The Family Van

It must be moving season! Lately, I’ve had lots of emails from families moving abroad, wondering what we did for a car when we arrived. I mentioned in an early post about our move, that we intended to arrange a short-term car lease while we were here. But that didn’t happen. Here’s what did happen:

Turns out, we couldn’t lease a car, or get any sort of auto financing, because we needed to have an active French bank account for at least a year before we could apply. So. We had to purchase a car instead. Ben Blair found a used VW Transporter without too many miles — and it had seats for 9 people! Perfect for a big family like ours.

The VW wasn’t cheap, and we didn’t have enough cash to pay for the whole thing up front. So we asked a favor of the seller and payed for the car over 3 months. That just about wiped us out! We assumed we would be making small monthly payments and hadn’t budgeted for a big purchase like that. But then it was paid off and ours, and we felt great about the decision.

Ultimately, we’ve been delighted with the car. And man oh man have we put some miles on it! It’s taken us to The Netherlands, England, Spain, Germany, Belgium, and all over France. It’s designed for 9 adults, so it feels extra roomy to our family of little kids, and it’s been the perfect car for road-tripping. We love it! We wish VW sold this in the U.S. because we would buy one in a snap!

P.S. — Did you know almost all cars in France (and maybe Europe?) are stick shift? Even rentals! Our VW is too. Luckily, my first car was a stick shift, and a few cars I’ve owned since then as well, so it’s easy for me. Do you know how to drive stick?

51 thoughts on “The Family Van”

  1. That’s funny – my parents purchased a similar van when they lived overseas – carted us to England, France and all about. I remember it was so big, we could fit all sorts of stuff under the seats and still have leg room, etc. All of this is very helpful info to people moving abroad – truly.

  2. Oh I feel your pain with the lease. We are lucky to be getting a company car for our family of six BUT we are still waiting on it’s delivery after seven months of living in France! Silly us, wanted a German (VW) car instead of a French one ;) In the meantime we are making do with a smaller car that actually does us just fine. Makes you realize how unnecessarily big most U.S. cars are!

  3. it sounds like a great van! we’re “working” on a big family, and i’m always trying to figure out if there’s a way we can have only one car that would fit us all (bonus if it’s not a minivan).

    can you bring the van back and drive it in the US? are there laws about driving foreign cars here in the states? would it be worth the price to ship it?

  4. ha! we’ve driven cars like this around europe – it’s weirdly roomy and compact at the same time, compared to its american counterparts. we always call our rentals the “people-movers” and not cars becuase they are so functional!

    nb, for those traveling abroad, if you plan on buying a car in europe, it is often a much lengthier process than in the US. There is no “drive the car off the lot” business like here. If you buy new, chances are the cars are made to spec – especially german cars – and waits can be 3-5 months. Just something to consider. If you are military/government, there are discount programs with the German manufacturers and Volvo.

    1. It’s great! Plenty of space for luggage and room for everyone to stretch their legs. Sometimes it’s tricky on the tiniest of European streets, but so far, we’ve managed. Ben Blair is a really excellent driver! Me, not as good. : )

  5. Oh dreaming!!! We had an old version of that car for about ten years and it had served a previous family for at least that long… It died last year and we were without a car for about nine months!!! Believe it or not we survived – I never would have guessed we could, there is no useful public transport in our part of the world… but honestly we can walk to the local library, the beach, up the mountain and the store… my older kids have become totally independent getting themselves to their French and music lessons. On Sundays we crammed – and I mean crammed into my mum in laws car for a trip to church and back… and really we have been fine. Two weeks ago we got our van back and it is going – somewhat, but we have got so used to being a “no car household” that we haven’t thought to use it yet!!!

  6. we have just moved to bali and though we would walk and bike everywhere. boy were we wrong. After a week my husband hired a motorbike/moped to do errands and get medicines ( the kids were sick abit in the first couple of weeks)

    we covet a 1970s VW combi that we see all over the island but have ended up hiring a car 3 days a week a concession to the walker/bikerider among us. Not a child safety seat on the island though… a big adjustment . here they think a mini is perfect for a family of 6 with surfboards!

  7. That is SUCH a cool van! Perfect for your family! Thanks for sharing. This is great info to have. We are working on doing another summer in Germany, and hopefully a full year as well (a few years from now). For the year, we know we will need a car, but I didn’t even think about the possible issues you mentioned. Great advice!

    I’m curious, too; will you sell it when you leave France, or is there any way you can ship it back to the US for a reasonable price?

    1. We’re not sure. We think we might sell this one. Then, see if we can buy one in Mexico (where I heard they still sell this model), then drive it to the States. But I have no idea if that’s really a possibility.

  8. Too bad there isn’t a way for you to bring it back with you.
    Having only one child, we never needed a big car. I wonder if I could even drive a van, never have!
    Now that my daughter is grown and moved away, we are looking for an even smaller vehicle. I’m thinking a little smart car or something, must have room for our puppy though :)

  9. Knowing how to drive a stick shift vehicle is a great skill – and sets the women who know apart from all the rest. My dad taught me years ago and I LOVE to drive stick! I feel more in control of the car in bad weather. I’m usually so bad with mechanical things – but I mastered stick! Ha!

    Are French drivers as agressive as German ones? If so, yikes! :)

    1. I few years ago there was this item on the UK news – a French channel showed a video of British drivers voluntarily stopping to let pedestrians cross the road. The channel got tons of surprised/incredulous mail from their viewers :D

      Also, if you try and drive into Paris at the beginning of Aug (most French people take several weeks off at the same time during that month and go and stay in the countryside), you’ll witness almost the entire city just acting as though the roundabouts aren’t there. Driving right over them!

  10. My dad had a Peugeot that he used to teach me how to drive – stick! My parents required that I learn to drive a standard to get my license. It has served me well! I am always surprised how many people don’t know how – thanks Mom & Dad!

  11. A stick shift should be required for a DL in my opinion. It was such a huge challenge for me to get it right when I learned. But I have always felt a sense of accomplishment for learning & still knowing how to drive one. However I think that it has become a “thing of past” disputed by many whether we should have to learn it or not. Sort of like writing in cursive is now. Hmm too bad.

  12. Learning how to drive a stick shift back in high school was soooo hard but I’m so glad I did it now. I don’t own a stick shift now, but it’s a treat when I get to and then–I think it’s kind of fun!

  13. from the time i could get on a plane and fly overseas by myself, i’ve been working and studying wherever i could…and i’ve always said – THANK GOODNESS MY PARENTS TAUGHT ME TO DRIVE STICK SHIFT! from driving muddy dirt roads in the carribean to asia, the south pacific and all over europe – i’ve never once driven an automatic. even my work on film sets during college had me driving stick shift (when no one else my age could)…i think every parent should make sure their kids can drive both – you never know when they’re going to need it. and if you’re like my family (farm folk) you take your kids out to a dirt lane and throw them behind the wheel of a big old pick up with a granny gear and make them learn at the age of ten. and i firmly believe that if anyone can handle a granny gear on an old f-150 – you can drive any car.

    ps: love the van. immediately trying to figure out how to get it over here for our next family vehicle. :)

    1. Becky, that’s who I (and my three siblings) learned to drive too! Granny gear in a 1972 International pickup on a dirt road. Love that I can drive any vehicle, although must be honest, I was too chicken to try and drive my husband’s motorcycle. I can drive a three-wheeler and a four-wheeler, but the idea of toppling 500 pounds over because it only had two wheels was too much for me. :) I’ll stick to four!

  14. Yes, oh, yes do I know how to drive a stick shift. And I LOVE every second of it! My dad taught me, I’m sure illegally, when I was 12. I’ll never forget that time…he was so patient with me! My first car was a 1974 MG Midget…a 4-speed that had me sitting on two pillows so I could see over the giant steering wheel! I wish we could find more stick now shifts here in the states (what happened to them all??)…they’re so much more fun to drive! Enjoy your road trip this weekend!

  15. So in love with your Volkswagen Van. My husband I have been dreaming about picking up a Volkswagen and traveling around Europe with our kids. I think they are hard to bring back to the U.S. Don’t forget about European delivery I think BMW and Volvo have a program and they sometimes even pay for your plane ticket.

  16. Yes and when each of our kids got their drivers licence our rule was they had to know how to drive a stick. That wasn’t an issue for the boys but our daughter had a lot to learn. LOL

  17. My Dad made me learn how to drive a manual and I can’t thank him enough. Not only did it make me the “cool” girl who knew how to drive them, but it’s also been handy when said owner of a manual can’t drive it themselves.

  18. I moved from Europe to the US when I was 18 (before getting a license) so I never properly learned how to drive a stick! Whenever I go back home to visit, I pay extra for an automatic rental car. My car-loving American husband recently bought a stick-shift Fiat 500. I’ve been practicing and I’m sloooowly getting the hang of it. It would have been much easier if I had learned how to drive a stick 10 years ago but oh well.

  19. We drove a little white van in Morocco which we affectionately called our “marshmallow.” Yours reminds me of it! Good times! :-) We drive a vw pasat here in DK and it barely, and I mean BARELY fits all five of us. We’re hoping to upgrade to a bigger car soon, but with 125% tax on vehicles it is unimaginably expensive! Hope you have a great weekend and a wonderful trip! When are you coming to Denmark? You keep coming close! :-)

  20. This is such a helpful post! We’ve rented vans like this to accommodate visiting family. I think it’s so good that you mentioned the stick! In Sweden, you have to choose which type of drivers license you apply for: automatic or stick. You can’t drive stick here until you pass this test! I have friends who have taken the automatic test and have purchased automatic cars, which, since they are rare, are much more expensive. Not a problem, if you are visiting & using an international license, but something to consider if you were moving here. Do you know, by chance, if this is the same in France?

  21. Such an odd question. The whole of Europe drives stick. I guess this blog is aimed mainly at non Europeans (Americans?)

  22. We have a ’92 VW Eurovan (bought in Canada, and it looks the same! (except that ours has some rust, unfortunately) we just passed the 400 000 km mark, and I’m keen to drive it for another 100 000! We have 5 children, and I love the van so much. I would say, bring it back if you can. You can buy Eurovans in N America, (they are not longer made, unfortunately) but they only seat 7.

  23. Most cars in England are stick shift too. When I took my driving test I had to test on a stick shift. If you test in an automatic, then you are only allowed to drive automatic cars, which isn’t a good idea since they are harder to find.

  24. Way, way back in the sixties when my husband and a couple of friends travelled Europe, Renault had a program where you could drive a new Renault off the showroom floor in Paris. You signed a promissory note (and I think put some money down) used it and brought it back when finished. All this was arranged beforehand, how I just can’t remember. I do remember it had a few dings on the side of the car but insurance covered that. Wish I could remember more details. Your trip sounds fantastic, I especially love how the children are now speaking a second language. What a wonderful way to start a life for them.

  25. you know you can bring it home….when we lived abroad many friends did this as it made sense over selling and re-buying once home. Also they had models that they loved that were not available here. If I remember correctly it was a couple thousand dollars to ship. (of course this was as much as 10 years ago – so prices could have changed) — talk to a dealer as I think that they might have some cheaper ways to help you out. I seem to remember audi has some specific program geared just for ex-pats to help them get foreign purchased cars back to the US.

  26. Here (the UK) most cars are automatic nowadays, although manual/’stick shift’ are cheaper so people do still buy them (I’d say it’s about a 75/25 split, although more over-60s drive manuals). Almost all cars are readily available in both configurations. The main advantage to manuals is that they’re much easier to start if your driveway slopes upwards and it’s been snowing, which has been happening every year for a while now!

    Most people still learn on a manual as if you learn on an automatic your licence doesn’t cover both.


    PS: Love the van! I’d be tempted to paint it if I were you – handprints? Flowers?

  27. We have a 2003 VW Eurovan MV Weekender – the last year they were sold in the US. We L-O-V-E it. We wanted one for a long time, and when we finally got one we realized it is way better than we even thought it would be.

  28. When we lived in South Africa, I had a bright green Renault Scenic, which was like a mini-minivan, and it was stick shift. Can you imagine driving a stick shift mini-van in the States?! I loved that car.

  29. I love stick shift- I call them “zoom zoom” cars.

    We just made the move from a minivan to a 12 passenger van. And I would have died 12 or so years ago had I known it was in my future but I L-O-V-E it! We only have 5 children but the logistics of car seats etc. had made the minivan a bit too crowded and we found that suburbans did not accomodate our needs like the 12 passenger. Now I can be a part of carpools too and still have space! Oh-let’s not forgot the lack of fighting that has developed since the children all have a good amount of space between them!

    My neighbor calls the van “Mahana” (“Mahana, you ugly!” from Jonny Lingo) and has threatened to put “10 cow wife” on the back of the van- and I would drive it proudly with those words! Maybe I’ll even put “Mahana” on the hood…..

  30. I learned how to drive in a Fiat with a manual transmission on the rice levees surrounding my parents’ home. At the time, I think we were the only owners of a foreign-made car and the only Democrats in our county. I still prefer a stick … especially on the hills here in San Francisco!

  31. Like the majority of European cars, German cars are stick shift. It was quite a change after being so used to automatic. BUT: sooo much more fun! The little guy does make a big difference for me. Don’t ever want to go back!

  32. Lola I disagree! Most cars in the UK are manual. In fact I don’t know anybody who drives an automatic and I have no idea how to drive one!

  33. Yep, most cars in the UK are manual – I only ever came across one automatic over there. Coming to America and owning an automatic was a worry for me: it took me a few weeks to finally trust that the car ‘knew’ what it was doing and would manage a hill start etc. by itself…

    If you do decide to ship the car, make sure that you itemise everything in the car, as I know lots of people that have had anything that wasn’t on the inventory stolen (speakers, manuals, seat covers etc.). nb. I don’t think that there are any issues bringing a European car over to the US. A friend had to have their car modified for driving in Germany, but had no issues bringing it back to California.

  34. Hmmm. I haven’t checked into it lately but I’ve been told that if you’ve owned the car for a year (proving it’s your personal vehicle) importing the car to the US can be done without hefty taxation. There’s just the possible adjustments to the car that may be needed to adjust it to meet US standards.

    Here in Germany where I live now, BMW has a “European drive/buy plan” where foriegn buyers will buy a car on vacation, drive it and then ship it home. You might ask at a VW dealership if something like that exists, they may then know how to advise you about keeping your van.

  35. I wondered what you were driving over there! we drive the 7 seater called a multivan here in australia and love it:) very roomy and my kids call it the bus:)

  36. When we took our family of 6 to Belgium, we rented a VW Sharan. It was the biggest thing on the road in most of the towns we were in, and barely fit in the garage of the 14th century apartment we rented. And it was, amazingly, an automatic! We can both drive a stick, but it was so much easier to try to translate road signs and addresses without having to worry about the clutch!

  37. I had to learn on a stick shift. I hated it at the time, but have been thankful I know how many times!
    Ooh, I’d buy that baby if they sold them here! Our minivan only holds seven and it’s getting pretty squishy with all of us in it- a seat for everyone, and our dog goes in the trunk if we have to take him with us to visit family in UT- thank goodness for luggage racks- even if we have to put everything in garbage bags in case of weather.

  38. What are carseat, child booster seat laws in France/Europe? Do your little ones have to lug around carseats on all your fun travels? I think it’s so important to travel all as a family. My husband’s family, with 7 kids, frequently take 2-3 (sometimes 4!) cars to get one place ‘together’ and it always feels so disconnected to me.

  39. Oh, and I learned how to drive stick on my mission on the French island territory of La Reunion! Sometimes I was afraid I would drive right off of the curvy little mountain switchbacks and roll down into the sea!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top