Rebecca Winther + Gary Swift
Self-confessed nomads Gary and Rebecca had always loved to travel and spent most of their free moments exploring different areas of their home state of Victoria. Living for those ‘snatches of time’, they found that their desk-job-and-rent-paying cycle was not sustainable.
Uninspired and unexcited about life, they decided that if they we were going to get out and experience the world, they wanted to do it while they were young. They’ve been full-time van dwellers since January 2018, and are currently in Lake Argyle, WA!
How did you come across your big red van, and then make it your own?
We spent roughly four months searching the internet looking at different makes and models of vans until we finally found one in a private sale that ticked all the boxes for us (mainly lots of space and room for us to stand upright in.) An empty ex-Australia Post van, it was a completely blank canvas, a very exciting prospect as it meant we could go to town and make it exactly as we wanted it to be!
Over around 12 months, in between working multiple jobs each, we dedicated every spare moment we had to fitting out the van. This meant maybe an hour or two in the evening and any days off we had (there weren’t many), come rain, hail or shine. It was exhausting and there was literally blood, sweat and tears at times, but we would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
The van itself cost us just under $20,000 and we spent roughly $6,500 AU on the build, which considering we are basically self-sufficient, is a pretty good price!
What do you love most about your vanlife?
… the freedom that comes with living wherever you desire. If we want to be by the beach, or on top of a mountain, or even in the city for a while, we can, without too much trouble.
We’ve also had the chance to meet folks who have been living a similar lifestyle to us for years, sometimes even decades. We might be different ages and have different backgrounds, but ultimately, we all have similar values on what’s important to us in life. There’s a real sense of community there.
What have you found to be the greatest challenge?
We won’t sugarcoat it, living on the road is stressful on a whole different level to what we’ve known before. Often the little things you take for granted in house living become the big things when living in a van: finding somewhere to camp each night, where your next shower will come from, even just finding a parking spot to fit our van so we can do grocery shopping can be a challenge.
The lack of a stable routine (whilst absolutely wonderful at times) has a flip side: it can lead you to feel a little adrift and directionless if you’re not careful.
Financially, we have tried working remotely online, but found it was really taking away from the travelling experience and causing us extra stress. So now we’ll travel until our funds start to get low, then we’ll pick up short-term work wherever we might be. It could be fruit picking, farm hand work, labouring, retail, or even working in a caravan park, we really aren’t too fussy. Then once the bank accounts are looking a bit better, we’ll head off again.
What’s something you wish you knew when you started out?
… how hot it would get inside the van, even with all the insulation we installed. If we could go back and change anything with the build, we’d add in an extra roof fan, one at the front of the living space and one at the back. Other than that, we’re pretty happy with the layout and features.
As for the lifestyle, maybe we were a bit naïve… the constant stress and uncertainty of living on the road can wear you down pretty quick, we weren’t expecting that. BUT, you learn to adapt pretty quickly and the trade-off is completely worth it. No regrets here.
Why do you think this lifestyle has become so appealing to people today?
It’s certainly been romanticised via social media, but we think for most people it’s the idea of freedom and the ability to be less financially dependent.
There’s also a change in what people are valuing in recent years: the last couple of generations have been raised to believe that material things (big house, fancy car) equal success in life, but it seems people are starting to realise that life can be about more than just what you own, that you don’t have to follow the path that everyone else takes.
For those wanting to give vanlife a go, we say do it. Saying “someday” will take your dreams to the grave with you. If your heart’s telling you to do something then take a deep breath and go for it. Better to try and fail, than always be left wondering what could have been.