Australia’s cool. I always wanted to go to the other side of the world. After spending a few years in my vans around Colorado and the American West, I thought I’d put my van traveling skills to the test in a completely different culture and environment. I spent three months traveling around the entire southern half of the country from Perth to the Sunshine Coast in 14 different vans; it was basically driving from Oregon to the Carolinas along the coast. I hopped from van to van with friends, friends of friends, and strangers that became new friends, and this made for the best overseas trip I’ve done yet. In the three months I was there I spent just $50USD on lodging for two nights at a hostel in Melbourne. I had a few short stints at friends’ homes—a day here and there—and tent camped during a music festival, but the majority of the trip was spent riding, sleeping or living in other people’s vans. This was a very interesting and different way to experience exploring a country and getting to know a culture and a people, and to be honest I didn’t necessarily plan it that way. Social media is crazy, man. When I went down there I had a couple of different groups of people that I knew and had planned to spend time with, but I purposefully spaced out the few events I knew I would be at with absolutely nothing in between and had no set travel plans anywhere when I went down there. The plan was to have no plan really, just see who I met and where I ended up based off of spontaneous decisions and local recommendations. And not surprisingly, a lot of this came from the world that we call Instagram.
When I arrived in Sydney I was greeted by a good friend of mine coming in hot from a two month trip in New Zealand. We were picked up by a buddy I’ve known for years and went to his place in Wollongong for a couple of days. It didn’t take long to snag a ride in van #1 with him; he mostly used it as a work van and weekender, this one. From Wollongong we took the train to a Sydney suburb to meet up with our good friend Jonny of Vanlife Diaries, and hop into van #2 for the day/night exploring the Central Coast a bit and having my first of many three-person van sleepovers. At the time, Jonny was using his dad’s van which they also used to haul the band up and down the eastern coast of Australia for their gigs. Jonny’s van was in the shop so we bunked up in the comfort of his dad’s queen size bed.
On our way to meet up with Jared and Ash, also of Vanlife Diaries, to jump into van #3 for the next adventure, we had a night to kill before they got to Newcastle. We had no problem finding a hostel for the night, but Jonny insisted that he knew enough people around and could find us a friend’s house to crash at and hang for the night. Sure enough, the parents of one of his old music students were more than happy to host us in their big, historic, amazing brick home (with beautiful, wooden staircases and vintage wallpaper and cool pulleys that hung from the ceiling to turn the lights on), waiting with clean towels for showers and a bottle of wine. The hospitality and kindness I felt in my first week in Australia was unparalleled.
So we jumped into Jared and Ash’s van the next morning. These are close friends of ours who live and travel out of their van. Of all the vans, I give them five stars for coziness and a true sense of home in there, and if you’ve seen my van you know how important that is to me. Together we took off up the coast a few hours to Crescent Head where they planned to join a bunch of their closest friends for their annual get together. Everyone had pitched in to rent a beautiful home for the weekend and were happy to let us crash the party. After an unforgettable weekend of late nights filled with riveting conversations about life and love, we headed back to Sydney to drop my friend off at the airport. I went back to Wollongong to plan the next leg of my trip.
I bought a plane ticket for the following day from Sydney to Melbourne. I was volunteering at a small music festival that my friends put on each year and had to get to Benalla in central Victoria. These were the only two nights I paid for lodging the entire trip. I stayed in a hostel in downtown Melbourne before taking a train to Benalla for the Happy Wanderer Festival. I had a sleepover in a van at the festival with a new girlfriend since I was in a tent: van #4. There were so many vans and campers at that festival! I then hopped into van #5 with my buddy Sam, also of Vanlife Diaries, and we drove back to his place in Bells Beach to spend a little over a week exploring Torquay and Jan Juc and camping along the Great Ocean Road. During this time I rode and ran out of gas in Wally (#6), lived in a camper trailer named Black Ice for a week on the guys’ property (#7) and camped and rode along the Great Ocean Road in Mikey’s van (#8) when we went camping. A bit of background: Sam used his van as both a work van and mode of travel for his band as well, while using it to escape and road trip whenever possible. I have no idea what year Wally was made, but he’s a real beaut. We tried to catch a sunset at Bells Beach in Wally and almost immediately ran out of gas.
Sam drove us back to Melbourne for YES Day celebrations (I was there when the popular vote for same sex marriage won), and I flew to Perth in Western Australia early the next morning. I was greeted by Jonny again, a band partner of his and buddy of mine, and their friend Sian in her van Auri (#9).
Back in the planning stages of this trip, I had shared a ditty on Instagram asking people for travel recommendations and tips and reaching out to anyone who might have a van to rent or buy or might want a travel buddy. This random girl reaches out as a mutual friend of Jonny’s and invites me to come spend two weeks with the boys on their music tour using her van as the road-mobile and exploring parts of Western Australia together. I was in, and we ended up planning to drive her van all the way back across the country along the coast and up to the Vanlife Diaries Gathering in Byron Bay a month later. Once we had met, we joked a lot about how neither of us asked Jonny about the other person until after we had made all these travel plans, and then we both ended up asking him if we had just agreed to live with a crazy female in a van together for a month. Best decision I’ve made in a while. Sian is a very well seasoned traveller around her country and the month I spent living and exploring the coast in her van were some of the best days of my life and created a friendship and bond between us that will last a lifetime. We had fun. I also learned a lot about Australia from her. I’ve written about our road trip together more extensively here.
For eleven days the four of us lived together in Sian’s van. To some people, this might sound crazy. Where did four of us sleep? How did we have all of our shit, plus all of the boys’ music gear, plus our four bodies comfortably in that space for so long? First of all, props to Sian and her genius buildout of Auri. She has admitted that she was building it out right up to meeting with all of us so she had this part of the trip in mind. Sian has a son so she built an extra bed on the bench for him, which is where one of us would sleep, and the other three would sleep on the queen size bed. I’m getting distracted though; I have a point. All four of us have had our share of van life experiences and traveling, and when we were put together in such a small space we became this little family. Sometimes we slept on the beach, sometimes we slept right outside the bar downtown where the boys’ gig had been. But the fact that all of us felt comfortable in the van wherever the hell we were and in whatever situation allowed for the four of us to have a really magical and super fun time together. If you’re going to travel with a bunch of people in one van, it makes it a lot better if everyone has a bit of experience prior.
After our 16-day road trip over to Byron Bay on the east coast, Sian and I said our goodbyes to each other after the Vanlife Diaries Gathering; I cried. I had just spent a month with her in her van, and it had become so much my home during that time and Sian my sister. She had designed and built-out Auri completely herself, and it’s one of the nicest and most practical conversions I’ve seen. She continues to live out of Auri in Western Australia.
After that, I spent a few days and nights with Jared and Ash in their van having three-person sleepovers, swimming every day and cooking a lot of delicious food. They were such seasoned vanlifers that squeezing me into the equation was barely noticed; spacially speaking that is; I’m a pretty loud person with big hair, you can’t miss me. Beside the point. We had fun with some Canadian friends we knew who were down there renting vans and traveling.
I was invited to spend time with some of Jared’s family in the beautiful Numinbah Valley in southern Queensland. I feel so fortunate to have been able to spend time with multiple friends and their families. It is always a special thing to be with large families in foreign countries and experience the love and interactions between folks of a different culture. It’s one of my absolute favorite things; to have the chance to chat with older generations and play with younger generations and meet the families of my good friends. This was a very special part of my time in Australia.
After a few days around the Northern Rivers area I hopped trains, I mean vans, into Cristal’s van named Morgan FreeVan (#10).
Cristal was a friend of Sian’s, and I met her at the gathering in Byron, and we actually crashed at her condo in St. Kilda one night weeks prior. Cristal and I spent a week traveling around together chasing waterfalls from Brisbane up to the Sunshine Coast and inland into the Glass House Mountains. We had all of the excitement together, getting into a hit-and-run in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere and visiting the police station to file a report in the Gold Coast on Christmas Eve. Good times. During our week together I rode around with Dave in his beautifully built-out Sprinter van (#11) with his equally beautiful husky Gipson.
Dave was from South Australia and worked on the vineyards for only a portion of the year, which afforded him the majority of the year to travel in his insanely beautifully built and designed van complete with laser engravings of sacred geometry and mandalas all over the inside. I’m so sad I don’t have photos of that van. Cristal was rad; we had a lot of really great talks about life being ten years apart. She was in sabbatical mode from life for a little while, AirBnB-ing her condo while she cruised the country in her van with her dog, snagging photography gigs when she could. Her van was so cute. She was a good foot shorter than me and could easily stand up in there without a pop-top or anything; me, not so much. I hit my head on that ceiling multiple times a day.
Meandering down to Brunswick Heads again I jumped back into Jared and Ash’s van to head once more into the Numinbah Valley for a four day New Years campout with a whole slew of friends out in the bush. Funny enough, once we got to the property to set up, the owner came over and offered the yellow and orange Kombi (#12) parked right next to the river to someone who needed a place to sleep for the weekend. Mine. We had so much fun ringing in the new year out there, and I was able to spend my last few days and nights with that crew in the Brunswick Heads area. I slept and spent a day hanging out in a friend’s van (#13) before heading to Brisbane in a friend of a friend’s van (#14) the next day and onwards to the airport.
One of the most interesting things about living in someone else’s van with them is seeing how they use their small space and what their priorities are as far as what is even in the van (speaking of kitchen items specifically) with them and how and where they store things. I have lived in four vans of my own, and traveled and helped build out multiple other vans with friends here in the States, and it’s so neat to see the personas of each human and their van. Everyone does it differently and has different needs, a different income, different ideas of how to live the van life and different reasons why they’re doing it. It was a life changing experience to be invited into so many people’s tiny little homes and have them show me all their secret favorite places from one side of Australia to the other. There were a whole lot of late night talks, star-gazing and storm watching, recipe sharing and vulnerable and introspective conversations about life, travel, love and what the fuck we’re here for. I’m forever grateful for each of you that allowed me into your space and took me under your wing for coffee, talks and adventures. Thank you. I miss you.