Home on the Road

Live your best life by adopting the tenets of van life

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Steve Marais | Art Direction + Styling: Charl Edwards

It’s usually this time of year that we take stock of our lives, perhaps noticing how we’ve been stuck in a rut at work, strained by trying relationships or are drowning in bills and social obligations.

If you find yourself in a similarly mundane existence and constantly asking yourself – “surely there’s more to it than this?” – then perhaps you should consider the freedom of the open road and where the only certainty is Instagram sunsets. Van life.

Since the age of 14 professional surfer and shaper Simon Fish has travelled to Indonesia, Thailand, Hawaii, Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Morocco, Namibia, Mozambique, Liberia and his last trip was spent in a campervan.

“My girlfriend Amber and I spent five months travelling Australia and New Zealand. Travelling with her is a little different to travelling with the boys. Girls need luxuries from time to time, so finding a place to park your van with a hot shower and clean bathrooms is a must if you want to keep the vibe happy.”

According to Simon, more people should experience a nomadic lifestyle whenever they can, and if you have the right creature comforts with you then you’ll always be able to keep up a positive attitude. 

“As we get older and take on more responsibility it becomes increasingly difficult to find time to do anything. I often wish I was 19 again and could up and leave at a moment's notice.”

"Don't get stuck at home, living in your sheltered bubble. Instead go out and see the world," Simon explains. 

“Make lifelong friends with strangers and open your mind to other cultures and ways of life. You never know where it may lead you…”

Someone who has always lived by this code is Nic Grobler, the owner of the vehicle you see pictured here and an artist most famous for his book Bicycle Portraits. At time of writing, Nic was on the road for a project, Hemelliggaam, which you should follow on Instagram.

More than just a vehicle, Westerly Windina is a beautiful object and a way for Nic to slow his roll and enjoy the view. Having been privy to the inside of Nic’s van it’s clear that this is not a pimped-out American-style RV. It's fine though, because if you need all the comforts of home, you should probably stay at home.

Life on the road teaches one to determine the important things in life, and you’d be amazed how something as simple as a plush cushion or a cosy blanket can alter your space when you’re a week and three thousand kilometres into no-mans land.

Nobody said that van life was easy, but it is easy to fall in love with a lifestyle that allows you to park in the dark and then be surprised by the view when the sun rises the next morning.

Just ask photographer Caroline Mackintosh, a lover of the unknown who has explored the open roads of Africa up to Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Tanzania.

“Living in a van and being on the road makes you feel like you are free from the constraints of society. Free from the mundane and predictable. Free to stop and go as you please while taking your little home with you.”

This year Caroline left her beloved yellow Land Rover back home to explore California by campervan.

“From the dry desert of Joshua Tree to the large redwoods of Humboldt and all the way up to Mount Shasta, we drove along the West Coast's majestic coast lines and then inland to the quieter roads of Mendocino.”

For Caroline it was not so much the beautiful scenery, but the people she met along the way and how her nomadic existence afforded her so many interactions, so that her experiences of the places she visited are now defined by the people she met. Colourful characters like:

“Rattlesnake Buzz and T-bone Nick down in Soda Creek, TJ the young boy from Japan cycling coast to coast by himself, Catherine the shadow-puppet artist studying on occidental farms, and Andres a man who left his heart at Heart Lake.”

Whether you choose a weekend adventure or something with no fixed destination or end date, when the open road calls you should probably answer.

Then, use these tips to take on the road confidently and shop Superbalist so that even though you’re not home, you can live just as comfortably.

Start simple

While failing to plan is planning to fail, you should probably leave the kitchen sink at home and include only the absolute necessities. Use smaller day trips to prepare for weekend trips and then tackle a month-long cross-country adventure safe in the knowledge that while you need your jaffle iron, you don’t need the snackwicher, too.

Keep it simple

“Don't get stuck on plans, let life unfold like the road. Thats when the magic really starts. As long as I have a gas cooker, pen knife, a good book and my Contax G2, I’m good.” Caroline Mackintosh explains. 

Declutter your life

A nomadic lifestyle is about figuring out what you need and what you don’t, and when you’re in a van there’s only room for necessities. Road life makes you question the things you own. Always ask the question – "how is this improving my life?" – and if it doesn’t, leave it behind. That said, because you’re taking less things with you, you’re able to invest in only the best.

Adventure local

Too often we chase far-off, exotic places while neglecting what’s in our own backyard. If you’re reading this in South Africa then chances are that just around the corner there’s a compelling spot as worthy of a visit as anywhere else in the world.

A simple life

Life on the road will teach you that the ablution facilities at a R150 per night caravan park can make you feel like a million bucks, or a free parking spot on the side of the road can come with a million-dollar view. It’s these little things that will teach you to truly experience life.

Travel will change you

“These trips and this way of life really plays a huge part in the kind of person I am and how spontaneously I live my life,” Caroline says. 

The road will twist

Something van life quickly teaches you is that the road is never straight. A fanbelt will snap. A tyre will run flat. Which is fine, because sometimes we learn more from doing the things we don’t want, than by getting the things we do.

The road less travelled

“Sometimes you go to places that are well-known, expecting to be blown away," Simon Fish tells us. "There are people everywhere, the place is setup for tourism, has been exploited and it’s a complete let down. Then you follow a lead from someone you have met along the way and discover something totally unexpected. That makes it all worth it."

Go slow

If you find yourself on the road hurtling towards a specific destination, slow down, take your time, wind down the window and breathe in the fresh air. You will get there when you get there, and there’s so much to see along the way. Van life is about the journey, not the destination.

Matt Giesler @ BOSS models
Elsa Badaia @ ICE models