Life Travel As tree-changers push up house prices, #vanlife is an older woman’s ride to freedom

As tree-changers push up house prices, #vanlife is an older woman’s ride to freedom

After children, divorce, surgeries and a pandemic, Margaret Linley, with Ree, has found freedom in her van. Photo: Margaret Linley
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I own a tiny piece of transformational real estate. The best I’ve ever owned. #livingthedream #vanlife.

What picture do you have of me already?

Am I the honey-legged adventurer standing on top of my van, cradling the moon in my cupped hands?

Is the van – strung with twinkling fairy lights – a jungle of greenery and macramé hangers? #wanderlust #roadtrip.

Or maybe the image in your mind is less aspirational Instagram and more Nomadland. #hardtimes.

At 60, there’s no way my legs are going to light up social media, but nor am I Frances McDormand in struggle town. I could live in a house, but it’s the Transit van I am choosing now.

Margaret says older van-lifers might look a little different to the Instagram picture, but they too get a chance to experience the freedom of fewer responsibilities. Photo: Van Life Diaries/Instagram

So what is the attraction for me? Why am I so pro-van? I’ll tell you.

I’ve always been a minder.

Like many of you, I have squeezed myself into the space around the people and things which take precedence.

I’ve parented my parents as long as I can remember, parented my children as a single mum, minded the budget, the bills, the house, the garden, my blood pressure, my manners. I’ve minded two husbands, paid heed to their dreams.

I’m tired of being the one who holds the half-eaten fairy floss and waits at the bottom of the Ferris wheel. I want my turn.

I jump in my van with its comfy cosy bed, and its teeny tiny cupboards, and its itty bitty fridge, and I head off.

This is my dream. To divest myself of possessions and the heavy cloak of my self-imposed limits. I want to face the world as I am and trust I will be enough. #thisisme.

Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand, told the story of a woman in her 60s who travels in her van after losing everything in the Great Recession. Photo: IMBD 

I didn’t get the van idea straight away. No, first I went a bit mad.

Three surgeries, a pandemic, and a marriage ending can do that to a person. I see-sawed emotionally, flip-flopped from this absolute decision to that absolute decision, and spent way too much time on the couch with my best friend Netflix.

Like many of of us during Victoria’s lockdown, I dreamed of an escape and of more space.

I obsessed over real estate. Collected Section 32s on an old mill house in Victoria’s Otways, a renovator’s delight in spa country and a classic beach house on the Bellarine Peninsula.

I fixated on Tasmania, lured by a house in the wilderness where I would be snug and content until I got lonely and loopy.

I was enthralled by a boat and a jetty on a river; captivated by an entire abandoned village where I would live in a community with interesting people who would clamour to be part of my commune.

Like all good addicts, I lied to my friends about how much time I was spending on

Not every day, I’d say. Not all day, was what I should have said.

But then I remembered I would still be minding things.

That village wouldn’t look after itself. The wilderness would require some nurturing. The roof of the mill house would leak. Bills would need to be paid, furniture would need to be vacuumed around, intruders would need to be kept at bay. All those duties.

Time tick-ticked along as I considered all this. Up the house prices went.

Paralysed by inertia, made anxious by no clear sense of direction, I thought I had too much time, not enough time. I didn’t know what would become of me.

I fell in love with the van at first sight.

I paid my money and brought it home, stopping at the RSPCA en route and collecting the perfect van dog. A very old lady at almost 15, Ree’s saggy little teats and wobbly tummy hinted at her life on a puppy farm. It was hard to know who was most grateful; the adopted or the adoptee.

Suddenly, I have direction, purpose, freedom.

I head out on the road, Ree beside me, ready for anything as long as I don’t leave her alone for one minute. Don’t worry my darling, I am as fragile as you, I tell her.

Life is sweet on the road for old girl Ree, a rescue dog. Photo: Margaret Linley

I have everything I need in the van. I had thought I might be too vulnerable at night, alone, asleep.

But with the curtains drawn, the keys where I can reach them and a soft warm furry body beside me I sleep the sleep I have craved for years.

I sleep in the bush, beside the road, up dirt tracks, outside a church.

I park on the waterfront in Everytown.

The sun dances on the waves and I stay there all day; writing, reading, cuddling.

Across the road are Everytown’s fancy houses where people are mowing lawns and cleaning out gutters and not knowing that dull pit in their stomach is the urge for freedom.

I drive to the Murray, park on the river bank, hike through the bush to gather firewood, watch the sun set as dinner simmers in the pot.

I am made rich by letting go; brave by letting go. I am overwhelmed with love for nature and humanity and goodness and freedom, all possible because of a rattly old Transit van and enhanced by a saggy old dog.

I may never go home, I think. And then I realise: #thisishome.

Margaret Linley is an award-winning travel writer from Victoria