If you have clicked onto this blog, then it’s safe to assume you are interested in travelling and living the ‘vanlife’. There is good reason why vanlife is so popular these days, especially for a young couple like us. It perfectly combines the comfort of a tiny home with daily adventures, and ever-changing backyard scenery. Read on to get to know more about us and our journey around Australia in our self-converted van, plus a few tips and tricks we have learned along the way.
Australia is a huge country and in our in our opinion is best explored by road. It can be quite an unforgiving place to travel and the distances to cover are vast, however the journey to the destination can be some of the most memorable parts of your trip. The west coast of Australia remains rugged and remote, whereas we believe the east coast to be more accessible and vanlife friendly. For that reason, we have also included 5 of our must-see destinations in the eastern states of Australia.
You may be wondering who is sitting behind the keyboard? That would be me, Camille, travelling with my husband Jamie and writing this blog from the comfort of my van. I was bitten by the travel bug early on in life, having done a big move from the USA to Australia when I was 7 years old. I have always had a love for adventure and the outdoors and what better way to combine those than to jump in a van and drive around Australia. Previously, I had done mostly overseas trips whilst I worked as a travel agent but left that all behind to see more of the beautiful and diverse land I call home.
Jamie on the other hand grew up in a small coastal suburb of South Australia and worked as a surfing instructor as his love for the ocean, surfing and the outdoors grew. He is now an electrician by trade, but a freedom seeker, wildlife enthusiast and adventurer at heart. He is also quite handy behind the camera. Jamie is always down for a chat, especially if you are a grey nomad and are discussing gem fossicking or birding.
Looking back, we would say that 2016 was the best year of our lives so far. This was the year when we started our travels around Australia, only months after our destination wedding in the Cook Islands. We are now onto our second lap of the country, because vanlife was simply a lifestyle that we fell in love with.
How did it all start, you might ask? After a camping/surfing trip to Fraser island in Queensland, Jamie half-jokingly suggested that we should pack up our lives and travel around Australia. He perhaps did not expect the immediate and resounding yes that he received from me. So, naturally we started preparing and looking into different set-ups to get us around. Originally, we were going to travel the whole lap in a year, but discovered early on that our budget had other ideas. That was how we adapted a 6-month travelling, 6 month working routine. It has proved to be an ideal lifestyle balance for us and has allowed us to really get to know the places that we stop to work. Every individual is different; some people will become full time ‘vanlifers’ or work remotely whilst on the road and others just do short getaways. There is no right or wrong way, it is about enjoying the lifestyle and freedom that vanlife offers.
When looking for our perfect set-up there was a lot to consider. We originally had a dual cab ute 4WD, towing an offroad camper trailer which suited us fine for shorter trips. However, it was the thought of setting up the camper trailer EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. that made us decide that a van would suit our needs better for a more permanent basis. Yet we weren’t willing to give up our 4WD capabilities, so a 4WD van was an essential for us.
Our ideal van came to us in the shape of a 4WD Mercedes Sprinter, which we picked up from a government auction. It was previously used as an ambulance on a regional defence force. There was enough room to allow us indoor cooking, an upright fridge and even a fancy outdoor instant-hot-water shower. All things we would recommend for long term vanlifers. After having purchased our own van, some advice we would impart if planning to self-convert a campervan, would be to come up with a floor plan and measurements of your ideal layout and then find a vehicle that fits it. Every inch of space is essential and requires a bit of planning to make it functional and user friendly.
Advice from a vanlifing couple for prospective vanlifers:
- When purchasing a van, it pays to get something that has low kilometres and is mechanically sound. Remember that this will be your home and main mode of transport, so you want to minimise the risk of breakdowns
- Insulation matters! Walls, ceiling and insulated curtains and window covers make a huge difference, especially in the Australian heat. Ventilation is also particularly important and needs to have bug-proof coverings
- We recommend doing a “shake down” trip to work out all the things you actually won’t need, that you don’t like or isn’t functional
- You can get motorhome insurance which will then cover your vehicle as well as your contents. This is a must as you never know what can happen on the road
- Invest in a quality solar panel and 12V battery charger. They may be more expensive but will save you in the long run and will charge up all your essentials like phones, camera’s, and your fridge
- As a decorative space-saver, you can buy throw cushions for your bed. Just take the pillow out and fill it with jackets, beanies or anything you don’t often use instead
- Choose a comfortable high-density foam mattress especially if you are planning a longer trip. You will not regret it!
- Black out curtains are your best bet for privacy and sleeping. We custom made ours with material from Spotlight and foil insulation sewn in to keep out the heat
- Plan the height of your bed wisely. It is handy to store things underneath, but you want to be able to sit up comfortably without knocking your head. Many modern conversions have beds that turn into seats and a table during the day. For us personally, we knew that we wouldn’t want to make and unmake our bed every day, so we went with a fixed bed structure.
Handy tips and money saving advice we wish we had known before we started vanlife travel:
- In some states you can get your registration changed to a touring vehicle which reduces the cost by almost half. There are a few requirements to this but worthwhile checking into
- A roadside assistance membership is worth its weight in gold, especially the free towing. Also, it is worthwhile looking into the discounts the membership offers
- Don’t expect every day to be like the brochures or Instagram. Just like living at home, not every day is exciting or goes to plan. Don’t expect it to! There are some days that will just be dedicated to driving or hiding from the weather or bugs.
- There are some especially useful camping/travelling apps. We highly recommend Wikicamps, an affordable app that helps you find the best camp, where the water/toilets are as well as all the attractions along the way. We call this our vanlife bible!!
- Don’t rush your trip. Rushing puts more strain on your vehicle, your mind, and your bank account. Vanlife is about enjoying the journey as much as the destination
- Choose your campsite carefully, you want to be located nearby to the attractions you are visiting. The money you could have saved from staying further away can easily be spent in the amount of extra fuel used to get there and back each day
- To save money, try to cook your own meals rather than eating out. You would be surprised what delicious and healthy meals you can create in your own van
- Most states offer annual or monthly National Park passes that you can pre-buy and are cheaper than paying for several day entries
- Try not to rely on 240V as un-powered sites are cheaper than powered sites. This relates back to getting yourself a good electrical/solar system in your van
- We would recommend either Optus or Telstra phone plans as they are renowned for having the best coverage when you get out onto the open road. There is no point in paying for a service you can’t use in more remote areas
5 of our must visit locations from the east coast
1. Atherton Tablelands – a waterfall heaven.
Nestled amongst ferns and rainforest is the waterfall circuit, showcasing 3 stunning waterfalls along a paved 17km loop. It can be done in a day trip, but we preferred to spend some quality time swimming and relaxing at each of the waterfalls; Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Elinjaa. We couldn’t even pick a favourite if we tried. For those with a little more time, there are more incredible waterfalls, rainforest hikes and unique Australian wildlife to experience all within easy driving distance.
Stay: BIG4 NRMA Atherton Tablelands Holiday Park is surrounded by lush rainforest, making it the perfect base to explore the regions stunning natural wonders.
2. Victor Harbour – a relaxing coastal escape.
This South Australian town offers gorgeous beaches, islands, whale watching and nearby rockpools. One of our favourite places growing up was Urimbirra Wildlife Park where you can feed the kangaroos and emus and interact with other Australian wildlife. Granite rock formations at the Bluff overlook the azure ocean and makes for a great afternoon outing. If visiting in winter then keep an eye out for migrating Humpback whales or Southern Right whales. Or head over to Granite island to see the world’s smallest penguin – the Little Penguins. If you are a keen surfer then you’re in luck, as this stretch of the SA coast receives a lot of swell and has some of the best breaks close to Adelaide. Did you know, you can even ride a camel along the beach at Victor Harbour?
Stay: Set on absolute beachfront, NRMA Victor Harbor Beachfront Holiday Park is the perfect base to explore South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula.
3. Palm Cove – where the rainforest meets the reef.
This beachside tropical north Queensland town makes a great base for exploring the Cairns surrounds. From here you can even head up to the Daintree, one of the oldest living rainforests on the planet. The greater area is also home to some of Australia’s more unique and endemic wildlife like the mighty cassowary or the platypus. The Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure on earth, can be easily accessed from Palm Cove and allows you to swim with turtles, ‘find Nemo’ and marvel at the live coral structures.
Stay: NRMA Palm Cove Holiday Park is a beachside oasis that offers up plenty of caravan and camping sites.
4. Jindabyne – hiking or snowsports, the choice is yours.
Jindabyne makes the perfect base to explore both Thredbo and Perisher ski resorts and can be an adventure packed winter destination or a picturesque lakeside summer holiday spot. The surrounding snowy mountains area offers wineries and distilleries or perhaps catching and cooking your own trout is your preferred adventure.
Stay: Set on the picturesque foreshore of Lake Jindabyne, set up base at NRMA Jindabyne Holiday Park and take in breathtaking views of the Snowy Mountains.
5. Halls Gap – for the outdoor lovers.
The Grampians has long been a destination for the adventure seeker and outdoor enthusiast. Hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing are all activities on offer. Gum tree forests and hazy mountainscapes create the perfect outdoor back-drop for these activities. Add to that the waterfalls and rivers to explore, and this is a destination not to be missed.
Stay: Check out NRMA Halls Gap Holiday Park. Located amid majestic mountain ranges, rolling farmlands and native bushland, this Halls Gap gem is the perfect base to explore the Grampians National Park.
So, if you are planning to become part of this #vanlife movement, we have created a list of some qualities we think would make a suitable “vanlifer”:
- An adventurous spirit
- A love of the outdoors
- Positive attitude for those trying times
- Willingness to get dirty on occasion
- Organised, neat and tidy as living in such a small space requires it
- Environmentally conscious
- A desire to have fun and meet new, like-minded people
We hope to see you out here on the road one day soon in your very own home on wheels.