Just over a year ago, Silvi and Amps made a decision that changed their lives: they resigned from their 9 to 5 jobs, sold their belongings, ended their leases, and went all-in on remodelling a van where they would live and travel full time. Inspired by the vanlife movement, the couple have made it their mission to live life on their own terms and experience the true freedom that comes with tiny living and a nomad lifestyle.
This lesbian couple is our next set of Local Queer Icons. With an Instagram platform dedicated to documenting their journey, they provide representation and inspiration for other members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are just starting on their vanlife adventure or who may be hesitant to travel as a queer couple. They explain that they have been inspired by content creators “who are open and show their true selves,” and now they strive to do the same for others:
“We feel there is a gap in the visibility of the Gen Y/X LGBTQIA+ community online (as well as those approaching and beyond), and our aim is to collaborate and partner with LGBTQIA+ companies and brands that are in line with our goals to ultimately help make Australia and the world more LGBTQIA+ friendly and accepting.”
Their adventure together began at the end of 2019, when they met in the way of many modern love stories: on the lesbian dating app HER. They connected right away over their shared love of travel – with both of them having backgrounds in the travel industry – and it wasn’t long until they were having their first date in Marrickville at the start of 2020.
Prior to making the transition to full time vanlife, Silvi and Amps had by no means lived a sedentary lifestyle. With Silvi having visited 42 countries across 6 continents and Amps having visited 36 countries across 6 continents, they have both always been keen travellers. In fact, travel brought them to Australia in the first place: Silvi was born in Portugal and Amps in Laos, and they both immigrated to Australia in the 80s.
The backdrop of their first few months together was the incremental shutdown of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the shutdown of international travel. For two people who had previously had a passion for exploring the world, the pandemic turned their attention closer to home and they decided to commit to exploring Australia.
At the moment, their daily routine is characterised by a lack of routine. Silvi explains that embracing the freedom of vanlife often means embracing constant change and learning to be flexible: “Before vanlife, I had a pretty solid routine especially around work and fitness, but being on the road means you really have to have good discipline to adhere to a routine.” She advises that “you have to learn to be flexible if you want to get things done, and not get put off course because you couldn’t stick to the routine and day/time that you would normally do that thing.”
Despite the fact that every day looks different when living on the road, Silvi and Amps still manage to bring structure to their lives. They balance part time jobs with their full time travel by having two dedicated work days each week and planning their travel itineraries around that. Unlike some nomads who use Starlink or other satellite technology, Silvi and Amps are reliant on regular cellular and wifi connections, which means that they are often without connection. This means that they can fully unplug from work on their days off and put their full attention into the adventure at hand. On the flip side, they have the added challenge of needing to head into a town or city on their work days.
Aside from work, they bring structure to their days by rising with the sun and staying consistent with a morning coffee, breakfast, and some self care. For Silvi, who works as a nutritionist, that means getting a workout done first thing. For Amps, it means taking the time to do some journaling. They then take a moment together to review and update their itinerary before setting out for the day’s adventure.
When I interviewed Silvi and Amps, they were in Denmark, Western Australia, taking a much needed rest from their travels to do some house sits and pet sits over the holiday period. While still following their regular schedule of work and exploration, these house sits provided the couple with a chance to catch up on washing and deep clean their home on wheels so they’ll be ready to set out fresh. The break also provided them a chance to sit down, reflect on the first year of their nomad lifestyle, and share some travel advice with me and our readers.
With a year of vanlife under their belts, I was curious to know about some of their challenges and successes travelling throughout 2023. Amps felt that one of the main challenges they faced was finding places to camp and sleep: “Australia has a lot of rules, and some towns are really strict with vans parking overnight on the street.” In order to maximise their options of where to park or camp overnight, they have built a van that is “100% self contained, meaning we have a toilet, a shower and a sink that connects to fresh water and grey water, so we love a good free camp or overnight stop, and as a rule we never leave a trace!”
A notable success during their first year of travelling is the warm welcome they have received in most towns and cities they’ve visited:
“We, personally as a lesbian couple, have had welcoming experiences across Australia so far, and have not experienced any homophobia, but in saying that sometimes we are pretty discreet in our affections, so as to not draw attention or risk our safety.”
In Western Australia, they found that the Perth suburbs of Northbridge and Fremantle were very welcoming, as well as the Margaret River Region, where they felt completely comfortable and at home. The other larger cities they have visited have also been welcoming and inclusive, like “most of inner city Melbourne, Launceston and Hobart in Tassie, even Darwin and Adelaide.” Aside from larger metropolitan areas, “other notable towns that we felt very open to be ourselves in were Broome and most of the NT.” They note that they “haven’t hit Queensland yet, but Silvi being from Brisbane knows that New Farm and West End are LGBTQIA+ friendly.”
Although they haven’t had any directly negative experiences as a queer couple on the road, they still feel that it’s important to have representation in the vanlife community to encourage other LGBTQIA+ travellers:
“We think it’s important to have LGBTQIA+ representation in any community, but especially in the Australian vanlife community where we feel there is still a huge gap in that representation. Being able to identify, relate and meet other LGBTQIA+ vanlifers makes vanlife less alienating, and when you’re on the road for so long, away from friends, family and allies it can feel that way, especially when you come from a very LGBTQIA+ friendly city. Sometimes you don’t see another LGBTQIA+ person for months and months, and sometimes you don’t feel 100% comfortable to be yourself in certain places, but I guess as a lesbian couple we have gotten used to that feeling, especially when travelling, but we wish it wasn’t that way and that LGBTQIA+ people and couples could feel just as comfortable being themselves as anyone else. The biggest challenge would be feeling like you have to hide the fact that you are a same sex couple in some remote towns around Australia.”
They elaborated further on the necessity of representation, explaining that visibility can combat prejudice that stems from a lack of understanding:
“We think it’s important for the LGBTQIA+ community to be seen travelling around Australia and beyond, to widen the community inclusion for LGBTQIA+ travellers. The more we are seen, the more visible LGBTQIA+ people are, which generally generates awareness and understanding to a certain extent and potentially opens up hearts and minds.”
Although Silvi and Amps have yet to meet many other LGBTQIA+ vanlifers during their travels, they hope that in the future, through social media, Australia can develop a stronger, more connected vanlife community. They explain that “there is definitely potential to widen and connect the LGBTQIA+ vanlife travel community, as they have done so in the US - with LGBTQIA+ van gatherings and events. That would be a great thing to have here in Australia.”
In addition to advocating for LGBTQIA+ representation, Silvi and Amps are also committed to acknowledging and honouring the First Nations custodians of all the places they visit:
“When we first started vanlife we wanted to acknowledge the traditional land owners of all the places we visited for our own education and also to help educate others. We also try to reference Aboriginal history and dreamtime wherever possible as we feel it’s important to listen to their stories, try to understand their culture and acknowledge First Nations as the first peoples of Australia. Australia was and always will be Aboriginal land, and taking the time to research and note the Aboriginal country name and traditional owners of the places we travel is one way we hope we are showing our respect. As immigrants we feel privileged and honoured to be Australians and be able to travel freely on country.”
Among the places they’ve visited so far around Australia, a few have stood out in particular. While it was hard to narrow down, Silvi’s favourite place so far is Karijini National Park in Western Australia. She explains that “It’s like stepping into another world, an adventurer's paradise, home of the Banyjima, Kurrama and Innawonga Aboriginal people – there is a tangible presence in the air. It’s magic. Gorgeous ancient gorges and swimming holes mixed with grade 5 hikes – everything I like all rolled into one!” Amps also loved Western Australia, with her favourite places being Cape Range National Park and the Ningaloo Coast. She compares it to the Great Barrier Reef region in Northern Queensland: “the majority of the coral and snorkelling areas are accessible from the beaches or shore! You can camp for only $22 a night and wake up and walk to the beach, where you can swim with turtles! The diversity of the area is unique and amazing - there’s so much marine life, wild life, you can hike, you can snorkel, you can dive.”
They have both also visited a few places that surprised them. Silvi was drawn to Broome, a town that was “more than just Cable Beach and camels.” She says that she was surprised by “the rich history of multiculturalism in the town and some local gems for swimming like the hidden rock pools of Gantheaume Point and Coconut Wells.” Amps says that her “most surprising place is the Oodnadatta Track in SA because I had never heard of it before we started vanlife and it was a challenging road with weird and wacky things to see along the way.” She also gave a shout out to William creek, which “was such a hospitable tiny town - we were lucky enough to fly over Lake Eyre.”
While Silvi and Amps have only completed about half of their circuit around Australia – with Queensland, Victoria, and parts of New South Wales and South Australia to go – they have come across quite a few hidden gems that they think are worth making the trip for. Among these is McLaren Vale in South Australia, which they say is worth visiting for its “unique wineries and close proximity to the Fleurieu Coast.” They also recommend Ningaloo Reef “for its world heritage premier snorkelling and beach camping” and Tasmania, which they describe as “a van-lifers dream with gorgeous NZ-like scenery, lots of free camping and oysters.” Finally, they urge travellers to consider the “great Australian outback” when planning their next trip, specifically highlighting the West Macdonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory and the Oodnadatta Track in South Australia as hidden gems worth visiting.
Silvi and Amps also have a wealth of travel knowledge beyond just the best places to go. For anyone considering giving vanlife a try – whether permanently or for a long holiday – they have put together a list of their nine best travel tips:
Be prepared to ditch the routine. It’s not that easy sticking to a regimented routine on the road - everyday is different and it depends where you are, and your itinerary for the day.
Keep it simple, but be flexible. Have a rough plan of where you are going as a start, that is in tune with the diverse Australian weather, but you can’t plan your entire year or more in a day. Go with the flow sometimes, and be prepared for last minute changes to your plan.
Travel slow. Australia is a massive country and there is a vast amount of space and kilometres between some towns that will make your eyes water. Travelling slowly also means you spend less money on fuel over the month.
Get nationwide roadside assistance. We didn’t use ours for a good 6 months or more, and then within 3 days we had a busted tire, locked the keys in the van and had an emergency with the coolant!
Use WikiCamps for finding free camps around Australia, but follow your instincts - some free camps that are listed are not legitimate and may not feel safe. If so, always trust your instincts, carry a baseball bat and move on. It’s not worth it.
Pack light. You will not use 95% of the things you bring with you on vanlife. Especially the clothing, but you do need all the essentials to cover you for all seasons. You just usually end up wearing your favourites.
Invest in a decent van and one that you can stand up in. The weather in Australia is not always sunny and you may have intentions to “follow the sun” but it’s not always that easy. When it’s raining you are going to want a van you can fit comfortably in especially if the weather forecast is rain for the next week or so!
Ditch the strict budget if you can! Have fun! You only live once - have the experiences, eat the food, drink the wines/beers. Save money in other areas if you can - like smart grocery shopping (buying in season and on sale items), using PetrolSpy (to find the cheapest fuel), travelling slow (to slow down the expenses), free camping (as much as possible) and cutting or revising subscriptions or memberships (you might be able to live without them or find something cheaper).
Do it now. Don’t save living until you retire! They say you won’t regret the things you did do, but will regret the things you didn’t do when you had the chance.