When we bid Adios to Nicaragua back in March, we thought the days of bumping through the countryside in a bright yellow chicken bus were behind us. Little did we know, it would only be a few short weeks before fate would lead us straight to the only one in Europe. The Nomads Bus – or Jumbo George as it is affectionately called by the initiated – is a decommissioned American school bus that has been completely refurbished and unleashed on Europe as the first ever adventure-seeking hostel on wheels.
The Nomads Bus combines the freedom and intimacy of van life, the lively, social atmosphere and hospitality of a hostel and the intrepid spirit that is lived and breathed by the two nomads themselves.
Belgian couple Tim and Val are the adventurous, powder-chasing powerhouse team behind The Nomads Bus. Val is a culinary wizard with a passion for good, wholesome food and the outdoors, while snowboarding instructor Tim is the cool-headed Mr Fix-It that keeps Jumbo George powering through Europe’s highest mountain passes.
In tow are their sultana-loving little nomad Fenna who doles out high fives and infectious giggles, and lovable dog Lewis who will always be around to play fetch and keep your feet warm beneath the dinner bench.
After years of budget travel that eventually led them to Guatemala, the pair were inspired to combine their passions of mountain expeditions and travel with their dream of running a hostel. Once they had found the perfect vessel, run a very successful Crowdfunding campaign, shipped the bus over to their homeland Belgium and spent two years planning, clearing, sanding, sawing, painting and sewing, Jumbo George was ready for his first season on the road.
With a strong focus on enjoying the outdoors, days on the bus gravitate towards getting up close with nature, whether that be hiking to hidden lakes, hitting the ski slopes, getting muddy on a mountain bike or taking to the waves with a surfboard.
The bus is essentially the ultimate mobile home that allows you to embrace a nomadic life, at least for a short while, and chase that next outdoor adventure without restriction.
But really, The Nomads Bus is so much more than just the adventures it creates. The intricacies of bus life itself are half the experience.
The more time you spend on the bus the more evident it is how much love has been poured into its creation. Thought and care has been payed to every minute detail – from the hand stitching on the curtains to the photos that entertain you while you are otherwise occupied in the toilet.
Every day new details begin to emerge as you settle in to your new home for the week.
Picture being roused by the faint clinking sounds of someone tinkering in the kitchen, the aroma of caramel coffee and freshly toasted cinnamon muesli wafting nearby. The sun rays warm you through the window and you open your eyes to see the mountains calling from just outside, or perhaps it’s the waves. With bare feet, you step outside onto damp grass and into a salty spray.
Breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace and food is passed through the emergency hatch like it was the front door. The morning sun warms your cheeks as you munch on fluffy pancakes laced with coconut, taking in the new landscapes before you.
It could be the mountains, the ski slopes, the beach, or anywhere really, because on the bus, home really is where ever you choose to park it.
The day is spent breathing fresh mountain air, with sandy feet or being nestled in a bean bag with a good book, and in the evening you gather inside, playing cards and rubbing shoulders with your fellow nomads. Simple French delicacies of bread and cheese are never far from reach and the wine flows freely, as does the conversation.
Space on the bus is tight, but it never feels too crowded. Rather, it creates a cosy and familiar hive of activity that breaks down any barriers and encourages you to interact.
The fragrance of exotic spices fills the cabin as Val works her magic in the kitchen and as night falls Tim gets to work creating an outdoor cinema beneath the stars, or perhaps a campfire where you will sip on port and spiced rum and be lost in the dancing flames and telling of stories.
When your eyes grow heavy you trail off to bed, waving a last goodnight from your bunk. Tomorrow the bus will move on to explore different landscapes and find a new place to call home.
Water tanks, batteries and bellies are filled in preparation for departure and every item on the bus is returned to its home. The doors close with a heavy sigh and the incessant beeping of a vehicle in reverse announces the next stage of the journey.
The bus crawls slowly up Europe’s steep passes, teacups and towels swaying in unison from their hooks in a dance only they know.
Every car that passes has eyes glued to the window. Many stop, with cameras and phones at the ready just to get a shot. You wave through the gap in the tinted windows and they laugh and wave back enthusiastically.
After just a few days it’s easy to forget where you are. After all, you’re driving through the European countryside in a great big, bright yellow American school bus. You are a shining spectacle in a sea of traffic. Who wouldn’t want to take a good look!
After a time though, you’ll realise that The Nomads Bus is not just a vessel to take you to the snow and surf in order to chase that next adventure, although that is a big part of it. It’s about bringing like-minded people together, getting back to nature and embracing a truly uncomplicated way of life.
Life on the bus exemplifies the ‘experiences over things’ mentality and you’ll walk away feeling all the richer for it.
The first year on the road took The Nomads Bus through the powder and peaks of the French Alps during the adrenaline packed winter season, followed by a more laid-back summer roadtrip through Basque country that saw them paddle board through wetlands and spend lazy afternoons on the beach.
Now, the nomads are gearing up for their second season that will lead them back into the Alps before they embark onwards into Eastern Europe.
The bus has space for six guests in two triple bunks and the nomads family has their own private space at the rear. Each bunk comes equipped with a reading light, a USB charging port and a large pouch for your possessions. A small locker is also available for each guest and all non-essential luggage is stored under the bus.
Wholesome, largely organic and completely delicious meals are served up family style in the inside dining area or on the rooftop terrace.
During the day though, what you do is really up to you. Take to the slopes, the sand or spend the day kicking back on your own – the tools and equipment for great explorations are all there.
It is also important to note that while The Nomads Bus experience is a full one, Jumbo George is getting a little on in years and sometimes technical difficulties do arise. While there were never any serious disruptions during either of our stays, they are a possibility and simply the reality of living and travelling on a bus. But hey, that’s just another part of the adventure.
Reservations can be made for a minimum of one night, but you will have a more complete experience if you allow at least a few days on the bus and let the nomads know what activities would give you the best trip possible.
The Sandy Feet joined The Nomads Bus as media nomads for a week in both the spring and autumn seasons and received a complementary stay in order to fully experience life on the bus. However, as always, all opinions expressed are our own.
All photography is property of The Sandy Feet unless stated otherwise and cannot be reproduced or amended without our permission.