For those unfamiliar with the concept of “Van Life”, It is essentially choosing a life, living on the road. Investing money in building the perfect mobile homes as opposed to houses or apartments. Some undergo this lifestyle for months or even years, saving a substantial amount of money beforehand, picking up odd jobs on the way, working online or living off passive income. I have had the pleasure of having a taster of this life and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do again in the future for even more of a longer term. Our month-long road trip, on the East Coast of Australia, was not only a fun experience but had also become an eye-opener as it gave me an idea for another venture I could embark upon. Click here to visit my previous entry which details my previous experience.
I’m currently in the Red Desert Centre of Australia, Alice Springs, where I have met a few people that have converted their vans to live in and are living in their vans full-time whilst road tripping all over Australia. Alice Springs lies in the heart of Australia, approximately 1500 km (932 mi.) away from the next big city. (Darwin being the closest, 1496 km away and 2772 km away from Sydney). It’s in the middle of the desert with not much in between and is not an easy destination to get to. Nevertheless, these adventurous travellers, have found their way here to the Red Centre, with their modified vehicles that they have used to live in on their journey.
I have had the opportunity to meet Hannah Maljacov, a 21-year-old Australian, who has been travelling for 11 months straight, living in her modified station wagon. She has been very kind to let me ask her a few questions about her experiences which in turn should give me and all of you readers a better insight on the truth about living on the road.
Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your chosen vehicle?
So I’m from Wodonga, which is on the border of Victoria and New South Wales. Also, known as Albury-Wodonga which is pretty much in the middle of Melbourne and Sydney. I drive a Subaru Outback 98 2.5 litre Manual, which is an all-wheel drive, similar to a four-wheel. I bought it a year before I went to live on the road and I didn’t know I was actually gonna live on the road then but I’ve just always wanted a car that I was able to sleep in. Especially because I don’t normally use a car to commute generally, I only used it for camping and long distance drives. The only annoying thing about this car is that its low clearance but other than that its great.
How did you go by modifying it, was it something you already knew how to do?
It was something I looked into so I had to take it step by step, first with the bed, then getting roof-racks and adding a tow-bar, getting a roof pod, building in storage and different things like that. I did look on the internet to see if anyone else had my type of car and was living in it because generally, people would get cars that are a bit bigger or vans for example, but there were a few people in America that had temporarily lived in their car but usually just had a mattress on the floor. I wanted to make something more convertible so I could still have seats in the back but still have a bed, so that’s what I did.
So are you a carpenter by trade?
No, by trade I’m a permaculture designer but I want to become a carpenter and that’s what I’m doing in Alice Springs at the moment, I will be studying next year. I’ve built a few things and can be quite handy but then again it’s just one of those things where some things I know, some things I don’t, so I’m a bit of a jack of all trades master of none type of person.
When did you start and what was it that made you want to embark on this journey?
So I left on the 29th October 2016 and well it kind of started with me wanting to do a short course which was three weeks long. But the problem was, one of the jobs I absolutely adored, could only give me a maximum of two weeks off and anything longer I would have had to leave. Although I had about five jobs, that was my main source of income so I would have had to replace it, so I thought, why not just quit all my jobs and keep going north after I finished my course and that’s what I did. It started off as a three-month planned road trip, three weeks of that being the course and it has now been eleven months and I’m gonna settle in Alice Springs for a little bit before I hit the road again.
So you quit all your jobs and you did this course?
Yep, I quit all my jobs, packed up my life at the border and left to do this course in Nimbin and then I kept heading North up the East Coast of Australia and then came back down through the Central Queensland Outback.
Were you scared of living on the road?
I wasn’t scared, at first it was just a little bit like “Where am I gonna sleep”, “Where am I gonna pull my car up”, “I’ve never been to these places before”. I was mainly just scared of hitting a kangaroo or losing my licence for being unfamiliar with the traffic laws in the state or not seeing something, but other than that, no, I wasn’t scared of the typical things that you’d think about, being an isolated woman in the bush.
What about your family and friends, they were supportive?
Yeah, pretty supportive, like, I’ve kind of got this attitude that like, I financially support myself, therefore, no one can tell me otherwise, everything I do it’s all for me so no one can really have a say on what I do I guess.
So obviously it all began with this course that you took then you continued travelling but after that initial step, was there an end goal for your road trip?
Well, initially when I hopped on the road, the plan was to do the three-week course, then spend another 2 months travelling the East Coast and then back down. January 2017 was to travel towards Victoria and catch up with friends and go to some festivals and at the end of January I was actually gonna fly out to India for two months then come back and drive back up the East Coast to work at a community near the Sunshine Coast in Noosa to do an internship in organic farming. But things kind of twisted and changed a little bit, because I was loving living in my car and everything was just so fun. I felt like the three months wasn’t long enough and I actually got offered to volunteer on Australia’s first Super Adobe Round House, which I worked on for all of February March and a little bit of April. But just after New Years, I started a hundred-kilometre hike around the Mornington Peninsula and six-kilometres in, I got what I thought was a migraine but it turned out to be a brain infection and spend four days the hospital and nearly died and because of that I wasn’t able to go to India.
Wait just so we’re clear, six-kilometres in on your hike you had a brain infection and was sent to the hospital?
Yeah, when I started the hike and I just got a really bad migraine so I decided to try and sleep it off for the rest of the day but I was just vomiting, had a temperature. It was thirty degree heat but I was there sleeping in my car with two sleeping bags, absolutely freezing.
Okay, that’s pretty insane, so after you were released from the hospital you just continued on travelling?
On the hike no, but travelling yes. So the doctor told me to take it easy and I did try to take it easy but I already had tickets to see one of my favourite band’s that was coming to Australia, so I kinda left the hospital saying “I’m so sorry but I’ve been waiting two years for this moment and I’ve already bought tickets so I need to be released by Friday Night”. So that’s the only reason why I only spent four days in hospital, not longer.
That is insane.
(Laughs) Yeah and even though having the infection had taken a lot out of my body in the last six months and my body hasn’t felt physically the same as it had before, I was hiking Mount Kosciuszko the week after because I didn’t want to put aside my travel plans and I had already missed out on the hundred-kilometre hike and hiking around Wilsons Prom, so I thought, no, I’m not missing out on anything.
That is awesome, I was not expecting that! But you feel fine now right?
Yeah! I feel fine now, it’s just that I get tired a little bit easier, probably also due to the heat because I’ve spent the last four months in the desert but I’m not as strong or as fit as I was. I think that’s also because there was a long recovery stage and I was working my arse off building this house a month after getting the infection and going back and forth from specialists and doctors appointment, so I did get worn out a little bit, but other than then I’m feeling pretty good.
Wow. Many people would have called it quits and would have gone home after that experience so respect to you for keeping on!
(Laughs) Thank you!
I’m not gonna pry on that subject too much but after that experience, would you consider living on the road with somebody? Because from what I gather, you’re an avid solo traveller.
That is quite an interesting question actually because I was writing some notes down and it was called “101 Tips on the Road” by Hannah, and the first hot tip is, even if you have a partner, leave them at home and do a solo trip. I think it’s very important that you have some time alone and have time to do, what you wanna do when you wanna do it. I’m quite an independent person so even if I did have a boyfriend, I still probably wouldn’t take him on this trip around Australia just because this is something I wanna do. You’re also so much more approachable being by yourself in the sense that people are more inclined to help you or talk to you because you’re not really occupied by another person so I think that’s really great. And from what I’ve learnt in the past, I’ve thought, unless maybe I find the right kind of person, I’m never travelling with anyone again.
You know I can totally relate and maybe to be on the road with someone, you have to be on the same page and know exactly what you want out of the trip. Moving on from that though, 11 months on the road what was the funniest thing that has happened on your road trip so far?
Ooh actually there’s maybe been three different memorable moments, but when I was in Central Queensland Outback, actually coming back down, I went through like a mining town somewhere near Emerald where I camped the night in the bush. I woke up quite early in the morning and was just sitting outside having breakfast and some car pulls up into the bush area where I was camping, probably 30 metres away from me with a few bushes in between but I could still obviously see that they were there. I just thought maybe they just pulled up on the side of the road to take a break from driving because they’ve been driving all night. The guy then gets out of the car, openly has a wank, for about 10 minutes and then jumps back in his car. I mean I was very like ‘do what you gotta do’ but then again I was thinking ‘did he know I was here? or is he trying something’ but yeah he just got back in the car and drove off. That was so random.
I mean that’s kind of more traumatising than funny but I guess you can put this story into both those categories! I don’t know how anybody else would react to that. Favourite place you’ve stopped by and why?
Ah, now that’s really hard because Australia is so beautiful. There are so many different contrasting images and places and zones and climates so it’s really hard. It’s hard what to compare, like do you compare on the food or the services, do you compare the landscapes or the free activities, everything is just so different. It also depends on your headspace, like you could be at the most beautiful spot but you could be having a hard time with yourself so then again, it might not be such a beautiful spot because you’re not enjoying it or you’re sick at the time. But I loved the northern rivers area, not Byron Bay as much because everyone just assumes Byron Bay, but I really did like Mullumbimby, Nimbin, Kyogle and all those beautiful places in the rainforest, with the waterfalls and the lush green everywhere. I also really enjoyed Tasmania and I also really like the desert having been in the desert for a while now.
Any personal advice for people, such as myself that would like to try the life on the road?
So my advice. One. Even if you have a partner, leave them at home and travel by yourself. Two. Save as much as you can to do it so you don’t have to feel the pressures of having to work. You’ll be a lot more relaxed that way. You can always pick up jobs on the way to earn more but especially with having a car, lot’s of things can go wrong so it’s good to have a backup.
Amazing! Well thank you so much for your help and your stories and hopefully, the readers will find this inspirational as well as insightful.
So that was my interview with Hannah Maljacov, be sure to follow her adventures on Instagram @thehardyakkahousewife. She’s currently working a lot of things at the moment but one of those things are what she calls a “Ziok” which is a cross between a “Zine” and a “Book” which will detail tips and advice as well as stories of her travels!
It is something that has always been on my mind and something I have always wanted to try out. So once I sort out my driver’s licence, a life on the road will be the next step.