Location: Sydney, New South Wales
It’s been six months since we moved our belongings out of Bea and into a brick and mortar rental house, and our time spent living on the road seems like a life time ago now! However, even now Siu On and I still field questions from people about how we managed to spend five months living and traveling out of our car, so we’re going to answer the most frequently asked questions about our experience of living out of our car.
Why would you want to travel across Australia and live out of your car?
We choose to drive across Australia and live out of our car because it was the most cost effective way we could do it. We knew we wanted to see more of Australia and we wanted to do it on a budget, so when I did the math for a trip where we put the car on the train to Adelaide or Melbourne, paid for flights over there and then the costs associated with driving ourselves to New South Wales; it far exceeded what we wanted to be spending. I also didn’t see a point in selling my mechanically sound and sturdy Bea for a van that may turn into a money vacuum, so we chose to upgrade our vehi-gal and take her along on our journey.
In addition to the monetary reasons I stated above, as rock climbers we were curious to see if we could handle living a dirtbag existence, because it was something that we were planning on doing in the future anyways. To be able to live at a crag and climb all day, everyday, is probably the dream of all outdoor rock climbers, and we saw this as our trial run on whether or not it was something that we could actually do and would want to do. (And our answer to that one is YES!)
Didn’t you get tired of each other?
Sadly, no. We are that weird couple that likes to be in each other’s pockets, and are joined at the hip. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have our days when we were both irritated from a lack of sleep, and I was having my ‘special women’s time of the month’ moments which turned into long, frosty, silent drives. The experience did teach us a lot about how to settle differences, how to behave in a mature way and how to problem solve, which strengthened our relationship tremendously.
How do you sleep in there?
Siu On and I built a platform in the back of the car, which you can see in our DIY Vanlife articles Part One and Part Two. Luckily for us, we are not very tall people and I generally sleep curled up so Siu can sleep diagonally – so we just fit! However, we did also bring a tent along for those times when we wanted a break from the car.
Were you afraid to sleep in the car?
Yes. Well, I was, Siu usually fell asleep before I did. The only times I was afraid of our safety in the car was when we were sleeping in the car in or near towns, because there was always the fear that the cops would knock on our window, or some idiot would try to break into the car. However, when we were at campsites or away from people it was totally fine. Over the whole five months we had neither happen to us so none of my fears eventuated.
What did you do for a shower and toilet?
We either didn’t shower, which isn’t so bad when you both stink because you can’t tell; or we showered when stayed at places with facilities such as a caravan park, or a really good campsite. For times when we really wanted to feel clean but had no shower facilities, we always had a pack of wet wipes but this was rare because wet wipes are expensive and are wasteful. Siu On and I felt that drinking water was a precious commodity so we never used it to shower with.
For the toilet we always found places to make toilet stops at, like most national parks have drop toilets, or we’d pass through towns for a toilet stop. For times when we were in the bush we’d dig a deep hole well away from any water sources and pack our rubbish out – yes that means used toilet paper in a bag to be put in the bin later. I’m not going to pollute the beautiful places I got to visit just because I don’t want to carry my poopy paper in a bag.
How much did you cost you do live out of your car and travel?
For the full five months that we spend living and traveling out of our car we ended up spending on average $1000 (AUD) per month for the two of us. This includes everything from fuel and food, to national park fees and the odd lunch or coffee.
Siu On and I were extremely frugal when it came to our spending and did as much as we could to save including taking advantage of free camping and crashing on friend’s couches, cooking our own meals and buying cheap or marked down food, and bringing jerry cans to fill up on cheap fuel along the way. To be honest, we could have even brought that figure down lower if we had taken our time and not driven to so many destinations as the biggest expense was fuel, and fuel in remote and country areas is expensive.
What did you do for money?
We didn’t work or earn much apart from an odd job we did raking leaves in the Grampians. Siu On and I would have loved to have been able to earn whilst we travelled but it didn’t work out that way; and besides we didn’t want to worry about earning money and instead wanted to focus on the journey, so we worked hard before leaving and saved up for the trip. We had a rough idea on how much we’d need to sustain ourselves for five or six months, and decided that when we did run low on funds that we’d make a decision then about what we would do when that happened.
Are you happier now that you’re not living out of the car?
For me, not really, I think I could have kept going but I know that Siu was a bit over it and needed the space. So that one is a mixed bag for us, but we do still get away most weekends and still sleep in the car when we do.
Do you get sick of explaining to people how you lived out of your car?
This is the question we get asked the most from other car and van dwellers… and it’s a resounding NO! We actually love telling people about it because we do believe that this is a valid alternative to living in a brick and mortar home. We met a lot of people who had been doing it for way longer than us, and this experience really did make us more appreciative of the things we have and the time we got to spend so closely in each other’s company, and exploring Australia – I tell everyone to give it a try! You will view consumption, consumerism and yourself so differently after an experience like this, I guarantee it!
Is the vanlife all it’s cracked up to be?
That’s a tough one to answer, so I’ll have to say yes and no. There are times when we’d be waking up to the sounds of the ocean and eating breakfast on a remote and empty beach, and we have all the time in the world to do whatever we want and I think ‘geez we’re lucky’; but then there are times when we’re mad each other and the weather is crap and we can’t find anywhere safe to park the car and sleep, and I just wanted to jump on a plane and go back to Perth.
To be honest, vanlife is not for everyone, and we met plenty of people along the way who loved it and others who didn’t. Vanlife really is what you make it. If you are someone who likes to have comfort and space then a small van isn’t going to suit you, so you have to know your limits and cater to that because it does affect the experience you have. With an open mind and a view to problem solve on the fly, you’ll do alright I think.
If you have any other burning questions for us, why not let us know Siu On and I know over on our Facebook page, or you can even drop us an email at email@example.com and let us know what you’d like us to answer. We’d love to do a part two to this and get you more confident to take your first steps at creating your own vanlife experience!
Photography by Jelena Stipanicev.