The Road Trip Guy: A Voyage That Turned Into A Business Venture
By Jill Webb
Six months and 41 countries– it seems like a difficult feat for most, but for Niels Thomas, the founder of The Road Trip Guy, it was the journey of a lifetime.
During the summer of 2017, Thomas and his Volkswagen Beetle “Lazy Louie” traveled 30,000 kilometers (or approximately 18641 miles) through Europe.
From May to November, Thomas and Lazy Louie would travel from the Netherlands throughout Europe, supporting and spreading awareness for several charities along the way.
He would document his travels on his blog, The Road Trip Guy, and through his social media channels.
Planning for the journey
Before he became the road trip guy, Thomas worked as a wildlife manager in the United Arab Emirates. After seven years of working in the wildlife field, Thomas decided it was time for a new adventure and hopped on an Etihad flight back to his home in the Netherlands.
On his flight home, he saw an article about Dr. Randal Olsen, the developer of the shortest road trip through Europe with as many landmarks as possible. Thomas thought this was pretty cool, and decided to do some more research on it.
After spending some time on Google looking up the road trip, Thomas grew an interest in doing it himself.
“Like with everything in life, the more you think about it the more you start to like it. So, I decided, you know what, I’m just gonna do it,” Thomas said.
But, he wasn’t about to just hop into his car and go. Thomas sat down and planned for three months before embarking on his journey.
He made sure he checked out insurance-wise and researched what road taxes he would be hit with. He researched all the countries he would be passing through and gathered what documents he would need with him. One helpful site is EHIC, where Brits can get insurance coverage on the continent.
“The good thing was most of the countries were European Union and I also have a European Union clearance because I have a Dutch passport. It was quite easy to travel between the countries,” Thomas said.
“The countries that were not European Union like Norway, Ukraine, and whatever, they have a quite good relationship with the EU so it was quite easy to cross the border there.”
After that, he started making more precise calculations to pinpoint where he would be stopping.
He asked himself “okay, which landmarks do I really want to see? Which hikes, which activities, and so on,” Thomas said. “And based on that I slowly started making a route.”
Even with having everything mapped out, Thomas kept in mind that he would meet locals along the way with some good places to discover. He knew that it wouldn’t be a fixed route.
“I knew I had to go somewhere in x-amount of days or weeks, based on that I would just travel around,” Thomas said.
His tip to those looking to plan a trip like his would be to double your trip time. He originally planned for three months, but it took six.
“If you think you can do it in three months, make it six. If you think you can do it in six, make it twelve,” Thomas said.
On May 15th, Thomas started Lazy Louie’s engine at 9 a.m. and headed out to his first stop: Trees for All charity in Arnhem, the Netherlands.
With a background in nature and wildlife conservation, Thomas found himself drawn to the charity focused on C02 reduction and growing new forests. It inspired Thomas to donate to have trees planted and to make his entire trip be C02 neutralized.
As Thomas continued on, he realized that there was going to be so many places he didn’t want to leave.
“In Norway, I spent almost three weeks, and I had to force myself kind of, now I have to move on, or else I’m gonna be here for three months,” Thomas said.
This is why he tells people to be prepared to spend extra time. He also encourages people to try to meet as many people as possible.
When traveling with friends or family, you may involuntarily only socialize with them. But if you travel alone, you’re kind of forced to meet new people, which according to Thomas can really make a trip memorable.
Sometimes, people he met would jump in his car and drive with him, exchange adventures, and then part ways after a couple of days.
“That’s what the road trip was all about: meeting new people, trying to learn about the cultures,” Thomas said.
Thomas really started embracing the local secrets around Denmark.
In his green beetle, he looked like an out-of-towner and was easy to spot. People would come up to him and ask where’s he from, and he would explain his project. Once people caught on, they would say “oh, you have to check out this spot” and Thomas’ curious nature would follow their advice.
In Norway, he met a man at a gas station and after conversing, Thomas ending up following him home to check out his huge farm.
Like they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And Thomas definitely listened as the locals shared pointers.
“I always kept the big landmarks in mind– the hikes, the capitals, and etcetera– but along the way as soon as I met the local people and they would say ‘well this is on your route’ or ‘this is 100 kilometers here or there’ then I would definitely check it out,” Thomas said.
Though he finds it incredibly hard to narrow down, Ukraine was one of Thomas’ favorite spots.
Before arriving, a lot of people told him that his beetle would get stolen there, that the roads are impossible, and other off-putting things.
Other than getting stuck at the border for seven hours, Thomas was amazed by Ukraine (even though he did admit the roads were intense.)
One of the defining features of Ukraine for Thomas was the people.
“They’re the sweetest people I’ve ever met,” Thomas said. “The hospitality was amazing, and everybody loved the car.”
He felt a similar sense of hospitality in Romania and Bulgaria.
For the best food, Italy was an obvious choice. Thomas ate loads of delicious meals there.
Hiking the Trolltunga
Thomas also developed a passion for Norway, a country he couldn’t seem to leave for weeks.
“I really fell in love with Norway, because I [had] never been there before and I remember everybody saying to me ‘yeah, it’s gonna rain a lot’ which I’m already quite used to in the Netherlands,” Thomas said.
But, during his three-week extended stay in Norway, it only rained one. He felt incredibly lucky to have sun and clear, blue skies.
“It was crystal clear, so I was so lucky with that. You get these beautiful blue colors of the Fjord waters and lagoons,” Thomas said.
On his only day of rain, Thomas was supposed to hike to the Trolltunga, a famous cliff with a breathtaking view. Approximately 1100 meters above sea level, the rock formation is situated over lake Ringedalsvatnet.
He decided the weather would not be good for the 10 to 12-hour hike, and headed to Bergen, Norway.
Just arriving in the city, Thomas felt uneasy about skipping out on Trolltunga and phoned his neighbor back home who was Norwegian.
His neighbor said to not just google “weather” because the weather on the ground in Norway is very different than at the top of the mountains.
Following his advice, Thomas checked a Norwegian weather source and saw that there was going to be a 16-hour frame of no rain for the hike.
Not wanting to regret missing out, Thomas turned his car around and made it back in time to start his hike at 6 a.m. the next day.
Since the tourist season wasn’t in full swing, Thomas did the journey alone after some googling. He met some great people who were coming down as he was going up and got to take in the beautiful waterfalls and snowy scenery as he made it to the Trolltunga.
Thomas didn’t realize the extent of his following and was even left starstruck at one point.
While in Warsaw, Poland he took a picture with an old beetle in the city center and put it on his Instagram.
To his surprise, he received a message from Ewan McGregor, the famous Scottish actor, saying something like “oh, I love this beetle, I also took a picture with it.”
Thomas didn’t even know McGregor was following the project. He was a big fan of McGregor, especially the motorcycle trips he used to do.
“That was really like a fanboy moment for me,” Thomas said.
Since finishing his European voyage, Thomas has been back home working on building his fun project into a full-time business venture for himself.
He wants to organize road trips, and his been talking to different companies that rent out vans. He’s been in the works a company that does six-day all-inclusive trips with old Volkswagen buses.
“I’m trying to make it more into work because I already enjoyed it so much, so why not?” Thomas said.
Thomas is excited to see where The Road Trip Guy takes him next.