Inspiring Stories:
Joris The Roofer

This interview with Joris from France is part a series on real people living nomadic, semi-nomadic and location-independent lifestyles. Joris works as a roofer 4 to 5 months a year. The rest of the time he embarks on long fat bike trips far off the beaten path.

FF: Tell us a little about yourself.

Joris: I grew up in a small city in the Eastern part of France. As a teenager I never really liked school. Instead, I wanted to do something with my hands. I didn’t have many options. So when I was 17 I started an apprenticeship with the Compagnons, a French organization of craftsmen.

FF: What did you learn during your time with the Compagnons?

Joris: I trained as a roofer for almost 5 years. I learned everything from building slate and tile roofs to copper works. The apprenticeship included theoretical classes and lots of time on different construction sites. Part of the training was also to change location every 6 months. For me that included a year in New York. But I never finished the apprenticeship, I left a few weeks early because the rigidity of the organization got the better of me.

FF: Did the constant location changes give you the travel bug?

Joris: No, I’ve always liked to move. The regular change of scenery suits me well. I worked for 7 years mainly in France, but also for almost a year in Ireland, before ending up in Switzerland.

FF: This where you got into outdoor sports?

Joris: In the mountains I started a more active and healthier lifestyle. Before, I wasn’t doing much outside of work. No sport whatsoever! Most evenings were spent in pubs and bars. But in the Alps I began hiking, and shortly after also climbing and mountaineering.

joris delphin uganda
Jojo somewhere in Uganda.

FF: Yet you didn’t stay long. You had more ambitious travel schemes?

Joris: My initial plan was to work 3 months in Switzerland and then travel to New Zealand. It took over a year but eventually I did it. Why New Zealand? Honestly I don’t really know. Because it looks so different, because it’s so far?

FF: This trip was a game changer for you. Why?

Joris: I spent 3 months in New Zealand. I cycled for a month, climbed for a month, tried canoeing and went hiking. But more importantly I learned that it’s possible to travel long-term without spending a lot of money. If you camp, hitchhike and stick to free activities you don’t need much to be happy.

FF: You found coming back to Switzerland very hard?

Joris: Once you have tasted that lifestyle, the freedom, it’s hard to go back. I only held out for 2 months before going crazy. So I headed out again, this time to Australia. For a year and a half I traveled lots and worked little, getting more and more efficient with my money. I learned so much.

FF: After Australia you once more returned to work in Switzerland. But this time was different.

Joris: First I lived out of my car for almost a year. But it was out of necessity. I was totally broke when I returned. I lived on 3000 Euros during 6 months. Rent is very expensive here, and makes life more complicated. You can’t just walk away whenever you want.

FF: So after a year you moved into a van instead of an apartment?

Joris: I wanted to upgrade to something more comfortable, but remain free. The van looks like a normal delivery vehicle from the outside. The added stealth allows me to sleep almost anywhere. I take showers at work.

FF: Soon after you went on your next trip. This became your lifestyle. Work, save, travel.

Joris: I no longer wanted to work just for the sake of it. Instead, I wanted to save money for the next big trip. I started to give myself clear goals. Before, it was for climbing. Now, it’s all about cycling.

FF: How many months do you need to work to save enough for the next adventure?

Joris: Around 4-5 months.

Dirty and happy. Kenya.

FF: You have been on many trips since, in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa. How difficult is it to find work when you return?

Joris: I find work very easily. There is a constant shortage of qualified labor in Europe. For example, last time I started looking for work I was hired within 24 hours. I often even have a choice of employment offers. And that’s another big advantage of van life. Mobility is not an issue for me. But I’m also well aware that I’m privileged. For foreigners from outside the European Union it’s much harder to get a work permit.

FF: You dedicated your travels to rock climbing for a while, before switching to cycle touring.

Joris: When I was rock climbing I was always hanging out with the same people. I didn’t see much of the country. Cycle touring gave me the opportunity to explore and meet locals while remaining independent in terms of transportation.

FF: But that wasn’t enough. You eventually transitioned to a fat bike, ditching the regular touring bicycle.

Joris: I saw fat bikes during my first long cycle touring trip in South America. I always enjoyed the most when the going got tough. When I had to push, or ride through sand and mud. Not on busy highways. During another trip in Kazakhstan I finally decided that the time had come to switch to a fat bike.

FF: What makes fat bikes so attractive?

Joris: I can take almost any road, any track. I can go anywhere I want. Through mud, snow. It becomes much easier to leave the beaten path. That’s real freedom to me. I did a couple of trips through East Africa. And last year I cycled from France all the way to Finland, in winter.

FF: You also developed a keen interest in photography?

Joris: I started almost a decade ago. My motivation had ups and downs since. But yes, I enjoy it a lot!

FF: Any advice for people contemplating a similar lifestyle?

Joris: Do it! There are a lot of flexible forms of employment in construction. And don’t forget that mobility puts you in a strong position. I found it much easier to get good and respectful working conditions since I live in a van and can move whenever I want. Of course I always remain polite and professional, but I also don’t hesitate to speak what’s on my mind. Freedom of movement improves your quality of life on many levels.

FF: Thank you for sharing Joris!

© All photographs by Joris Delphin.