Falling into Vanlife was never meant to happen to me. It was a wild journey that I somehow stumbled into at the peak of the pandemic in 2020.
Falling out of it was even more unexpected.
When the pandemic first hit back in 2020, I was living in Canada with the intention of spending a year of my visa there. I wanted to watch the seasons change from winter to autumn to summer and then back to winter again. I wanted to swim in the crystal blue lakes and ski all winter.
And afterwards, it was my plan to head to America, to Mexico, to Europe, to Asia and explore everywhere possible before finally returning home a few years later.
When the pandemic hit, everything changed for me. I had only been living in Canada for 6 months, and the news was like a kick to the gut. My ski resort job was closing down. I was going to lose my accommodation. Everyone encouraged me to go home.
I travelled home with a heavy heart and a sadness of lost dreams that I knew nothing could solve. The world was turning to utter shit around everyone and there was nothing we could do but wait it out.
Here’s my life update and how in a matter of months, I was sent falling in and out of vanlife and how the whirlwind of the pandemic changed everything for me.
Falling into Vanlife
It was at the height of this misery of being stuck at home without being able to travel that I made the decision to buy a van.
Buying a van was the perfect solution to the problem I had of not being able to travel and I was all for the adventure and rollercoaster ride it was going to offer me.
So I did the thing most people would warn you not to do; I jumped into my new dream without second-guessing it.
I bought my van without much difficulty, and honestly, I was thankful for the ease in which it all happened. It was as if the stars were aligning and telling me that my new adventure was all meant to be.
I bought my van, Atlas, in mid-2020 and for the next 6 months, I cleaned it up, fixed the problems with it, and went on plenty of practice trips around North Queensland to learn exactly what it was like living in a van while travelling solo.
The practice trips were great. I ventured to Cairns, exploring different things along the way. I went to the Atherton Tablelands and fell in love with the simplicity and quietness that came hand in hand with living in a van. The outback called to me twice, and so on two separate occasions, I travelled to Charters Towers and lived under the stars with the sounds of nature and the smell of freshly burned logs wafting around me.
It was pure magic and I was living on cloud nine.
Until I wasn’t.
The thing is, while my van and I had non-stop adventures, the van also had a sickness that I wasn’t able to cure. And that was old age.
I didn’t share a lot of my issues with the van on social media, opting for the positive side of showcasing a ‘dreamy’ lifestyle that I was lucky enough to live. But, the reality was that the van and I had more troubles than fun.
When I purchased Atlas, everything was in working order. The previous owners had no issues with it, and from the buyer’s point of view, it was an excellent purchase. I traded my car (my green Mazda 3, Gertie) and paid the exact same price I got for that for the van.
It was a match made in heaven, and I thought the stars were aligning for me.
But then the air conditioner broke. And the ignition switch stopped working. And the sliding door broke. And I had an oil leak. And the air conditioner broke again. And then the ignition switch broke again. And the oil leak got bigger. And then something major happened and the van decided to stall every time the revs were too low which made it unroadworthy and too dangerous to drive.
And this is only the short list of problems!
It was as if I had the black touch, and every time I drove somewhere, a new issue would bubble to the surface.
So many people told me that this was the reality of van life. “Welcome,” they would say. “You’re officially apart of the vanlife fam.”
But the thing I couldn’t shake was how wrong it all felt. Buying the van had seemed okay. But over time, the gnawing anxiety I would get every time I went for a drive was overwhelming. I would barely be able to sleep at night thinking about the fact that I didn’t know if Atlas would turn on in the morning when I needed to be somewhere. I felt sick with the knowledge that very soon, I would be off on a trip around Australia, alone, as a single woman, in a van that I didn’t trust.
I knew that I had to trust my instincts and the voice in my head that screamed at me every time I swiped my card for another repair.
One week before departure
Let me preface this by saying that I was meant to depart for my trip in mid-January. I’d set myself a goal of being ready to go just after my Birthday, and from there I would be on the road for 5 months before pulling up to live in Jindabyne to do some winter skiing.
But of course, COVID had other plans, and with there being several new outbreaks down the coast of Australia, I didn’t feel right leaving just yet. I put it off, and then off again until the first of March was my date of departure and I was set on leaving then. Nothing was going to change my mind.’
But the van had other plans.
I was just shy of one week from departing for my trip down the east coast of Australia when I had a final servicing done. At this point, there was still a major oil leak coming from somewhere that two separate mechanics could not pinpoint. There was still the issue of stalling every time the revs were too low. Amongst other problems and the never-ending anxiety I was facing on a daily basis when it came to talking about the van.
The final service took hours. My mechanic went over the van, replacing and fixing a few of the things they thought could be causing the issues I was having, but when he came to my door with a solemn face, I knew it wasn’t good news.
The short story is, it was going to cost another fortune for me to fix the issues. And not only this, it still might not be safe to take on a long drive as there were other issues potentially going to rise up in the process.
With a sinking feeling in my gut, I looked my mechanic in the eye and asked, “what do you recommend I do?”
He grimaced and said “I would get rid of it asap. It isn’t safe to travel in. Don’t risk it.”
And so, one week from leaving my home and travelling, the realisation that my trip wasn’t going to happen began to sink in. I had already packed up my room, bought every last item I needed to be comfortable on the road, and piled thousands of dollars into a van that I wasn’t going to be able to take, least of all get any money for.
The realisation was dark. It hurt. It broke me into a thousand pieces before I was able to even consider what to do next.
And so, like a beating heart, I pulsed in and out of van life in a second.
Thankfully, I don’t like to sit around and do nothing, and so it didn’t take long for a new game plan.
I would get rid of the van, cutting my losses, the loss of money, and the goal, and I would instead hire a van to do the trip I had planned and was already ready to go on.
Updates and what is next for Vanlife and One World Wanderer
Having been so ready for my trip down the east coast, I decided that I was still going to go. There was no other option for me. I was ready, and I was going.
Buying another van did not seem like a great idea for me. My bad luck with Atlas was ingrained in my mind like a bad headache, and I wasn’t ready to dive into another big purchase yet. At the same time, I did not want to wait around for months until I found the perfect one.
Hiring a van was the next best thing for me. It would give me breathing room, allowing me the time to go without a car, assessing my next move while having adventures and still doing the exact same trip I had always planned to do.
I stripped the van of the parts I wanted or the new items I did not want to part with, and I readied myself to hire a van.
I gave myself two weeks. Two weeks between the mechanic telling me that Atlas was not safe to travel in and hiring my van and leaving on my trip.
It was a hustle trying to sell the van. No one wanted to buy it while it was unroadworthy and had issues. What it needed was a mechanically minded person; someone who could fix it for minimum costs, and then it would be perfect.
And finally, at the last minute, someone took Atlas off my hands. He took the van two days before I was set for departure when I was ready to give up. I had all but told myself I was going to leave it on the side of the road because no one wanted it. But Atlas went to a good home, and I am so grateful that it worked out and I was able to get rid of her in time for my trip.
So what’s next?
The same route I had planned on doing initially is still going ahead (from the top to the bottom of Aus and everything in between), I will just be doing it on a different timeline.
I will start at home and work my way down the coast over the course of two-three months.
And of course, I will be writing all about this trip and sharing it with you all.
All I know is that the road ahead looks good, and I am so excited about what adventures it has in store for me!