By Jennifer Barton
When Nicola, director of a Dorset, England-based property rental business, came across Matt’s Bumble profile, it wasn’t what he wrote that stood out. It wasn’t even what he looked like. It was the photo he included of his car towing a caravan that really piqued Nicola’s interest. Nicola always had a passion for discovering beautiful locations in her van, and had started the process of transforming it into a fully kitted-out campervan. Wanting to hear more about Matt and his caravan, she swiped right.
Matt, who worked in oil and gas, was charmed by Nicola’s smile and a photo that she included in her profile of her rock climbing, which showed her adventurous spirit. They both decided to meet in person as soon as possible, to test-drive their virtual chemistry in real life.
Their date got off to a good start when Matt arrived early (Nicola is “judgy” towards dates who turn up late) and managed to guess her favourite cocktail (a whiskey sour) when ordering drinks. “I felt a connection straight away,” says Matt. “I saw a little spark there immediately.” The conversation quickly turned to their mutual passion for van life. Nicola brought up her current campervan project. Matt had plenty of stories of his own to share, having built vans before in his spare time. He’d even driven one he converted from the U.K. to China via Russia with a friend over the course of eight months.
As they kept talking, neither wanted the date to end, leading them to visit five different restaurants and pubs, trying different food and drinks all night long. It didn’t even put a damper on the night when the two ran into Nicola’s ex, which could’ve been awkward. In fact, Nicola was impressed by how calm Matt was about the run-in. They shared a kiss in the taxi home, then went their separate ways.
The next morning, they were already texting, and Matt went to Nicola’s for breakfast and a dip in the hot tub. The two spent the next couple of months casually dating when Nicola announced she was off to Costa Rica on a six-week holiday. Though they weren’t officially a couple at that point, one night in Costa Rica, feeling like a bit of a “third wheel” with her friends, Nicola spontaneously texted Matt to see if he’d come join them on holiday.
After a brief delay caused by an expired passport, Matt arrived in Costa Rica a week later, enthusiastic about his reunion with Nicola. He wasn’t expecting an ultimatum at that point, but Nicola was ready for more commitment. “That evening, I said, ‘This is great, but I’m going to set a boundary here,’” she says. “‘This can last for two weeks, but I want to be a couple. I want to be in a relationship. If you don’t want that, fine; we can leave it after two weeks and you can be the holiday fling.’” She’d been prompted to say something to him after her friends commented it was odd he’d flown all the way out to Costa Rica and they weren’t even an “official” couple yet. Matt hadn’t thought of himself as the relationship type previously, typically dating people for no more than a week or two. But by the next morning, he turned to Nicola and said: “I really want to be your boyfriend.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit soon after the Costa Rica trip. They began to spend more time together, and their relationship grew stronger. “We balance each other out,” says Nicola. “He has an amazing energy and propensity to just say, ‘Yes, let’s do it,’ and I love that about him.” Matt admires her tenacity. “Nicola is a powerful woman, headstrong, ready to take down anyone who gets in the way,” he says. By the first national lockdown announcement in the U.K., she found herself telling Matt she loved him. By the second lockdown, Matt had moved into Nicola’s home temporarily. “It was just amazing and so much fun,” says Nicola. “We thought, it’s either going to work or it’s not. Let’s find out, because then we can start the hunt for someone else if it doesn’t.”
Amid all of this, Nicola also decided to start her adventure campervan business, Jurassic Vans. She launched in the summer of 2020; by March 2021, Matt decided to quit his job to work alongside Nicola full-time, designing and building vans. Matt is responsible for the complex logistics of each refurbishment, like a pull-out stargazer bed he installed for one van. Nicola handles the design and branding.
Navigating a relationship while living together and working together hasn’t always been easy. “With the pandemic, the business was great to focus on, but we’ve cut our honeymoon period short by building a business together,” says Nicola. “It’s a difficult dynamic, but we make sure we have date nights and every day we try to check in with how we’re doing mentally.” They also sometimes work apart, so that when they do see each other, “we’ve got stuff to talk about,” she says.
They’ve grown the company from building and renting out one van to three—and they’re now teaching others how to build their own vans too. “Jurassic Vans is bigger than us, really,” says Nicola. “We’ve helped people realise dreams and travel. We’ve met so many people. We’re building a community.”
Now, they’re shifting their focus back to being a couple, taking some time away from the business to prioritise their love of travel. One recent morning, they were thinking back on their adventure together: their romance, their love of van life, their business, Matt having quit his job and joined Nicola. What if she’d swiped left on his Bumble profile by accident, they wondered? “I just can’t believe one swipe has created this whole relationship, business, and community,” says Matt. “That one swipe has exploded into this huge thing is incredible.”