Cristal & Old Man Henry
Cristal had been dreaming about living the vanlife for the longest time before she jumped in.
“I dabbled once years ago with a rented Apollo camper, and it gave me a taste of the vanlife I really wanted."
Cristal’s van, Morgan Rey Freevan, (yep, perfection in a van-name) is a Volkswagen Crafter with a medium wheel-base. She put some thought into this one.
“Morgan Freevan is a legend. His voice is soothing and I love his freckles!”
“Rey is Morgan’s middle name because the van used to be a courier. In the right light, you can see the faint mark on the van of the sticker that said, 'Ray - your local courier' before it was converted.
“But I changed it to Rey, after the lead character from Star Wars, The Force Awakens. Rey is independent, strong, brave, and a loyal friend.
“On the outside, Morgan is very plain so as not to attract too much unwanted attention. But inside it's roomy (I've played uno with 6 people in the van!), the warm wooden kitchen is homey, and the insulated black fuzzy walls make it my cozy sanctuary.
“I love my little house!”
The old man
Cristal has been in her van for a few months now, and is travelling with "Old Man" Henry, her 13-year-old miniature schnauzer. Having met (and lived for a few days) with this little fellow, I can attest to the fact that Henry is indeed an old man in dog form.
“Henry is great company. A nice little hot water bottle, and a really chilled little guy who is always excited about the next place we're about to adventure together."
“Sometimes it can be a challenge travelling with a dog though, because it restricts where I can go and for how long. For example, national parks are a no-go with him, and festivals are tricky."
But she wouldn't have it anyway.
"I love him like crazy, and it is amazing that I can do all of this with my best little buddy!"
The adventures of Gypsy
"I can count on my hands the amount of sunrises I've seen when I lived in the city."
Now, sunsets are Cristal's ritual - a daily promise of nature's finest beauty.
Rising with the sun, she traverses the beaches she wakes up closest to, Old Man Henry by her side. Sometimes there's a neighbouring town and she'll stop for coffee. Other days she feels blessed to glimpse whales passing by nonchalantly, from the back of her van, coffee, in keep-cup, in hand.
And the places she wakes up to? Sometimes they're ethereal, magic. Rainforest canopies, misty and fairytale-esque, rolling waves as the morning birds sing, or unknown lands, where it seems nobody has tread for some time.
“I get up fairly early most days - around six - as I go to bed pretty early as well. It's nice to wake and sleep with the sun."
“At the moment I'm still checking out lots of places, so I'm moving around a fair bit. I usually drive for a maximum of three hours at a time because I like to go slow and get to know a region.
“Usually I have half a plan to go somewhere and do something in nature, but I rarely rush, and sometimes I just go with the flow of the people I meet on the road, until I want to flow in a different direction.”
As a not-quite-yet vanlifer (still stuck in the one place), it's this free-flowing quality I'm drawn to.
Amidst the magic of the Australian landscape, Cristal is a realist too. Taking different directions as she feels it, sometimes that means a cityscape for a change, or a not-so-stunning parking lot for the night. She reminds us that the vanlife isn't always about those sun-kissed Instagram moments we all know (although, with Australia's sunsets and white sands, we agree there is a real and honest place for that too...)
“I often get to stay in amazing places living this life, but it’s not always beaches for vanlifers,” she says.
“It's the small things, even when you’re in a car park for the night - the peaceful nighttimes where there's little traffic, or the ability to see so many more stars when you're in a low light area.
“I also am very careful to stay respectful to this privilege by leaving any of my park spots better than I found them if possible, and being very quiet if there are houses nearby.”
Since the May 2017 Vanlife Gathering (recap of this treat of a weekend is in the works, I promise), whenever she's at a beach, Cristal has joined the Take 3 For The Sea tribe - an initiative to help clean up Australia's beaches and waterways - simply by taking three pieces of rubbish whenever you visit one.
“I remember at Rainbow Beach, where it is quite remote, I was surprised that there was lots of plastic. I did my bit and hopefully others do too.
“But I still have those pinch me moments. Australia truly is paradise.
“I stopped by at a beach after Splendour in the Grass the other week, and found myself sitting on a gorgeous beach in the sunshine on a so-called winters day!”
Connecting with hearts and nature
The Vanlife Gathering has been one of Cristal's most memorable moments on the road so far.
“It was such a perfect weekend. We were in a beautiful and remote location, but so close to the beach, and surrounded by like-minded, awesome people and great music."
“I felt an amazing sense of community - lovely souls all connecting with each other, the environment and culture.
“After making some great connections here, I felt I was getting into the swing of things with vanlife, and now I seem to bump into people I met there everywhere!"
She says there are always going to be solo times – some welcome, some not so much.
“Travelling solo can have its drawbacks. Sometimes you just want to share a beautiful moment with someone and you might be alone for that part of your journey. But then again, that opens you up to the possibility of getting to know new people and being free to just go with it."
She highlights the value in vanlife for your headspace too, and what time alone can do for us as individuals – a sentiment I’ve heard from multiple solo vanlifers and travellers, and one I also resonate with.
“Vanning solo has allowed me to find the headspace and inspiration I needed to work through some difficult times, gain clarity, and reconnect with myself.
“Spending time in nature and sharing campfires and hugs with friends is incredibly healing, and I’m eternally grateful for the experiences I’ve had through vanlife so far.”
UNEXPECTED DESTINATION FAVOURITES
Cristal says she’s consistently surprised by the destinations she comes across.
“I often find its the in between and unexpected drives and locations that are the best.”
"I recently had an amazing time in Agnes Waters and 1770. I drove up there with some vanlifers I met in Noosa, and ran into some friends I'd met at the Vanlife Gathering.
“We camped at a lookout point, on an outcrop where the sun rises over the sea on one side and sets over the sea on the other.
"The stars were absolutely incredible. I felt like we were in a snow globe.
“We spent our days exploring an amazing sand dune, a super relaxed beach and the beautiful bay. Primo!”
Cristal has quite a bit of exploring to do. But for the moment she's getting to know Northern New South Wales.
"The winter here is gorgeous. Looking out to sea, the whales wave their fins as they travel up further north to warmer waters - its a really magical place."
For summer, she'll likely be travelling south to spend time with family and friends in Sydney and Melbourne, and then onto Tasmania.
"I'll make my way down there for the slightly warmer months and I'm hoping to check out the pristine beauty it is known for."
Her passion for photography also has new horizons.
"After a hiatus from photography, I feel it's time to pick up the camera again and start shooting. I'm excited to let the vanlife influence the next chapter of images I take."
You can learn more and check out Cristal's photography talent here.
To join in on Cristal's van-ventures, you can find her on Instagram at @theadventuresofgypsy.
There’s also a steady stream of Old Man Henry cuteness!
Vanlife Diary written, edited & published by Jai Morton, who lately, dreams mostly about van-ventures (until she gets her own van) and has plans to downsize her life. A marketer and content writer by day, she finds joy in learning and telling the stories of those she meets, or who inspire her, and is 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 or connect with her at @sundayskin on Instagram, or read her travel meanderings and general ponderings here (until her pending website is complete!).