Are you a young couple looking to travel Australia? Read this first
IT’S THE ULTIMATE retirement plan: buy a van or caravan, pack up your house and set out to explore Australia for a few years. But what was once the preserve of grey nomads is now being taken up by a younger generation of Australians.
Meet Alice Gray and Jesse Laws. They’ve been together since they were 15 years old and now, in their early 20s, have decided to explore the country in which they were born.
Alice, unlike Jesse, had taken the opportunity to travel to other countries earlier on, but felt the need to fulfill what was a long-time dream. “While overseas, I was always thinking about how I hadn’t even explored my own backyard,” Alice says.
“We’ve been together for a long time now, and we actually talked about wanting to do this when we first met in high school. It was something we had in common, so it’s like living out a joint dream we had.”
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Our first stop in VIC was Cann River Rainforest Campground. It’s not really situated in a rainforest however it’s currently an unmanned caravan park which is temporarily available for free camping for up to 48hrs. It is a large grassy area with flushing toilets, showers (cold) and water connections. Great for a stop over if your on the Princes Hwy.
‘Evan the Econovan’
In 2017, Alice and Jesse finally bought the van of their dreams, with the intention of fitting it out to their specifications. After a few short test trips to northern New South Wales, they officially gutted the van in April 2018, with the intention of making it liveable.
“The lease on our house was going to end in August 2018 and we were talking about it before then,” says Alice. We basically said to ourselves, ‘If not now, when?’ Between April and August, we worked on the van every weekend.” This where it got tricky.
“We didn’t know anyone else who’d done this at our age or at all, especially in a van. We used pictures we’d seen on Instagram as a reference, but of course we wanted to make it perfect for us. Both Jesse and I are pretty short people!”
They fitted ‘Evan the Econovan’ with a bed, leaving enough room for storage underneath. “We had the help of my dad, who’d at least built cupboards before,” says Jesse. “There were times when we’d build something and then it wouldn’t quite fit. It was very touch and go but I’m glad we did it on our own.”
What’s particularly special about Alice and Jesse’s van Evan is that it’s solar-powered. “We’ve got a solar set up so that supports all of our electricity,” Alice says. “I’d definitely advise making an attempt at doing this yourself. If we had to get a professional to do our solar it would have costed over $1000.”
While Alice says Evan might not be as glamorous as some travelling homes, it’s custom to what they like, and they have some feeling of self-pride that they’d designed him themselves.
Alice and Jesse plan to travel Australia for a number of years, so they’re not as rushed as someone who’s looking to complete the trip within a few months or in a single year.
Their route was guided by Jesse’s eagerness to travel Tasmania in the summer so they travelled down the east coast of Australia, setting out from Taree in October 2018. They’ve spent most of 2019 travelling Tasmania and will head to South Australia soon.
Day to day, however, their route is guided by the app Wikicamps, which is a user-generated database of free camp sites, caravan parks and bushwalks, among other things. Alice says it’s a great investment.
For Jesse, an Aboriginal Australian, it’s been important for him to visit culturally significant sites. “With the van, you feel like you can take your time to do these things, rather than jumping from one place to the next, which is never what we set out to do,” he says.
The van itself costed Alice and Jesse $5,500.
Alice left high school and worked as a full time senior property services consultant and saved $35,000 over four years for the trip. Jesse saved $10,00 over a single year working in cafes and supermarkets. Combined they had a budget of $45,000, and over five months, have used $10,500 of their savings.
“Groceries and then fuel are our biggest expenses each month,” Alice says. “We have no plans to work along the trip, but if we run out of money and haven’t finished the trip, we’d be happy to reconsider that.”
Travelling as a couple
Grey nomads have time on their side and probably a few kids behind them to know that they can work together and spend a lot of time in a closed space without throwing in the towel.
Younger couples such as Alice and Jesse aren’t so experienced. One of the first things they tend to get asked is what it’s like to travel together in a tight space for a long period of time.
“It’s been easy for us because we’ve both had that ambition to travel Australia since we were young,” Alice says. “We’ve been thinking about it for years. We know where we want to go and we agree on that.”
But there are still times when they argue. “There are times where we’re bickering over something stupid, like where to park the car. But we’re the only two people around, so that actually helps you to get over it pretty quickly. You can’t dwell on an issue because we don’t know anyone else,” Alice says.
With the benefit of hindsight…
Alice and Jesse say they’ve had very few big challenges through the trip, mainly because they’ve been taking it slow. There were, however, more issues before the trip, particularly when it came to the van.
“I think we ended up fine, but if we were to do it again, I would do more research around the van,” says Jesse. “Get a van that’s definitely big enough for you and don’t forget that you’ll practically be living in it. You don’t want to be cramped in that space.”
The two have also had their fair share of battles with the expectations of #vanlife.
“For younger people like us it can be hard to just disengage. You see people absolutely dedicated to the van life trend on Instagram,” Alice says.
“Some places you go everyone is there to get a photo, no-one’s there to experience the waterfall or the history of a particular area. You should always take the time to read about where you are.
“I’ve had to literally force myself to do that throughout the trip. I don’t need to be on my phone and I don’t need to check or reply to messages as soon as they come in. Appreciate the moment.”
You can follow Evan the Econovan on Instagram here.