We all have nostalgic travel stories that we tell time and time again to new friends, old friends, and strangers we meet on the road. My go-to story is a tale of a time I hitchhiked through Nicaragua in the back of a pickup truck owned by a cheerful crew of fruit sellers. One of my boyfriend’s favorite travel tales recounts a time when he and his friend rented a luxury RV and picked up four other friends at the airport. The six of them drove around Tasmania, stopping wherever they pleased. “Man, I’d love to do that again!” He’d end the story, a twinkle in his eye.
On a recent trip to Australia, I arrived in Victoria a few days ahead of my boyfriend. In an effort to win a prize for being Girlfriend of the Year, I looked into renting an RV, picking him up at the airport, and taking us on a weekend road trip down the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles. The Twelve Apostles are seven limestone stacks created over thousands of years as the churning Southern Ocean chipped away at Australia’s coastline.
As I scoured the web for prime rental deals, numbers in the four digits flashed before my eyes. I scrolled and scrolled from page to page until finally, I found a vehicle that I could afford. It had a chic 70s vibe and it reminded me of the campervan we used to own. It’d be perfect.
The day of my boyfriend’s flight arrival, I typed in the pickup location on Google Maps and was shocked to see that it was over 30 minutes away from the airport. Time was running out and it looked like I wouldn’t be rolling into the arrivals terminal while waving out of window in a pimped-out RV after all.
No matter, it’d still be a surprise. We hopped in a taxi and drove to a parking lot where each space was filled with gargantuan TVs and souped up campervans. When my boyfriend saw all the vehicles in the lot, he beamed.
“We’re getting one of these?” He asked.
I looked around. A lot of the RVs and campervans looked like the ones listed in the $1000+ range, not the $250 rental I’d expected.
“Yeah! We’re taking one of these to the Twelve Apostles!”
After a twenty-minute wait, a man took us to the back lot where they had the biggest and best RVs. I kept looking around, wondering where my retro-van was hiding.
Tucked between two immaculate RVs, we saw a white van that looked good from a distance but revealed rust stains as we got closer. It had purple flowers spray painted along its side and a large ding in its front bumper. My boyfriend was still smiling but the light had gone out from his eyes. We walked around the vehicle and scribbled on the sheet where you marked the dings and scratches. I noted the 455,502 kms on the odometer. The worker didn’t flinch when we handed back the paper pockmarked in ink. I contemplated the difference between a scuff and a skid. The van came with table, bed, pots, pans, and bedding. I blurred my vision on purpose to avoid noticing any stains on the mattress.
Living in Western Australia for five years, we’d seen our fair share of backpackers puttering around in spray painted vans. They’re notorious for camping at popular beaches and leaving a wake of beer bottles and roaches as they drive away.
I for one embraced our new identities as soap-dodging hippies rattling down the Great Ocean Road. My boyfriend, on the other hand, was more reluctant. We piled our surfboards into the back of the van and drove to Torquay to pick up some surfboards and surf gear. I noticed he’d park away from the shopfront in a failed attempt to hide from the locals.
With each hour we drove in the van, it started to grow on us. We passed through incredible landscapes of bushland and along cliff ledges that revealed the dramatic ocean below. At night, we slept in a beachside campsite and tucked ourselves under the sheets. I reminisced all night about the many times we drove through Western Australia in our own campervan. The hippie van wasn’t insulated, so I froze my ass off and couldn’t sleep.
In the morning, we stopped at a surf spot before continuing onto the Twelve Apostles. When we finally arrived, I wondered if we’d stumbled into a tourist trap. A welcome center, bathrooms, and buses of fellow foreigners greeted us as we pulled into the parking lot.
But when we walked to the coast and saw each lonely limestone stack standing in the ocean for ourselves, it was obvious that the journey was worth it. Saltwater mist wafted through the air, leaving a thin layer of salt onto my skin. We stayed a while and let ourselves be mesmerized by the water, wishing we could do it all again.