By Faten Omar

KUWAIT: The COVID-19 pandemic is a bad memory for many, but it was a chance for Jelle, 37, and Tine, 39, from Belgium, who met online and decided to leave their life behind and travel full-time in their car/home “Panda”. They arrived in Kuwait with a plan for a Middle East tour, but ended up falling in love with the people in the country and staying for a month. Kuwait Times spoke to them to learn more about their trip.

Kuwait Times: When did you start traveling? What inspired you?

Jelle and Tine: Our departure date was first set for March 15, 2020, but just two days before leaving, the COVID lockdown stopped our plans. A few months later, in July 2020, we decided to start traveling anyway, but to stay in Europe initially. Many people think the world is this scary, dangerous place full of people with bad intentions due to the media and news about war, terrorists, murderers and disasters. But we both truly believe that the world is an amazing, beautiful place. And most people are good people! We ignored the negatives and went to see the world for ourselves.

We never felt unsafe; we never had any problems. Instead, we met countless kind, friendly, hospitable, warm and welcoming people who helped us, invited us into their homes, gave us food and drink and made us feel very welcome! We take our time to get to know the culture and the people. We spent a lot of time in France (four months) and Spain (eight months).

Then we just drove through some countries to get to Bosnia and Herzegovina (where we spent a month), Montenegro (one month) and Albania (only two weeks, because it was raining a lot). Then last winter we spent more than three months in Greece, then three months in Turkey, three months in Georgia and two months in Armenia. From there we crossed Iran and Iraq in just a few days. And now we are in Kuwait!

Kuwait Times: How did you meet?

Jelle and Tine: We spoke online for more than a month before we met each other in real life. Jelle had already bought the Defender, but unfortunately, it was in a very bad condition and needed a lot of work. It took us 2.5 years of hard work to convert it into our dream car/house! This long period of working together brought us close and the travel plans we had became longer and longer.

Kuwait Times: What attracted you the most in Kuwait?

Jelle and Tine: We didn’t know anything about Kuwait before we came. Our original plan was to travel through Iran, then Pakistan and India. But we felt it wasn’t the right time to travel to Iran right now. So we decided to just transit through Iran and Iraq and come to the Arabic Peninsula. To be honest, at first, Kuwait didn’t attract us a lot – a big city surrounded by desert. But we were pleasantly surprised, especially by the people. Everyone here is so welcoming and kind! And that’s how, without really noticing it, we are here now for almost a month!

Kuwait Times: What do you think of traditional Kuwaiti cuisine?

Jelle and Tine: We are vegan, so we thought we wouldn’t be able to taste a lot of traditional food. But local people have been very kind to us, showing us the best traditional restaurants, ordering vegan traditional food and even asking the cooks to prepare some traditional food without the meat, so we could still experience all the traditional flavors. And we loved it! So much taste!

Kuwait Times: Tell us more about your experience with people in Kuwait.

Jelle and Tine: The people in Kuwait are the reason we have stayed here for almost a month already! They are the most friendly, kind, hospitable and welcoming people we have ever met! And we don’t just say this in every country!

Kuwait Times: What are your plans after Kuwait?

Jelle and Tine: In the next few months, we will be traveling in Saudi Arabia, Oman and Jordan. Where we will go after that, we don’t know yet! We never plan that far ahead.

Kuwait Times: Tell us about the “Panda” car story.

Jelle and Tine: Jelle fell in love with the Land Rover Defender when he was only seven years old! It is his dream car. And it is the perfect car to travel the world! It is a good 4×4, so it can take us anywhere (which is important to us, because we love going far into nature). It is small enough to drive in cities and on small roads. But it is also big enough for us to live in. We have everything we need: A pop-up roof conversion, a bed, a slide-out kitchen, a living room and a bathroom… All very small of course, but we don’t need anything more.

Kuwait Times: Do you miss your old stable life before traveling?

Jelle and Tine: The only thing we miss about our old life is our friends and family. The Internet makes it easy to stay in contact with them, but it’s not the same as really being together.

Kuwait Times: Some final words.

Jelle and Tine: When you have a dream, whether it is traveling the world or something completely different, don’t let anything hold you back! There always are a million reasons why it is not possible or it is not the right time. But there always is a way to make it work – find the one that works for you!