Couple swap Barcelona for van life in minus 30C Lapland

‘My niece thinks I’m paid in cookies’: Couple swap Barcelona for van life in minus 30C Lapland ‘working for Santa Claus’ and gazing at the Northern Lights out of their window

  • Nahuel Rios and Katri Koninki moved to Rovaniemi in northern Finland in 2021
  • The couple now live there full-time in their 2018 Fiat Ducato with their cat, Riepu
  • READ MORE: Inside the London hotel that offers tarot-card readings for guests

Snow my goodness!

Meet the couple who swapped their rented apartment for a €50,000 (£43,330/$54,800) converted van after lockdown and are now living in the capital of Lapland above the Arctic Circle – where they ‘work for Santa Claus’ and can see the Northern Lights from their window.

Nahuel Rios, 38, from Buenos Aires in Argentina, and his wife, Katri Koninki, 43, from Jyvaskyla, Finland, moved to Rovaniemi in northern Finland in 2021, where they are now living full-time in their 2018 Fiat Ducato with their cat, Riepu, who they take for walks.

The town in the Finnish region of Lapland, which claims to be the official residence of Father Christmas, experiences months of darkness, also known as the polar night, as well as freezing temperatures of minus 30C during the winter.

The couple had been living in Barcelona before moving to Finland, but decided to head north after finding salaries were low, taking jobs at the Santa Claus Holiday Village, a hotel where visitors can meet the ‘real Santa’ all year round.

Nahuel and Katri have spent the past three winters living in Lapland, Northern Finland, where they ‘work for Santa Claus’

Initially planning to do one Christmas season at the resort, the couple are now tackling their third. 

Nahuel, who does housekeeping and maintenance, and Katri, who works on reception and helps with social media, said they are happy to brave the elements as it means they get to see reindeer and the Northern Lights from their van window.

‘I have only been living in big cities,’ Nahuel told PA Real Life.

‘So to go from that to living in a van at minus 30C with aurora borealis, reindeer, Father Christmas, the polar night, is incredible. I love this life.’

Katri added: ‘We work for Santa Claus. My niece still thinks that I get paid in cookies.’

Katri met Nahuel in Argentina while backpacking around South America in 2015, when she also visited Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia and Brazil.

They moved to Barcelona, but Nahuel, who was earning between 600 euros and 700 euros [£500/£600] a month at the time, found the quality of life was not good enough.

‘Life in Spain was difficult for me. I was barely making enough money to pay the bills,’ said Nahuel.

Nahuel and Katri both work at the Santa Claus Holiday Village, a hotel where guests can meet Santa Claus

LEFT: Nahuel and Katri’s van under the Northern Lights in Finland. RIGHT: The couple have Santa Claus’s reindeer on their doorstep

A year later they moved to Helsinki in Finland where they rented a flat ‘like normal people’ until the global pandemic, when they started getting itchy feet.

‘We moved to Finland like normal people do,’ said Katri.

‘Then after the pandemic when the borders started to open we were like, “Let’s see if we can work in Lapland for one winter.”

‘It was supposed to be one winter – this is our third winter.’

In October 2021 they swapped their one-bedroom flat for a converted 2018 Fiat Ducato and headed north to Rovaniemi.

‘You can come and meet Santa Claus for 12 months of the year,’ Katri said.

Temperatures in Lapland often reach -30C, according to the couple (pictured)

LEFT: Nahuel and Katri can see the Northern Lights through their window. RIGHT: One of the challenges the couple faces is having to clear their van of snow

They live in their motorhome full time, rent free, and have a five-minute commute to work.

‘It’s an incredible place. I would rather be here than any city because I can open the door and I’ve got reindeer – I can see them right now,’ said Nahuel.

‘Most people have to pay a lot of money to see the aurora borealis, but we can see one by simply opening the window and it’s free. For us, you can’t put a price on that.’

But there are also big challenges, with plunging temperatures and 24 hours of darkness for three months of the year.

‘We are currently in the polar night and there is no sunshine,’ said Nahuel.

‘In the summer we can travel places, but in the winter it’s difficult because you have to remove all the snow and ice,’ added Katri.

‘So we don’t go anywhere in the winter, only to buy groceries.’

LEFT: Katri with their pet cat Riepu in the converted 2018 Fiat Ducato, which they bought for around €50,000 (£43,330). RIGHT: Nahuel relaxing in the van with Riepu

The couple’s home on wheels is equipped with a double bed, shower, toilet and gas hob, although they cannot fill the water tank during the winter as it will freeze.

‘We only have bottled water in the winter time, otherwise if we put it in the tank, it will freeze and break everything,’ said Katri.

To keep warm they have laid three layers of carpet on the floor and use thermal coverings on the windows to trap the heat inside.

‘We also have an engine heater so that we can start the van even when it’s cold,’ said Katri.

Sometimes it is so cold that the van’s doors are frozen shut, the couple said

But this does not prevent the van’s back doors from freezing shut and the couple often have to visit a special garage, where people ‘melt their cars’.

‘It was [once] covered in about five or six centimetres of ice, so we’re talking big blocks of ice,’ said Nahuel.

‘We had to take the van to a garage and melt the ice.’

This year Katri and Nahuel have Christmas Day off and will be celebrating with friends.

‘In Finland we celebrate more on the 24th,’ Katri explained.

‘We are going to meet some colleagues and have a dinner.’

Adjusting to the extreme climate has been especially jarring for Nahuel, who had only ever lived in cities.

‘For someone like me who comes from a country where we have sunshine all year round, I have had to adapt to the climate, culture and language,’ he said.

Riepu going for a walk during the summer. Nahuel said: ‘For someone like me who comes from a country where we have sunshine all year round, I have had to adapt to the climate, culture and language’

‘And the silence,’ added Katri.

Nahuel said: ‘Yes, I have learnt to live with the silence, because in Argentina life is noisy and people are very loud and friendly.’

Nahuel said his friends and family have yet to come and visit as they are afraid of the cold.

Asked whether they plan on staying put for another winter, Katri said: ‘We are going to stay this year and then we will see.

‘It’s the advantage of having the van – we can stay here or go travelling.’

Nahuel added: ‘We would love to come to the UK but I’m not sure about driving on the other side of the road.’

To find out more about Nahuel and Katri’s adventures follow them on social media at @landingdos or visit their YouTube channel.

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