Vanlife: The beginning.
I never have seen myself living in a big house with a garden or a cute apartment I’ve made all my own. Sure I’ve wanted to own property, but more from a financial aspect rather than a place to call home. I only recently discovered van life (within the last 4 years) and I think I’ve found why I haven’t wanted to set down roots anywhere. I’ve got a travelers spirit in me and I love the idea of living long term in a mobile unit. Some people want the house, the marriage, kids or dogs. I’m finding myself to be more of a vanlifer with a potential adventure cat or two in my future!
I have had 4 very different #vanlife experiences so far. In this post I’m going to be telling you about the first: Australia. Please note that this isn’t a pro’s and cons list (we will get into that in another post). It’s simple a short story of our journey into #austrailiavanlife.
Australia: My partner and I applied for a year long Working Holiday Visa for Australia after spending an interesting 8 months leisurely travelling through South East Asia. At the time we were staying in a hostel in Canggu Bali (Indonesia) and looking for a van conversion to travel and live in so that we weren’t stuck having to dish out money in hostels and have to pay for transport/flights to get from place to place. Needless to say we hit the ground running. We had secured jobs with a fellow backpacker we met in Thailand in a tiny town called Mansfield in Victoria set to start on the 4th of June. I had secured us a viewing for a van the day we landed in Melbourne June 1st. The viewing was 11am, our flight landed at 5am. Ooof. What a start to this Ozzy adventure.
She was glorious.
Bright yellow and in desperate need of an update for us to live in it comfortably. She was re-named her Kevan (like the bird from UP, as she was, of course, a girl). Having been in the hands of a few backpackers before us (single travellers) so not a good layout for a couple. She was fitted out with a small double bed and a cook space along with most of the basics (cups, plates,ect). It was as good as we were going to find as we started work in 4 days time, so there was no time to be too picky.
In hindsight, there were some things we could have been more thorough with in terms of checking her over (taking her to a mechanic would have been a smart step) as later on we had a few hefty repairs done while we had her, but hindsight is 20/20 and we just really didn’t have the time to find anything else.
Money exchanged hands and papers were signed. She was ours. The local thrift store and Bunnings (the hardware store) were the go to places for updating a few things. A deep clean and then off we went to start our first job in Australia, while simultaneously living in a van.
It was June in Victoria Australia. I thought, like a lot of people, that Australia would be hot all year round, but that really isn’t the case.
The first 3 months were really uncomfortable. It was chilly, rainy and cramped. Our van had no insulation, no heater, no fridge (just a cool box). We slept in our clothes and had a few hot water bottles to keep the chill out from under the blankets. The bed platform didn’t have any way for air to circulate so soon mold became an issue. Was not what we were expecting #vanlife to be, however we also didn’t do our research.
Luckily for us the locals were incredible and one woman named Helen took us in for a few weeks as she needed a house sitter. She had seen our yellow van parked up all over the place and her granddaughter was also doing #vanlife further up north so she felt for usand allowed us to watch her house and keep warm inside over the coldest few weeks.
Thankful for the indoor heating and running water we stayed there while redoing some of the van’s interior so it worked better for 2 people living in it rather than a solo traveller. Grateful for her hospitality, it made that Australian winter bearable.
After we finished our seasonal work in Mansfield and spent some time just enjoying the vanlife. Travelling to different campsites, exploring part of the Great Ocean Road. We stayed in Melbourne a few nights enjoying the city and eventually made our way to our next place of work, another even smaller town called Maffra. In Maffra, we did our ’88 days’ of rural farm work to be allowed a second year visa.
In the tiny town of Maffra there were two ‘work’ hostels you could stay in. A few fellow vanlifers in the area took to staying there as opposed to living in the vans andthere was a few good reasons for this.
For one: It’s social. If you’re a solo vanlifer sometimes crashing in a hostel is a good way to stay social.
Secondly: Access to ammenities. Charging your electronics, hot private showers, toilet, water, fans (maybe even AC), cooking facilities and a cold fridge were very enticing as it was coming into summer. It was hot. We had to be up at 2.30am for work. Which meant trying to sleep at 6pm, essentially in a metal box that had been heating up allllll day. A van that had no windows that open, no fans (we got one eventually)and at the beginning not even any netting to keep the flies out if we opened the side door a touch. This was #vanlife. We chose to not do any hostels. But it meant sometimes being uncomfortable. However, let me just say that hostel life didn’t mean you also got a good nights rest, as I said before, there’s a social aspect to it. So it could also be quiet a party place and loud regardless what time you had to be up for.
Partially through our 88 days, Simon, my partner, decides he wants to renovated the van again. To open it up make it have a better layout. Investing in power tools wasn’t really an expense we were budgeting for so I said it’s on him if he want to take that challenge on. Armed with a hand saw and a small rechargeable drill he decided to take a stab at it.
By this point we have upgraded the van with a little bit of solar power for charging things and a small fridge. So Simon along with a few other van boys were were camping and working with went scavenging for free wood and free furniture to disassemble and repurpose. We were backpackers, so being frugal is second nature.
It took ages ( a good portion of our 3 months at Maffra) but it was well worth it. Made living in KeVan much easier and she looked quite cozy now all finished! Some may even say Instagram worthy…
At this pint ( I mean point) in the journey we were currently camping at the golf course with a small group of guys from work,. This place had showers/toilets, an outdoor bbq area and potable water. So life there, although very dusty and full of flies, was pretty easy as far as amenities went.
On days off there was a local swimming hole/campgrounds we could stay at and we were a little bit of a drive away from the ocean, but had a few beach days when we were off over Christmas.
As with most backpacker vans, this one hadn’t been lovingly taken care of as you would have hoped. So we had a hefty engine replacement to be done. We worked out the cost of the new engine vs the price of redoing another van and it was better to just fix it. Which meant that for a week we were living in a tent at the golf course. That dusty, windy, sticky hot golf course.
I woke up every day covered in a layer of dust. The wind was so bad there that it actually ripped part of the tent to the point where we couldn’t return it to who we borrowed it from. Blowy.
When we left Maffra, a bit defeated from the farm work but like many things in life it was tough but there was a goal in sight and a reason to be doing it. With it out of the way we left with our wallets a little fuller and our hearts set on adventure.
We kept in touch with our #vanlife friends and we had an amazing time swimming, hiking and camping in Wilsons Prom. It was one of the only places we paid for camping in the whole time travelling and it was just gorgeous there! Our next goal was to go around the south coast back to Melbourne and take the ferry to Tasmania.
And let me just say that Tasmania is a place to do van life. It was stunning. Beach side ‘free’ campsites, so much hiking, surfing, amazing wildlife, tasty food. Just amazing.
We made a lap of Tasmania (but still had so much more to explore) and started to make our way to the ferry as COVID started to pick up more and travel advisories were coming in to go home. A stressful story for another time. Long story short I had re-book my Canadian flight 2 times and it meant that I had to leave our van and Simon behind in Tasmania. Leave Simon to sell the van on his own and then to catch his flight back to the UK in 10 days time. Not quite the end we had in mind for our first van adventure.
It did however fuel the fire to my first solo van build in Canada and Simon’s first solo build in the UK while dealing with long distance and not being able to work in our first months back in our home countries.
But those are stories for another post.