Who are you and what is your backstory?
Our names are Mack & Laura. We’re a Canadian/Aussie duo who met by chance many moons ago in Kelowna, a lakeside town in British Columbia, Canada.
Travel and adventure have always been important in our lives and throughout our relationship. Our second date was a sailing trip through the San Blas Islands between Panama and Colombia. Our third was a Canadian ski trip, and our fourth was a van trip up the east coast of Australia and exploring the Whitsundays on a sailing catamaran.
We think you get the idea, we’ve always been really driven to explore new places and find unique experiences.
Over the years we did a couple of extended backpacking trips. And while we absolutely loved these, we often found ourselves thinking about what it would be like to see the world from the driver’s seat of our little rolling home, with everything we needed in the back. We feel as though vanlife is essentially backpacking 2.0.
Take us to the moment you decided to begin your Vanlife?
It was on our return to Sydney from India that we decided to buy a van, kit it out and move into it full time. We wanted the freedom that having a rolling home offered and there hasn’t been a single day that we’ve regretted the decision.
Before vanlife and between trips we had always just worked regular jobs, hospitality type work while we were studying and corporate (Mack) and teaching (Laura) once we were finished.
So while we were on this mission to find and convert a van, we were also working full time. We were actually SO close to signing on the dotted line for a brand new Mercedes Sprinter. We had thought that we needed a van that big to make our home comfortable but at the last minute it just didn’t feel right.
When we eventually found our 1987 Kombi (who we’ve since named Beatrice) it absolutely felt right. There was a lot of work bringing the girl up to scratch but we have been so happy with the decision. She is just so full of character and actually has a surprising amount of space. Because we were always focused on travelling, we had avoided accumulating an excess of stuff. This definitely helped when downsizing our lives to 60 square feet.
Our conversion took us about six months, squeezing in a couple hours after work and on the weekends. We were lucky as the van had been converted into a camper by Trakka in the 90s, and so there was pre-existing under van water storage (key), a pop-top roof, electrical and cabinetry.
The electrical was a bit of a rabbit’s warren and so we replaced all the wiring and put in a new 120Ah battery and 1000W inverter. We also replaced the cabinetry to lay it out how we wanted it, but we were stoked to have the water and pop-top. If you are thinking about going with a smaller van, we would definitely recommend trying to find something with a pop-top. We’re both quite tall (Mack is 6’6”) and we found that the pop allows us even more headroom than a high roof Sprinter.
We have to pinch ourselves sometimes because the future is looking so good for these two van dwelling hippies.
We would also say that you shouldn’t skimp out on solar panels and your battery setup. We went with an inexpensive flexible solar panel which we’ve had to replace twice under warranty. We hate creating waste so we were pretty annoyed to find that these were junk. We would definitely recommend fixed solar panels, as well as over catering for your needs when choosing an auxiliary battery.
We went with a 120Ah Full River AGM deep cycle battery. We’ve been happy with Full River, but would think about getting a larger battery next time to be sure we can charge electronics and run the fridge without solar. Our friends can run a Vitamix in their van which always makes us just a little jealous! You won’t always have sunshine and if you aren’t driving, you really don’t want to be running your auxiliary battery flat as it will reduce the battery’s capacity.
The most recent improvements we’ve made have been some upgrades to the cabinetry as well as giving Beatrice a new paint job to deal with a couple growing rust patches and fix up the old tired paint. The conversion is definitely a labour of love and the maintenance ongoing, but the outcome is just so worth it.
We moved into the van as soon as we finished the conversion and have loved every minute of it. The first year we spent at our regular jobs on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and rolling into work from the beach or surf every morning. It was great and our co-workers thought we were such a novelty.
We started our first business at the end of the first year. We had always wanted to find a way to support ourselves on the road and we like to say that buying our little vintage coffee and cocktail caravan ‘Huey’ was our jump off point. From there life started to look a little differently, like we were in control and making the decisions that felt true to us.
We’ve since partnered up with Laura’s brother and sister-in-law to open a wedding and events venue (www.thebarnontheridge.com.au) and are grateful for the confidence that living an alternative life has given us.
Tell us about the advantages to the Van lifestyle?
We just love the lifestyle that comes with living minimally, consciously and on the road.
We feel so lucky to spend the vast majority of our time outside and in nature which is definitely our happiest place. It makes us feel so grounded and alive when we find ourselves out under a dazzling milky way, hiking through one of this country’s countless natural wonders, or just sitting around a crackling campfire and enjoying some good company.
This journey looks a little different for everyone, so discover what makes you feel good and keep on down that path.
We recently spent a couple of months in South Australia and loved having the ability to take our van out onto some of the hard sand beaches they have down there. It is honestly the best way to spend a day; pulling your mobile home onto a deserted beach rolling the awning out and kicking back.
Imagine being able to go for a dip or paddle board out your front door, or decide it’s time for a beer and being able to crack a cold one just there. And a little later, at sunset, you can pull out some nibbles and watch the sky light up and then fade out before the milky way comes out to play. All from the best seat in the house.
Tell us about the biggest challenges and downsides to the Van lifestyle?
We find this so funny because we get this question a lot, and to be honest we always struggle to think of any true downsides to our mobile life.
Of course, there are some inconveniences like missing out on hot showers or finding ourselves with a full toilet. But for us, the freedom to go when and where we want while bringing our home with us so far outweighs any negatives that we don’t find it has an impact on our life.
There was one period where a roller on our sliding door broke and we were without a door for about two weeks. This was right in the middle of the South Coast Bushfires which were threatening our property and we couldn’t get the part anywhere. Fortunately it all worked out and now we just love to look back on this and laugh.
How do you find a sense of community when you’re always moving? How do you maintain and build relationships on the road?
We’ve been travelling together since the first days of our relationship so for us, moving into the van was an easy transition. But we definitely do think that being able to travel together in any capacity is so important for a successful relationship.
We’ve always been pretty independent and because we have each other, we don’t often feel as though we’re missing out on social interaction. But that being said, we have had some awesome times swapping stories and sharing laughs around a campfire.
We find the best way to meet like minded people is just to be welcoming and inclusive without expectations. Not everyone wants to socialise all the time, so we try to be respectful of people’s space and when the stars align and the road gives you good friends, enjoy it!
How do you support yourself financially?
In the past, we would typically work for 6-12 months at a time and then travel for 6-12 months using our savings. This is something that literally ANYONE can do if they are willing to commit to this dream. Our lifestyle would include having picnics on the beach while watching the sun set rather than going out to a fancy restaurant for dinner. We basically just stopped spending money unnecessarily. No new clothes, or big nights out at bars.
Now, things are a little different. We are in a very fortunate position as we are able to work remotely and earn enough to continue our travels. As mentioned above, we manage a wedding and events venue in partnership with Laura’s brother and sister in law. So long as we can find an internet connection every so often, we are able to do everything we need from the road.
We’ve found that our living expenses are actually lower while on the road than they are while living in big cities such as Sydney or Vancouver. So technically we save money while living our dream life, it’s a win win!
What is your one piece of advice for people who want to do what you do?
Because we spend a lot of time travelling, people often say to us ‘I wish I could do that’. This always leads to the most interesting conversations because we get to help people understand that they can do that. There is actually no difference between us and them.
We’re just two people who decided a long time ago that travel and experience were the things we wanted to prioritise most. If you really want to make a change towards more travel or vanlife, then the best way to do it is to start taking trips. Start out small and you’ll find out quickly if this life is for you and if it is, keep building on those experiences. This journey looks a little different for everyone, so discover what makes you feel good and keep on down that path.
And don’t feel bad if you don’t think you have the skills to build your own van! It’s okay to ask for help, we certainly did. There are also loads of pre-converted campers for sale out there if you find that you would prefer something already built.
What have been the most influential and helpful books, podcasts, blogs, websites or other resources?
To be honest we aren’t huge content consumers. The only YouTubers we watch occasionally are Eamon & Bec. Laura spent time with them volunteering at an animal refuge in Bolivia and built a personal relationship with them during that time. But honestly, if you’re in search of inspiration, go check them out on YouTube. They’re our favourites because while they produce top quality content, they are also authentic and typically offer really great advice.
- Anything Brene Browne
- One Wild Ride
- The Imperfects, one in particular episode that we listened to recently was ‘Academy of Imperfection with Ben Crowe’. Mack described it as ah hour long masterclass in life
- Re-root (with Eamon and Bec)
- You can’t travel within Australia without WikiCamps. It’s a paid app that is worth its weight in gold offering points of interest, camp sites (paid, free and pet friendly) where to find toilets, showers, dump points, drinking water etc.
- Travelling internationally we use Maps Me, which allows you to download maps to use offline. We find this particularly useful if we don’t have a local SIM card.
- Lightroom -A super user-friendly mobile app that makes editing photos a breeze while travelling.
- Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
- The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
- The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape
What does the future look like?
We have to pinch ourselves sometimes because the future is looking so good for these two van dwelling hippies.
We’ll continue our lap around Australia until early next year when we’re planning on tying the knot back on the South Coast at our beautiful venue (@thebarnontheridge)
Afterwards, we’re hoping to head back to Canada where we’ll reconnect with friends and family and start work on our next project; building a little cabin in the woods tucked away near to the town we met all those years ago (@aframeokanagan)
Then, if the rest of the world starts to open up by the end of next year, we plan to start a global expedition in our converted 1985 Landcruiser. This is something we had planned for a long time before Covid hit and the ‘cruiser (Dr. Seuess) is over in Canada waiting for us.
Long term, we just want to continue our life on the road and make the odd trip back to our home countries, Australia and Canada.
Is there anything that you need that you can't find or anything you are seeking help with?
Because we’ve lived on the road for so long and have travelled quite a bit before moving into vanlife, we feel like we’re fairly self sufficient. We’re also super lucky in that we own such an old vehicle. Typically whenever anything goes wrong we can use online forums (like Kombi Forums, Go Westy and The Samba) to find answers.
The VW community is honestly incredible. There have been times when we’ve spent hours on FaceTime with our mechanic diagnosing and fixing problems, or getting advice over the phone in remote towns. There is also a network of talented kombi mechanics across Australia, and they’re usually happy to lend a hand or offer advice.
Rapid fire questions
What are the top 3 Van essentials that you couldn’t live without?
- Bellman Espresso Coffee Maker
- 12v Fridge
Top 3 favorite places you’ve visited?
- Safari in Africa
- Scuba Diving in the Philippines
- Snowboarding in Japan
- Travelling around Australia in our Kombi
Where are you now?
How long do you usually stay in one place?
This depends entirely on how much we love a place, and that’s the beauty of vanlife.
If we find somewhere we love, we stay until we’re ready to move on
When did you first start Vanlifing?
August 2018. We actually just worked out that we’re coming up on 1000 days living in our Beatrice.
Are you full-time or part-time Vanlifing?
What kind of vehicle/rv/trailer/setup do you have?
We have a self converted 1987 Westfalia / Kombi with a pop top.
Where can we go to keep up with you and your adventures?
Our Instagram @mackandlaura
Our Business @thebarnontheridge
Our Future Home @aframeokanagan