For the people who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about the story behind you.
We’re a family of four, Amber and Keenan with our daughters Coco (11) and Indigo (10). We’re based on the beautiful Coal Coast south of Sydney, Australia. That’s our bricks and mortar anyhow, and we love where we live, but we feel more at home in our Kombi than anywhere else. We’re a part-time van family, striking a balance between work and play, and seeking out the greener grass.
How was your life before van life and how is it now?
Ours was an all too common story of a young family in Australia. We’de been living a fast paced life, both of us worked, 60 hour weeks, running a business, paying a mortgage, and raising children. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Keenan, at just 37, was diagnosed with a life threatening brain tumor, we knew it was time to make a change. We wanted to live, and not just to survive, but to feel alive! We’de been so caught up in our fast life, we’de forgotten what it felt like to just BE….. to be with each other, to be with our kids, to be adventurous, to be spontaneous, and to be in love with life again. So we set out to do something about fixing that!
What does the van life mean to you and why did you choose this lifestyle over your previous life?
Nothing makes us happier than gathering our kids, grabbing our keys and heading out on the road. Even if only for just a weekend, or a few months, van life means we can take ourselves away from the hustle. It’s a sense of freedom, away from the rigidity of schedules and deadlines. It strips us back to our core values, and shows us what is really important. And to us that’s to show our kids the world beyond the walls, and to make memories with our family that will last a lifetime.
What do you miss the most when you are on the road?
Hmmm, is it strange to say not much?!?! We really have everything we need, why take more?? But if we had to choose something, it would probably be a daily hot shower!
How did you realize that it was possible live in that way against the common life path? Was it difficult to take the plunge?
Considering the common life path wasn’t giving us enough of what we really needed, for us it was an easy decision. We had to make a change, so we did. It’s easy to question things and make excuses why it might be too difficult, like finances, work, school etc. If we dwelled on the negatives, we wouldn’t be here now. We just told ourselves we were doing it, put things into action, and it flowed from there. Anything is possible if you want it bad enough.
Is it worth it?
Like anything in life, if the good outweighs the bad, and it makes you smile more than it does frown, it’s worth it!!
How do you afford it?
Being part-time van folk, we’re finding a balance with work and play. In-between trips, we work hard, saving our pennies to fund the next trip. Spending time living on the road has shown us we can be happy (in fact happier) living more simply and needing a whole lot less than we ever thought. It’s made it easier to save money, we’re spending so much less now. It’s had an impact on other areas of our life too, and we’re finding ways to downscale everything. It’s all in the mindset, we don’t feel like we go without, or that we’re making sacrifices, but rather we’re making choices on what is important to us.
Tell us a little bit about your van, what is the story behind it?
Our beloved van!! She’s more like our travelling time capsule than a van! It’s a 1975 VW Kombi Campmobile, and was a barn find, having spent her 42 years with the original owners in a barn in country Australia. With no salt air to rust her, she’s in exceptional original condition. Still with original paint in the ultimate 70s colour Mellow Yellow, it’s like a time warp. She has the full original woodgrain interior and upholstery, the fridge and gas cooktop too! Being nostalgic with a love of the 70s, we knew straight away she was the one! It’s impossible to not smile when we’re with her, she’s very much part of our family! We named her Summer, as it’s the epitome of summer life to us – a roadtrip, camped by the sea, the tailgate open, a fresh summer breeze, freedom!
How would you describe a normal day in your life now?
On the road, every day is different, that’s the beauty of it, there is no normal! Two things that are predictable however, we’ll be awake to see the sunrise, and we’ll be there to see the sunset. These are the most magical times of the day, and are so much more profound when surrounded by nature. We experience something new every single day. Some days we hit the road early with hours of driving, others we take our time and take it easy. Most days will involve something like hiking a mountain, or wandering through a rainforest, or swimming in the sea. Spending all our time outdoors is actually very tiring, so we find we go to be early, and sleep really well!
What are the best moments you have lived in this adventure?
Wow, there are so many to recall! There’s by far more good ones than bad! There have been moments that were just epic beyond belief, like the day we climbed the Ben Lomond Plateau in Tasmania in our van, that was mind blowing! We were the only ones on the mountain top, with a huge storm cell forming around us, with thunder, and lightening, and our little old van chugging up one of the steepest and hazardous roads in the world! It was so exhilarating! But then some of the most simple times with our family are also the best memories, like waking up together, stepping outside onto the sand and going for an early morning swim. They’re all magical moments!
What are the worst moments you have had to face?
Our first big trip didn’t start off so good. It was a big adjustment learning to live together like this, combined with a week of rain and freezing temperatures, we were asking ourselves what were we doing?! It was a test. But the sun came out and we dried out. We learnt to just go with it from there. Also having our Kombi break down with catastrophic engine failure was heartbreaking. But it didn’t dampen our spirits, it’s all part of the journey. In a strange way it was a blessing in disguise, at least it happened close to help and didn’t leave us stranded in the middle of the desert.
How long have you been living on the road?
We are fresh!! Like the new kids on the block. This is all new to us. Apart from being weekend warriors, taking short trips here and there, we’ve just returned from our first month living on the road travelling around Tasmania. We feel initiated!
What’s next? Short term, mid term, long term.
We’re currently back to everyday life for a few more weeks, then we head off again for 4-6 months around Australia. We’re trying to squeeze as much as we can into the next few years while our kids are still young enough to travel with us. After they’ve finished school, it will be the two of us again. Then who knows, we might become full time nomads.
PRACTICAL STUFF: How do you deal with the next things? Can you give us a couple of tips?
Hahaha, we have to laugh! If we didn’t, we’de go crazy. It’s a comedy act watching a family of four navigate a few square feet of living space. We have a choreographed routine….. this leg here, that arm there! It helps that we like each other, but patience and tolerance are key here. Really though, it does come with challenges. Redefining the word ‘need’ is the first step, and being able to let go is the next. Minimise!! Everything in its place is our motto, it just makes it so much easier. We spend most of our time outside, and love a moonlit dinner under the stars, but a rainy evening squeezed around the tiny table in the van is just as much fun.
Eat on the road. Stay healthy.
We teach our kids the importance of healthy eating and it’s no different on the road. We’re gluten free which can be tricky on the road as we can’t rely on bread or pasta as a staple. The mini-fridge, and tiny pantry also pose some challenges for a family of four. We have enough space to store about 4-5 days worth of food before we need to top up. We buy fresh when we can, but keep a few tins on hand too. We rarely eat out, we prefer a van cooked meal, and it saves a lot of money too. A big breakfast of eggs with mushroom, avocado and spinach, or a quinoa porridge with fruit will see us through all morning. Lunch is often a light meal on the move, and our go-to for dinner is the one pot meal. We spend a lot of time sitting on our butts travelling between destinations, so the rest of the time we’re usually very active.
Shower and hygiene on the road.
Baby wipes aren’t just for babies, we buy the bulk pack!! Showers are a luxury and a hot shower feels so darn good when you haven’t had one for a whole week! We bathe in the sea or a lake whenever we can, and embrace the disheveled ‘I haven’t washed my hair and its full of sea salt’ look. Don’t fight being feral, just go with it!!
Find a good place to spend the night.
This is the fun part, the uncertainty of where we’ll be next. We don’t plan anything as we never know what each day will bring. Around mid afternoon, we’ll look on the map and decide where we’ll try to spend the night. We like to wild camp or free camp whenever we can. Often we would rather drive an extra hour to find that magic free camp spot, than have to pay for an average one. Safety however, is number one, so if we ever feel unsafe, we’ll opt for a paid camp.
Relationships with family and friends.
We’re never really too far thanks to modern conveniences. Being away from the other people in our lives makes for more connectedness for us as a family. We relish in these times we’re disconnected to the outside, but are equally excited when we reconnect, and love those people all the more when we get back.
Most important and useful things you can’t live without on the road.
We have an inverter for charging camera batteries and small electrical items. This is indispensible as we’re usually completely off-grid, and rely solely on our own power. It’s really important to be warm and comfortable at night, so we make sure we have good bedding. We love having a few board games, it’s easy fun, and some of our best memories are huddled around the table doing what families do when playing games together and someone is losing!!
Travel routine, how much time do you spend in the same place?
That depends on where we are and what’s on offer to explore. We try to not spend multiple days in a row driving for long distances. That’s hard on everyone, especially the kids. So we try to break it up and have rest days where we can just go for a hike or spend some time relaxing at camp. It also depends on the camp, if its say a beautiful free camp site on the water we might want to stay a few nights. But we would rarely stay anywhere longer than about 4 days.
What are your favorite and most van friendly places you have been?
We were really impressed with Tasmania and how well it caters for vans. The free camping was abundant, and in stunning locations too. Travelling through the small towns, there was always parking for vans, public amenities were always clean, and the whole place is geared for nomads. We will definitely be visiting again.
Where do you look for van life ideas, resources, inspiration, help?
The communities around van life and VW life are amazing, and we feel so grateful to be a part of them. We’ve connected with many inspiring and helpful people, and made special friendships too. The Instagram community is like a family, blogs and websites have been invaluable, especially the Kombi Club forums. We’ve also been to a few gatherings of like-minded folk, which have been a great way to meet others doing similar things.
What advice would you give to the people who are doubting to give this huge step?
I’de say if your curious it means its worth a try to see if its right for you. Test the waters, hire a van before you commit to buying one. Start small by venturing out for weekends, guaranteed you’ll be hooked!! You’ll learn fast, as we did. Talk to people who have done it, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask the questions. Van folk are a friendly bunch, and more than happy to offer advice.
Where can we follow you and learn more from you?
You can find us on Instagram @summerofseventyfive. We’re also on Facebook as Summer of Seventyfive, and we have a new website and blog coming really soon. There’s always the good old email too if you wanted to hit us up for advise or just to say hey, firstname.lastname@example.org.