HOW WE CAME TO BUY AN AMBULANCE, THAT WE’RE GONNA LIVE IN

That’s right, we bought an ambulance.

It’s not a fully functioning one, as many have questioned, but the lights and sirens do in fact work. Although, we have yet to try them out, apparently they’re rather loud– and illegal. The inside has been gutted and set up as a camper. Before I tell you all about our funky new vehicle, I’ll back-track a little to our entire car-hunt in general.

Abel and I had been browsing online, craigslist mainly, for used campervans, RVs, conversion vans etc. In the weeks leading up to our departure it seemed like we were constantly coming across good finds. Low prices, low miles, lots of potential. A whole variety of things would pop up and we’d think, that could be the one. Then of course, as is often the case, many hiccups and mishaps stopped these “good finds” from becoming “good buys”.

About a week before we left, I emailed a woman about a campervan she was selling. It seemed perfect: not too big, completely fitted out and self-contained, only $7k. Her reply said something like this:

Hey Annika, the van is still available. I am selling because my husband passed away recently and I don’t use it much anymore. I am actually away at the moment, and the van is located in Indiana. I would like to do the sale through ebay because they are more reliable and have never let me down. The process is quite simple. You just need to make a down payment of $2000 and I will have the van sent by courier to where you are (it will take 5 days-a week). You have 5 days to inspect the van and make sure you’re happy with it. If not, you may send it back and I will refund your deposit. If all looks good with you, you can complete your payment and the courier service will provide you with the title transfer details. Let me know if this interests you and I will create a private ebay link to send to you.

How good does that sound, right? I summoned Abel over, summarised the email and he said, yep, let’s do it. I definitely wanted some more details before providing this lady with a deposit, so I asked for the VIN and a bit more information on how the van itself runs. Other than that, we thought it was pretty much sorted. I showed lots of people photos and had my fingers crossed it would all work out. Guess crossing your fingers does fuck all, because this was nothing but a heavy-weighted scam. I can thank my mum and her friend Denise for making me think carefully before signing a deal with devil. Mum sent me a link to some articles about campervan scams on the internet. Apparently there’s a HUGE market for it. If it wasn’t such an awful thing to do to someone, it would almost be a really great way to make some quick cash… almost. The article listed some pretty basic warning signs:

  • The sale is usually linked to some kind of tragedy (this lady’s “dead” husband)
  • They often say they are out of town
  • They will provide a courier service
  • They would like a down payment
  • They would like to do the sale through ebay

This lady pretty much ticked every box with gusto. I was hoping she would prove me wrong, and after asking for the VIN (for the 4th or 5th time) and a phone number I could contact her on, she told me she had done everything I had asked for and she felt as if I was wasting her time. In actual fact, she was wasting her own by not answering my god-damned questions. I told her as much, that I knew she was a scammer, and where she could stick it.

Safe to say this got my hopes down a little. It helps that Abel is generally an optimist, “we’ll find something”.

About two days before we left, my friend Kate sent me a link to a post on Instagram. An Australian girl who had just travelled across the US with her boyfriend in a converted ambulance was now selling as their trip came to a close. Immediately after seeing the photos, I frantically waved my hands, said “oh my god”a handful of times, and asked my friend Elle if I could borrow her phone as mine was dead. I messaged Alissa (previous ambo owner) and told her I was extremely interested and would love to hear more.

The ambulance was up for sell with all the necessary gear included: Tables, gas cooker, loads of kitchen supplies, mozzie nets, yoga mats, fishing rod and tackle. So much good stuff. Alissa and I messaged over the course of the next week, talking part about the ambulance but also about their entire trip in general. It was so lovely being able to ask someone for advice on so many of my central concerns; talking with her really put my mind at ease about a lot of things. For example: how did they go travelling without a shower/how did they access one? She told something I would have never thought to do. They joined Planet Fitness, a gym franchise that has 1,500 locations across the USA. The full membership, with all the bells and whistles, is only $21.95 a month and lets you bring a guest for free every single time. That way, she told me, they were able to shower and stay fit while on the road. Goodness knows we’re gonna need to stay fit, we both like the bad foods.

I asked question after question and Alissa totally indulged me, she loved talking about this stuff, and wished she’d been able to ask someone these things when they first started off.

There was only a few things turning us off the ambulance in the beginning: 1. Alissa warned me it was most definitely not insulated. They had done a few stints in cold weather and made do with thermal blankets and a campfire before bed. At this point, our travel-route was going to endure some cold weather, so this was a little concerning for me. And 2. The van was located in Florida. Lucky for me, my parents live there, but then the question was, how do we get this van up to the North-East? So we kind of pushed the ambulance to the back burner. It was awesome, but not completely feasible.

We had a bite whilst in Hawaii, but the seller was a tad odd. I spoke with him on the phone and he didn’t give me a whole lot. Tons of short, closed off answers that made me question whether he really wanted to sell the thing. I told him my aunt would be more than happy to come look, since we wouldn’t be on the east coast for another week or two. He said I could give her his number but he finished off the call with, “Yeah ok, well we’ll see when you’re out here and if the van is still available”. Uhh, ok. Denise called the following day and he told her it sold that morning. I was soo grateful that he gave us the opportunity to check it out.

It wan’t until the end of our NYC trip, as we headed out to CT, that we seriously began looking at more vans and trying to contact people. To be honest, most people gave vague responses, if any at all. Anyone who sounded eager to make a deal, was usually another scammer. I was feeling frustrated and unsure how we were going to move forward with this. Why did people continue to list their van or campers and then made no effort to try and sell them? Most options were oversized too; I could never seem to find the basic high-top camper you might see cruising along the coasts in Australia, parked at a beach carpark for a night or two before moving on to the next.

Denise didn’t have a lot of work on while we were visiting Fairfield and she graciously offered to take us to check out any vans that interested us. People were always telling us to head south to Florida and buy there. It’s warmer and swarming with oldies, so more vans would be floating around. During our first dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s place, they shed some light on things I’d actively avoided thinking about. Gross administrative things like registration and insurance. Registering your car with your state of residency isn’t an enormous issue, but I’m not really a resident, so I’d have to use my parent’s Floridian address in order to do this. The lingering question was then, how would I get the plates in order to move the vehicle from A to B? We decided going to Florida was our best, and probably last, option. Dad would be able to help us sort out the details and we could take our time with it.

Once this decision was seriously in the works, Abel asked me if the ambulance was still available. Two weeks had nearly passed since my last contact with Alissa and I thought the odds were pretty slim. “Just check”. I couldn’t believe our luck when she replied to my message saying, “Actually, it is”.

Alissa and Lachie had been super busy whilst in West Palm Beach and didn’t have much time for any viewings with other potential buyers. I told her we would be flying down in the next week and if it was still available, we’d love to come and check it out. She pretty much pushed all her other appointments until after we had booked in to see the ambulance that coming Monday. When we’d been messaging previously, Alissa had told me we were at the top of their list. I think they liked knowing it would be going to a good home, to another Aussie couple doing the same thing. Rather than a 40-year-old man who only planned to use it to tailgate football games.

We did the three-hour drive to West Palm Beach and shortly after seeing the van, we were certain we wanted it. We made an offer, paid a deposit and picked it up the following day. Dad used some points he had to put us up at the Hilton Hotel that first night (score), and during check-in the concierge upgraded us to a suite (double score). The next day was leisurely, we laid at the beach for hours (the bonus of heading to Florida and altering our travel-route, more summer weather!) and went to an Aussie/Irish bar in town where we drank $3 margaritas and ate $2 tacos (pretty decent considering this place was anything but Mexican). The waitress told the owner Rod that we were Aussies and he wandered over, plonked himself down with his large, filled wine glass and chatted to us for a good half hour.

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We spent our first night in the van (and only, so far) that evening. She was a hot one, so now we’re kind of looking forward to some cooler evenings. While cooking breakfast that next morning in a beach carpark, we made a heap of older dude friends. They were all going for a morning surf and in awe of our ambulance. “Nice rig you got there,” this one guy said as he walked towards us, leaning his head for a peak inside. They wanted to talk vans and then even better, they wanted to talk Australia. Trust me, I told them, you’ll be getting better waves than this down under. Safe to say she’s gonna be a great spark for conversation, our ambulance.

Once we were back in Tampa at Dad’s place, we did a large Walmart haul to get any of the necessary gear they didn’t already give us. Not that we had to get much. We still spent a lot, but we saved a shit load too.

The ambulance also has three spare batteries that aren’t in use, but they’re practically brand new. We’ve bought an inverter so we can utilise them (we’ve been collecting all the parts over the past few days and Abel will be setting it up soon). We bought a mini-fridge for the front cab area, which will hook up to the spare batteries, and when the time comes, we’ll be able to buy and use a cheap electrical heater to fight off the frosty winter evenings.

It’s been so nice making the ambulance into a home. We’ve slowly been moving our things in, organising the cupboards and getting it all set-up and ready for the road. Our journey has been off to a slow start due to an issue with our “arriving” inverter from Amazon. It says it was delivered on Saturday, but it most certainly was not. Not the best of luck in that department, but I can’t be too ungrateful… because we bought a fricken ambulance! I don’t really know my opinions about the operation of the universe, they’re still forming and shaping, but I guess when Alissa said the ambulance was still available, I took that as a sign– it was meant for us. In some cosmic sort of way. I guess.

So here she is, meet our ride:

 

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(If anyone can think of a good name for her, please let me know. The previous owners named her Bambi, but I think we should shake things up little)

I’ll be back soon to talk about our first part of the road trip and van life.

A

OUR TIME IN NEW YORK

Every time I’m back in “the city” it feels familiar with a subtle air of difference. Although, it’s most likely I who has changed and not New York itself. Since I grew up in Connecticut, New York was always just “the city”, much like Sydney is back home. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been there. Five years ago on my last visit to the USA, I was 18 and NYC was very impressionable on me. No doubt people feel differently about it, but to me, New York forces you to dream big, feel alive and believe you’re capable of absolutely anything. It’s filled with 8 million different kinds of people and I think that’s where this whole lack of judgement among its citizens stems from. Everyone and anyone can find their niche in this city and that’s what makes it so great.

The Jane Hotel is over a 100 years old. I booked this hotel not just for it’s prime location along the Hudson, settled right into the West Village and not far from Chelsea, but for the atmosphere I knew it would have just from looking at the pictures. Total Wes Anderson vibes. Here’s some pics from their site itself, because I repeatedly forgot to take my own…

Lobby
Ballroom and Mezzanine
Rooftop Bar

 

Rooftop Bar Balcony (all images sourced from here)

The Jane Hotel is an old sailor’s cabin, men would come and retire here for the evening after long journeys at sea. Abel overheard one night at the bar, that back in 1912 when the Titanic sank, all of the survivors were sent to The Jane. They still host a remembrance night on the anniversary each year, apparently. I knew none of this, obviously, when booking, but these photos were enough to entice me and overlook the price. I booked us a sailor’s bunk (our cheapest option) and figured we would either enjoy the space away from each other, or I’d force Abel to squeeze into one bed together (we tried this one night and it only lasted a few hours). The cabin was a shoebox. Literally, we couldn’t lay any of our bags on the floor. One person was forced to sit on their bed and wait patiently while one of us dressed and readied for the day– then we would swap. The room also meant we shared a bathroom with others, but this didn’t phase me. I’ve done the whole hostel thing many a times (some nasty, some not) and these bathrooms were exceptionally clean (I knew they would be, take a look at more photos on the link).

Quickly after shuffling into our room for the first time, and stumbling over our bags, we deeply questioned an upgrade. Fuck it, we’re in New York baby! This idea deflated real fast when I checked and noticed a standard double suite would cost us an extra $200 a night. Not entirely in our budget. We wouldn’t be spending much time in the room anyway, so it didn’t really matter. And apart from the size issue (and the springy beds) the room was nice. We both had our own TV, fresh towels, robes and slippers each day– we really couldn’t complain. Besides, the allure of the hotel was in its public locations anyway. A ballroom, rooftop bar and restaurant all on site. The first few nights the ballroom was closed for private events, so we drank at the rooftop. All the while I was thinking, where is this grand room I was promised in the photos? After talking to the bartender, he told us it would be back in full swing by the weekend and he assured us it was a good time: “Literally there will be a line outside around the corner, it gets really busy. But you guys are guests so you get to come straight through and skip the whole line.” That made party-hunting a little easier, we didn’t have to go anywhere and no stress about late night subway or taxi rides.

Now I’ll talk a little less about our hotel and a bit more about the city itself and what we did while we were there. We pretty much ticked most of the stuff off the list. I’ve done a lot of the main tourist attractions, so this visit was more about fuelling Abel’s NYC desires. He’s a simple guy though and honestly wasn’t too fussed. A lot of pressure was taken off as well because we know for a fact we’ll be coming back here, and at Christmas time too (!!), which is just magical. I really can’t wait to see the tree all lit, starry and bright, towering over Rockefeller Centre. A favourite spectacle of mine.

Since there was no pressure, we didn’t get around to visiting the World Trade Centre (I’ve been twice), but we will certainly go when we are back. It really is a must for anyone seeing the city. It’s moving and eerie, but you just can’t avoid going. We also didn’t go to the top of any buildings, such as the Empire State. I hate heights, although my dear friend Claudia dragged me up there last visit and it wasn’t too frightening. The elevator was the worst part, but the twinkling view was rewarding.

Instead of The Met (I have also frequented) we visited The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), mainly to experience Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Monet’s Water Lillies, both surrounded by plenty of other amazing artworks. Not that we really know much about art, but it’s nice knowing that despite the small amount of knowledge we might have on a topic or piece, it can still move you and make you feel a certain way. Often we don’t even know what that feeling is or what it means to us, but art is enthralling like that. It sparks something within you, allows it to burn for a few moments while you question yourself and everything around you and more often that not, we are left with more questions than answers. Answers are boring anyway, how we ask questions is what keeps life appealing. Here’s some of the works that did that for me:

I’m a fool for not remembering or taking note of this artist. Hopefully this isn’t illegal. Anyone who knows, let me know. Because I loved this.

Plus the two main attractions:

Claude Monet’s Water Lillies
Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night

Earlier this day we visited the Central Park Zoo and it’s not that I was disappointed– not at all, in fact– but Madagascar (the film), whilst it is a classic, is a total sham. There is not a single lion, zebra, hippo nor giraffe at the Central Park Zoo. The penguins and monkeys were definitely there though. The red pandas were the real highlight. Mischievous little cat-dog creatures, actually related to raccoons, constantly rummaging through the ground foliage and climbing tree branches. I wanted to take one home with me. It was like a boutique zoo, small in its overall size, but not in regards to the animals’ spaces or the quality. Walking all around were zoo workers offering facts and conversation with the visitors. It really was a sweet place.

Red Panda
Sweet sleeping grizzly. If the claws weren’t there, I could cuddle this thing forever.

One of the most exciting things we ticked off was a broadway show. I wasn’t too sure how I could drag Abel to one of these, since he’s not much a ‘musical’ guy. I don’t mind the simple breaking-out-into-song, I kind of wish life was like that, so musicals really do it for me. Not to mention there were some killer choices: Mean Girls, Pretty Woman, Frozen. Like honestly, any of those would have served me well. Not to worry though, on our first day I spotted a little advertisement perched on the top of a yellow-taxi. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Not a musical and pretty perfect for two die-hard HP fans.

We lucked out in the ticket department, because this show is actually a two-part act. Not your standard show with intermission, but two shows. I knew we couldn’t really see one and not the other, that just wouldn’t make a lot of sense, right? So I purchased the two-part tickets and damn, we got lucky. Orchestra seats booked the evening before. We had been mentally preparing to sit down for a good 5-6 hours of play-time. I thought that was pretty weird, but who was I to question these things. Part one ended and when everyone was up and leaving we asked the lady next to us when we would see part two, “Come back at 7:30. Your two part ticket gave you the matinee, part one, and the evening show, part two.” Now that made a lot more sense. A quick break for Chipotle and the whole time we were thinking, what will part two bring?! 

I had seriously questioned this play when it was first released. I remember flicking through it whilst in Kmart once and seeing names of deceased characters in speaking roles and I thought, well that’s just fucking stupidBut honestly, not only was it well-written, but the entire performance was top notch. I mean, we did watch it on broadway, but the acting, the music, the theatrics was all of such a high calibre. All that talent on display, while being back in the magical world of wizardry, was just sublime. Don’t question it, just go. And see both parts. I have no idea how someone could go to part one and that alone. You’d be left hanging in the middle of an epic tale… so that’s how they make the money!

The last big tourist thing we did was venture over to Ellis Island. Ellis Island is where, for years, immigrants came through for processing before entering the United States. I’d been here once before, in 5th grade on a field trip. It was nice to go back with a bit more appreciation for history. Our ferry over stopped at Liberty Island, but we didn’t get off. You can see the Statue of Liberty as you pull up, and to be honest, that’s the best view you’re gonna get of her. Out in the water while she stands tall in the distance.

Lady Liberty

Those were really the main things we experienced while in NY. I mean, we ticked plenty of other things off our list, most of them being food items. A good slice of New York pizza on more than one occasion. We frequented Village Pizza, a few blocks from The Jane. Serious authentic quality, the sauce was a treat to the taste buds. And on our first night we took full advantage of “the city that never sleeps”– we ordered pizza and hot cookies to our room, well past midnight, just because we could.

Village Pizza

I’ve been following a Chef (named Anthony, @chefanthony_ballatosnyc) who works at Emilio’s Ballato for over a year now on Instagram. I actually came across his page from, I believe it was Miley Cyrus. The photos he posts of their food is seriously mouth-watering. I used to scroll through his feed, starving for one of these authentic Italian meals. I knew it was of high quality, not only because of their patron Miley Cyrus, but the entire array of celebrities that go there. Obama included. They don’t take reservations, they operate on a first-come first-served basis, which made things a bit easier for us. I knew we’d have to arrive as soon as they opened to snag a table. Surely people in the city aren’t going to be feasting on their evening meal at 5pm, right? Luckily we got a table, because they were filling up fast. Not long after we were seated, a queue slowly started to form and snake its way onto the street. The food was exceptional. Simple, high-quality, fresh food. No wonder so many well-known people frequent there. Abel was seriously convinced that seated behind us was former vice-president Joe Biden. Any time we weren’t in silence from shovelling homemade pasta into our gobs, we were debating about the white-haired man. It was not Joe Biden. I repeat, it was not Joe Biden.

However, we did spot one ‘celebrity’, a man staying at our hotel. On our first night I saw him at the rooftop bar, turned to give a casual smile and probably held his eyes for a moment too long. I instantly recognised him, but for the life of me, I cannot tell you where from. I’m not crazy either, he’s definitely ‘known’, because a few moments later a young girl went up to chat with him and take a selfie. She shuffled out of there pretty quickly so I couldn’t catch his name. I spent a lot of my time in New York googling “actors with grey hair and scruffy beards”. One day I’ll spot him on the screen and squeal with pure relief.

It was really just nice to wonder the streets, ride the subway, and visit the hotspots (Washington Square Park, Times Square, the Chelsea Highline) like we were little live-ins. If you can get enough time to visit the city properly, you’ve kinda gotta pretend you’re a local. I mean, no doubt we gave off tourist vibes with the Aussie accents (although, fair warning, mine is becoming a pure hybrid at the moment), but you really have to do your best to live New York like a true New Yorker. Push through the crowds, walk fast, do whatever you want to do, how you want to do it.

But don’t worry, we still managed to stop and look up at the towering buildings in awe, and let the bright lights wash through us. Plus Abel got really excited about the squirrels in Central Park (way to blow our cover, man).

Squirrel! (He is still getting excited by them)
Central Park

Empire State

Chelsea Highline

Now we’re in my hometown of Fairfield, CT, staying at my Aunt Melissa and Uncle Michel’s place. This was always my second home while growing up, so it’s really nice to be back here. We have done… not a lot this whole week. Once again, we’ve been snoozing ’til about 10 or 11 am most mornings. But hey, why not? Most days consist of going for a stroll, starting a fire outside and reading by it for hours to warm up. The leaves are turning more orange and yellow with each day that passes. The air is fresh, a lot like our winter temperatures back home, but we’re slowly becoming acclimated. Abel has been wearing thermals under his clothes the past few days, but you do what you’ve got to do! It really is my favourite time of year around here. Halloween is creeping up and I forgot how much I loved that holiday. Just ask Abel, I can’t stop randomly chirping, “Happy Halloween!”, “Trick or treat!” Autumn brings so many things with it: the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, apple cider and freshly fallen leaves. There’s nothing like it.

Though we won’t be experiencing it for too much longer. This week was meant to be our time to buy a van, but we’ve made slight alterations to our original plans. Since we’re going to have to register a car in the country, you need a permanent address, which my dad has in Florida. Buying a car down there, closer to him, makes more sense. Plus, there are a lot more options for vans/campers down there. Tomorrow, we fly to Tampa. This definitely changes our road-tripping route, but we don’t mind. I haven’t seen my Dad since January, so seeing him before Christmas is going to be really nice. Plus, there is a real funky vehicle we’re going to check out on Monday. Fingers crossed it all works out. Stay tuned, because I know y’all are gonna love it.

A