This month, Emma Barr, husband Chris and their one-year-old son Flynn will ditch their $600-a-week Newport rental on Sydney’s northern beaches and hit the road in their new mobile home.
It’s not a campervan or a Winnebago, but a stock standard “tradie” van — a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter just 6.5m long and 2.5m wide — which the couple have spent the last six months fitting out with a bathroom, kitchen, lounge area and double bed.
“This is quite a big movement we started to get into,” Ms Barr, a former real estate agent, said. “It’s huge in the US. Doing it this way, there’s a lot of free camping and stealth camping you can do. Our van is completely off the grid — it’s got solar panels, water tanks.”
A post shared by Cam, Em Flynn 👪 | Vanlife (@6reasonswhy_travelblog) on Jul 5, 2018 at 3:42am PDT
Ms Barr, 29, said the van could keep them alive “in the middle of nowhere” without water or power for four days before they need to find a town. “Having a van like this allows us to travel anywhere and not have to be restricted to caravan parks,” she said. “That freedom is something we really wanted.”
The van itself cost $17,000 and the build, documented and shared with their 13,000 followers on Instagram and YouTube, cost another $17,000 to complete.
“It’s very compact,” she said. “The living space is about 4.5m by 2.5m, so it’s pretty narrow. We’ve just kind of done the layout that works best for us. My husband and I aren’t very tall, so lying down crossways our hair just touches.”
Ms Barr said 30-year-old Chris, a scuba diving instructor, was “very handy”.
“He’s done such an amazing job,” she said. “The good thing about doing it yourself is you can completely design your own layout. The reason we’ve done this layout, for instance, is so Flynn can be sleeping in the back and we can fully close that section off so we can stay sitting at the table and chair.”
Once they move into the van, the family plan to travel around NSW for the next few months. “My husband has a contract that finishes in September, then we’ll head south and kind of meander our way down to Victoria for the AFL Grand Final,” she said.
“Then we’ll go to Tasmania for three or four weeks. Then we have no more plans, we’re going to just keep going west.”
Ms Barr estimates living in the van will cost $500-$750 per week for food and fuel, which they can easily afford.
“We’ve sold all of our possessions,” she said. “The cost thing and saving money was definitely a huge motivation for us, but also just the want to travel. It’s something that my husband and I always wanted to do.”
She said her business iLeads, a digital marketing firm that generates leads for real estate agents using social media to target homeowners or landlords in their areas, was “at a point now where I’m able to still travel and work”.
“We just thought, why not take it?” she said.
“We’ve always been relatively minimalist people, we don’t like having a lot of stuff, but this has made us downsize constantly even more. For the last month we’ve downsized our entire wardrobe to fit into a carry-on each, and that will need to downsize again before we move in.”
Ms Barr said “hashtag vanlife” was becoming “bigger and bigger in Australia”.
“I think you’re going to get more young people doing it and hitting the road,” she said. “It used to be all the grey nomads but I think more young people are going to be picking it up and doing it.”
So how long will they last in the van?
“Because we don’t have any ties to anywhere in Australia, I honestly believe we will get to somewhere, fall in love with it, not want to leave and end up settling there,” she said. “We’ve had a couple of people tell us they reckon we’ll get to Perth and not come back.”