When work becomes stressful and not fulfilling, it’s easy for us to dream about leaving it all behind and getting away from it all. Richard East not only thought about overhauling his life four years ago, but he actually resigned from his job, sold his home, and ventured all over Australia with a revamped camper for off-grid living. He’s been documenting his adventures with a rescue cat, Willow, on his blog, Van Cat Meow.
Rich describes changing his life “as the most well-prepared mid-life crisis in history.” He designed a camper van that would work as a mobile home with maximum comfort. There was a process to deciding what items he took with him and what he discarded. Ultimately, he realized there was more that you could fit in a camper than first believed.
“The rule was simple, if it wasn’t functional and it didn’t bring me happiness then it was out,” Rich said. “Soon I was left with what would fit in the van. As we progressed into our journey it quickly became apparent that some things weren’t needed.”
Getting rid of stuff was a fairly easy process for Rich -- he was actually happy to see a lot of it go away from the multiple garage sales he’s held. The initial challenges and worries he had were obviously centered around his future. Things became permanent once he resigned from work and sold his home.
No traditional camper van met Rich’s standards for his upcoming travels. Instead, he customized one from its empty shell. He added two 100-watt solar panels and battery storage that charges while he drives, and there’s a 1000-watt generator that kicks in on cloudy days. He can carry 65 liters of water at a time and uses filtered water from the river to supplement that.
“The design I ended up with requires next to no set-up when I arrive somewhere,” Rich said. “The bed is always made, the kitchen always ready to go. This is important to me because it means I can move on quickly.”
While Rich was able to part with his old home and plenty of his belongings, one thing he couldn’t give up was his house cat, Willow. After taking the time to get her adapted to the outside world, the duo was able to travel together. She generally sticks around the proximity of the camper, but if she strays too far, there’s a collar that Rich uses to keep track of her.
“Willow is more than I could have ever imagined from a travel companion,” Rich said. “It has been such a joy to have her along and to be able to see the world through her eyes. She'll always return to me, and I will never leave without her. I’m very lucky that she has adapted so well to this life.”
Naturally, there’s some hurdles to go through when implementing a new lifestyle. Many of Australia’s national parks don’t allow pets like Willow, but Rich sees that as a way for them to explore quieter, open areas. Staying away from crowds even helps his introverted personality. He may sometimes wonder why he’s doing this, but he never ends up regretting it.
“I often question and doubt what I’m doing out here, but I look back to what life used to be like and realise that that’s the most human thing about me,” Rich said. “Like all of us I have to focus on what drives us forward, and what I want to achieve. The requisite for reward is not comfort and happiness is never were you left.”
Overall, things have really worked out for Rich and Willow. He’s been very happy about how she’s adapted to the new, roaming lifestyle, and considers himself lucky. Their initial journey across Australia ended early last year, but they’re currently on the road again. They’ve just come back from spending a month completely off the grid in the Australian outback.
For now, there’s no plans to retire this lifestyle, but it’s already been a fulfilling experience. Rich says there’s no pressure to keep going, and he will move on to the next phase in his life once it’s no longer rewarding to him.
“Until then, you’ll find us cruising somewhere around Australia. Give us a wave!”
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