Summer of Seventy Five: Aussie Vanlife Family share their journey
Hi there! We’re a family of four, I’m Amber and with my husband Keenan and our daughters Coco and Indigo, we’re on the road trip of a lifetime. We’re based on the beautiful south coast of New South Wales, Australia. That’s our bricks and mortar anyhow, and while we love where we live, 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. Some say we’re dreamers, perhaps we are. Anyone who takes on a trip around Australia with four people in an old Kombi needs to have some big dreams and a healthy dose of optimism. Combine that with a sense of adventure, and here we are, actually doing it!
The times they are a changin'…
Our story was an all too common one of a young family in Australia. We were so caught up in living a fast paced life, both of us working, I was running a business, and Keenan was working 60 hour weeks, while we paid a mortgage and did our best to raise children at the same time. We were on autopilot, cruising past life at lightening speed, oblivious to our surroundings. We had little time for ourselves or each other, yet still, on the surface, we thought we were happy. Something shifted and we were struck by an overwhelming realisation that we had lost touch with living. We had forgotten how to just BE. To be with each other, to be with our kids, to be adventurous, to be spontaneous. To want to jump out of bed in the morning and embrace the day with exuberance. To be in love with living.
We were caught up in all the wrong things, and wanted to invest our time in things that were good for us. So we set out to make a change, slow things down a little, start making our dreams a reality, and live in the moments. One of those dreams was to travel more, another was to buy an old Kombi. The latter seemed like a real pipe dream, something we had put in the ‘later in life’ basket, which really meant the ‘never’ basket. High on the list however, was a trip around Australia with our kids. We started putting ideas into place to make this happen, then we said to ourselves “why don't we do it in a Kombi?” The rest is history, once that seed was planted, there was no turning back. It’s like our ultimate road trip, Australia in a Kombi, and to do it with our kids was the icing on the cake.
A Summer breeze…
It didn't take long for us to find our Kombi, or more so, it found us. It was only the second one we had seriously looked at, and knew from that first phone call we made to the seller, it was the one. An original 1975 VW Campmobile, in the perfect shade of orange, it ticked all the boxes and was ready to be our new home on wheels. Passed on from the original owners, where it was kept in a barn in country NSW, it was preserved, straight out of the 70’s, like a step back in time. As nostalgists, it was exactly what we wanted, a step back to when the notions of life were simpler and the pace was slower.
It’s our perfect adventuremobile… it sleeps the four of us, there’s a bed up the top in the pop-up roof for the kids, and the rear seat folds down to be a double bed for Keenan and I. It has a fully equipped kitchen in 70s woodgrain effect, complete with fridge, cutting bench, gas cooktop, sink and pantry, all miniature sized. There’s storage space for bedding and gear in the cleverly designed cabinets, we even managed to pack a hammock and an inflatable pink flamingo, essential items! We carry a vintage metal trunk on the roof for extra space and the spare parts, also essential for an old Kombi!
We named her Summer, as it’s the epitome of summer life to us - a road trip, camped by the sea, a picnic in the sand, the tailgate open, fresh summer breeze, with our favourite people…simplicity!
That was a year ago, and it would be fair to say it has been life changing for many reasons, and in many ways. Nothing makes us happier than gathering the family, grabbing our keys and heading out on the road. If only for just a weekend, or a few months away, van life means we can take ourselves away from the hustle. It’s a sense of freedom, away from the rigidity of schedules, deadlines, and boxed-in structures. It strips us back to our core values, and shows us what is really important. And to us, that is to show our kids the world beyond the walls, giving them a sense of adventure that’s engrained in their fibres, to live more simply, and to make memories that will last a lifetime.
Being part-time van folk, we’re finding a balance with work and play. We started with weekends away, then a month-long trip to Tasmania, before heading off for almost 6 months around Australia. In-between trips, we still work hard, saving our pennies to fund the next one. Spending time living on the road has shown us we can be happy, in fact a lot happier, living more simply and needing a whole lot less than we ever thought. It’s had an impact on all areas of our life, and we’re finding ways to downscale everything and live more minimally. It’s all in the mindset. We never feel like we go without, or that we’re making sacrifices, but rather we’re making thoughtful choices on what is important to us.
Here comes the sun…
On the road, every day is different, that’s the beauty of it, there is no normal. The only certainty is we’ll watch the sun rise and set each day. These are the most magical times, and are so much more profound when surrounded by nature. We find we’re more in touch and in sync with natural rhythms that ever before. We experience something new every day. Some days we hit the road early with hours of driving, others we’re taking it easy around camp or exploring our surroundings. Most days will involve something like hiking a mountain, wandering through a rainforest, swimming in the sea or a river, or exploring towns and landmarks. One of the best feelings is the excitement we get when we leave one place, and take to the road to the next with no set itinerary. It’s pure freedom, and shows it really is more about the journey than the destination.
We love the uncertainty of where we’ll be next. Normally our days were so predictable and planned, but right now we don’t plan anything and just go with whatever each day brings. 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 get off the tourist trail and find that magic free camp spot. There’s always excitement in hunting them out. We free camped our way around Tasmania earlier this year, and so far on this trip around Australia, our accommodation expenses racked up to a grand total of just $185, over 4 months! The camp spots are usually in beautiful places, by the beach, by rivers, in a forest, or out in the grasslands, but sometimes they’re just a roadside stopover off the side of the highway. Even so, some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets we've seen have been by the side of the road. As the free camps usually don't have facilities, this often means we find ourselves showering with our portable shower in our swimwear, by the side of the road too! We wave when the tour busses drive past, it’s all part of the adventure!
Living like this for any length of time does come with challenges, especially with four people. We laugh at the difficulties though, it’s a comedy act watching a family navigate a few square feet of living space. It’s like a game of Twister… this leg here, that arm there. It helps that we like each other, but patience and tolerance are so important in close quarters like this. We’ve had to redefine the word ‘need’ and really minimise the stuff we have, which is actually very liberating. Everything in its place is our motto, it just makes manage the space so much easier, and helps keep it tidy. We spend most of our time outside, having breakfast with the morning sun on our faces, or a moonlit dinner under the stars, but a rainy day squeezed around the tiny table in the Kombi playing board games is just as much fun.
There have been so many memorable moments on our travels, but it’s the simplest ones that are the fondest. Like waking up together, stepping outside onto the sand, and having an early morning swim, or watching the silhouettes of our girls play in the glow of an Outback sunset. There’s also the tough times, a week of solid rain and freezing temperatures on our first trip away and we were really questioning ourselves, doubting if we could do it. Not to mention we have had our fair share of mechanical issues. Major breakdowns are stressful at the time, but like the rain dries out, the breakdowns can be fixed. We have learnt to just go with it and now we can look back and smile at the adversity.
Up around the bend...
From a creative perspective as a photographer, I’ve been able to see the astounding beauty of this country through different eyes. Life on four wheels and slow travel takes you to places and puts you in situations where you see things that would otherwise be overlooked. Like a flush of lilac wildflowers on the side of the road, the shifting colours of a sunset over the plains, the incredible light of golden hour in the outback, and the stars! If there is one thing that could put life in perspective, it’s the night sky. Out where there is nothing on the horizon, the stars are endless. Laying in bed at night in a van, peering out the window, blanketed in a sky full of stars takes our breath away and reminds us we are truly living! It simply must be experienced to appreciate.
Travelling like this, we are learning so much about each other and about ourselves, nurturing a lifelong bond as a family. We have found a community of likeminded folk, met wonderful people, and made beautiful friendships. Most importantly we have reconnected with feeling alive! We’re showing our girls the world, teaching them lessons and giving them skills that will see them though life, going beyond what the walls of a classroom can give them. The decision to try life a different way, was one we needed to make. It would have been easy to make excuses why it might be too difficult, like finances, work, school etc. We knew if we waited until later, the opportunity may never be there. Sure, we question ourselves and its not always smooth sailing, but if we dwelled on that, we wouldn’t be here now. We just told ourselves we were doing it, put thoughts into action, and it flowed from there. Anything is possible if you want it bad enough, and if it makes you smile, then I’d say it’s worth it.
The horizon is looking good, and we have exciting plans for more travels and experiencing vanlife in other countries. You can follow our journey and see more of our travels, story, and photography on Instagram @summerofseventyfive. We’re also currently working on a blog and website where we’ll be able to share more resources and offer advice and inspiration for your vanlife journey. We’ll be launching it soon at www.summerofseventyfive.com. Feel free to get in touch with any questions you have, we love this community and are only too happy to offer advice or inspiration to others wanting to try it out.
Amber, Keenan, Coco & Indigo
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