“It’s a little house you take with you,” says Christiana. “A home wherever you go!”
No, this isn’t the latest episode of Tiny House Hunters or Tiny House Nation. It’s a very real story of two intrepid adventurers and one small van. Or bus, to be more precise. Because ‘van dwellers’ Christiana and Stefanos Ioannou have, over the last year, repurposed what was originally a Toyota Hiace 95 kids’ minibus into a gorgeous little home-on-the-go – perfect for exploring Cyprus.
That’s not to say they don’t have a physical home of their own – the 28- and 30-year-old couple are based in Limassol, where Christiana is a freelance graphic designer and her partner works for a logistics firm. But come weekends, holidays, and evenings, the two hop in their van and head for the hills – or the beach, or the villages… Because having a tiny mobile home, says Christiana, is all about finding your freedom.
“We bought the van last April, and have almost entirely refitted it,” she explains. “Both of us have always loved camping, exploring, and discovering the island’s lesser known places, so we thought this would be a great way to get out into the wilderness and really experience the beauty of nature for days at a time. Stefanos had heard about Australian van life – it’s apparently pretty common Down Under – and that kind of inspired us to give it a go.”
Of course the vehicle required a total revamp before it could become a home on the road. “Originally it was a bus which took kids to their afternoon lessons, so it had loads of seats, and needed a lot of work to make it liveable. We weren’t sure, initially, how successful we would be,” says Christiana. “We knew there would be a lot of effort involved, and both of us have limited time because of our jobs. But we said ‘Let’s just do this. Let’s try it, and see if it works.’”
“We started the conversion using building materials from my workplace,” Stefanos continues, “along with anything we could find in nearby scrapyards, a few things from DIY stores, and borrowed power tools. We had zero experience,” he adds with a laugh, “and many failed attempts along the way, so most of the project took a long time.”
But by January 2020, the van was done: complete with adjustable table and two benches (also used as storage units) which convert into a king size bed; a mini kitchen with a sink; running water from an electric pump; a small gas stove; and lots of creative storage.
Of course, by then, the duo had already taken their home on the road more than once. “Our first ever road trip was to the Baths of Aphrodite over Easter weekend 2019,” Stefanos reveals, “a destination we chose for two reasons: far enough to enjoy the ride in our new vehicle and test the engine’s performance, and a place we’d camped before that already felt like home.” Staying for the entire weekend was a freeing experience. “We realised we were much happier with a lot less stuff and a lot more freedom: we felt more alive than ever.”
Since then, Christiana and Stefanos have travelled “almost all over the island, and stayed in amazing locations.” Not all were perfect – “we spent many nights in parking lots!” adds Stefanos. “But each location had its magical moments. Cyprus may be a small island but there is always something interesting or new to see, and having our tiny home with us on our travels is just so convenient: it’s such an amazing feeling not having to worry about hotel bookings or overcrowded camp sites. You set off, park anywhere, make something to eat, rest, read a book, sleep, go hiking, take photos…”
“We never have a plan,” Christiana continues. “We wake up each morning and decide what we want to do. It’s very freeing, very romantic – almost magical in its way. With a car, you spend ages loading and unloading and driving to and from your destination. But with our van, absolutely everything we need is right there, and we can stay out for days at a time. Both of us love canoeing, hiking, and diving, and all our kit is stored in the van,” she adds. “So we set off for a remote beach and just stay there. Sometimes for days!”
A big part of the allure, Christiana, continues, is Cyprus itself. “We both love the island so much. It’s such a beautiful country, so much to see and discover. And Stefanos and I are both early birds, so we tend to get up at 5am to start our adventures, when the roads are completely empty.” A time which, she acknowledges, is actually better in terms of maintenance: although the van is in good condition it’s certainly not new. “We’ve been lucky,” she smiles. “There’ve never been any breakdowns or problems. But then the van is pretty slow, so early morning travels are sometimes the best way to go!”
Of course the corona measures have put a stop to more recent travels, but it’s been a good chance, says Christiana, for a vehicular overhaul. “We’re still trying to make it more liveable,” she reveals, “and our next step is to add solar panels to allow for longer trips. I guess the only thing we can’t add is a toilet – but when you’re out in nature,” she laughs, “you find a way!”
When measures lift the couple plan to travel even further afield. “The restrictions have made us all a bit scared,” says Christiana, “but it’s really good to look forward to things! We’re still posting on our Instagram account” – @Vandwellers.cy, a page the couple have started in the hopes of meeting fellow van travellers and inspiring more people to join in life on the road – and we’re hoping to take the van to Greece next. We’ve heard the sea borders will open, and so that’s our plan.
“In the meantime, however, we’re just looking forward to getting back out and exploring the island once more!” she concludes. “The very first place I want to return to is Polis and Latchi – I’ve missed the area so much, and I’m dying to hike Akamas and swim in those lovely clear blue waters; to feel totally free again. Because that’s the beauty of having a home that goes with you: it’s the ultimate freedom.”
To follow Christiana and Stefanos’ adventures, visit the Instagram account @Vandwellers.cy