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Watch: A couple from the United Arab Emirates drives for 9 months to the Arctic Circle and travels through 18 countries in a motorhome – News


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Published: Wednesday, November 22, 2023, 16:38

Last update: Wednesday, November 22, 2023, 8:24 p.m.

Driving a trusty camper van, an Abu Dhabi couple hit the roads from the United Arab Emirates to the Arctic Circle for nine months. During this time, South African Hanneke Willson and her Irish-South African husband John Willson have traveled through 18 countries in the Middle East and Europe, covering more than 33,000 km in the van they affectionately called Jannah.

“Having lived in Abu Dhabi for over 24 years, we have missed four seasons of the year,” said Hanneke, speaking to Khaleej Times from Norway, where the couple is now. “During this trip we were able to experience all the seasons and we were able to see a lot of agriculture. However, what we love most is our ability to go wherever we want and whenever we want, having our home with us at all times.”

During their time on the road, the Willsons’ schedule was packed: they attended their daughter’s wedding in Fiji; stopped at picturesque places; celebrated parties with family members; visited friends they made in Abu Dhabi; and explored local cuisines.

However, Hanneke said there were no plans for the trip. They just took each day as it came.

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“We plan day by day,” he said. “It depends on how far we can drive, what we’re seeing, whether there’s a good place to stay or a good place to spend a few days.”

Here are snapshots from the day they arrived in Finland:

Although they make it look easy, Hanneke said the trip had its own challenges, especially due to his South African passport, which meant he had to arrange multiple visas to enter various countries. At one point, the couple even had to fly back to the United Arab Emirates to keep their residency visas intact.

From fatigue to attempted robbery

For Hanneke and John, the most shocking experience of the entire trip was the attempted robbery they suffered in Italy during Easter.

“We were sleeping when we heard the sound of two people trying to break our window,” Hanneke said. “John tried to get into the driver’s seat and get away from him, but the men were still swinging the crowbar at him.”

With the timely action of some neighbors and the couple themselves, the robbers left them alone but it took them several days to be able to sleep peacefully again. As it was Easter, the couple had to wait two days for the windows to be repaired before hitting the road again.

Here’s a photo of John outside the van after the attempted robbery:

At some point, the continuous travel had affected his well-being. Hanneke said they began to feel depressed and fatigued.

“That’s when a friend of ours invited us to stay with them in a small town in Austria,” he added. “We stayed there for a few days and completely decompressed. “It was a much-needed break during the stressful time of planning each day, deciding where to park, and how to make our trip.”

The couple also had to watch the temperatures at their destinations like a hawk. “Our van can only withstand temperatures down to -10 degrees because otherwise it would damage our diesel tanks,” she said. “Therefore, weather conditions had to be carefully monitored.”

Memorable moments

For them, one of the most memorable moments of the entire trip was visiting their friends. “Living in the UAE, you have friends in various corners of the world,” Hanneke said. “We visited many friends during our trip.”

He enjoyed watching rugby with his friends in Denmark, while in the UK, the couple spent time with more friends, with Jannah parked in their driveway.

However, there was one place that made Hanneke miss Abu Dhabi: Sweden.

“We were stuck in the snow for several hours,” he said.

“A lot of people walked past us and no one even checked to see if we were okay. We missed the kindness of the people of the United Arab Emirates. This would not happen in Abu Dhabi.”

For Hanneke, Jannah is a piece of her own paradise. “It’s like our own home,” she said. “We brought our comfortable mattresses from our home in Abu Dhabi in the van. It is truly our safe place. Of course, we miss having a washing machine and shower. “There is a shower in the van, but it is not the same.”

Planning the trip of a lifetime

Although they had always loved to travel, Hanneke and John had never dreamed of taking an epic trip through Europe. Things changed when they bought a van during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We came up with the idea of ​​buying a van and traveling in it,” says Hanneke. “The idea was to send the van to Canada, where we will move next year. However, we later realized that the van was not made to Canadian specifications and therefore we will not be able to do it.”

Thus the idea of ​​a trip to Europe arose, which later turned into a tour of the Arctic Circle. His son Liam and son-in-law Daniel helped modify the vehicle to meet the demands of extensive travel, while his daughter Kelcey helped with the interior design and furnishings.

The couple set out in February, sending their caravan from Sharjah to southern Iran.

As of Wednesday, the couple’s travel itinerary was as follows:

  • Iran- Turkey- Greece(ferry)-Italy
  • Austria, appeared in southern Germany, Austria, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium.
  • Netherlands-France-United Kingdom (ferry)- Scotland- (Left the van in Glasgow to return to the UAE)
  • Scotland- Ireland- United Kingdom (ferry)- France- Netherlands-flew to Fiji for two weeks (daughter’s wedding)- flew back to Netherlands- Denmark- Sweden- Finland- Norway

The couple will travel another 8,000 kilometers to return to the United Arab Emirates in mid-January.


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