We've been wanting to feature another article focusing on the subject of vanlife for a while now. Ever since we spoke to Savannah King a few months ago we've been hunting for another super exciting person to chat to. We came across a really beautiful Instagram account and just had to find out more about the people behind the photos and what adventure they had been on. Here is what we found out....
Hi Guys. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Who are we speaking to?
Hey, thanks for getting to know us! I’m Amber, a photographer, and the one behind our Instagram account @summerofseventyfive, where we share our travels. We’re a part-time adventuring family in Australia, seeking out the greener grass, and doing our best to strike a balance between work and play.
Who travels with you in your van?
There’s four of us, myself along with my husband Keenan, and our daughters Coco (12) and Indigo (11). There’s also the occasional stow-away mouse, but they don’t stay long and don’t take up much space so we don’t count them!
What van do you have and what do you love about it?
We have an original 1975 VW Kombi Campmobile, it’s a fabulous shade of retro orange, and has all the details straight from the 70’s. It sleeps the four of us cosy but comfortable, the kids sleep up in the poptop roof bunk and our bed folds out from the back seat. While there’s not too many bells and whistles, it’s the modest simplicity that we love. She’s made for adventure, and has taken us on some incredible journeys. We’ve named her Summer, after the feelings it evokes of an everlasting summer roadtrip, like cruising the coast with the windows down and the tunes up, wind in the hair, parked beachside, a picnic in the sand, the tailgate open and a gentle sea breeze rustling the vintage floral curtains. This is what she means to us, it’s about more time spent doing the things that are important to us like making memories with our family, and living a full adventurous life beyond four walls.
Do older vans have more character than newer ones?
Of for sure! We love that about older vans. They have a certain charm, and it’s in everything from the big old bus-like steering wheel, to the retro cabinetry, the lack of air-conditioning, and the distinct smell of petrol and oil. It’s in the way the window wipers squeak as they go back and forth, and the unique clicking sound of the door latches. And not forgetting the old hand pump tap! There’s character in the engine too, and the (sometimes strange) noises it makes. And there’s definitely character in their reliability (or should I say unreliability). There’s a sort of challenging excitement that comes with travelling in an old van. We usually make it to where we want to go, but sometimes it just takes a little longer.
Vanlife must have its negativities? What are they?
There is always pros and cons to anything, and vanlife is no different. Like any regular day, there will always be ups and downs. To be honest though, for us, the negatives are always outweighed by the positives, so we focus on those. Because we have chosen this lifestyle part-time, I think it minimises some of the negatives that we might have found with full-time vanlife, such as being away from friends and family, or working from the road. We feel like we have the best of both worlds. Rather than working while travelling, we work when we’re at home and save for the next trip, and this allows us to feel totally immersed in the experience of being together and the places we find ourselves. If I had to say one negative, it would be the challenge that comes from having mechanical problems when your vehicle is also your home. This can be a real test, but like anything, it’s all a state of mind, and there is always a positive to take from these situations too.
What made you make the decision to use a van to travel around?
Travel in any form brings a sense of adventure and freedom, but for us there just something special about going on a roadtrip that amplifies that feeling. Being in Australia, we have such a vast wilderness at our doorstep and seeing it by road is the most intimate way of exploring it. It puts you right there in the landscape, exposed and vulnerable. It’s something we had dreamed of experiencing for a long time.
Where have you been in the van?
We started with short trips, like weekends away close to home on the south coast of New South Wales. Our first longer trip was when we spent a month travelling around Tasmania, which was to be the decider on weather or not we could do an extended trip around Australia. We thought if we could live like this for one month, we knew we could do it for 6 months. So that’s what came next, our 25,000km lap around Australia! We took an anti-clockwise route from Sydney, and over 6 months, we visited all the states apart from Queensland, which will be another trip all of its own. Australia is one big piece of land, and it’s one amazing adventure exploring it!
Name your favourite three places to spend the night…
Generally we love being by the sea, and falling asleep to the sound of the ocean is hard to beat. Although from our travels, we found that we love the desert and the mountains just as much. We’ve spent some of the most incredible nights in the desert, miles from anyone or anything. Out there the sky is so full of stars, it left us speechless. We would find ourselves laying in bed looking out in absolute wonder, and reflecting on our tiny place in this big world. It’s something that has to be experienced to truly understand.
You appear to always be under the sun? Does the hot weather cause any issues?
One of the most beautiful things about Australia is it’s endless blue skies! Would you believe that in almost 6 months on our trip around Australia, we only had 4 days of rain! Being in a kombi which has an aircooled engine, we have to consider the seasons, and plan our travels around them. We knew we needed to avoid being in the tropics in the Summer months, so we travelled there in winter. At one stage of the trip as we headed north, we experienced a heat wave early in the season which we weren’t prepared for. Temperatures went from below 0o C to 40oC over a one week period. During the day we were on the move, and got relief with the windows down, we just took it slow in the kombi and give it plenty of rest stops to cool down. The hot nights were a challenge though, with no flyscreens or air conditioning, we were literally in a hot tin can. We bought a 12volt fan and made a flyscreen for the rear tailgate after that!
What challenges have you encountered when trying to live as a family in the van?
Living as a family in the van is really not so different to living as a family anywhere else, apart from the limited space. Many people would see the space as almost impossible, but we see it as an opportunity to be close. Some of our best moments together are squeezed around the tiny kombi table playing board games. Sure there’s times when we need a break from each other, that’s no different to any normal day, and we get that escape by going for a walk, reading a book, or heading out with the camera. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle of normal life, so for us, time away in the van is reconnection. The limited space does have its challenges though, we have definitely had to develop a bit of a synchronised routine, like this leg here, that arm there, it’s quite funny when four of us are getting ready for bed!
Does the Australian wildlife play its part?
It sure does, and we encountered our share of it. One night we made our camp off the track in the desert near Uluru. We pulled into camp after dark, there was nobody else around, although there was a pack of wild Dingos that started prowling around our van as we set up. That same night we had a bush mouse climb aboard and start rummaging through our pantry. Needless to say we didn’t get a lot of sleep that night! The wildlife and birdlife is truly incredible and so abundant. We could tell you stories about spiders, snakes, reef sharks, humpback whales, crocodiles, turtles, camels, emus, echidnas and of coarse kangaroos! All the encounters we had were friendly ones, and the Dingo’s were harmless, although we weren’t going to try and pat them!
Surely you miss something when you're away? What is it?
We don’t miss much to be honest! Sure though we do miss our family and friends, but really it’s only a few comforts that we go without that we look forward to when we get home. A daily hot shower is the one thing that comes to mind! Even so, there’s something raw and invigorating about getting back to nature and bathing in the sea, a creek or waterhole, and we could go for weeks without a proper hot shower and still feel great with a saltwater bath. We do have a portable 12volt cold shower system, but when water is at a premium, we use that when we can.
What essentials do you have on the road? What would you advise people to have.
For us, it’s about minimalism when we travel in the kombi. We only have space for the essentials, so we need to be very considered with what we pack, it’s a great way to redefine needs vs wants. It has sort of become a little challenge for us to see just how much we can go without. At one stage we actually went right through the van to have a big clean out of the things we weren’t using and posted them back to our home address. One essential is the 12volt portable shower, that’s a must! There’s lots of things we pack for ‘just in case’ situations but never end up needing, like certain spare parts for the van. We installed an inverter and a two deep cycle batteries inside the van which have been invaluable, it allows us to be completely off grid and fully self-sufficient for power. Space saving items that can have a double use are great, and good warm bedding is so important, as is anything that makes the van feel cosy and comfortable. Even the small details like our fruit bowl that sits on the side cabinetry has a purpose, and makes it feel homely too. It stays in place when we’re driving with a non-slip mat underneath. There’s always a way to come up with hacks to make things work for how you want them to, it just takes being a little resourceful at times.
What have you learnt about yourself whilst being in the van?
Great question! It’s actually been one thing that we didn’t anticipate, but there has been so much personal growth for all of us individually, and also together as a family. Travelling this way really strips you back to the core of who you are, there is nothing to hide behind, and no way of distracting yourself. Some things have been confronting to learn about ourselves, and others have been welcomed lessons, but we’ve risen to the challenges. I think collectively we’re all much stronger from the experience. Most importantly though, we’ve learned that there is so much life to live, and our time on this precious earth is short, so we’re living much more consciously, living in the now!
If you had to change your vehicle what would you get?
Hmmm we could say something like a family-sized motorhome, or a big old school bus, but truth is if we couldn’t have a kombi, we would skip ahead to the 80’s and go for VW T3 (or Vanagon), a Syncro 4x4 would be nice!
Dream camping location?
Oh we know that place, it’s a remote beach on the Western Australia coast that feels like our own private island, we’re camped right by the watersedge with waves lapping at the door. The sand is white and the sea is the most amazing colour of turquoise you could imagine. There’s not another soul in sight, the only sound being that of the gentle breeze and the occasional sea eagle soaring above. By day we would swim and siesta, and by night we would stargaze by the open fire. There were many beaches just like this dotted along the coast, but we especially loved a spot on the Coral Coast, where we spent 4 days camped just like this. And the best part, camping like this is often free!
How do you feel about the growing popularity of the Vanlife culture?
We’re so inspired to see people from all corners getting out there, but particularly other families. I think people in general are seeking ways to break away and get back to grass roots experiences, and vanlife is the perfect way of doing that. It’s an interesting thing though, it’s like the modern day hippie movement, although it’s really not a new idea, people have been vanlifeing in some form since the invention of the wheel. As a child I was vanlifeing with my family around Australia, and plenty of people took their kombis on roadtrips back in the 70’s! I think the popularity of the hashtag has just redefined it and brought it into the current day.
What are your favourite tunes to listen to when driving?
Being nostalgists at heart, we like to stay true to theme in our kombi and listen to classics from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We still have the original cassette player in the dash, with an awesome cassette collection too, but sadly it doesn’t work anymore, so we’ve adopted Spotify. You can follow our roadtripping playlist on Spotify @summerofseventyfive. We love the chilled vibe of the old classics, and in the kombi it makes us feel like we’ve stepped back in time. Our girls know the lyrics to some of the greats like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens and when a favourite song comes on, we’ll all bust out our best vocals! It’s moments like these that are etched in our minds and we’ll look back on in years to come as treasured memories.
Huge thanks to Amber and her family for taking the time to speak to us and providing us with amazing photographs and an insight into their fantastic lives. To see what they are up to now follow @summerofseventyfive on Instagram now!
All photos © Amber Cree.