Jake Coleman - Rochelle Allen
& their rolling home ‘Hershey’
1. How did you find the ‘van life’ or did the ‘van life’ find you?
We actually got into the whole van life thing together. I don't think either of us thought much about it or even really knew much about it until we started dating. It wasn’t until we travelled to Australia together (where Jake is originally from) that we kind of got introduced to this nomadic lifestyle - even then we didn't really see it as much of a lifestyle yet, more so just a really awesome way of travelling and seeing cool places. It was the beginning of many travels for us so we knew that we had to do everything within a budget. We ended up doing some road trips along the coastlines of Australia in a 4x4 troop carrier that was fitted out with a platform for a bed in the back and two giant pull out drawers underneath for storage. It was simple and everything we needed to camp anywhere we wanted (and for free). I think it's safe to say we were pretty hooked on this way of travelling but a van definitely wasn't on the cards anytime soon. After that we left the troopy behind and continued on to live out of our backpacks doing some international travel before heading back to Canada (where Rochelle is from). While in Canada we decided we wanted to explore more and the idea of buying a van came to mind. We dreamt up the idea of owning a classic, hippy van together and that's when our VW Westfalia named Hershey came into the picture. We had no intention to do van life full time at that point but Hershey became a part of all our adventure plans and road trips. We travelled all around the Pacific Northwest, through every type of scenery including the Rocky Mountains, coastal beaches and the Californian desert. Our little home on wheels took us to some of the most incredible places we had only ever dreamt of seeing and on top of that, despite being a van older than us, he didn't break down once. Our road trip up and down the west coast of the USA was a total game changer and it's definitely what made us fall in love with life on the road. On one of our long-haul drives from the middle of nowhere California to Oregon, we talked about our hopes and dreams of adopting this hippy lifestyle and one day being able to do this kind of stuff every day. We hopped back and forth between countries quite a bit, sometimes having to leave Hershey behind and it wasn't until a little over 3 months ago that we finally took the plunge into this full-time van life. We made the decision that we wanted to settle somewhere for a bit - somewhere in the mountains, together with Hershey, with lots of freedom to do all the things we love and a place to start fresh. Jake got approved for another 2 year working visa in Canada which allowed us to slow life down a bit and not have any pressure to pack up and leave again. We packed all of our belongings into our beloved van and moved to a cute little mountain town along the Sea to Sky corridor. It's considered the adventure capital of Canada and the perfect place for us to live a simple life in our van. It's not always a glamorous lifestyle but it's just like getting to camp every night, even if it sometimes means sleeping in a Walmart parking lot with all the other fellow van lifers in town.
2. Tell us the story of how you two met?
At the beginning of 2015, Jake took a big leap after high school and made the move from Australia to Canada. His intentions were to pursue a job in Alberta that a close family friend had set up for him. Our little love story basically began all thanks to a missed connection flight in Vancouver, Canada. After about a year of working on the oil fields of Alberta, Jake took a flight home in November to NSW, Australia to surprise his mom for her birthday. On his way back to Alberta he had a layover in Vancouver, BC that quickly turned into a cancelled flight back to the oil fields and an unexpected day in the city. That unlucky day for him turned into the day that we crossed paths and began talking. Considering he was working on the oil fields in Alberta and I was living close to the city in Vancouver (two different provinces), distance played a huge role in the beginning of our relationship. It's crazy to look back on now but we talked every single day from the moment we met and every couple of weekends Jake would fly from Alberta to BC to visit me for a few days at a time. Each weekend we got to spend time together made it harder and harder to leave each other. After a while we were in a happy, committed relationship and spent the entire year of 2016 doing long distance, only getting to see each other occasionally. It was never easy but we made it through our time doing long distance by talking about the travel plans we would embark on one day. We bonded over our love for photography and travelling, took our first road trip together through the Canadian Rocky Mountains and it wasn't long till we planned our first big adventure together. I applied for my visitor visa for Australia and after a year of dating we took off on the first of many big journey's together. On our way to Australia we booked a layover flight that stopped in Oahu, Hawaii for a week where we met up half way with Jake's parents and I met them for the first time. After a fun vacation together, we then all flew to Australia together where I got to spend 3 months road tripping and seeing Australia and spending time with Jake's family. After that, we ventured off to South East Asia together, spending a couple of months living out of a backpack in Indonesia and Thailand. 2017 was a year of many firsts for us and basically just the beginning of our crazy, passionate lives together. It's the year we travelled the most, took some of our best photos together and the year our van Hershey came into our lives.
3. Have you lived the van life anywhere else in the world and tell us about your experience.
Oh yes. We definitely tested out the whole van life thing the second time around in Australia. After our big west coast USA road trip in our Canadian van Hershey, we actually went back to Australia together and decided to fit out our own van from scratch. It was a Ford Econovan (long wheel base) and we completely decked it out to make it our own. All thanks to Jake and his dad of course for all the intricate building and details amongst the entire van. I on the other hand, did all of the decorating and painting, not to mention was the moral support and personal DJ for the late nights spent building and painting in a dark parking garage. Doing our first build was definitely a huge learning experience and we slowly but surely figured out what worked for us and what didn't. It came with a lot of frustrations. Questioning why in the world we were doing it in the first place and even a trip to emergency - Jake took a box knife to the finger trying to cut holes in the wall for our electrical, resulting in 7 stitches and a whole lot of blood splattered on our brand new pine roof panels (blood stains by the way). We learnt what it was like to truly utilise a small space and customise it to fit our needs. In the end, it turned out beautiful regardless of the fact that there were lots of things we would change or add to make it even more functional but we knew it was stuff we would keep in mind if we ever built out another. Once it was all finished, we had the chance to test it out on some road trips and local excursions. Despite the melting hot days and not having air conditioning in the van, there's not much that can beat a life that never requires shoes and often involves waking up to the sound of the ocean. A typical day would start by waking up with the sun because hitting over 20 degrees Celsius in the morning is no joke and definitely not ideal sleeping conditions (at least not on the Gold Coast during an Aussie summer). It was hard at first but something we both got used to and actually grew to like, considering there was so much more time in the day to do stuff. Plus, we got to watch a pretty sunrise almost every morning. Another perk was being able to park up near the beach or on top of a hill and watch the surfers straight from our bed. Coolangatta was honestly one of our favourite spots that we got to call home for a while. It was the perfect beach town with lots of life to it and it inspired us to live a more active and healthy lifestyle. If there's one thing I miss the most, it's getting to go for ocean dips just a few steps away from our van and ending our days rinsing off at the beach showers during a warm sunset.
4. Tell us about your current rig.
Our current rig is a 1984 dark brown Volkswagen Westfalia named Hershey (like the chocolate). He's an automatic transmission, rear wheel drive with a water-cooled engine. Although the big tyres make him look like he could be a 4x4, unfortunately he's not but none the less handles dirt tracks and snowy roads like a beast. The inside is a light brown, factory-built camper set up complete with a closet, cabinets for storage and food, a fridge (that doesn't work) and a two-burner stove next to a sink. It's a pop-top, meaning that with a little bit of arm strength you can push the roof up and you will be greeted with canvas sides, a screened window and a surprise fold out bed. The pop top is a life saver when it comes to space and means we can actually fully stand up inside - no sore, crunched over backs while cooking. The bench seat in the back is a two seater that conveniently folds out into our main bed that we sleep in every night, we tend to let the guests take top bunk. Our newest (and best) addition to the van has been our complete solar set up from Renogy. It's been a long time coming but we finally have power straight from the sun and no longer have to scope out outlets to charge all of our electronics. We've partnered up with an amazing company called Regony that creates very compact set ups that are perfect for campers and tiny homes. Our set up includes a 100 watt solar panel, a charge controller and a 700 watt pure sine wave inverter. We've drilled the solar panel straight to the roof racks on our pop top and fed the cables sneakily throughout our cabinetry so you wouldn't even know that it's there. Instead of running something like a fridge that takes up a lot more power, we use a Yeti 35L cooler instead. This set up works perfect for us and provides us with exactly what we need to keep things like our cameras charged so we're always ready to snap some photos. We decided to go with the Go Westy lithium battery because they are 1/3rd of the size and weight and when you're maxing out at 90km/h on the road, any weight makes a difference. For our floors, we've ripped out the ratty, old stained carpet that came with the van originally and replaced it with a light, hardwood laminate floor. This small little renovation has really opened up the van and made it look so much cleaner, not to mention it makes it feel more like a home. We've also added some creative touches to the van like a small handmade table from pallet wood to replace the classic camper laminate table from it's original design. Sparking from Jake's interest in carpentry, he tested out his skills by putting together a very intricate, Aztec style table from free pallet wood we found dumped outside of a local hardware store. After painting and staining the table, we finally installed it and are absolutely stoked with this cute little custom piece we have that is 100% unique to us. Topping it all off, we really made the van our own by hanging up some of our favourite photos from past trips and not to be forgotten, our beloved sticker collection scattered throughout the van.
5. Tell us about any future projects or ideas you have in mind. Is there anything else you’re working towards?
In terms of future van projects, we would love to add some goodies and upgrades to Hershey. We want to add a cargo box on the roof racks and add some lift-assists to help us open the pop-top (it’s pretty heavy, especially adding a cargo box). Jake has a long list of maintenance and upgrades he wants in the van, he loves working on cars in general so when he gets to add some upgrades and do work on the van he's stoked! We would like to remove our stock fridge, as it’s no use to us, add some shelves to that empty space and make some more storage, cause let’s face it, everyone needs more storage when you live in a van!
One day we would love to help others fit out their own vans based on their personal styles and create our own little adventure/van building business. Jake is learning more and more about carpentry and building every day and wants to be able to create interiors for vans on his own including creating custom camper tables like the one we have for Hershey. We have noticed that there is a lot of van conversion companies that only really cater to 'well-off’ people and they aren't very ‘homey’ feeling. We want to create a little adventure rig business to help everyone else out - those who want a homey van and the people who are on a budget, because at the end of the day that’s also us. Van life is such a big thing now and we completely understand the desire for wanting to fit one out but not have the knowledge, skills or tools to do so. We'd love to be the people that future van dwellers turn to for inspiration and help. And, I think one of the biggest goals for both of us is to be able to support and sustain a nomadic lifestyle on the road from our rolling home. We're both so passionate about photography and documenting our time spent on the road with each other in Hershey. To be able to make a living from that would be a dream come true. We're both working really hard at our photography lately, trying to find creative ways to make money from that on the road. We really look forward to sharing more of our adventures and photos with the world. We're also working more towards connecting with like-minded people, especially ones in the van life community. We'd love to be a lot more involved with the community. There are so many inspiring people doing so many amazing things.
6. List a few things each of you must have in your van and why
I think I can speak for the both of us, as well as everyone in the van life community for that matter, when I say that life in the van just wouldn't be the same without BABY WIPES! Honestly, on more than one occasion we've gone to our local Walmart and the entire baby wipes section is completely empty... that goes to say a lot. Living in a van doesn't mean you have to be dirty all the time. I think people tend to forget that we shower too, even if it does mean going to the recreation centre for a hot tub and warm shower session, but we've all had our fair share of baby wipe showers too. Keep in mind, they aren't just for our bodies either, dirt is everywhere in the van and coming from someone who spills stuff on the daily, these are a life saver.
I’m someone who listens to music for every occasion - from cooking to cleaning to driving to adventuring to just needing a little background music. My bluetooth speaker is absolutely essential in the van. I’ve had the same amazing speaker from Ultimate Ears for many years now and it has never disappointed (minus the times it’s run out of charge during a really good moment or song). It’s the perfect design to hang up on one of the hooks in the van, rest on the dash or throw into the side of my backpack during a hike. Making playlists on Spotify has turned into a hobby for me and I love being able to set the vibe with some good tunes.
I don't know how we survived without solar in the van before, better yet, even a second battery! I think solar is a must for me. As much as I love to go to cafes, enjoy a cup of coffee and charge up, I think solar has given us a bit more freedom. It definitely gives us peace of mind when it comes to driving off into the wilderness to relax for a couple of days. It lets us freely use our cameras without the worry of them going flat and it eliminates the worry of using up all the juice in our starter battery before being stranded in the middle of nowhere.
Another must for me is my kettle and coffee. I’m a huge coffee drinker and no matter where my morning is starting, it's guaranteed to be starting with a hot coffee in hand. A huge perk of having your home go everywhere that you do is being able to make yourself a good ole cup of coffee whenever you want because I can guarantee you there isn't any drive thru Tim Horton’s in the wilderness. It also helps us out a lot on those extra cold mornings because as much as Rochelle isn't much of a coffee fan, I know she appreciates the warmth that comes from the kettle on the stove in the early AM. I'm also big sucker for awesome little camp mugs to have my coffee in. Our friend from Camp Mugs Supply in Oregon, USA customised some hand painted Hershey mugs for us and they are amazing.
7. How did you find photography and tell us why it’s captured your creative attention?
From a young age I’ve always kind of loved having a camera in my hand. Throwing it way back to the days when I use to have my trusty blue canon point and shoot and I would always be taking photos with my friends and putting together music videos for Youtube. I would borrow my mom's Nikon camera on little adventures and road trips around my town and although I'm not much of a videographer, I loved throwing together little clips from my GoPro. From the start, my attention was always drawn to the outdoors and nature. My two best friends also had cameras and we would drive down our favourite stretch of highway to one of my favourite mountain towns and take photos once a week at the very least. We would snap photos of the surrounding mountains and silly candids of each other but it was never anything very serious. I continued using my mom's camera up until it stopped working and I got my very own entry level Canon DSLR at the end of 2015. This was right around the time that I met Jake and oddly enough, we actually ended up getting the exact same camera at the exact same time (soulmates?) Going into 2016, I started taking my camera everywhere with me especially while doing hikes and road trips with friends and family. It's safe to say that Jake and I really encouraged each other to take more photos and it sparked this passion that we got to share together. After an eventful year together we truly did develop a love for outdoor/lifestyle photography and really started to share more of our photos on our social media. I can speak for both of us when I say that it's really tough to find your niche and style out there in the photo world. Fast forward to now and I think that the both of us have really developed our own unique styles of taking photos and editing them and we’ve been able to upgrade our set up’s. We now spend whatever time we can climbing mountains, going on road trips, waking up too early for sunrises, chasing sunsets and capturing the van life with Hershey. I love documenting life and all of it's magical moments and I think it's really fun to capture the people and places you're surrounding yourself with.
For me I had always had an interest in taking photos as a kid. I would run around at family events taking photos on a disposable camera. I remember vividly the time when I was at a family friend’s wedding and I was running around taking all the disposable cameras they left out and just started taking photos of everything and everyone, but that was just something I did as a kid. Throughout my high school career, photography was "uncool" where I grew up, it was all about sports so that was another reason that I just never took it up more than I did. After high school ended, I had always wanted to do it more but never took action on it. It wasn’t until I met Rochelle and we began talking about taking photos and how fun it was, and it was then that I decided to finally get my first DSLR camera. For a little bit it was just a fun little thing to do with Rochelle and we didn’t really think a whole heap about it. After a few months we realized that we enjoyed travelling to places, taking photos and hanging out together, and from that point on we started to gain a huge passion for photography...especially together! Currently Rochelle and I are starting our next leap into the photography world and take our passion to help us earn some $$$ on the road.
Questions, Edited and Published by Hayden Warner