Selling up and setting off on a family adventure...
We interview Josefine Ekstrand of family lifestyle brand Leo Leo to find out what it’s like to sell your apartment, most of your belongings and set off on an adventure on a vintage bus with two small kids…
What made you want to sell your apartment to set off on a family adventure?
It was about finding a way to construct our everyday life with a degree of freedom and ability to own our time each day, not least the time together with our children.
It became a question of financial opportunities, raising capital for our business and to dare to look at life with new eyes. Was owning an apartment in the city, working two jobs to pay rent, bills and besides working on the dream of starting our own business, really the best way for us to live?
We were looking to find a way of being together as a family with hopes of adventures in sight, seeing the world, and to give as much knowledge to our kids as possible through travelling. Those were some of the thoughts that ultimately made us walk the line.
We met an old couple one day, sitting in front of an old auto camper, sharing a bottle of wine near the beach, watching the sun go down. Emil started talking to them and for the following two weeks he was at the computer non-stop searching for a home on wheels. Meeting them was such a fresh awakening. They’ve travelled the world with all of their kids and for us this was truly the answer we’d been searching for.
When deciding to move into an old veteran bus, we of course had to get rid of so much stuff, just to be able to live as four people on 12 square meters.
But it all started a couple of years ago when we decided to clean up and clean out. It’s overwhelming to see how all of that stuff was slowing us down and making it impossible for us to see a way out of a daily pattern. Releasing ourselves from a lot of insignificant things and clothes gave us freedom of mind and a renewed energy to throw ourselves into dreams and adventures that mattered to us. So we bought a veteran bus from 1963, a Scania Vabis from Sweden.
What was it like living in a camper van?
The overall idea was to be able to create a safe space for our two children. A place for them to feel secure and have as close to a ‘normal’ kids room as possible. We knew we wanted to dedicate a lot of room for that particular matter, so we built a room in the back of the bus, with lots of storage under their beds for toys, clothes and so forth. We took away the things we knew didn’t have to be a stationary setting. Having a portable toilet, oven and stove allowed us to use our kitchen in many other ways.
The kitchen could be used for creative projects, whilst all the cooking could easily be done outside. In terms of space, we built a sofa that could be pulled out to become a bed, a desk that worked as a storage place and window sill. It was all about finding those epic solutions, where the objects can transform and have several functions. To us, the building and the development of different design solutions was just the most fun!
After living on a bus for a while, letting go of so many belongings, we’ve realised that a great family home should be a place with room, primarily room in the heart.
Living in a bus with small children seems to challenge everything! So most of the time it was mostly just about surviving and making sure some kind of dinner was served. Funnily enough that hasn’t seemed to have changed much even though we’re now living in a 100sqm house. There’s ultimately just more rooms to clean.
What were the biggest changes you saw in your children after you set off?
Our children have been with us the whole time, helping to build the bus, going through toys, deciding what to keep and give away. No doubt it has been a learning process, but also very challenging. Our girl Hilma was fortunately still too little to really understand what was going on, but our son had to face some challenges. This hasn’t been a ‘joy-ride’.
The bond between the two of them is special. When we go out among strangers, they seem really confident and positive. Our son is high on energy and sometimes a lot to handle, but when it comes to his sister it’s nothing but love and respect.
Ultimately I hope we take this part of our lives with us, building a close and trusting relationship with our kids and working on a strong bond between them as brother and sister.
Our children really know what we’re doing and what we’re working on. It includes ups and downs, but that is a life lesson. Everything comes down to the person who’s willing to get up again and move forward. Our son, who is four years old, enjoys packing Leo Leo orders and putting on labels for different places in the world. He’s also working on his own swimwear collection and he’s positive that he can build or create anything he puts his mind to.
Tell us about Leo Leo. Was it difficult running a business on the move?
As a real fashionista, I suddenly got hit by the baby train and a parallel universe opened up before my eyes. Before the name Leo Leo, I was sewing all the products myself, but the demand increased and we decided to get it in production.
We have outsourced shipping, so the business has been able to pretty much continue as usual. It’s all about having a seriously strong WiFi connection, no dead batteries and lots of sun to charge up our solar power! Living on the road has been quite the challenge, not only in terms of finding good places to park our 12 meter long bus, but also because running a business requires focus. Which can be hard, when the office is located in the kitchen, living room and bedroom.
We travelled from Copenhagen, drove through the Pyrenees mountains, took it on the ferry to Mallorca (surviving the heatwave) up hills on the highway with eight big trucks behind us, forced to drive 20km per hour. We still made it, all the way to Portugal in one piece. When driving a veteran bus, you never really know what the day will bring you. To get this far and being where we are today, calling Portugal ‘home’, is quite an accomplishment in our lives.
After living for 6 months by the motto ‘home is where you park it’, we’re now in a house, with a permanent address in Portugal, the Algarve, with an ocean view and sunshine every day. We’ve moved a lot in the last year and it’s been good for the soul, but hard on the business. I love to work at home, close to the family, but I must admit, having the space for a office was really missed! Ironically, our office is now in the living room of our house, where the kids play.
How important is Instagram to Leo Leo? And what do you like and dislike about the platform?
Instagram is very important, not only in terms of our business, but also personally. I honestly think that the platform invites us in, to see how people are living so many different lives, all over the world. Coming from a small country like Denmark, where we kinda lead very similar lifestyles, looking through Instagram you realise people are living on buses, in treehouses, boats, teepees and all kinds of ways. It made the choice a little ‘easier’, knowing that living on a bus in some countries is totally normal. Instagram, I guess, can inspire in many ways. For me, it’s ultimately the most amazing place to indulge in creativity, photos, art, DIY, homeschooling, Waldorf toys and just about anything regarding fashion.
It’s also a way to share our journey, even though there may be a lot of negative aspects of the platform, filtered images and ‘pretty’ lives. I choose to see it and use it for what I like about it.
And finally, best and worst things about travelling as a family…
Emil and I decided, back in our home in Copenhagen, in our self-built kitchen, in the cool area of Nørrebro, that we wanted to try to live in different ways. We agreed on saying “yes” to each other and whatever idea we might feel was important to be lived. To us, the travelling is about living! It doesn’t matter if things don’t work out as planned, because it turns out they rarely do. We want to go out and find answers and stop living like we already have them. The hard part is to be full-time parents, starting a business and living in a new country where you don’t speak or understand the language. Life is full of opportunities, so we try not to sweat the small stuff and in our house we never talk about “it’s not possible”, we only talk about “how can we do it”.
On this journey we’ve already grown so much together. I hope the experiences we’ve had with our children in their early years will become a positive foundation for our future relationship. I love being a mother and I really enjoy our chaotic life with kids.
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