Within 30 days Kristyn and Joe converted a 2002 sprinter van into their tiny home on wheels. Traveling around Australia they now are “The Wandering Wagners”. In this interview they talk about how small steps make big changes. And how important it is to stop seeing the vanlife through Social Media glasses.
MYVAN: You had quite a nice and solid life back in Canada, what was the reason you decided to leave and live in a van?
Kristyn: Joe and I were pretty settled in our mundane lives of work and preparing for the future. I was a dental hygienist and Joe was a project manager for a construction company. What we soon realized is that the more we planned for the future the more we were missing the present. We started to realize that life is now, not later. After a bit of soul searching we decided that the best thing for us and our future would be to explore. So began the mission to leave Canada behind.
MYVAN: Did you know you’d move into a van right away?
Joe: Our initial plan was to go travel and then live in New Zealand. After spending eight months in total in South East Asia we lived in a place in New Zealand and actually went back to living our same Canadian lives, just on a smaller scale: from a two bedroom townhouse in Canada to a one bedroom flat in New Zealand. When our working holiday visa expired we decided to go to Australia. But we didn’t want to stay in just one place neither did we want to be dependent on too many things again. So we bought a van.
MYVAN: Where did you find your van and how long did it take to convert it?
Joe: We arrived in mid November and right away started looking for a van in Melbourne. Within a couple of weeks, we found our van. After that, we pretty much spent 30 days converting it into the camper that it is now.
MYVAN: Why exactly in 30 days?
Kristyn: We had pre-organized a housesit where we could stay while building the camper. It was only available for 30 days though. Luckily we’d met this couple during a prior trip to Australia four years ago that lived very close to the house we took care of. Our friend was a carpenter and had all the extra tools that he lent us. So convenient! We knew if we didn’t finish in time we would have to buy all the tools and materials somewhere else.
Joe: We didn’t have any family we could’ve crushed, so we just had to make it in 30 days. And we did. We probably wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.
MYVAN: Did you do all by yourself?
Kristyn: Yes. It was just the two of us. Joe did most of the work though. I say I did 17%, Joe did 83%. His carpentry background turned out to be absolutely crucial. He knows how to measure and has a sense for building something. If it was me and my sister trying to remodel the van no way we would’ve made it in 30 days. If you’re in a foreign country and you have neither help nor any carpentry skills it gets really tricky.
Joe: Of course, Youtube is a great source of information. But then you have to put that information into action. Without any experience it definitely is a big challenge.
MYVAN: Ever since you’re done remodeling you’ve been traveling around Australia and live the vanlife to its fullest. What is the best thing about the vanlife?
Kristyn: You literally have everything you need – wherever you go. You’re by the beach and you go: Oh I want to go swimming. No problem, here’s the bathing suit, the umbrella and the beach bag. Off you go.
Joe: You don’t pack and unpack a suitcase, it’s just with you all the time. The general freedom is the best thing about it, I guess. You spontaneously decide if you want to stay longer in a place, or leave right away. No problem.
MYVAN: Speaking of big adjustments. How hard was it to say goodbye to your family and loved ones?
Kristyn: The family: No for me. I’m very close to my family and have quite some friends but I’m also good at maintaining long distance relationships (except for romantic ones). It definitely is harder for everyone at home but in two years since leaving Canada I haven’t been homesick a single time. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my home and my family, but Joe is kind of my family. I have him with me all the time.
Joe: I’ts harder with the little ones cause they’re growing up and you miss out on more. I have some nieces and nephews where I feel that way. But I don’t get homesick at all. And because we’ve had this life change we realize the lifestyle our people back home have isn’t the one we want – work 9 to 5 almost every day for example. We’ve done that, we’re done. Even though we love them we don’t relate to that kind of lifestyle. We stepped out of the bubble.
MYVAN: Do you have any tips for people that wanna move into a van? To ease up hard adjustments?
Kristyn: First of all and most importantly, think about: Why do you want to do this? Do you want to do it because it’s cool on instagram right now? If you value it for the right reasons, just try it. People worry so much. What if I hate it? Yes, you might hate it. But that’s okay. One time at night, I had to pee really bad. We parked at McDonalds at 11pm and spent the night parked on the side of the street in front of it. The next morning we needed to get up super early and get out of there. Not very picture perfect. But okay, if you stay realistic about it.
Joe: Yes, people think everything is permanent and there’s no going back. Even if you decide to live in a van, you can always go back. There’s no shame in trying it. Maybe you hate it. You could just sell the van and go live your old life. Just make sure you plan ahead thoroughly.
MYVAN: What is easier for you than everyone thinks?
Kristyn: People love to comment on the lack of a bathroom. I’m a female, but it doesn’t bother me really. You adjust with time and you figure it out. In Australia, there’s lots of leisure centers where you pay 1,50 dollars for a shower or you find public showers. We even have an app. People are so worried about the bathroom and the bed that might be too small.
Joe: Yeah, once you’re in it you just adjust and it becomes normal for you.
MYVAN: Are there free camping areas in Australia?
Joe: Australia has lots of free camping because its so massive. Not as much on the east coast as it is touristy and populated. We personally preferred heading across South Australia. A lot of free camping there.
MYVAN: You wouldn’t recommend camping in cities?
Joe: In cities it’s the biggest struggle. You usually pay for a proper caravan park to stay in or you basically just park on the side of a street. We’ve done that a couple of times but then needed to be selective where and at what time we parked.
MYVAN: What was the most beautiful experience in your van?
Kristyn: One time we drove to the Nullarbor in Western Australia. Everyone had warned us that there was going to be nothing so we were prepared for red dirt desert and boredom. We pulled off on the side of the road and stopped for the night. It was really calm. We got out and tried to take a shower in a solar bag we’d recently gotten. The shower didn’t really work. It was dark and the cap came off. We started laughing, naked in the unknown wilderness. After the failed shower we just laid in bed with the back doors wide open and I swear, I never saw that many stars in the sky. Just having that moment with no one around was breathtaking. You can’t plan those moments. They just happen.
MYVAN: So you’re saying in total, the good times overweighed?
Kristyn: I have to say: we even loved when it was shit. Because every time we learned something from it and felt more appreciation. We did lost our sense of purpose after the vanlife novelty wore off a bit. But we learned most out of this phase. Don’t expect an instagram perfect world where you wake up by the beach every day.
Joe: People are so afraid to try because of the unknown. They question whether it’s gonna work out or not. Well maybe it won’t, but thats okay. Hopefully then you’ll have learned some great lessons along the way. And that’s the beauty of home. Your family will always gonna be there in case it doesn’t work out.
You have to look at it more logically and not through social media glasses.
MYVAN: Are you planning to stay in the van then?
Joe: Our first year visa expires in November. We’re thinking of extending it for another year. As long as we’re in Australia we definitely want to stay in the van. It suits us perfectly right now.
The shown conversions were carried out by independent third parties. The suppliers and conversions were not checked by Mercedes-Benz. In this respect, these illustrations do not represent an assessment of the supplier and/or conversions by Mercedes-Benz.