liberating than scary."

Emily in Diemelsee, Germany (PA Real Life/Collect)

When the couple met online in 2018, they had already seen a fair amount of the world.

Within a few dates, however, they had a frank conversation about wanting to explore the world and were clearly on the same page.

“We spoke about how we envisioned our futures and how we would no longer settle for something that didn't make us happy, either now or in the long term," she said.

Jon and Loki (PA Real Life/Collect)

“It was such a relief to find someone like minded, who had similar life goals – and, of course, who I was attracted to," she continued.

For Edwards, it had been a dream to take off in a camper-van and enjoy life on the open road.

She shared his adventurous spirit but, when they met, they still both had other commitments.

The van's interior (PA Real Life/Collect)

Everything changed when Edwards was signed off work.

“The pressure I was under was really quite harrowing, to the point where it had a serious effect on my mental health and I had to take leave. It has been really freeing to step away from the stress of the nine to five," he said.

“The pressures we put on ourselves to be so-called grown-ups are often self-imposed. Things like work, mortgages, marriage and babies are still going to be there when we get back."

Emily and Loki (PA Real Life/Collect)

“I had been wanting to travel and have more freedom, but I struggled to find a way to do it," she said. “Being in my 30s, staying in hostels didn't appeal to me. When Jon and I spoke, though, I could really see the benefits of living and traveling in a van."

Financing their new life by putting away savings meant making sacrifices in the build up to their great escape.

“We cut right back on luxuries to save money, as we knew that adventure was coming," Ashley said. “We didn't have weekends away, mini-breaks, takeaways or anything else like that."

“We also gradually downsized our possessions, reducing the amount of things like clothing and electrical goods that we had."

Since March, the pair have been gradually exploring the Netherlands and Germany.

“Our favorite places so far have been Friesland in the north of the Netherlands and the Harz National Park in Germany. We experienced great hospitality and kindness in Friesland. We made some lifelong friends there with some of the locals and other van-lifers," she said.

“Harz National Park was the first major nature area we spent time in. We are both keen outdoor people and we really enjoy the mountains. The Harz was beautiful with some challenging climbs and is a special place for us."

Emily in the Netherlands (PA Real Life/Collect)

“Living and traveling in the van has brought us closer together as a couple. Before, we would go to work, come home and be so exhausted that it was difficult to engage in a way that was nourishing for our relationship," Edwards said.

“Now, we sort out the practicalities of pure survival, like where to get food and water, then the days are ours to hike, explore, walk Loki or cuddle up under a duvet in the middle of the Great Outdoors."

The van's interior (PA Real Life/Collect)

Ashley is equally passionate about their new routine, which is a world away from the busy schedule she used to have.

“Jon is not an early riser, so I spend the morning walking Loki, tidying the van and making the coffee ready for the day ahead," she said.

“Once Jon is awake, we discuss where we want to go or what we want to do that day, like hiking, cycling, exploring cool little picturesque villages and all that fun stuff. Other days are simply taken up fulfilling our basic needs like finding water, going to the supermarket and getting diesel."

Jon skimming stones in Germany (PA Real Life/Collect)

“We're expecting to have to come home on December 31st when the UK is set to leave the EU and then evaluate from there," she continued.

“If it wasn't for that, we could afford another nine months or so before heading back to work and saving for a few months to hit the road again. But we've got another six months to enjoy before worrying about that."

“We're spending quality time together and living together in a small space can really strengthen a relationship for the right people. We aren't paying large utility bills, mortgage, rent and so on and have realized very quickly how much money is wasted in a domestic situation."

And Loki is an amazing addition.

“One of the biggest bonuses for us is being able to give our dog Loki an interesting and varied life. Having a variety of landscapes for him to play in warms our hearts," she continued.

The couple is keen to encourage others to follow in their unconventional footsteps.

“Initially, people didn't really believe us when we said we were going to live in a van, but eventually, as we bought and converted it, they saw we were serious," she said. “Some people thought we wouldn't last more than a few weeks, but ultimately, our loved ones just want us to be happy and are supportive."

Jon and Loki (PA Real Life/Collect)

“There are some misconceptions about van life. Some people assume that we don't wash, until we explain we have a shower and toilet, and use launderettes for cleaning our clothes. We have also come across some negativity on the road," she said.

“People seem to imply that their lives – living in a house, working 9-5, having 2.4 children – are 'normal' and anything else isn't. They like to challenge our way of life even though we don't challenge their life choices."

“Thankfully, these people are very rare and most interactions are overwhelmingly positive."

Follow Edwards and Ashley on Instagram here.