Getting Used to the Flying Dutchman

Flying Dutchman

As a kid, I loved watching Scooby Doo. I had an entire collection of those chunky video-tapes that I used to watch, time and time again. I always dreamt that, one day, I would travel the world in a similar van, looking to understand, and maybe solve, its mysteries, just like Scooby. After graduating from university, I went to Australia and this dream of mine came true. Alongside my friend, we hired a camper van and decided to let the road guide our travels. It was everything and more than I could ever have imagined. Spoiler alert: it was not all milk and honey.

We started of in Melbourne after a night of partying, exhausted but beaming with excitement. With massive backpacks and at least one bag in each hand, we headed to catch the train that was taking us to the auto-shop from where we would pick up the van. Having reached the destination, it is impossible to forget the feeling of amusement and worry at the sight of what was about to become our home. The parking spot was filled with worn, shabby and rusty vans. Do not for a second assume I am trying to describe vintage. Nope!

After signing all the necessary paperwork, ‘The Flying Dutchman’ was ours for the next couple of weeks. We hit the road with Sydney in mind as our next destination. My friend was driving, while I was trying to figure out a way out of the city, when we remembered the lady at the shop telling us to avoid roads with tolls if we wanted to save some money. We were tired, with not much of a plan. Between that and figuring out the best way to travel, we were both edgier than usual, which resulted in a bit of an argument.

After cooling down, we chatted and realised that the two of us were in this together, and we needed some rules. We settled for just one: ALWAYS communicate openly. We decided that if we wanted to make this work, we had to know the other person’s needs and desires and find a middle ground, maybe even compromise at times.

Getting used to driving the van was one of the main reasons for us laughing. Being used to driving European cars made everything a little confusing. Simple tasks like signalling became quite challenging given that we hit the windscreen wiper every other time we wanted to use the indicator. After having that one figured out, our next struggle was mastering the antique heating system of the van, which literally had two options: heat or no heat.

Given the deteriorated state of our van, we could feel the wind coming through every crack, so heat seemed like a good option. Or at least it did until, one by one, we were taking of our clothes layer by layer and we were sweating like crazy. Heat on – clothes off and enjoy the sauna, heat off – clothes on and prepare for Minnesota.

It was roughly 800 kms to Sydney and we were barely half way there. Being as tired as we were, we decided it would be safer to get some rest. We knew Australia had plenty of camper parks, all we had to do was find one. I downloaded an app and found a free camper park not too far from where we were. We got there only to find a deserted area with a shady toilet and no lights.

Reluctant doesn’t come close to describing my friend. She felt unsafe and frankly the place was indeed dodgy. In spite of everything, we decided to stay, motivated by a desire to have the ‘authentic’ van experience. Little did we know. We parked our Flying Dutchman and started getting ready for bed. If brushing our teeth in a pitch-black toilet with numbingly cold water and putting on our pyjamas at temperatures below zero was not that bothersome, not knowing how to make the bed was quite problematic and frustrating.

The bed had an extension that we had to assemble. The process was similar to making a puzzle – we rotated and tried fitting every element in any possible way, until it all found its place. The trouble with that was that every morning we had to take down the bed if we wanted to get to the fridge, which was positioned quite centrally, somewhere underneath the bed. Pretty unpractical, right?

The next day, we made it to Sydney. We were famished and decided to hit the town. While wandering the streets of Sydney, we spotted a CD store. We exchanged a cheeky smile and entered it. After a few minutes of strolling around, I decided to ask the owner if he had any second hand CDs. He took us to the back office where two gigantic boxes filled with CDs were waiting for us. After half an hour of digging into those boxes, we selected around 70 (yeah, you got that right). Altogether, we paid $7. What a bargain that was! Believe me, there is nothing worse than being stuck in a van, driving for hours with no radio signal.

  • First lesson: before renting a van, maybe check it out first.
  • Second lesson: understand the driving rules and map out your journey.
  • Third rule: honest and constructive communication will take you a long way, literally in our case.
  • Fourth rule: Take a little time to understand how the van works, after all it will be your home for a while.
  • Fifth lesson: before heading to a camper park, at least google it first.
  • Sixth lesson: Music! Music! Music!

Credits

Image Title Author License
Flying Dutchman Flying Dutchman Teo Dascal CC BY-SA 4.0

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