A rooftop tent, the sandy shore of the Danube with splendid panorama for the weekend, for four—a sort of absolutely affordable “nomadic luxury” even during the pandemic. The couple that formerly co-managed the Pikkpack shoe brand, designer Sári Gulyás and sociologist András Balogh and their two daughters became enthusiastic wild campers approximately a year ago. Once the good weather kicks in, they are on the road from Friday till Sunday.
It’s Saturday evening, we are talking during dinner. The kids, Rozi and Liza, are in the bathroom. They only have ten minutes to chat with me, between two bites of salad and some black forest ham. Probably the most relatable online interview of the past times is in the making, which illustrates this period determined by the pandemic very well in my opinion. Our days are swallowed up by our jobs entwined with private life and family chores like a limitless, overwhelming tide. Everyone is seeking an escape from this. Even though Sári and Andris didn’t start wild camping due to the coronavirus epidemic expressly, listening to them, their choice seems like a very good “strategy.”
They moved to the Danube Bend a few years ago, where it is indispensable for both of them to have a car, due to the commute and their two daughters. Andris believes in 20-year-old cars, on the one hand because he loves them, and also because he is not willing to spend more on cars than what these vehicles cost. Their first two cars stopped functioning after a while—they took one to the scrapyard, while the other they gave to a poor family in the village. This is when they found the Subaru Forrester with which they keep exploring the riversides of the area to this day.
“I have been eyeing this car online for quite some time, then I called its owner, but we couldn’t come to an agreement at the time. Then one day I spotted it on Andrássy Avenue. I recognized it from its plate number and ran after it, then finally caught it at a red light and flagged the owner down. I said »hello, I’m the guy you talked to over the phone«, then we talked for a while, we went for a ride with the car, and after two weeks I called the owner and told them to drop the price a bit and then I’ll buy it. And that’s exactly what happened,” Andris told us.
Then came the pandemic. They opted for full isolation, which is something they can quite easily do in their house with a garden and due to the fact that both of them were already working from home. After a while, of course, they longed for a little more freedom and wanted to go out more, and so last summer they decided to start camping. “I went to Decathlon on Friday, I purchased everything there for a really good price, and we already spent Saturday night on the riverside,” Andris recalls. At the time, he slept in the car while the girls spent the night in the tent because they didn’t have enough room.
“I spent all my childhood camping with my parents, we only seldom booked apartments, so to me this was not strange at all, and luckily Rozi and Liza also seem to enjoy it very much. Only sleeping at night caused some problems, because we were very cold, but then we thought why not dismantle a futon mattress from Ikea and put it into the tent. We always carried this all folded up, it was very heavy, and on top it could hardly fit into the roof rack we got from our parents,” Sári explained.
So they started looking for more comfortable solutions—this is how they found the iKamper roof tent. It can be set up in three minutes, it can stay on top of the car folded during the entire summer season, and this one actually fits all four of them comfortably. On top of it all, it comes with a thick mattress and sheets by default. Another advantage of the iKamper is that it stops wind from blowing in sand and dust, it ventilates well, kids don’t take in as much sand on their feet and it is also warmer simply because it’s not on the ground. No to mention the breathtaking panorama!
Luckily, they never had to go far away from home to find beautiful places. The Danube Bend holds plenty of wonderful spots for anyone who wanders there. Since the summer, they have explored the area, which was also comfortable for the kids due to the afternoon naps and the short time spent in the car. Andris plans their tours on Google Earth’s satellite map—here he can find sandy parts on the Danube’s shores, see where roads go and where he can drive in with his car. The proximity of the water is also very important because they need a place to clean and wash dishes. Sári is in charge of planning meals, which is not an easy task as they don’t have a real fridge yet: she has to pack all perishable goods into a simple cooler. Then there are the various ingredients, condiments, cutlery, utensils, chopping board—a complete kitchen. They usually eat one-pot dishes, such as paprika potatoes with chicken or pasta with bottled sauce and some kind of meat that they roast on the spot.
“When we arrive at a given place, we immediately put out the chairs, the table and we bring water into the washbowl. We unpack everything around half past nine, and we start cooking around eleven. After lunch, the kids take a nap, and after that we usually go to a new spot for the night. For dinner, we eat leftovers from lunch or something cold. Sári and I bathe in the river, while the kids bathe in the washbowl. After getting them to sleep, all we do is gaze at the stars and drink the lukewarm beer,” Andris explains.
In October last year, Andris created a Facebook group focused on wild camping, with the primary goal of exploring the places suitable for camping—to see where others go, with what cars and in what constructions. With a marketing hack, three hundred people joined the group on the very first day. Today, it has 4100 members. Even though community-building was not his main goal, it somehow works on its own. The members help each other, they organize meetups.
This field where almost all layers of the society are represented is also interesting for Andris from the aspect of sociology. There are people who sleep on the backseat of their old Suzuki Swift, while others camp with the latest motor homes. “You can really get used to this way of traveling. It’s a little bit like a drug. Once you start it, there’s no stopping,” Andris commented.
And not only on domestic terrains. Once the ban on traveling abroad is lifted, Sári and Andris plan to camp in Greece and Estonia instead of the classic vacations in Croatia and at Lake Balaton. Their long-term goal is to buy a pick-up, with a heated living space, a so-called camper mounted on its platform. A true off-road vehicle, which would allow them to camp in the winter, too, as the most exciting places are always beyond the dirt road…
Photos: András Balogh