By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orca’s – 10/15/18

For the ninety first installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orca’s, we are very excited to share the story of Oliver Fenwick-Ross. You may know him already as @jennifervaniston.

Oliver, or Ollie as he refers to himself, has been living his best #vanlife for nearly two year now, but his childhood roots had him deep the van scene even in his earliest days. Van life is in his blood.

Nowadays he brilliantly travels around Australia in his Toyota Hiace, with his rescue cat, Marbles. Together they take in the sights and keep their priorities in line, surfing, cooking outdoors, and camping as often as possible.

You can follow along with their journey at their Instagram page, @jennifervaniston. I highly recommend doing so. While #vanlife in general can be a hashtag that casts a wide net, it is important to remember people like Ollie and the realities of being our there actually living it. It’s fun to watch and fantasize about if you live in a standardized home, but there are many people making it work on just four wheels.

Ollie is a great reminder that each journey is unique in its own way and not one journey is better than another. The one you resonate with might just might mean more to you, because you relate to the style or the locations chosen. The journey of Ollie, Marbles, and Jennifer Vaniston are pretty cool and I am pleased to share their story.

Check out the interview below.

What do you consider to be your place of work? 

I actually work full-time at the moment! But I’m lucky enough to have shift-based work now, which means work provides accommodation for my days on, and on my days off I have almost a week to travel around in my van exploring!

Tell me about your vehicle. What do you call it? 

Jennifer Vaniston is a 1985 Toyota Hiace (YH61). She’s petrol, automatic, and has almost a half-million kilometers on her. She also shares the same registration date as my birthday, what are the chances?! (1/365.25, but still)

What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought? 

I knew I wanted a Toyota, I knew I wanted bench seats in the front, and I knew I wanted a pop-top. To be honest, this was the first one I looked at and I was sold! She was cheap, already had the pop-top, and the interior was rough as guts – which I knew I wanted to strip out anyways

Have you made any upgrades or changes to it? 

I ripped out the whole interior and redid it from scratch with recycled or second hand parts for the drawers. I knew I needed a ‘real’ mattress, so made sure to add that. I also put a pretty significant power setup in it, so I could always have cold beer in the fridge, and charge my devices, camera gear, and watch movies. I know its a bit overkill / not exactly ‘roughing’ it, but I have and still will live full-time in it sometime, so why not give it some creature comforts? I also sprayed the wheels, added custom decals, and an LED bar to the outside. I’ve also added a litterbox for my sometimes travel companion, my 10 year old rescue cat Marbles!

What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle? 

No plans – I can literally decide on the same night that I finish work where I want to go for the weekend. And can change those plans throughout the journey, based on where the best surf is, or where friends I want to meet up with. I also love cooking outside – food always tastes better! I also love that I can take my cat with me – she’s so comfortable in it, and makes travelling a lot less lonely.

What is your least favorite part about it? 

The price of fuel, not having air conditioning, and getting sand in the bed!

How many miles have you put on your vehicle? 

About 50,000km from purchase, over 1.5 years – she’s almost hit 500,000km though!

What is the best place you have taken it? 

My favourite spot so far is Agnes Water, but Red Cliffs / Grey Cliffs in NSW has been the best ‘view’ to wake up to – whales were breaching from our isolated ocean-view camp spot!

Favorite road you’ve driven? 

Australian roads are generally pretty boring to be honest! So I’d have to say the dodgy rough dirt road to Spring Beach in Agnes Water, because it means I’m about to go surfing!

In one word, what describes your approach to life? 

No Bad Days – even if stuff goes wrong, I try to see the positive, laugh it off, and know that no matter how bad it is, things could always be much much worse!

If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living from a vehicle, what would you tell them? 

It’s not cheap – the amount of wear and tear on your vehicle increases dramatically, so repairs cost a lot, and it costs a lot of fuel to move around. Things will break. Get a GOOD tool kit, and some basic mechanical and electrical knowledge – this has saved my butt on the road a lot. But at the end of the day, it’s cheaper than a house!

It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people? 

I was privileged and fortunate enough to grow up moving around different countries as the son of an expat family – but once I started travelling alone it really hit me how it’s the day to day interactions, changes to plans, and advice and new experiences ETC that make travel so good.

You have found a strong place in the community of travelers. What values do you think your home or family instilled in you, that you take on the road? 

From all the travel we’ve done, my family has a saying ‘YNTTYT’ = You’re not there till you’re there. Even though some people may think that’s a negative thing, for us it’s more about being able to just approach travel dramas with calmness – if a flight gets delayed, oh well – go get a beer or wine, explore that city, etc. Expect things to go wrong, but embrace them when they do!

I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourself as someone who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened? 

It was kind of the logical next step. At the time I built the van I knew I had a break in my career, and I knew I loved road trips, and I didn’t want to pay rent and be stagnant – so of course, living in a van and travelling around Australia is the only option right? I ended up spending ~3 months on the road during this transition period and knew I made the right decision.

Where do you want to go next?

I love my work as a geologist right now, a huge part of which is the lifestyle it allows me to live. Geographically and career wise, it might be fun to get posted somewhere else for a new ‘home base’ to keep exploring! I’d also love to take 6 months to a year off and spend some real time on the road again.

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