The goal with this Van Journal was to document our adventures travelling around Tasmania in our van on a weekly basis. However, the past few weeks have been a little out of the ordinary for us.
To recap, due to family commitments, Haylea jumped on a last-minute flight to Sydney to be there for her family and close friends during a difficult time. This was unexpected but we were both thankful to be in Australia where quick flights are very convenient.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t join her because we had no options for leaving the van. So, the past two weeks it was just me, myself and I in Tas.
That Weird Van Guy
It’d been a while since I took on a solo travel stint and truthfully I was a little excited about the prospects of some solo adventures. But, I also wanted to take the opportunity to iron out some technical wrinkles with this blog. As it grows at a tremendous rate and swiftly becomes my primary source of income, there are some unavoidable aspects I was overdue to tweak and refine to keep up with the growth.
I won’t bore you with the details but what I will tell you is that what was at first meant to be just a few standard optimisation tasks, quickly cascaded into a two-week shamble in front of my laptop. Work-life balance was out the window. Many coffees were consumed and I really didn’t see much sunlight. Passers-by and fellow campers probably wondered what the hell this loner was doing in his van 24-hours a day. All of this was mostly to shave off a few seconds of website load-time for you, my reader. It’s been an arduous and incredibly frustrating process but I’m stoked to say that I’m 99.99% of the way there. Throughout this process, I’ve learnt a whole lot about the technical aspects of my job and just how obsessive I can get.
While I know that all of this was necessary and probably the best time to get it all done, I can’t help but feel guilty for not being out there exploring! There’s plenty planned for the remainder of our time in Tasmania.
But, for this blog post, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you what van travel in Tasmania is actually like.
If you’ve checked out my long van-build article, you’ll already be familiar with our rig. For those who haven’t, or aren’t interested in building a van, it’s about time I showed her off.
She is a Ford Transit VM 2013 Long Wheel Base, High Roof Panel van. We converted her into a fully off-grid mobile home during the 2020 Covid lockdowns.
Here are some details about our build:
We have a full-sized kitchen layout with loads of benchtop space, full-depth drawers (soft-closing), a large kitchen sink, a retractable faucet and a built-in induction cooktop. The sink drains to an under-mounted grey water tank.
We’ve also got a canister-style gas cooktop that we store in the garage (below) and use if we need more than a single burner or if we haven’t been able to charge our batteries properly from lack of driving or sun.
Our fridge/freezer runs off 12V and is 95L, which we’ve found to be the perfect size in a van.
Living Space Layout
We chose to block off the front driving area to the main living area for two reasons.
- More space for storage as it allows for an L-shape kitchen cabinet layout and an overhead cabinet above the driver’s area
- We wanted a second space where we could work from, taking turns to teach English online in the front.
The layout is quite symmetrical with a mini “island” benchtop on top of the fridge. The main space opens up well in the middle with two large bench seats with storage and water tanks underneath.
We’ve got one long run of overhead cabinets with downlights above the main kitchen bench.
The bed is built sideways and just a little wider than a double. We’ve built out niches to achieve a roughly 190 cm head to toe length on the long end (the van tapers) and roughly 180 cm on the short side (closer to the rear doors). This has been great for us at just over 170 cm tall. We save space and get a really wide, comfortable bed!
Underneath the bed we have a huge pull-out table on really heavy-duty sliders. We also have extra storage and access to the electrical cabinet from here.
We decided to go with an all-electric system for a few reasons.
- Gas compliance is expensive/frustrating in Australia and you need
– extra vents (high and low)
– a cut-out gas box for external gas bottle storage
– permanent gas plumbing installed by a qualified plumber
- Electric systems are more sustainable and cheaper to run
- Electric systems are much safer
We use our electrical system to power:
- An induction cooktop
- A coffee machine & milk frother
- 12V Fridge
- Water pump
- 2x Roof vent vans
- LED downlights
- 12V Smart TV
- USB Chargers & 240V outlets for charging
We’ve managed to pack everything we need into this system and I definitely wouldn’t say that we are roughing it!
An all-electric van build means that we need a large battery bank and ways to keep it topped up. We have 3x 140 amp hour AGM batteries and these are charged by 320W of solar panels mounted on the roof. We also have a 50 amp DC-DC charger which means our batteries are charged by our van’s alternator when we drive.
The garage is the space under the bed, accessible only from the rear of the van. Here is where we store our electrical components, water pump and all of our camping and extra gear. We use a pull-across curtain to keep things tidy when we’ve got the rear doors open.
This one is a little unorthodox and comes with some critics but we absolutely love it. We managed to install a large pine deck on the roof where we often watch the sunset or enjoy dinner from.
We’ve installed a full suspension upgrade for the front and rear to handle the 20% GVM upgrade we had approved by an engineer. This helps us handle the extra weight as we drive day to day, taking pressure off the chassis.
Toilet and shower
We have a chemical toilet that pulls out from underneath the bed. This is for number ones and the very rare emergency number two. We also have an electric heated outdoor shower with a curtain we hang up on the rear doors.
What It’s Actually Like Living in a Van in Tasmania
We’re super stoked about our setup and it certainly doesn’t feel like we are living in a car!
But, what’s it actually like living in a van in Tasmania? After three months, here’s a bit of an insight into our daily lives and what we’ve learnt so far.
Our day-to-day in Tasmania so far has been a decent balance of adventure and work. Since it’s winter here, you can easily get a sleep-in until around 7 AM since the sun doesn’t rise until 7:30.
We spend most of our days hiking, chasing viewpoints and photographing different adventures on the island. The afternoons and evenings are usually spent on our laptops working before unwinding with dinner. It’s (usually) a great work-life balance.
We do our best to spend as much time outside as possible. However, Winter is increasingly pushing us inside to get warm. We’re really happy with our insulation job and rarely are we cold whilst inside the van.
Cooking in Our Van
As I mentioned in the van outline above, we use an induction cooktop to cook our meals in our van. The one I installed isn’t meant to be installed in the countertop but I made some adjustments to fit it as I wanted a permanent solution.
Plenty of benchtop space means that two people can work together to prepare a meal without feeling too squished. Most of our long-life food storage sits in boxes underneath the bench seats and we use the overhead cabinets to store quick items we use a lot like oats, honey, protein powder etc.
Cooking in our van is pretty much the same as if you were cooking in a house. However, we don’t have an oven, which we do miss sometimes.
WherE Do We Sleep?
Since we carry our own water and run our energy from our batteries, we don’t need to be hooked up to services. This means that we could technically pull over anywhere to sleep.
But, we respect the fact that towns don’t want a bunch of digital hippies parking up everywhere around their towns. So, we stick to designated camping spots most of the time. We use the CamperMate App to find free campsites and very rarely pay to sleep somewhere. There are occasions where a camping spot requests a donation and we are happy to give back!
However, some places in Tasmania don’t have many if any free camping sites. This is especially true in and around Hobart. On these occasions, we try to find the cheapest options. We stayed at the Sorell RV park a few times ($7.50 per night) to work since the 4G internet was great.
There have also been times where we arrived at a destination quite late and just decided to “stealth” camp. We pick a spot that isn’t intrusive and just block out all the windows and curtains. Even with the deck, it’s quite hard for the untrained eye to tell that it’s a motorhome.
What Are the Roads Like?
In Tasmania, there are two types of roads. Great roads, and absolutely SH** roads. All of the “orange” main roads on the big circle are very well maintained and sealed. For the rest, it’s a guessing game for what to expect. There have been times where there have been perfect asphalt roads in the middle of nowhere, and times where a main road turns to gravel for 20 kilometres.
The best way to tell is to get the official Tasmanian Visitor map from any Visitor Centre. The orange roads on this map are sealed and the white roads are unsealed.
How Do We Get Access To The Internet?
The answer is hot-spotting our laptops off our phone. We’ve done this for several years working around the world. Currently, in Tasmania, we are on a joint phone plan with Optus where we get 260 GB of data to use per month. This is more than enough for work and streaming Netflix on our smart TV.
For this we pay $90 a month which we think is a great deal.
Internet connectivity is actually quite decent in Tasmania. We can almost always get Optus 4G at most regular-sized towns. But, as soon as we’re out in the National Parks or a decent stretch from a town, we get almost nothing. I’ve heard Telstra is better but we don’t mind as we usually come into a town to work anyway.
How Much Does it Cost?
Probably less than you think. We’ve spent several years backpacking and sticking to a budget of around $50 AUD per day, so we know how to budget. But our lifestyle is also not very expensive. We’re not big drinkers, we like to cook all of our meals, we don’t eat meat and most of our hobbies and day-to-day activities are free (hiking, photography).
Since we don’t live in a house, we also don’t have to pay for electrical bills, council rates, water rates, NBN, mortgage/rent or any of the other overheads. However, we do have comprehensive insurance for our van ($1075 a year). Health care is also free in Australia, so we’re very fortunate on that part, even though we hardly ever need to go to the doctor.
Our van is also a Turbo Diesel. A tank of diesel costs about $100 and gets us 700 kilometres. We typically only fill up once a fortnight.
We haven’t been trying to stick to a specific budget since we got to Tasmania but on average this is what we have spent per week:
- Food: $130
- Diesel: $50
- Camping fees: $30
- Combined Insurances, registrations, monthly/yearly subscriptions: $85
- Extra activities: $100
Total: $395 per week
Not too bad for two people. This varies sometimes though, depending on the activities but the above is an average. It also doesn’t account for costs associated with business and just reflects pure living expenses.
Van-Life Hacks and Tips We’ve Learnt SO Far
Are you looking to join the van-life movement? Here are some tips we want to share and some that we wish we knew when we started out:
- Use magnetic clips and hooks everywhere. We use these to hang up towels, clip wet clothes to the outside of the van, hold up our outdoor showerhead, hang jackets, the use-cases are endless.
- Roll clothes. We’re very familiar with this from living out of a backpack for so long. Rolling clothes is a huge space-saver.
- Use Campermate or WikiCamps. These apps are a daily essential. From finding free camps to toilets to hot showers.
- Get a smart TV or Chromecast. Streaming movies and TV shows from a van!
- Get a tiny broom. Actually, get two. Dust and dirt comes in quickly when you’re living in a small space. We always keep on top of cleaning and sweep out the living area twice a day. We also keep a dustpan broom in the front to quickly clean off our feet when we’re getting into the front to drive.
- Get an elastic clothes-line. These are a backpackers essential and they are great for quickly hanging up wet clothes from a van too.
- Get creative with utilising space. This is a van-life mantra. Find a spot for everything and utilise every inch of your space. We store food under our benches, we screwed spice jars to the overhead cabinets and use wall-space to hang knives and mount hooks to hang jackets and towels.
More Van Journal Articles From Tassie
I hope that this weeks journal gave you a little bit more of an insight into what van travel in Tasmania or Australia is actually like. If you have any questions, leave a comment or send me an email!