Ever wondered how to live the van life without actually owning a van? Join us as we chat with digital nomad and full-time traveler Jonny Mellon, who's found the perfect solution! Jonny shares his inspiring journey from converting a van in Australia to traveling the world using Travellers AutoBarn, a user-friendly rental service offering comfortable and well-equipped vans for a truly memorable van life experience.
In this fascinating conversation, we discuss the differences between owning and renting vans, optimizing the van life experience for those who prefer to rent, and Jonny's adventures in Australia and the US. Gain valuable tips on how to make the most of your van rental, whether you're a seasoned traveler or just starting out. Don't miss this unique opportunity to learn from Jonny Mellon how to enjoy the freedom of van life without the commitment of ownership.
Check out Travellers Autobarn here.
Follow Jonny Melon: https://www.instagram.com/jonny.melon/
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Want to live the van life but have no idea where to start? My FREE Van Life Starter kit has specs and measurements on 10 different vans, van buying and build ideas, remote work ideas and websites I use to find free campsites.
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What if I told you there's a way to live the van life without actually buying a van at all? Purchasing a van whether you're buying a Class B or doing a DIY van conversion is a stressful and time-consuming part of van life. But I recently spoke to one young man named Johnny Mellon who has figured out a way to combine his love of van life and travel without owning a van. In this episode of the Wayward Home Podcast, we'll talk all about how Johnny does this and what his life as a digital nomad looks like. Let's go. Welcome to the Wayward Home Podcast, boat life and nomadic living. We'll bring you tips, interviews and stories from the road and on the water. Now here's your host, kristen Haynes. Hey there, i'm Kristen Haynes with thewaywardhomecom and I spend half the year in my camper van and half on my sailboat in Mexico. I hope to help you achieve your nomadic living dreams. So are you curious about the van life, but just don't want to put in all the effort to find a van, buy it, fix it up and get started? Well, i've got an interesting prospect for you. Johnny Mellon used to live the van life full time, but is now more a full time traveler, splitting his time between van life, airbnb's and apartments around the world. I chatted with Johnny as part of the van life virtual summit I put on with Project Van Life and I just love Johnny's approach to van life and travel in general. Let's get into it. So today I'm talking to Johnny Mellon, who had an epic van life adventure without even owning a van. So, johnny, we're really excited you're here to talk about this.Jonny Melon:
Hi Kristen. Yeah, thank you so much for having me on the van life summit this year. And yeah, that's exactly right. So I've been able to rent vans along my travels without owning a van, so to speak. So that's been great. And to rewind a little bit, i'm from the Gold Coast in Australia and when I was able to get my license, i actually used to own a van and I converted a van myself. So I guess that's where the passion for overland travel began. And yeah, growing up in the East Coast of Australia, there's a lot of beaches, a lot of national parks, waterfalls, things like that. So in between work, me and my friends would go on little road trips down the coast and live out of our vans. They weren't massive motorhomes, just your standard panel van with a bed and a little gas cooker in the back. So that was great. And yeah, so growing up there was always outdoors surfing, skating into photography, and I was very involved in the van life community. This is going back probably 2012, 2013 and 14. So 10 years ago now, and that's when Instagram was sort of kicking off and a lot of van life pages, so myself, and my friends as well, were getting a lot of sort of reposts from these big pages and a lot of questions from people that weren't doing van life and interested to know. So that was really great being involved in that, but I guess I wouldn't say sadly, but like I kind of fell off that wagon because I decided that I wanted to move abroad, live abroad and start traveling full time And I started an online business, which is a travel blog that I have. Now I do a lot of photography and work with tourism boards, so that's become my full time gig. So, unfortunately, i had to sell the van that I had And, you know, those funds allowed me to get overseas and, yeah, start, start, you know, create, like creating content on the blog and Instagram and things like that. So, but then I realized like I missed the van life. So, you know, abroad, in all these different countries I was going to, i was trying to rent. You know, do overland travel wherever I could, but that meant renting, having to rent a van, which is great, like I've been using using Travelers Auto Barn. If anyone is familiar with them, they know they've got vans available in the US, also Australia and New Zealand that just launched in Japan now, i believe, as well. So, yeah, they've been really great to work with and rent vans from all over the world on my trips.Kristin Hanes:
That's cool. Yeah, i've started to see some more of the Travelers Auto Barn vans driving around you know California and Oregon, i feel like they're you know up, and they're just becoming more and more popular. So, yeah, tell us a little bit about what they look like and what they're like inside, what kind of amenities they have.Jonny Melon:
Yeah, absolutely So. You know, even just like from a user's experience on their website it's really easy to find, you know, a van in, you know the country that you're planning on traveling to, so searching for the dates. They've got great customer support as well if you ever need to reach out to them and ask any questions before booking and things like that. So plenty of pickup and drop off locations, very affordable and competitive rates compared to some other companies out there. I've found them just really comfortable inside, reliable, easy to drive. Most of them I would say all of them, depending on which model of van that you get they're fully equipped. So they've got a seating area that transforms into a double bed. That's in the Kuga Camp event. I believe some of other of the events they may already have the beds. That's just fully fixed. And then also they've got like a fridge and freezer that runs on solar, the gas stove top, a microwave, kitchen sink, running water, cooking utensils, all the bedding. If it's winter, they provide a heater as well and a heated blanket, which was great because I traveled in the US during winter And it was very cold, but those you know, the heater and the heated blanket kept us warm at night. They also have, like USB power outlets, a 24 volt power that you can hook up to when you are plugged into a campsite through the electricity. Lots of storage, and I could go on this. There's many more features inside these vents.Kristin Hanes:
Cool, and is it a big enough van that you can stand up in it and walk around in it?Jonny Melon:
Yeah, so the Kuga camper van, which is the main one that I usually go for, i think it sleeps up to three or maybe even four people, but it's perfect for two people because it allows you to have more storage up in the top part And, yeah, you can fully stand up in them. Otherwise, the more budget ones, they're more of a panel van, so they don't have the higher top roof capacity, so you can't stand up on those, unfortunately. But depending on how long the trip is that you're doing as well, if you're only doing a five day trip or something like that, maybe the more budget ones would be common handy And, yeah, you don't really need to be standing up, but for like anywhere from two weeks to four weeks or even longer, i always go for the one that you can stand up in. It's more livable and just more comfortable as well.Kristin Hanes:
Totally, and you took a few trips in these vans, or a couple so far at least. Tell us a little bit about where you went in one of these vans.Jonny Melon:
Yeah, so the first trip I did with Traveler's Auto Barn was in the east coast of Australia. So I picked up the van in Brisbane and drove it all the way down to the south coast, new South Wales. I took it out to Mount Kosciosco, which is where the snow fields are in Australia. So that was a three or four week trip, i believe, and it pretty much just hugged the coastline all the way down, did a few day trips inland to the hinterland areas to visit some waterfalls and go on some parks and things like that. So that's always a great trip, i think, in Australia. It's just hugging the coastline and there's lots of things to see and do along the way. And another trip I did with him, as I mentioned, was the southwest USA state. So I actually picked up the van in LA and I had it for four weeks. So yeah, had a north first up to San Fran and then cut across over into Yosemite Valley, also, went all the way down to I believe it was Sequoia And then inland even more further into Vegas and Zion and then looped back around down into Arizona, sedona and then back to the coastline in LA four weeks later. So that was a mammoth trip and didn't have any issues with the van at all, like it. Unlimited miles as well, which is great, so you can just go anywhere in the timeframe that you've booked it for. And then the trip I'm doing next month will be in New Zealand, so I've got a rental for two weeks in the North Islands, so that's going to be a great trip. I haven't fully planned out the itinerary, but I have done a van trip in the US sorry, in New Zealand about eight years ago now, where I actually purchased a van because I knew I was going to be there for two months. So I'm hoping to follow a similar route coastlines, inland to some of the lakes and just have a great time.Kristin Hanes:
That's so cool. I think that's such a neat way to travel for people. To keep in mind that not only can you do it here in the States, but you can go to a foreign country and rent a van like this. It's way better than a hotel, right.Jonny Melon:
Absolutely. And just to overland travel in general, you really appreciate the smaller moments. I know people want to like some tips. I always like to say is travel slow. You don't always have to be trying to cram in so many things into the timeframe that you have to take a holiday or take a trip. Yeah, you would definitely appreciate traveling slower and enjoying the smaller moments, for sure. And yeah, just, i feel like in any country where it's possible there's like especially the US, especially Australia, new Zealand, there's such like, i guess, countries where it's so easy to travel over lands, because I guess if you're going to like the Maldives or something like that, or even Indonesia, it's not well set up for camper van trips and because there are, you know, lots of islands You can't, you know, it makes it more difficult to sort of cross over to other islands when you're traveling over land. So there are definitely some countries that are better than other and a lot more facilities to cater for People traveling in a van as well.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, and when you were doing this, did you mostly stay in campgrounds, or did you take the van out boondocking or what did you do?Jonny Melon:
For the most part, i would say campgrounds, especially in Australia, very affordable. The US was actually. We found some of the campsites to be more expensive than a motel. No which, um, which kind of yeah was interesting to me. But, um, you know, because it was winter, we we really needed to be plugged into the to the campsites to be able to run that heater, and but in saying that, like you know, it's always good to get off the beaten track and I think it's called I'm not sure the term in the states for, like the, free camp zones. There are a lot, of, a lot of those around, especially if you have a van with solar, which the Travellers auto barn van did in the US. So that was great. We did spend a few nights outside of camp zones and, yeah, i feel like you get a better view that way too, a better location, like you can wake up to the to the ocean or, you know, with an epic view of the mountain out the back window or something like that. So, yeah, i like to mix it up a little bit between the two.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, that's usually what we do as well. It's kind of nice to have the amenities of a campground, but then going out and wild camping somewhere is free and just Beautiful and that's cool. These vans come with solar in the states. That seems like a definite benefit for absolutely. Absolutely for California in the Southwest. There's a good amount of sun in those areas for you to keep that thing charged.Jonny Melon:
So Yeah, exactly right Yeah.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, cool. So what made you choose Travellers auto barn in the first place? I know there's tons of rental companies out there, but why did you gravitate toward them?Jonny Melon:
I think it was word of mouth. Going back to the trip I did in in Australia, first with them and Yeah, just you know, spoken to some friends that rented from them and Yeah, like they just had that a great time, had no issues with it, and I guess you know The the competitive rates as well was definitely a you know stood out amongst other other rentals.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah and same with the unlimited miles you mentioned, because I know some Companies like cap you at a hundred and that's, you're not gonna get anywhere right. Piles like in these huge cut, these big countries and coastlines and stuff like there's no way, exactly.Jonny Melon:
That's yeah, that's definitely an added advantage for sure.Kristin Hanes:
And like how does it feel to be in a rental van after you had your own van for a while? Like what are some of the differences?Jonny Melon:
I would say it's The. The setups are very like, they're very functional But not as homely. As you know the van a van would be if you were to convert it yourself. And it all comes down to as well, like when it, when you are converting a van, what you know Sort of hobbies you're into and you know things to think about when it comes to storage, like for me I serve, so in the van that I had. I had, you know, surfboard racks Mounted on the inside, also the roof racks and top, just small things like that to make it more functional and homely, you know, tailored towards, i guess, your hobbies and and the things that you enjoy, like a bookshelf and things like that.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, and so I'm curious because, yeah, we carry like five boards on our van as well. I could surfing and windsurfing and paddleboarding and really a lot of water sports. So does the travel's auto barn van have a place to put a surfboard on it like a rack at all, or they not come with those?Jonny Melon:
That's a great question and we actually We're able to, because we went down to the snow, as I mentioned, in the van. So there's plenty of storage where we were able to put our snowboards in, with your surfboards in there as well. We weren't able to put them on top of the van. They didn't have because it was the high top. They didn't have any rack or or cases up there. So we just we had them Slaughter down the middle corridor in the van and that fit perfectly as well for when we converted the couch into a bed And the table into the bed. So it was, you know, we managed. And then when we pulled up to a spot, we would just, you know, take the boards out, slide them under the van, and that way we had, you know, more of like a thorough affair in the back of the van. So it wasn't getting in the way at all.Kristin Hanes:
Oh, very cool, That's awesome. And do these vans come with any sort of like bathroom or shower units or anything?Jonny Melon:
Off the top of my head, i'm not sure. With their larger vans They might have those facilities, but in the Kuga camp event, the one that I've only rented, there's none of that. So, yeah, usually you know, that's, i guess, the benefits of parking up at a campsite, just being able to use those facilities, even things like laundry as well. These campsites have washing machines and dryers, and Yeah, so it is. It is something to, i guess, take into consideration when, when booking a van or, you know, converting a van, if you want to have those Luxuries.Kristin Hanes:
I know they. Definitely. We don't have that either. We have a solar shower in our van. So, yeah, i'm just going to campground is nice and taking a long hot shower, but we tend to rough it. But definitely something to consider when choosing a van rental.Jonny Melon:
So sure I think they do have those camp showers that you can fill up with water, and you know The portable ones, as you said. otherwise, if you're on the coastline, especially in Australia, and I'm sure the US as well, down at the beaches they have, you know, they've got toilets there, they've got fresh water showers, so it's not hard to find a Spot to scrub up.Kristin Hanes:
Yep, i totally agree. They're everywhere, so that's very positive. Yeah, so do you have any tips for people who are thinking of renting vans, like, what should they look for in a van?Jonny Melon:
Yeah, i mean, as the benefits we've spoken about, like looking for something with unlimited miles, you know, look at maybe booking in the off season. As I said, i traveled the US in winter and, yeah, it was. You know there's plenty of vans available. Plus, you know, at all of the national parks There was fewer tourists, so it was easy, you know, to, i guess, get great shots without a lot of people around. And also, finding a campsite as well, like during the off season it's a lot easier, whereas, i'm sure, you know, in the US I've heard, in the summer it can be very hard to to find a spot if you're, you know, and you want to be flexible as well, like you may have a change of plans, you want to go to Yosemite tomorrow, but you try and book and there's there's nowhere for you to stay. So I think just, yeah, really planning your heads, having a bit of an itinerary, making sure you're booking in those, those campsites if you need them, well in advance. And yeah, again, just just taking it slow. You may want to, you know, see ten places in in a week, but cut that down to five and spend a couple of days in each of those spots and really get to know a place as well.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, for sure, and sometimes I recommend that people go and rent a van before they, you know, buy one or convert one. What do you think about that as kind of test driving vans before?Jonny Melon:
Oh, absolutely, like it's. It's easy to get caught up in social media when you see, you know people actually living and traveling in a van. But You know, sometimes you see the behind the scenes, like You know things are just everywhere, like Whereas, like it, how is portrayed, sometimes it's it's all the good stuff. But yeah, like for sure, definitely get rent a van for a week or two or even a few days and or even if you have a friend That has a van, just ask to borrow it and and see if you know it's something for you and Yeah, like it. You really have to, you know, be happy with just, i guess, like living in a small space for one, packing minimal, like you can't have. You know, if it's winter you can't have ten jackets, so maybe you just have one or two jackets and be fine with you know, having to wear those, like It's really cool, whatever. So yeah, i agree with you with what you said is is to rent one before you go and buy one.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, it does look a certain way on social media when you get in the van. It's wonderful and also difficult at the same time, and sometimes people don't realize that part. Yeah, go experience trying to find the campsites every day, and you know the right bathroom facilities and stuff. Yeah, totally good reason to rent, so cool. So you live kind of a hybrid model. Right now, right where you're in, you're a nomad, correct?Jonny Melon:
Yes, exactly Yes. I've been living on the roads well, i say on the road living abroad, traveling and and working online since 2017. So coming into, yeah, the sixth year of digital nomad isn't.Kristin Hanes:
How cool. And so, between the van, the van rentals, what kinds of facilities are you typically staying in?Jonny Melon:
Usually like an Airbnb, whether it's. You know, if I'm going, i travel with my partner. So if we're going somewhere for a month, we'll try and book maybe one or two places within that country or destination and Have a base and then from there just do like smaller day trips or even a multi-day hike or something, leave, you know, the bulk of our luggage in the accommodation and then take off, you know, just with a small backpack or something like that. Otherwise, yeah, but the With, when we're traveling full-time, when I, when I what I mean by that is like we have a base in Bali, so we've got a villa that we're renting there and when we're not there, we're on with, we're just living out of our suitcases, basically so, and When we're not staying in place for a month, we're just hope, basically just from hotel to hotel. Or sometimes we get Collaborations with resorts and things like that, at trips with tourism boards where they'll invite us out to a destination for a week. So all of the logistics and accommodation is covered. So it's a bit here, there and everywhere A bit of a bit of a challenge, but it's also. You know, it keeps things interesting, keeps life fun and Yeah, it's, but yeah, definitely at some point, like would love to have another van again whether that be probably Australia, i would say, because I've still got my family and friends there, so somewhere to store it. And there's more of Australia that I want to see as well.Kristin Hanes:
Well, it sounds like such an interesting lifestyle And it's a good reminder that people don't have to be a full-time van lifer, you know, they can be a full-time nomad. Exactly, yeah, a lot of different ways to put the parts together, and I think that's a good reminder. So Yeah, absolutely. Yeah that's cool And some people do like pet sitting and you know other ways of travel where you know It's very affordable and then you can go get in the van for a while. So I think that's really neat.Jonny Melon:
Oh for sure. Yeah, there's. There's so many ways, like you don't have to start an online business to be able to travel and work full-time, like, as you said, you can do house sitting, house swabs, things like that There's. You know, there's a lot, of, a lot of ways that you can make it happen If it is something that is of interest to you, or even, you know, moving abroad and Like purchasing a van, if you want to spend a few months in a country and then you can sell the van when you leave as well.Kristin Hanes:
So, yeah, that's. That's good advice too. You could do that in New Zealand, Australia or Europe or wherever It's just purchase a cheaper van for a little while and resell.Jonny Melon:
That's it for sure. And then you know it's like free accommodation for that whole time that you're in that destination. Yeah, very from like the fuel costs and things like that, but for the most part, yeah.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, at least you get to cook a lot of your own food, so I think that helps them. You know, with the cost a little bit So yeah, definitely, yeah, that's helpful Yeah after New Zealand? do you have any other van trips planned, or is that it for the foreseeable future?Jonny Melon:
After New Zealand we're heading back over to first the Maldives and then to Europe for a few months, and we're actually hoping to get a van for a month. My partner's parents are from Switzerland and you know they live there, so we're gonna try and get a van for a month in June and try to some travels around Switzerland in a van. We've done a lot of trips throughout Switzerland like by train, just by car, like some day trips, but never like a Wike in the camper van. So that's definitely something that we want to achieve this year and, yeah, and spend some time on the road over there, because the landscapes and lakes and everything over there is just phenomenal.Kristin Hanes:
Oh, that sounds amazing. Very cool, yeah. So where can people find find you online to follow all your adventures?Jonny Melon:
I would say definitely my. My main channel is Instagram, so at Johnny Mellon that's J o double NY dot melon, as in watermelon, and the blog as well, is Johnny melon dot com.Kristin Hanes:
Cool. I look forward to watching all your journeys and seeing the van, the Travellers Autobarn Vans. They're also a sponsor of the Summit, which I should mention because they're super awesome and I'm excited to go try one. I think I have to do a New Zealand trip in one of those. I really want to go.Jonny Melon:
Oh for sure, Absolutely. Yeah, i'll be doing semi-tenneries from there, so yeah, maybe I can send those across to you Get some inspo. But yeah, there's lots of great trips to be had and, yeah, travellers, autobarn, huge shout out because they've been amazing. And, yeah, totally recommend them. I'll be using them on most of my trips where they pick up and drop off locations.Kristin Hanes:
And I do like that. That's something else I wanted to mention that you can pick up and drop off in different places with them. Is that correct? A different?Jonny Melon:
home. Yeah, exactly, yeah, for sure. I think there is a small fee if you're dropping it off in a different location, but it's nothing outrageous maybe $50 or $100 or something like that, which is great when you're in a destination where you can. if you're flying in, to, say, auckland, and then you want to fly out from Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand, that's an option And it just gives you more flexibility, more freedom, as opposed to having to do a round trip.Kristin Hanes:
That's also a very good point, so cool. I'm glad we got to talk about Travellers Autobahn and hopefully everybody will go check them out if they want to rent a van. So a really cool way to do the van lifestyle.Jonny Melon:
Definitely. Yeah, thanks for having me, Kristen.Kristin Hanes:
Yeah, thank you so much. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Wayward Home podcast. As a quick recap, Johnny uses the camper van rental service Travellers Autobarn to rent vans whenever the van life urge strikes. I'll add a link to Travellers Autobarn down in the show notes. They're available in so many different countries around the world and they're also way more affordable than other van rentals I've seen. Also. if you'd like to connect with me on email, I share all sorts of nomadic living tips and stories from my life in the sailboat and my camper van on the Wayward Home's email list. To sign up, just go to wwwthewaywardhomecom. forward slash subscribe. See you there.