Monday, April 19

Nappy nomads: couples who #vanlife with babies on board | Australia Vacations

IIn October 2020, 34-year-old Karstan Smith had just returned from a 15,000 km ride. Four months earlier, the Newcastle native set off in a 1968 Kombi van with his childhood sweetheart, Maxine, and their young daughter, Zuri, and headed north. Within a week of being home, she had thrown away 90% of her clothes, bought a map of Australia and a box of push pins, and started planning the next family adventure.

For most parents, the first year of family life is a wild enough ride in its own right, the steepest of learning curves, regardless of all the puzzling scenery while living in the back of a pickup truck.

But for people like Karstan and Maxine, and other enthusiasts of what is widely known as #vanlife, the lifestyle trend on social media that promotes the virtues of a simple life on the road, the unpredictable but monotonous months of life. new parenthood is obviously aligned with Life on the road. Strange sleeping arrangements, novel smells, and a sun-ruled schedule are, of course, unavoidable, though rarely advertised, hallmarks of both life with a baby and the rampant itinerant existence promoted by vanlifers; and it would seem inadvisable to aggravate these realities. But is it?

Karsten and Maxine first took their baby Zuri on the road when she was just a few months old.
Karstan and Maxine first took their baby, Zuri, on the road when she was just a few months old. Photography: Karsten and Maxine Smith

In 2011, the first vanlife hashtag was posted by Foster Huntington, a Ralph Lauren designer who became a pioneering influencer on Instagram. His posts of the wandering, nostalgic life of a man and his truck heralded what the New Yorker later described as “a bohemian social media movement”, Which has come to mean an aesthetic, a mentality and a lifestyle. More than 10 years and 9.4 million posts later, the hashtag continues to incubate an evolving vision of a charming, walking existence populated predominantly by honeyed twentysomethings living in impressively converted pickup trucks and wearing felt hats.

By the time Huntington made the first #vanlife post, Maxine and Karstan had already completed a 25,000km road trip through Australia. In 2009, after a long European wandering, which included completing the Camino de Santiago. in thongs, the couple returned home, bought a 1971 Kombi and set off for the Big Lap, circling Australia by road.

Twelve years, a Television wedding And eight Volkswagens later, their adventure continues, and Zuri’s arrival in late 2019 did nothing to curb the couple’s taste for adventure. After his birth, the couple warmed up with weekend trips. In mid-2020 they left, intending to spend six weeks on the road.

When the pandemic slammed the borders, they found themselves in Queensland, and instead of retreating south home, they traveled to Cape York, picking up odd jobs and checking the news in pubs along the way. Adventures abounded, all documented on the couple’s 42,000-follower Instagram account.

Baby Zuri Smith sleeps inside the Kombi van in which she and her parents Karsten and Maxine Smith travel through Australia
“You don’t need a $ 100,000 Land Cruiser to see Australia, and you can also do it with a child.” Baby Zuri Smith sleeps inside the Kombi truck with her parents. Photography: Karsten and Maxine Smith

#life goals

Claire Falconer and Luke Morris were among those thousands of Instagram followers. Now they are preparing for a new baby and their own van expedition from the driveway of the Falconer family home in Mentone. After meeting in Dubai eight years ago, Falconer, an Australian, and Morris, a Briton, returned to Australia just weeks before the borders were closed last year, ready to commit to van life Down Under.

They spent $ 18,000 converting a Mercedes Sprinter and headed north during a break in the Melbourne lockdown, but while in the Whitsundays, pregnancy complications put a pin on their plans. Since their baby will be born in late April, the couple hopes to take off as soon as Falconer recovers from childbirth. According to the vanlife doctrine, they will just take things as they come.

However, for high school PE teachers Alex and Kobi Nichols in Perth, that wandering is not the goal. In 2019, the couple converted their first truck and were still painting it on the day Tully, their now nearly two-year-old son, was born.

While Kobi hopes to take a full year and “homeschool” at some point, for now they live a life in a van, his full-time job is marked by trips around the state. For many, utilizing the benefits of steady work, employee leave rights, and a profitable home-shaped asset is the key to low-risk forays into aspirational spontaneity.


Back in Newcastle, Karstan and Maxine were parked outside their home on a gloomy afternoon, entwined with their daughter in the back of her Kombi, the drizzle interrupting prime time.

“Instagram is dangerous,” says Karstan. “It’s not all Jack Johnson, the beaches and the furry dogs you know. Sometimes you’re just stuck in a van with your partner, dumping one in a bucket. “

Such mental images are outside of the traditional #vanlife aesthetic, but that’s their point.

Karsten, Zuri and Maxine travel Australia in a Kombi van
Karstan, Zuri and Maxine travel through Australia in a Kombi van. Photography: Karsten and Maxine Smith

After the couple found themselves “getting sucked into” by the Vanlife industrial complex and “a little excited about Adobe Lightroom,” they vow to show a more authentic view of their life on the road as a family. They have since removed some of their posts and no longer use filters, nor do they remove pesky fellow humans, ships, and even buildings from their content – a common practice in the #vanlife community, they say.

Turning their enviable lifestyles into self-sustaining brands, through endorsements and giveaways, is too good of a choice to resist for many vanlifers. Results can range from inspiring to annoying.

Maxine says that, as with parenting, while people will always enjoy pretty pictures, what they really want to know is what it really looks like. The couple say being new parents while living and riding in their van is great, “it shouldn’t be necessary to dress like you’re not.”

Your next adventure will be documented on YouTube and there will be brand alliances, including with Amazon.

“You will never be 100% ready and life is short.” Maxine says that one should not wait for the perfect moment to come to life on the road. Photography: Karsten and Maxine Smith

“We just want people to know that you don’t need a $ 100,000 Land Cruiser to see Australia, and you can also do it with a child.”

Like having a baby, Maxine says there is never a “right” time to hit the road. The hardest part, he says, is taking the leap.

“You will never be 100% ready and life is short, do it!”

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