Harriet the 1997 Toyota Hiace
I first met Karrie at the May 2017 Vanlife Gathering in Cudgen, New South Wales. She wandered onto the makeshift stage, guitar at the ready, and crooned out her song “Gypsies”.
The song was a befitting introduction to what would be a beautiful buzz of vanlife culture – out in the open, under the stars, dancing it out, and mellowing by the fire, discussing all that is magic in this simple life.
Karrie is 19, a musician from Mackay, and she’s been living and cruising in her 1997 Toyota, Harriet the Hiace (or sometimes, Harriet the Chariot) since mid-last 2016.
“When I bought Harriet she was a run down postie vehicle, and so dad and I made some adjustments – fitting her out with all the essentials.”
“She did come with a few issues and dents, but I think that all adds to her character.”
Taking on an older van was a challenge to begin with. All she wanted to do was get on the road, but passing the roadworthy took time.
“It was a bit of a hassle getting Harriet ready for the road. But as soon as I did, I decided to move from Mackay to Brisbane to pursue my music.”
First time on the road
With a wild mind and not many expectations, Karrie took her time heading to Brisbane; meandering through some of Australia’s Eastern towns – Bowen, Yeppoon, Hervey Bay, and Gympie among them - and playing gigs along the way.
“I feel like today, mainstream society is telling us that once we leave school, what we’re ‘supposed’ to do is go to uni, get a ‘real’ job, buy a house, and work life away.”
“But I like that I’m on a different path. It might be the road less travelled for some, but it’s where I want to be, and life’s too short not to go my own way.
“In saying that, I didn’t have much of a plan – for work, or where I might live if I wanted to be in one place for a little bit.”
“I lived in the van for the most part, but I also crashed in friends’ backyards and couch surfed.”
“Because I was gigging too, I was driving Harriet between the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Toowoomba, Boonah, the Gold Coast, and Byron.
“It was hectic at times but I wouldn’t change a thing. I learnt so much along the way – about myself and the road.”
A typical day
A typical day for Karrie sees her waking up with the sun - early for a musician - she says.
More often than not, there’s a beachside view outside, but always, a wide-open sky.
She brings her camp stove outside and heats up a kettle of water to make coffee. I imagine it tastes a little more delicious, more invigorating, perched roadside listening to the waves/ the morning birdsong / the secret peace-of-mind that comes with waking up in a new and unfamiliar place, as people go about their own morning rituals.
Karrie punches in the next destination into her GPS. As she drives away she spills some hot coffee – “happens ALL the time!” she says. But it doesn’t worry her, because she’s got the open road ahead.
“I usually get lost when I have somewhere to be!”
“If I’m playing a gig near the beach I like to make time before to get down to the water. I’ll sit on a sand bar and watch people surf and kite surf – it’s pretty intriguing.”
“Otherwise, I love to skateboard, so sometimes I find a cool path to roll on.”
Sustaining the vanlife
Karrie says the vanlife works for her. Plus, her music career beckons for it anyway – having to drive from town to town to play. But on the side, for now, she’s taken on a day job in Brisbane – music therapy in childcare – that keeps her closer to the one place.
“Most people assume that living the vanlife as a muso means I’ve got a sustainable income, but while it is, at the moment I’m focusing on putting that back into the business of recording new music.”
“So my music therapy work helps cover the daily stuff like food and fuel, and I love it.”
That said, Karrie reckons she’s got the buzz to travel around Australia playing music, so that might be on the cards sooner rather than later.
Young girl, old van
Because Harriet is a little older, most of the problems Karrie has experienced on the road revolve around that.
“As a young girl travelling solo, I’ve definitely met a few weirdos along the way, but mostly, challenges on the road have involved old Harriet – she does have her days!”
“The battery has died twice, break lights have stopped working, she does a weird stall-y thing, and well, the ‘speedo’ isn’t quite accurate.” (Super inaccurate!).
That hasn’t – and probably won’t – be fixed, because the GPS “goes alright at telling the speed, except in tunnels.”
“And then I just wing it!”
Such is the beauty of vanlife, I think.
I muse at its simplicity, it’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants nature, and the community.
“The vanlife community is like a family. There's a place for everyone and people are so eager to hear everybody out.”
“It's a place where you can openly tell your stories - the good and the bad, the on-road and the off-road – and you just know that people get it and are looking out for you.”
Karrie says that one of the best experiences she’s had since being in the van is the Vanlife Gathering we met at in New South Wales.
“I really felt the sense of vanlife community in full force – it literally changed my life.”
“Being surrounded by so many like-minded people doing the same thing I was doing was unreal.
“There were also so many sweet musos jamming out and giving advice to each other. Everyone was down-to-earth, checking out each other’s vans and asking questions about fit-outs, travel, and locations.
“It was something special.”
While she’s definitely planning to explore more of Australia by van soon, Karrie says Byron Bay has been a favourite so far.
“Byron is my spirit animal, my spirit town!”
“But I’ve honestly been to so many beautiful places along the way, it’s hard to pick any that I don’t like.
“Anything with a beach has my heart, but I recently travelled to the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland with some fellow vanlifers I met at the Gathering and we visited some waterfalls which were definitely a highlight!”
“Who really knows what’s gonna happen tomorrow”
Next for Karrie is unknown.
“I really just want to travel everywhere. I’m hoping next year to make my way down the coast and hit up Melbourne, playing gigs along the way.”
“But I’d also love to get over to Perth because I’ve heard great things about vanlife over there.”
You can follow Karrie’s vanlife adventures on pretty much every social media outlet - Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. Her music is available via Soundcloud and on iTunes, Spotify, and Triple J Unearthed.
Vanlife Diary written, edited & published by Jai Morton. "Jai is generally dreaming about adventures and creative pursuits, and lately, all she can think about is vanlife (until she gets her own van). She is a marketer and content writer by day, and a freelance writer for Vanlife Diaries, and TEDxBrisbane in her spare time. Otherwise, you'll find her rock climbing, or somewhere in nature. You can follow her at @sundayskin on Instagram, or read her travel meanderings and creative ponderings at https://sundayskin.wordpress.com/ "Click & follow along with Jai & her writings & adventures.
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