It was in late 2019 that Claire Falconer and Luke Morris decided to quit their jobs after working in Dubai for 10 years. Selling off most of the things they had accumulated, they moved to Australia. The reason? To explore Australia by road. In a van.
Thanks to the Hollywood film Nomadland winning big at the Oscars this year, van life is an option people are considering to travel and explore a country. Life on wheels allows many to travel more, spend less money and live simpler. This nomadic lifestyle has also become increasingly popular as people consider safer ways to travel during the pandemic.
Luke and Claire met and fell in love while living in Dubai and both admit that what got them together is their shared love for outdoor activities, including camping and travel. While in Dubai they made the most of the emirate’s geographical position as a hub to explore several countries, but deep down they always aimed to some day explore Australia, Claire’s home country, and discover the continent’s varied attractions.
Claire, a personal trainer from Melbourne, arrived in Dubai in 2010 while Luke, a British national, arrived two years later. After a stint at working in a global digital media agency, Luke set up his own business in 2015.
The duo often dreamed of living an outdoorsy life in Australia but it was in early 2020 just before the pandemic began raging that the couple finally decided to realise their dream. Taking a one-way ticket to Australia, they decided to hit the road.
"We own a 2015 Mercedes Sprinter LWB with a high roof. Luckily, the van was in excellent condition when we bought it, so no additional issues arose," Luke says.
The duo spent a little over three months sprucing up the interior of their van – what would be their home for the next several months.
Both had no previous expertise in building a van. "We had never even used a drill," he says. Luckily for them, YouTube and other van lifestyle online groups became a lifeline for them. Mike Hudson’s book How to Live in a Van and Travel greatly helped them in creating their house on wheels.
Yet, for Luke, the most challenging part of this construction process was building the insulation and the vapor barrier. "There are so many differing opinions on the right way to do it, and the vapor barrier is just so time-consuming and frustrating to install," he says.
A vapour barrier is a plastic sheet that is placed along, in, or around walls, ceilings, and floors to prevent moisture from spreading and potentially causing water damage. Luke wanted to make sure that the barrier contributes to maintaining a warm, dry, and healthy atmosphere inside the van.
"Initially, we were also planning on doing the electrics and the plumbing in the vehicle ourselves, but it was utterly overwhelming. We had no experience, so we outsourced that part to specialists," he says, with a laugh.
In early June 2020, they finally took off on the road.
Their van is equipped with a large cooking area, an outdoor shower, a mobile WC, a bed, an open kitchen, exercise equipment and more.
Starting off from Claire’s home in Melbourne they travelled to Victoria Highlands, Albury, Tallong, Jervis Bay, and on to Sydney.
The twists and turns of life on wheels
Since Luke and Claire joined the road-life community, they’ve experienced both highs and lows of the van life. According to them, the freedom to go wherever they want and whenever they want is the highlight of van life.
"The constantly different environments and beautiful views and places to explore are exceptional," says Claire.
One of the most overwhelming moments, she says, was when one of her wishes came true. "I had always wanted to see whales and dolphins and that happened one day when we were by a beach. It was the most beautiful moment."
While there were plenty of highs like this, there were also several low points, she admits. "Not knowing where you’re going to sleep every night and the constant chores that living in a van requires can get pretty exhausting if you’re trying to travel and do some work whilst on the road. Not having easy access to do laundry regularly was challenging. And yeah, the toilet and shower situation can take a bit of getting used to too. Luckily, there are lots of excellent free accessible toilet and cold-water shower facilities available throughout Australia," she says.
Soon after acquiring the luxurious van, they created the Instagram account @vanlifestraya, which now has over 19,000 followers on Instagram.
Though van life may appear extraordinarily romantic and beautiful on social media, it comes with many challenges, say the couple.
Sleep, for instance, was not always in gorgeous Instagram droolworthy places. "Most often such tourist spots including beaches and lakes, have large ‘No Camping’ and ‘No Overnight Stays’ signs," says Claire. "So what we usually do is stay at either a free camp or rest area which is generally within a 30-minute drive to the picturesque places and then in the morning we would drive to these spots to get a good spot for breakfast right by the water."
Pizzas cooked on their BBQ was the favourite van meal. "We make pretty healthy pizzas that we cook in our BBQ, and they’re so good, probably the best pizzas we’ve ever had!" says Luke.
The couple also found it tough to live in the van, travel around and build and operate their businesses at the same time. "Travelling and just living in a van generally seemed to suck up all our time and energy and it’s a challenge to dedicate enough hours in the day to our businesses to make them truly thrive," wrote the couple on their Instagram page.
Impact on relationship
The duo also admit that living on wheels did impact their relationship as initially they were trying to navigate their roles in their new way of living.
"It was a bit of a struggle for the first couple of weeks whilst we learned what each of our roles in day-to-day living was in the van. But eventually, I think it has brought us closer, and we’ve really appreciated being on this incredible journey together," says Claire.
A life-changing moment for the couple was when they discovered they were going to have a child. "Finding Claire pregnant, transformed the course of our trip and drew us closer," says Luke. "We then stopped travelling in November, as we had lots of appointments relating to my pregnancy," says Claire.
Due to a complication with the pregnancy, they decided to head back south to Melbourne for observation and specialist care. From Melbourne and throughout the pregnancy, they travelled around Victoria in the van in between hospital appointments.
Living a nomadic van life was not easy for pregnant Claire. "The morning sickness, which turned to car sickness, was pretty challenging. Also, the fatigue. Luke wanted to do all these fun activities, but I just didn’t have the energy for a lot of the time."
She is glad that she wasn’t really working and so could enjoy her pregnancy, experience the beautiful places they passed by and be with her partner.
Their initial plan was to travel with their newborn to Queensland’s Sunny Coast, the Northern Territory, and ultimately to Western Australia.
But that plan has hit a road bump when they discovered that they could not safely ride in the van with their two-month-old baby Beau as per road safety protocol in Australia. As a result, they decided to swap their van for a house or apartment on the warmer side of Australia to avoid the Melbourne winter. At the moment they are put up in a house in Buddina Beach in Queensland.
Let’s talk finance
Their monthly budget for life in the van was around 3,000 AUD and that included the cost of fuel and groceries. "That might increase a little more now that we have Beau. Life is undoubtedly quite different from our lifestyles in Dubai, that’s for sure. We live a much simpler life here in Australia, but it’s such a beautiful country that we absolutely love it," says Luke.
While travelling, they started their online business, transitioned their previous line-up of work to online, and are currently leasing their van for rent as they want to tend to their newborn baby.
Luke recently expanded his company Wild Wood in Australia and works remotely, while Claire is focused on shifting her business (Coached By Claire) into online courses to run it remotely whilst on the road.
They plan to travel and live in the van for maybe another two years. "It just depends on how we feel. Nothing’s set in stone, so our plans could always change," says Luke. They have also been renting their van, and people’s response is one thing they have enjoyed the most.
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