'Don’t Fly, Drive’: Australians Seeking Travel Gratification Turn To Four Wheels

You can't appreciate Australia's scenic beauty 30,000ft in the air.

For Australians, the mere prospect of packing a suitcase and jetting off to somewhere of a European influence…or Bali, is so far down on the list of possibilities right now that it could be worth buying a lottery ticket. The odds would be more in our favour.

With international travel off the cards for some time (as for when it will return is still anyone’s guess, and there’s still no sign of a Trans-Tasman bubble on the horizon) Aussies are having to look closer to home for a week or two of relief from the daily stressors afforded by these unprecedented times.

Domestic travel is slowly but surely returning to normal, since numbers of cases and transmissions are remaining low, but for many of us, air travel is still a remote possibility. After all, you don’t really want to be spending your entire flight wondering who around you will be the first to sneeze.

But once you’ve chosen a destination, you’ll likely soon find the best self-catering options (read: rental properties and Airbnbs) are fully booked during popular dates. As we reported earlier this week, many Australians are hesitant to book into hotels and the like right now too, preferring to stay somewhere they have more control over both their trip and who they interact with. So, what are you to do? It seems for many Australians, the answer is your very own mobile home.

A return to the 70s, if you will…

We’re not talking about the traditional motor homes either: the Winnebago. These houses on wheels are favoured by the retired population for their space, ease of use, and plenty of cameras to assist with parking.

For the remainder of the population, the latest mobile home trend that has seen an uptake since the pandemic hit is to convert your own vehicle. Gutting out the back of a Transit to install a bed frame and an excuse for a kitchen is nothing new to Australia’s surfing community, with many hanging up their boards inside and seeking slumber in car parks and fields as they chase waves up and down Australia’s coastline.

But for those who would normally prefer the luxury of an actual bed and maybe a turndown service, who don’t have a van, more and more individuals are constructing makeshift beds in the back of their wagons (a small price to pay for some sleep under the stars).

I, for example, have recently finished building a bed frame for my Subaru Liberty wagon. Sure, I could have just put a mattress or an air bed in the back with the seats down, but a frame offers a far more substantial foundation upon which to get my forty winks. It’s also removable and can be stored in the boot with the rear seats up, so can still function as an everyday car.

As for blocking out sunlight and preventing passers-by from peering inside when I’m in a state of a deep sleep, I’ve fashioned blackout blinds from cheap, concertina sun blinds. These have yet to be tested, however, so I could well find myself experiencing the fright of my life when I wake up at 3am one morning to a local homeless man eyeing up my mattress and duvet.

 

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DMARGE reached out to Van Go Fit Outs, a Sydney-based company that specialises in converting vans into kilometre-crunching bedrooms, to find out just how much of an uptake they have experienced during Covid, and if they feel the pandemic can, in a sense, be seen as a good thing to happen for domestic travel.

Mark Atkins, founder and director of Van Go Fit Outs, begins by telling us that “Van Go Fit Outs has seen a massive increase in enquiries, which are obviously due to the travel restrictions and lockdown caused by Covid.”

“There was a week where we had 1000+ enquiries all asking for quotes, which is insane numbers when we know we can only realistically work on so many vans at one time.”

“To be able to service the whole of the East Coast of Oz would be amazing but quality must remain premium and therefore we are booking new vehicles up to the middle of 2021 already.”

If you’ve been tempted to join the van conversion bandwagon but haven’t been sure which van(s) are up to the task of being transformed, Mark adds, “We see a lot of Mercedes Sprinters and Volkswagen Crafters, for those planning on spending a lot of time on the road.”

“For the casual weekender and surfers, we are seeing a lot of [Hyundai] iLoads, [Toyota] Hiaces and [Volkswagen] Transporters.”

“We have some pretty crazy enquiries with people wanting to remove the passenger seat of hatchbacks to allow for a bed and pop tops onto small 4x4s like [Toyota] Rav 4s and Jeep Defenders.”

We imagine what may put many people off converting a van is cost. After all, if you’re only going to realistically use it a few weekends each year, is it worth paying out when you could potentially make do with a makeshift operation for a few nights?

Mark tells us, “Due to conversions being custom, prices vary quite extensively. For a full conversion with off the grid living you are looking at starting prices of $30k, but more information about our packages can be found on our website.”

$30,000 for a self-sustained house you can comfortably live in doesn’t sound bad when you consider how insane Sydney’s house prices are becoming.

And don’t for one second think that a van conversion simply has to comprise a bed, a small kitchen/cooking area and some power plugs. If there’s some specific feature you know you’ll want, Van Go is able to oblige.

“We see a lot of unusual requests, they mainly revolve around customers’ pets. We have had requests for things such as a pull out cat container from the side of a van with its own window, and a removable birdcage so they could take their parrot on holiday.”

“We have also worked with physios, butchers, barbers, hairdressers, dentists, pharmacies, hardware stores and more all looking to create an office or showroom for the road.”

So, will this self-contained mode of travel go the distance or is it simply a fad that we have to endure until international travel restarts?

Mark believes it has plenty of legs.

“I don’t see the van trend going away for a long time, people have been travelling around the world for years in vans.”

“I think people have realised there is lots to see and do in this amazing back yard of ours and with more people looking for the never-ending adventures the Van Go Van is the way to see and do all the activities in comfort and style.”

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