In a Van, Down by the River

14 Sep

When I went home for a Californian summer before moving to Australia I tried to explain the concept of living out of a van with my boyfriend to my friends and family. Most people looked at me with horror and asked, “But, how do you shower?!” or “What if you have to go to the bathroom?!”

Others quoted Chris Farley’s famous Saturday Night Live skit where he plays Matt Foley, the 35-year-old motivational speaker who tries to scare kids straight by telling them they could end up like him, “living in a van, down by the river.” I had to laugh to myself when within days of arriving in Australia, that was my exact living situation.

After a day in Brisbane, we started the trip in Minnie Water, NSW, where we discovered a gorgeous beach with clear water, surrounding headlands and not a person in site. We tanned naked and felt as though we’d washed ashore to our own private island. It was pure bliss. Fortunately, time was on our side because after we climbed the wooden steps to the top of the beach access for lunch, car after car drove up and our “private” beach wasn’t so private anymore.

The next morning we had a medical emergency and left our perfect camp spot to drive an hour to the nearest town and find a doctor. We ended up in a quaint little place called Grafton and after the emergency was sorted we decided to make use of our unexpected gas consumption and explore our new surroundings.

Once  it was dark we searched for a place to camp and found a park right on the banks of the Clarence River. We parked next to the public gazebo and made dinner in the picnic area with our portable gas stove. We had free power, free running water, a kitchen, and bathrooms within walking distance, so the fact that overnight camping wasn’t allowed wasn’t much of a deterrent. 

The next morning as we watched the sunrise over the river from the open “boot”, we knew we couldn’t leave. It was the local watering hole and a town favorite picnic spot. Over the course of the next three days locals parked all around us and launched their boats or set up their lawn chairs for lunch and beers while the kids splashed around in the water. Every few hours we had new guests join us under the gazebo for tea, breakfast or lunch. When we got to know some of them we’d tell them how we’d been camping there. They’d reply with, “Is that right? Good on ya!” and we’d tell them how we’d been taking our showers in the river.

On the second night, Matt and I fell asleep early since we’d been waking up for sunrise nearly every morning. We had the trunk of the car wide open, facing the river and just as I was dozing off a security guard woke me up to let me know if we didn’t leave now they were going to lock the gates and we wouldn’t be able to get out until they opened at 5a.m. In my haze I told him that was okay, we’re sleeping here and he just nodded and left.

This is what I love about Australia. The rural small towns, the slow pace, the natural beauty, the wildlife and the lack of crowds. Everyone seems to understand what we’re doing here. They’ve either done it before or wish they could. Most want to hear what we’ve done and where we’re going and they give us inside tips about the best beaches or places to find jobs, but a few look at us like we’re the dregs of society. I feel sorry for those people. I wonder if they’ve ever made love on a beach in broad daylight or if they’ve watched the sun rise over the ocean, with sand between their toes. I wonder if they really appreciate their daily hot showers, washer machines and microwaves or if it’s all become background.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone and at times I’m shocked that I’m so okay with it being mine. I laugh when we do come across the people who think we’re a couple of strange hippies but, to me this is living and I feel more alive than I ever did in Orange County. Every day is a challenge because we don’t know where we’re going to sleep that night or when our next proper shower will be. But the freedom that comes with this lifestyle isn’t something you can put a price on and it’s not something I can fully explain. So though I spent several days “living in a van, down by the river” it wasn’t a low point in my life as it comically was for Chris Farley’s character.  It was a high one.

3 Responses to “In a Van, Down by the River”

  1. Sarah September 17, 2012 at 2:08 PM #

    Loving your blog. Are you still living it your van now? If so we’d love to hear your tips and tricks on how to have a normal live full time in a van… i.e. how do you charge your electronics (do you use solar power), how do you connect to the Internet, and how cheap / expensive is it compared to a normal ‘bricks and mortar’ styled lifestyle? We’d love to hear more!

    • alex September 17, 2012 at 3:52 PM #

      Hey Sarah,

      Thanks for reading. Yes I’m living in the van now. I just moved back to Australia and will spend the next year traveling the country and working when I can, all the while living out of my boyfriend’s ex-ambulance VW Transporter. We have a solar panel on the roof and have recently changed our internet solutions. Would love to tell you more… email me at alexandrasen@yahoo.com!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Water and Bathing On the Road « alexandra lynne andersen - September 17, 2012

    […] like mostly recently when we camped by the Clarence River in Grafton, NSW (which you can read about here), we’ll own the fact that we’re dirty hippies in need of a scrub. One early morning, […]

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