Happy Campers: Vanessa Ratjen

Last summer, we had an intern named Vanessa Ratjen. She was just finishing up college and was full of ideals about the way the world should be. After her time with Korduroy, she went back up to Canada with a degree and desires to write about what makes the world good. Soon it became clear that the best way to do that would be from the road for a while. Here she tells us a bit about her decision to take her VW from Canada to Australia and what she’s doing while she’s there. When she wrote she was driving through the depths of Tasmania. 

van life australia

Why did you decide to move buy a van and take it to Australia from Canada?

Many things led to this decision to come here, but the main thing was feeling a bit stagnant work-wise, then going: “I’ve always wanted to go to Australia, why not now?” And I didn’t have enough reasons not to. I applied for a Visa on a Tuesday and then went to work, by the time I was off the Visa had been granted. Maybe it’s always that easy, maybe someone in the Visa office just did a select-all, YES, but I went with it. That Friday I booked a ticket, that Saturday I gave my job the two-week’s notice. Mind you, I still had to drive all my belongings back to Vancouver Island from Halifax, where I’d been living.

vanessa ratjen

What is the make and model of your rig? Did you have to put a lot of work into it in order to make it livable? 

I have a 1990 VW Caravelle. It was more of a transportation unit than a camping van when I got it, so I had to jimmy-rig it into a live-able space. I patchworked an extension to the bench to make it long enough for a mattress and then added in shelving and storage. I didn’t have any tools to make it look professional, (so don’t look too close), but it works for now and it works for me!

What has been the best part of mobile living? The most difficult?

The best part of mobile living is living outdoors all the time; waking up and having your morning cuppa cradled between mountains, or having dinner at a lookout with sunset views (food always tastes better when eaten outside, doesn’t it?). The most difficult is living outdoors all of the time, no matter the weather. And not knowing where you’re going to sleep.

van life australia

What do you do about food? Have you outfitted a kitchen? 

I have a stove, one pot, a cutting board and a knife, and there’s a whole lot of meals you can do with those and a little creativity. I don’t have a fridge (just a small soft-cooler) but I haven’t been in too many far-flung places where I need one. That’s the easy thing about Australia-traveling.

Where do you go in your van? How do you decide?

I had a few ideas of places I wanted to go, like Tasmania, where I am now. So, in general I had a structure to a route, but stop-overs or time spent in those random places en route are just where feels right, if there’s something drawing me in or something going on. I like to go on initial recommendations—from friends, from locals, from other travelers, but then get rid of expectations, because having no set plan is when you have the real freedom to see a place. And that’s not always so easy. It’s ridiculous, but sometimes I find myself struggling to fit things into a route I’ve scheduled for myself only to realize I’m the only thing standing in the way of enjoying it all. I think that’s the comfort of wanting to stick to a routine or rationalize things (or be able to tell my parents where I’ll be). There are a lot of things you can’t control: weather, holidays, people you meet, or recommendations you have to follow, so, sometimes I have to remind myself to go with it.

vanessa ratjen

So you’ve started a blog to document your travels? What are you looking for in the stories you seek out?

Yes, well, kind of, it’s not so much about my travels as people I’m meeting along the way. And the newsletter and website is a project that I hope to continue after the van-days are over. It’s http://www.awesome-istic.com/ or http://www.awesome-istic.com/about/ . I’m looking for people doing social or environmentally-minded projects (or work or volunteering) in their communities. People who are not only optimistic about the future of our world but are actively working on solutions. By creating this mosaic of profiles, I’m hoping to give a human face and story to the organizations and possibilities that are out there. Maybe this will inspire others to join, support or donate. Maybe it will just plant the idea in their head and get them talking, or maybe they will take action too. I’ve talked to many people who feel defeated by the large social and environmental woes that are overwhelming to look at as a whole, and feel they can’t make a difference, or that no one is. But lots of people are doing good work, and just chipping away at the “small stuff” is not only possible but where we can make a huge impact. I leave every interview super stoked and vibrating positivity, and if I can pass even a bit of that inspiration on to a few people, or help one of these organizations flourish, the project will be a success.

*Portraits and surf shot by Donnie Hedden.