Australia on wheels: when van means home

Published on Internation

All photographs by Mirko Zambon

When Mirko talks about his van, he sounds like a proud daddy. He even gave him a name, Ginginsbangi Van, and always refers to it as “my home.”

Mirko Zambon, 25, is part of the Vanlifers generation, a group of free-spirited Millenials who live in custom-made vans. They follow a nomadic lifestyle that allows them to live, work and travel on a very low budget. 

“When I decided to change my life I had absolutely no idea of travelling as I am doing now,” Mirko said. He is from Verona, a city in northern Italy, but in 2017, tired of his sedentary and work-dominated life, he decided to leave everything behind and head to Australia.

He chose it for “warm climate, job opportunities and good wages” but soon after he arrived, he also discovered that Australian cities are among the world’s most expensive ones for rents

That’s how he decided to buy his Mazda E2000 – or Gingisbangi as you might prefer – so that he would no longer have to pay for rents or hostels. 

In Australia the van trade is huge, people buy them for travel purposes and then sell them again. Some of the oldest vans can be up to third or even fourth hand and this makes them very accessible – but not so safe. Prices range from AU$3,000 to AU$8,000 and usually they are equipped with a mattress in the back and basic kitchen utilities. 

Van in Australia
Courtesy of Mirko Zambon.

The perfect land for travelling 

After a while, Mirko realised that Australia was actually the perfect country for travelling by land:  “The distances are enormous and the views so beautiful,” he said. 

So he started moving and travelled the West Coast and the Northern Territories. He recalls stopping occasionally for longer and jumping from job to job – “I don’t even remember how many I’ve done” – just to save enough money to pay for his travel expenses.   

“I have totally embraced the Australian mentality of working only to fund my travels,” he said. “For every week of work, I travel two.” Australia’s weekly wages are around AU$700-900. 

Mirko says he manages to live on as little as AU$10 a day. He had to give up on something, like nightlife and comforts, but for him is well worth it if in exchange he can spend the night in the middle of the Western Australia desert and see “the most beautiful starry sky of my life.”

Mirko and his van
Courtesy of Mirko Zambon.

‘Make it feel like home’ 

It’s been almost two years since Mirko moved into his Gingisbangi Van and now it’s fully furnished. “When I bought it it was basically empty,” he explained, “it took me a lot of time and effort to make it feel like home.”

Now the van is very welcoming: a big bed, a wooden bookshelf that Mirko made himself, a collection of DVDs, folding table and chairs, an outdoor tent for cool summer evenings and a fan for the sultry ones. A solar panel installed on the roof provides electric power and the water tank holds up to three litres.

“The only thing I miss it’s the comfort of a hot shower,” he said. “But I’m not complaining about anything else.”

#Vanlifers 

The Facebook group VanLife Australia, where members exchange information about routes, facilities and van modification, has more than 8,000 members. 

“Van life in Australia is really easy because the system works well,” Mirko said. “There are many free camping sites, public toilets and showers. I only have to pay for the maintenance of the van, the rest is completely free.”

But seems like Vanlifers are spread worldwide now. The Instagram hashtag #Vanlifers has over 800,000 posts, showing that life on wheels is becoming a cheap and stylish choice to face the new generations’ housing crisis

He too documents his adventure on social media at @mirko-zeta-zambon and he is planning to export this lifestyle back to Europe. “My plan for next year is to return to Italy by land on my Gingisbangi van,” he explained. Sounds like an ambitious venture, but after all, he will do it without ever leaving his home.

Mirko and his van
Courtesy of Mirko Zambon.

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