Tiny Living 03: Sian
Our third Tiny Living feature is with the lovely Sian, whom I had
the pleasure of living and traveling with in her van for a month when I was down
in Australia. She's a wonderful human with a beautiful perspective on life after years of traveling.
Check out how and why she does van life, what life on the road has taught her about herself,
how it's influenced the raising of her son and what advice she's got for you.
If you live in any sort of tiny home, whether on wheels or not, and want
to be featured in the Tiny Living series, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I can supply a prompt of questions or you can write something up in
your own words. Let's share your story with the world!
G’day, I'm Sian (pronounced Sharn for those who are confused). So where to start. I guess I'll tell you a little about myself.
I love the ocean and cheese.
I'm a mother and a qualified chef. I'm often lazy but I get joy out of caring for others. I love dusk whilst driving through cities. I love standing in the rain and I hate bacon and onion. I'll be 30 years old in 11 days, I recently discovered I'm scared of heights. I have a sweet tooth, I've had a mortgage, didn't know how to swim until my teens, hardly ever wear shoes and try to fall in love at least once a day.
When it comes to telling you where I'm from, I often find that question tricky seeing as I haven't had a fixed address in a long time. However I can tell you which country I'm from, that's easy enough. I'm from the 'land down under', that big island that seems so far away from everywhere but to me it's home. Australia.
So to get to the point of this Tiny Living feature: I live in a van, although to most van dwellers, she is not tiny at all. Her name is Auri which means 'ear' ...wow, so meaningful hey? Joking, it does mean ear but that's not all it means. Auri is a character from one of my all time favourite novels so it seemed fitting. I did a little research and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it meant 'sunny' and 'to cover in a thin layer of gold, or to make something shine as though it were gold'. 100% fitting if you ask me, seeing as Auri is a bright yellow Mercedes Sprinter 313 CDI. She's roughly 6 years old, has an extra long wheel base, all fitted out by me to replicate a beach cabin on wheels. She has a queen bed plus single/couch, beautifully long kitchenette and so much storage underneath. A wonderfully economical diesel, tall enough for me to stand in (I’m 5’10), has slept up to 4 people (but I'm sure could sleep a few more) and loves long drives across country.
She came into my life one spontaneous day in early August 2017. I'll tell you the story. So, I had just recently separated from my husband of 12 years. I was a bit lost to say the least. We, as a family, had been travelling around Australia for four years in firstly a camper trailer, then a caravan and finally a tent/swag, so obviously I still had the travel bug and wanted to continue the gypsy life. I had always entertained the thought of getting a van, however life had kicked me down and I wasn't sure I had the courage to get back up and do what I really wanted to do. It was a chance meeting with a truly wonderful person, who without knowing, gifted me with a few simple words and an ear to listen that gave me the confidence to get back up on my feet and kick life back in the ass. So with his help, I went searching for a van. After countless hours scouring the internet a big yellow Mercedes Sprinter popped up on my feed. It was completely empty, had a little over 200,000 k's on the clock, diesel, and was in my price range.
With a tick of approval from my friend, I sent off a hopeful email to the seller that Thursday night. Around 10am Friday I received a reply, "Thank you for your inquiry, I have many interested buyers and have two people arranged to view this Sunday. If you can organize a time before then to view I assure you, you wont be disappointed". I was excited. However there was a slight problem. You see, I currently am in Exmouth, Western Australia. The van was in Perth. That's 1,247 km away (774.85 miles). Without anymore than five minutes of thought that may have led to talking myself out of it, I threw a change of clothes and my toothbrush in a bag and started driving. I had roughly 15 minutes out of town before I ran out of phone reception to call my work and explain why I wouldn't be in, to call my ex to look after our son for three days and to arrange the sale of my current car, a Mitsubishi Triton. Thirteen hours later I arrived in Perth, exhausted, unsure and filled with trepidation. I hardly slept at all. After a few painful hours and back and forth travel that Saturday afternoon I drove out of the city squealing with excitement in my new van,
my new home.
As I mentioned Auri was empty when I bought her, just a shell of a former DHL courier van. Now I suppose I'm pretty handy and can hang a picture on a wall or fix a light switch if need be, however I'm no builder. I'm a chef for goodness sakes, how was I supposed to fit out a van by myself? So I sat in the back of the empty van and stared at the yellow walls for about three weeks. I drew countless plans, hastag vanlife'd the shit out of Instagram to get some inspiration, downloaded Sprinter conversion eBooks and Google'd the hell out of DIY carpentry. Again some confidence boosting words from my wonderful friend picked me up and put me in the drivers seat on the way to Bunnings Warehouse Hardware.
For those of you who are not familiar with Exmouth or Western Australia, it's extremely remote. So remote that the nearest hardware store (not including the small extremely expensive town one) was an eight hour drive away. There was to be a lot of hardships throughout this build, that being one of them, but I had the determination to do it, plus I had had enough of sleeping on my ex's lounge room floor. My shopping list was long and I drove all the way back carrying half of the lumber yard and smacking myself in the head every hour as I remembered items I had forgotten. Now I won't bore you with the fit out, it lasted about two months and I spent every free moment in that van screwing screws and swearing words. I'm pretty stoked with how it has turned out and still have a neat little ongoing list of things to add and improve.
When I started the build the first thing I bought were solar panels, 400 smackerwatties. Living off-grid for the past four years had given me an advantage to know what I needed because I had never been fully equipped in the past, and if I was to be doing this full time, I had to have power and lots of it. It's by far my favourite feature, and my now new partner did a wonderful job in helping me fix and wire them up. At a recent Vanlife Gathering in Byron Bay NSW, surrounded by so many people who live in their vans full time, I was quite shocked at how their power setups were nowhere near adequate for their needs. Auri in fact became the 'power bank' charging multiple phones, speakers, laptops and even a fridge. Every day when I open my cold fridge or power up my laptop I am so grateful for those two big panels on my roof and to the sun that powers them.
I love living in a van.
It means I don't need to vacuum or buy coat hangers. My bed is also my lounge which suits my often lazy mood perfectly. I love the characters I get to meet on a daily bases when they pop their head in on their way past to comment on the van or something I'm cooking up. I love the time it gives me, to be me and do exactly what I want to be doing, and I love the adventurous life it has created for myself and my son, Jacob.
Now Jacob is 7 and 3/4 as he tells everyone and he does not remember having a bedroom. Since the age of three he has been a travelling kid and has explored more towns, national parks, beaches and stations than most adults could dream of. It has made him the confident young man that he is today, definitely not lacking in people skills or stories to share. He has been a pizza chef, a potty calf carer, a snorkeling instructor, boat driver, a tour guide and even a goat musterer. His schooling was his current backyard, whether that be the Ningaloo Reef or The Great Australian Bight. And he has loved every second of it. I hope as a mother that I have firmly planted the seed of adventure in his soul so that one day he will take his own children on grand travels to make their own fantastic memories.
Now the last thing I want to do is put van life up on a pedal stool, or a jack I guess would be more appropriate. It's at times really hard. I've come to a conclusion that living this way magnifies and dramatizes every emotion. When you're happy you are super-dooper over-joyed. When you're feeling sad you are stuck in a big deep depressing hole that takes a lot longer to get out of than normal. I think that comes down to the fact that living on the road gives you a lot of time in your own head. And you are actually (without wanting to say it out loud because it's bullshit scary) completely in control of your own life and the decisions you make.
The nomadic life forces you to think deeply about who you are and what you want from your life. It makes you go searching for those answers and plays cruel tricks by never leading you to a straight answer. So I've learnt, rather recently, to stop listening to those questions about "who am I really?" "what am I doing with my life?" or "what's next?" and try to focus all that energy on being present.
I am Me, I am doing this, right now, in this moment.
So if I had any advice to give someone wanting to live this way, I would tell them to create strong friendships with people you feel comfortable talking freely with. Because there will be times when you need a friend, to share your ups and downs with. The nomadic life can get lonely otherwise and your own mind is a dangerous friend to be left alone with for long periods. Take care of your mental health. Share and listen often.
I've never been gifted with heavy pockets. Money scares me in fact, and when I do have it I try my best to get rid of it as soon as possible even if I have to go to the bakery every morning or buy a new shirt that I'll never wear because I basically live in my bikinis. However it is a necessary evil and my home is a vehicle and does require fuel and registration and services. So to answer the number one question I get asked, "How do you fund this lifestyle?".
I work. Just like you.
Today in fact is my first day back at work. I have just arrived back to Exmouth (my current “home base” for a while) after driving 18,000 km (11,184 miles) across Australia and back on a forever memorable trip with some truly beautiful people. One being the humble magnificent creator of this blog in which I am being featured, Jane (Rock Meets Soil). And now that it is over, I am broke and need cash. So I've picked up a bar job at a local pub to replenish funds before I move on again. And that's it folks, easy as that. Stop, Work. Go, Travel.
I'm not sure of many things and one of those things that I'm sure that I don’t know, is when I will tire of travelling. When will always moving on become tiresome or always saying goodbye become too much? Will there ever come a day I wake up and decide to stay? Who knows, probably. But for now I hear the road calling my name. The promise of adventure and sights unseen, beauty to sit and feel and be in awe alongside. So for now I am a gypsy, a wandering soul in a big yellow van named Auri and you can call me Bob, @gypsybob.
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