Tag Archives: vagabonding

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.

Comfort Zones

1 Nov

As I sat alone at a dimly lit wine bar in West Hollywood after work, killing time while the traffic died down, I took in my surroundings. The owner and waiters had thick Italian accents, the room was large but intimate and mostly everyone sat at the bar.

I took to the lounge area, where a black and white Audrey Hepburn film was projected on a screen on the wall. The candles on the tables were my only source of light and as I grabbed out my notepad, the waiter thoughtfully asked if he could bring me a lamp, then returned to clamp a book-light on the candle votive in front of me.

The tunes of Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart and the Eagles played in the background and posters of Old Hollywood graced every wall, even in the bathroom. I ordered a glass of Chardonnay and some roasted fingerling potatoes with sautéed green beans and a light dusting of Parmesan. And as I ate, I realized I was alone.

I wasn’t uncomfortable or embarrassed about this, but I recognized how out of habit I kept reaching to check my phone. It’s like I subconsciously pulled it out to remind myself that I wasn’t alone at all – that my friends and family were a phone call away. The phone acted as some kind of anchor to my life outside this restaurant, something to hide behind and something to find comfort in.

In that moment, I was struck with the realization that in 71 days I will be leaving all the comforts of home behind. Toilet paper, Western toilets and hot showers will become a luxury. I will have to question the safety of the water placed on my table and I’ll have to buy inexpensive bags to act as decoys for the valuables inside, rather than buying overpriced purses to hold my lip balm.

squat toilet

Western toilet

When I sit alone in a restaurant in Asia, I will have the accent. I will have to decipher the menu and I won’t have my handy dandy iPhone to help me, or to numb any lurking loneliness or boredom.

Reality sets in and I start to fear the change.

Why is that we always long for something different and then when we finally take the steps towards making a change fear creeps in? My mind begins to race: “What if the culture shock is so intense I regret going? Am I really prepared for this? What if I hate Asia? Why did I decide to buy a one-way ticket to a country I’ve never been to, to travel around for months or possibly years?”

But I snap out of it as quickly as I was sucked into it.

I am ready. I’m going because I’ve been wanting this, itching for it, aching for it, for almost two years now. I’ve traveled to Europe; I’ve traveled in North America, I to want something radically different. I want to be shocked. I want to be shaken. I want to learn and I want to change.

I’ve been juggling four different jobs over the past few months and every time I get burnt out because it’s been weeks since I’ve had a day off, thoughts of walking through wats, eating authentic street food, meeting locals, learning about the culture and creating lifelong memories, get me through it every time.

I’ve worked so hard to get here, why doubt myself now? How can I possibly be afraid of taking the reigns of my life and diving in headfirst into something I’ve always dreamed of doing? I can’t. I bought the ticket; I’m taking the ride.

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