Australian Campervan Directory
There’s a new generation yearning to hit the road in their campervans and this time selfie sticks are on the packing list.
“Instagram has made it hugely desirable, it’s everywhere on Instagram – type in #vanlife and there’s people living an amazing lifestyle in all corners of the world,” said Jonathan Griffiths from Narrabeen, a veteran of the #vanlife movement.
If social media images of beautiful young couples watching the sunset from the rooftops of their vans is the pull, for many young Australians the cost of land and housing is the push. “We couldn’t afford a house so we bought a bus and we’ve created our dream home on wheels,” says the Instagram bio for @saltythebus, echoing a common refrain.
Livin’ la vida van life is a cultural phenomenon that has spawned at least two Airbnb-style sharing economy platforms, Camplify and Camptoo, and multiple television shows including documentary The Meaning of Vanlife, available on streaming service Stan, and TV comedy series #VanLife released in the US earlier this year.
There are 679,378 recreational vehicles registered in Australia, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Motor Vehicle Census, roughly one for every 13 households. Ownership of RVs – including towable caravans and camper trailers, motorhomes and campervans, ‘pop tops’ where a tent pops out of the roof of a van, Kombis and converted panel vans – has grown 5.2 per cent a year for the past five years, faster than any other vehicle type in Australia.
The Australian Campervan Directory can reveal the Caravan Industry Association of Australia’s inaugural RV Consumer report reveals grey nomads – the term for road-tripping retirees popularised by the 1997 documentary Grey Nomads – are the minority. Instead, a survey of more than 2500 people suggests the average age of an RV owner in Australia is 33, and almost half have children at home.
Scrolling through #vanlife and #vanlifeaustralia posts is a glimpse into a world far removed from the daggy family holidays of a few decades ago or backpackers in a festy hired van.
The images are curated and aspirational: think sunsets, beaches, hammocks, curly-haired dogs, shirtless dads with hot bods cooking breakfasts on the outdoor range, and cool chicks strumming guitars by the campfire.
Custom conversions are popular so the aesthetic is often more like the design-led “tiny house” movement than a generic motorhome: less formica tables and linoleum, more Scandi-style blond wood panels and lovely linens. Clever use of space and storage is a given, there are mod cons such as solar panels, projector screens and pop-out Weber barbecues, and surprises too, such as the van with a ping-pong table inside.
Sydney-based Jim Lounsbury, the director of The Meaning of Vanlife, said social media helped people living in vans find community and connect to a global movement.
He collaborated on the film with the Australian founders of Vanlife Diaries, which started as an Instagram account and blog but now organises three or four gatherings each year in Australia, with 60-100 vans and their occupants congregating each time.
Like the hippies and surfies travelling around in Kombi vans in the 1960s and ‘70s, there’s a counter-cultural element to the #vanlife phenomenon – this time with an economic edge.
“What’s differentiating this movement from previous movements is we’re dealing with a lot of housing pressure, there’s a huge push for downsizing, minimalism and tiny houses to deal with the rents and other costs in the city,” Mr Lounsbury said.
“There’s a whole generation of people disillusioned with living in the city on what would have been a great wage 10 years ago but now it’s costing so much to live in the city it feels like it all goes into a black hole.”
Most of the people interviewed for the film had chosen to live in a van for the time being, and considered themselves “houseless not homeless”.
Justin Hales, founder and chief executive of Camplify, said 40 per cent of his business was in NSW and while short getaways remained popular, there was a growing trend to take an extended break and travel for several months or a year.
“There’s a real trend in social media and generally in society to have this kind of escape and a lot of it is to do with people wanting to disconnect from the city … and slow down a bit,” Mr Hales said.
Mr Griffiths and his wife took a career break to travel around Australia for 18 months in a VW Trakka conversion. After returning to their office jobs in Sydney, they bought and restored a classic Kombi, which they use themselves and rent out through Camplify to help pay its way.
“We enjoy being outdoors as much as possible, but prefer sleeping in a van to a tent,” he said. “You can park and enjoy million dollar views without owning a million dollar house.”
Thanks to Sydney Morning Herald, Caitlin Fitzsimons