This is a treat of an interview. Meet Goose and Ellen, a young couple that have already got three great camper builds under their belts. They went in at the deep end refitting a full size ex-school bus in South Australia as their first project, half way through that build they camperised a Van. They have spent the last year vanlifing their way around NZ.
Prior to buying Jah Bus what was the catalyst for getting into the vanlife lifestyle?
In 2016 we booked a 30 day trip to the United States. When looking into booking accommodation, we realised the cheapest way to see as much of the country as we could was to rent a campervan. We rented a Dodge Caravan (small people mover) from a small up and coming company, Native Campervans. This was the first proper travel we had undertook, as well as our first look into what we now know as ‘vanlife’. It was this experience that made us look closer at how we were living. We realised we were much happier with a lot less stuff, and a lot more freedom. From here on out, our mindset had switched to thinking about how we could turn this into our daily life. That’s where the bus came in.
Getting and fitting out a full size bus is a big project to start with, AND doing it in an alien land [Oz] like most people go the other way…van first then bus. How and why did you start then?
Hahaha that’s a great question, we still wonder this ourselves . . . . When we started looking at what vehicle we wanted to use, the end goal of having our own piece of self sustainable land wasn’t far from our minds. This is why we decided on a full-size bus. It’s big enough to fit absolutely everything we need and able to be moved around the country in search of our own slice of paradise.
How long did you own the bus and where did you take it?
We owned the bus for close to 3 years all up. It took the first 15 months for get it up to a live-able standard, with both of us working full time jobs. The build took a lot longer than expected and in all honesty, put some serious strain on our relationship at points. We found a place to park the bus up to live in while we still worked to save money. Being in it for a year while stationary was a great way to reduce our outgoing costs and build up the travel fund quicker. It wasn’t until the bus was sold (we explain below) that we got to take her out on the open road and drive from Adelaide to Darwin, getting a taste of the dream we were working towards.
At the same time you converted your runner van into a camper too aye? So you had two builds on the go at once for a while?
It sounds crazy when you put it like that, but basically, yes! The yellow van came around out of necessity more than anything else. Our daily runabout car bit the dust, so we thought why not replace it with a van that we can use for little getaways until the bus was 100% road ready. This van was always going to be a temporary thing, so we did a simple little conversion that allowed us to get away on weekends and scratch that travel itch. Through this we realised that bigger isn’t always better, and it brought us back to the simple reasons we chose the lifestyle in the first place.
Jah Bus looked insanely good and cool, what was the reason for selling?
Don’t get us wrong, the bus was insanely cool and an awesome first house. We loved living in our own little space we created with our own hands. The whole experience was a huge learning curve, and the decision to sell the bus came down to a few factors. Firstly, it was simply too big and impractical for daily travel. Something of that size is more suited to being parked in one place for a longer period of time than we were wanting to. Simple tasks like getting fuel or groceries turned into nightmares, with the worry of finding somewhere to park and hoping we don’t take a wrong turn and get stuck always in the back of my mind. Cost also played a big role in the sale. With insurance, fuel, maintenance and the licence to drive it, the costs of running a 40ft school bus add up rather quickly. The more things cost, the quicker we would need to go back to work and this was something we wanted to put off for as long as possible.
Apart from man and woman hours spent, did you make a bit of extra cash on the sale of Jah Bus?
Going solely off money put in verse how much we sold the bus for, we did make a good little profit. If you want to get technical and work out the cost our labour on top of the materials etc, then I’m sure we came out at a loss. It was A LOT of work. Everyone loves to know the juicy details, so we’ve always been happy sharing the full cost to help others with the big decision. In total, we spent roughly $30,000 AUD on the build. This includes the bus itself, all materials, batteries & solar etc, as well as the yard costs to store it as we had no space at home. The bus sold for the listed price of $40,000 with the condition that we drove it to the new owners in Darwin (suited us, she needed a proper farewell!). We used close to $1500 in diesel on the trip, so the approx profit was closer $8000.
On your return to NZ you got a pre campered Hi Ace GL Camper 4×4 poptop. These come as Japanese imports already converted with pretty ok set ups….but you’ve stripped it and rebuilt the interior. Why change it?
Firstly we just want to say that this van is pretty close to our ideal rig. Being diesel, 4wd, and having enough space to stand up were all major selling points for us. It was set up as a camper from factory, but it failed to use the space efficiently. With it being our full time home, we needed to redesign the interior to suit our needs better and to be able to fit our whole life. We did spend a week in it as it was in order to see what would work for us and how we could best adapt the space. It was important for us to be happy and comfy in a space we spend so much time in.
Are you on the road fulltime and how do you create income to keep going?
Prior to the worldwide pandemic we had been on the road full time for nearly a year, with no plans of stopping any time soon. As much as we would love to make money on the road, the reality is that we are solely running off savings to support our travels. This money came from the work we did while living in the bus, the cash from the sale of the bus, and also some money that was gifted by friends and family at our wedding. With such little outgoings (fuel, food and beer being the main things), it’s surprising how far you can stretch the bank account if you keep the goal in mind. We have been working on our photography skills while adventuring, with the hopes that we could use this to bring in a little income to help us keep on ticking. There are also plenty of opportunities for seasonal work in New Zealand, so if we have to stop for 3 months of the year to fund 9 months of freedom, we are more than happy to do that!
The record player, that seems like quite the excess in a van…what’s going on there, and what LP’s are you packing?
Haha that’s a fair call, don’t think we’ve seen another smaller sized van with a record player! We’ve been building our LP collection for a few years and had our first record player in the bus. We both love music, but love it more with the ‘texture and feeling’ from a vinyl record. I had the idea of including a player in the back of my mind when designing the new van build, and surprisingly enough there was plenty of room to be able to have one along with a few of our favourite records. The player we chose is also bluetooth capable so we’re not just limited to playing wax. We have a pretty eclectic mix of records; from bluesy rock with Dire Straits and CCR, to hiphop with some Jay-Z and also some more modern chillout music like Sticky Fingers. No matter the mood, we’ve got the perfect soundtrack to go along with it!
And lastly after being on the road for 4 years and the knowledge you built up what would be your guys five tips for someone wanting to fit out a Van in NZ?
This is a tricky question as some of it comes down to personal preference. There are a few things we’ve picked up along the way that will hopefully help those looking at starting their own adventure!
Firstly, the most important decision has to be the vehicle itself. Reliability and ease/cost of maintenance and repairs play a big factor when choosing a rig. You want to know that the vehicle will hold out when you need it most and remote breakdowns can mean big bucks. I’ve always leaned more towards diesel engines for these reasons, with the added bonus of them generally being cheaper to fuel up as well.
Then the size of vehicle comes into play, and we could go on and on here about the pros and cons of each body type. It basically comes down to convenience vs drive-ability vs comfort vs storage vs cost, and which of these things you personally prioritise over the others.
The next thing to consider is the climate your going to be travelling/living in. Do you want a mobile surf shack to spend days in by the seaside? Effective ventilation to keep cool might be necessary here. Do you plan on chasing the snow (or live anywhere in the South Island of NZ)? Some effort put into insulating or even a heater setup could make your time much more enjoyable! It definitely pays to think these things through before jumping in and building anything.
Next up we would recommend making sure you are self contained. This is extremely important in NZ as it opens you up to much more freedom in regards to camp spots, but we think it’s equally as important for countries that don’t have the regulations like NZ. Self containment basically means you have enough resources onboard to last a certain amount of occupants a certain amount of time. This means enough fresh & grey water storage, a toilet of some kind, and a few other things to ensure the areas we are exploring stay free from human contamination – take only photo’s, leave only footprints etc etc. . . Along with having enough storage space for both food and water, the other factor that enables longer off-grid living is the solar and battery set up. Investing a bit of money here means more time in the bush relaxing, and less time worrying about battery levels and the need to plug in and charge up.
Lastly, and this is truly the most important thing. . . . Just get out there and DO IT! Whether it’s for a weekend, a month, or a full on lifestyle, vanlife is the greatest way to explore your region and beyond. All you need to do is turn the key and roll out!
Goose and Ellen’s Instagram page is chock full of inspirational images and information packed posts follow them HERE