Traditionally a sign of being ‘down and out’, the number of people choosing to life out of their car (or most popularly, their van) has exploded over the past few years. Either seeking escape from the 9-5 routine, or simply wanting to choose not to enter into mortgage debt, ‘vanlifers’ have found a way to live simply and closer to nature.
We chat to vanlifer Jonny Dustow about his life on four wheels and starting the online community, Vanlife Diaries.
A big reason we live in a van is that it encourages you to spend more time outside and we love nature and exploring new places.Jonny Dustow on choose vanlife
Musician, teacher, surfer, mental health advocate and van-lifer, you’ve got a lot going on in your life! Can you give us a quick run-down on how you started down this path of living in your van full-time with your wife Jess?
When you put it like that it sounds very busy haha! My wife Jess & I are both teachers because we care about encouraging our younger generations. I was teaching full time for 7 years and it became clear I didn’t have a healthy balance of lifestyle/work that suited my personality and life goals. Jess had just graduated teaching and we both decided to go casual to have more time to explore new places, meet new communities and enjoy nature!
At the time we had two mortgages and a fairly high cost of living. So over 6 months we decided to make the changes to lower our weekly cost of living. We sold our home and investment property, bought a van and hit the road.
Living in a van, you must spend a lot of time outside in different places along the road. How do you think vanlife has made you more connected to the natural world?
A big reason we live in a van is that it encourages you to spend more time outside – we love nature and exploring new places. Jess especially found her passion of hiking through vanlife. We started going on walks in nature and exploring national parks and coastlines everywhere we went. It just clicked with her and now she is addicted to long distance hiking trips!
I have always been a surfer and love surfing new spots. Vanlife allows me to surf a lot of spots on the cheap. Jess has also shown me the joys of switching off in nature through hiking.
You must notice the weather a lot more in the van – any crazy storm stories from on the road?
Bad weather is our worst enemy haha! With not much space you can get cabin fever. When it is really bad weather we usually go to a large undercover space like shopping centres, caravan parks or just tough it out if we are in the wild. Jess has made sure we have awesome outdoor clothing and gear so we can stay as dry as possible.
A crazy story happened recently where sometimes we think our van is a 4wd, and it obviously isn’t. We were down the south coast of NSW and it had been raining for a few days. We really wanted to drive inland to a new camp spot to hike. It was a dirt/mud road and we disregarded the ‘4wd recommended when wet’ sign. We slid off the road half way along and got stuck as well as damaging our panels. Lesson learnt hopefully!
One of the things you often read is that vanlife is all well and good when you’re on holiday, but can get tricky when you have to get up and head into an office each day – how do you and Jess manage getting ready for work in the van?
Without a doubt Vanlife is so easy when you are on adventures and driving to new places. You don’t mind some days if you miss a shower or just have a swim or surf.
When we are working we do try and park at families or friends houses as much as possible to use their shower or do the washing. Otherwise we do have a Joolca shower in the van which we can use which works really well. A morning swim or surf helps. And washing can be done in the laundromat as well. The hardest thing is drying your clothes. Sometimes we have had to take a half day off when it’s sunny and just park somewhere to hang out our clothes!
Tell us a bit about your van set-up – what are some of the things you’ve found you no longer need, and the things that have become indispensable?
We have a Mercedes Sprinter 1997 Long Wheel Base/High Roof so as much room as a van can have! We have a pantry, wardrobe, bed raised that we can fit our surfboards, music gear and adventure gear under. When we moved in we found we didn’t need furniture anymore, not as much clothes and not as many shoes. Vanlife gives you a certain space and you have to choose what you need first then priorities what you want. Our must have items are warm clothing, surf boards, music gear, food, battery, solar, LED lights, laptops.
You and Jess originally wanted to challenge yourself to living in the van for one year – now that the one year milestone has passed, do you have plans to move back into a house?
We had been living on and off for a few years out of a small van. Then we got the bigger van and now it is coming up to two years in the van. No turning back so far. If we had lots of spare cash we would love to have an off grid shack on some land. However with the extreme prices of land and property in Australia we aren’t prepared to work 30 years full time to pay double for a property with nearly a million or more in interest.
A lot of our community choose the lifestyle to spend more time on their creative passions whilst minimising living costs. It also can be a bit lonely always living from the road.Jonny on starting VanLife Diaries
You started the online community, VanLife Diaries, with a few friends – can you tell us what that’s about and what you get up to at your VanLife Gatherings?
We decided there was a need to connect our world wide community in one area and share creative stories, tips and experiences of the lifestyle. We had noticed that there was a lot of media being shared on the topic but no set area for an overall view of our community or sharing platform.
A lot of our community choose the lifestyle to spend more time on their creative passions whilst minimising living costs. It also can be a bit lonely always living from the road. So we wanted a place online where we could all come together. The Gatherings came from the need for us to meet face to face. Our biggest passion is meeting in nature with like minded folk and encouraging each other in our lives. We also love connecting with indigenous tribes and learning from them about connection with land and history.
"Communication is so important, take time to rest, look after your body & mind as often as possible..."Lessons learnt on the road – Jonny Dustow
Social media can be a bit of a double-edged sword – it bombards us with ‘perfect’ lives, but can also be a tool for sharing information about important social issues. You often share your thoughts on anxiety and depression on your accounts, do you think social media can be powerful in creating dialogue about these sorts of issues?
I am always wary of what I post or share through my social media. I think it’s important to have an element of reality in our personal social medias to show people watching from the outside life is not perfect. I don’t feel personally it’s a place for me to complain and whinge, but I see a real need and opportunity to raise awareness on social & environmental issues. I have found it has helped a lot of people who have written to me personally and thanked me for being real. It’s not a cry for help from my point of view, it’s showing people that I don’t think it’s weak to speak about our struggles.
What’s next for Jonny Dustow?
Lot’s of music for the rest of the year. Then Jess and I take the van to Tasmania for the summer to explore, hike, surf and spend quality time together. 2017 is looking massive! Festivals already booked in, touring a lot of Australia. We are also working on a full length documentary about the Vanlife community which will take us to Canada, America & possibly Europe.
Finally, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt from life on the road?
Communication is so important, take time to rest, look after your body & mind as often as possible, treat others with love & respect, care for our environment and surroundings, love as often as possible and give more than receive and so many more haha.
Follow Jonny and Jess’ life on the road and the people they meet: @rebelonarainbow / www.rebelonarainbow.com
Listen to Jonny’s new music here.
Join the Vanlife Diaries community and Gatherings: @vanlifediaries / www.vanlife.com.au
For those based in Melbourne, check out the Melbourne Vanlifers group on Facebook.
Vanlife photos published above courtesy of Brook James (@brookjames_) and Tom Blanche (@tomblanchephoto).