Ever wondered why caravans are cool again? One local mum's experience shows that it might be because the journey - which often means the reno - can be as enjoyable as the finished product.
A few years ago, Wollongong photographer Jennifer Piazza Vello completely gutted and renovated her mother's kitchen.
From sketching a smarter layout to tiling the splash back and installing new cabinetry and flooring, she did most of the work.
So when Jennifer decided her next labour of love would be a caravan fixer-upper, she already had the DIY credentials. All she needed was the perfect vintage caravan.
"I knew what I wanted, even down to the layout," the mother-of-two said. "It needed it to sleep four people - bunks at one end, and a double or queen at the other."
A search on Gumtree yielded a wide and weird world of vans: completely gutted vans, vans with no rego, vans that had been renovated and vans that were way too expensive for the condition they were in.
But it was only after she opened up her search Australia-wide that she found the one - a 16-foot Millard with an asking price of $3800 (which she managed to get down to $3000), sitting idly on a property in rural Victoria.
It looked structurally sound and in reasonable condition, but it was the layout that convinced Jennifer to take the plunge.
"I was immediately smitten," she said. "From all my research and pinning on Pinterest, I could already see her potential with minimal fuss ... something I could flip with a splash of paint, new linen and curtains.
"I convinced my other half that it was now or never - life is too short, the kids are growing up too fast and that it would be my project."
The problem of the caravan being in Victoria was solved with a few calls to relatives in that state. They would pick up the van and keep it safe until Jennifer could tow it back to Wollongong.
As the #vanlife movement gathers pace, vintage caravans like this one are being snapped up all over the country.
A search of the hashtag on Instagram brings up millions of posts showing people renovating and relishing their caravans as they look to escape their high-cost, high-stress lives.
Jennifer's own interest in the #vanlife movement sprouted from a desire to relive some of her happiest childhood memories.
"My father owned a pop-top camper van when I was young. I can still remember its smell, the rainbow door curtain and playing shops in its large brown annexe.
"We only went on a few camping trips in it, but I often reminisce about those times - exploring, freedom ... the simple things."
Until this point she'd hoped the reno process would be simple too. But having bought the van sight unseen after being assured it was leak-free, she was in for a rude shock.
An inspection revealed existing water damage in one corner, past damage patched up here and there, and moisture creeping up the cabinets.
Despite feeling like she'd bitten off more than she could chew, Jennifer and her family took the van on the road for a few nights in its original state to get an idea of what worked and what didn't.
The functional layout was a winner. But the van was in dire need of a new fridge, a microwave, outside cooking options, a handmade awning - and some all-important block-out blinds.
As for Millie's makeover (the van by now had a name), Jennifer wanted to give the musty, 1970s mission brown caravan - complete with lino floor, dark wood laminate cabinets, vinyl dining setting and lime green curtains - a modern update without losing its unique fittings.
"I loved the idea of using a warm seaglass palette for the cabinetry, pops of gold for the existing door handles and hinges and hints of timber throughout to hopefully create a warm coastal vintage vibe, almost like you're on holiday mode as soon as you step inside."
Over six weeks Jennifer got stuck into the repairs and refurbishment a couple of hours a day while the kids were at school. Then she had a six-week break over winter, followed by another month of part-time tinkering to get Millie in the shape she's in now.
Apart from the removal of the water-damaged panel and removing and resealing the windows, she did it all on her own.
"There was nothing I couldn’t handle," she said. "I think the worst part was all of the painting. That felt like it was never ending.
"With Pinterest and Instagram, anyone can DIY. I grew up watching my father tinkering and making all sorts of things from furniture to cool gadgets for around the home. He taught me to pick up a hammer and just give things a go."
The project's not quite finished - the van's exterior still needs a lick of paint - but Jennifer is thrilled with what she has achieved.
"I think it's everything I envisaged and a little bit more. It has a calming and warm feel, with a bit of a vintage coastal vibe.
"Millie gives us family time, the freedom to travel, go on exciting adventures and a whole new outlook on life. We can get out for weekends and short trips and it's an affordable holiday option.
"We are living in a fast-paced world that revolves around work, school, rushing to and from after-school activities, homework, dinner, bedtime routine. I guess I'm trying to teach our little family to slow down a bit."
Follow Jennifer's journey on the Instagram account @fortheloveofmillie.
JENNIFER'S TOP TIPS FOR CARAVAN HUNTING
- Do your research: I've learned so much about prices, conditions and layouts from following other van rookies and renovators on Instagram and keeping an eye on Gumtree.
- Be flexible: I didn’t want to be pulling up floors or walls - I only wanted to make cosmetic changes - but we knew Millie had a damaged panel, so we were willing to take on a bit of extra work.
- Check for rust: Get underneath the van and check the chassis and draw bar for rust. Surface rust is okay as it can be sanded back, treated and repainted.
- Silicon everything: We resealed all the windows and metal trims on the exterior of the van as well as all the exterior light fittings. After we re-sheeted Millie’s water-damaged panel, it continued to leak. It meant I had to sit in the van on a rainy day and watch and wait. Turns out water was coming in from the tail lights.
- Use light materials: Using materials like self-adhesive tiles and foam mattresses will keep the weight down for towing.