Ditch Everything and Get Y’Self a Van


You might remember Devon Turnbull from the last issue of Monster Children we were able to print (we’re printing again in November!).

I described him as a ‘keenster’, meaning he is excessively keen. In his recent print feature, we chatted with Devon about how keen he is on bespoke audio, tube amps and heavy hi-fi nerdery like that. But for this first story in our new online travel feature, Neck of the Woods, we talked with Devon about the other thing he’s wildly enthusiastic about: van life. Devon doesn’t do things in half-measures, and when he became interested in four-wheeled adventure travel, he was all in. Neck of the Woods is all about lighting a fire under you, the reader, and getting you psyched to go out there and have a look around in your own backyard—which is exactly what Devon and his wife Kassandra did, and they discovered their backyard is pretty damn big.

What is this beast truck of yours?

It’s a decommissioned army ambulance. The base is a Mercedes 250 GD (G Wagen) chassis cab, long wheelbase, with a Zeplin-built ambulance box. I bought it from the German army a few years ago when it was decommissioned, and self-built the camper where the ambulance used to be.

On the way south in Morocco.

Please list all the modifications you made to it and why.

Okay. I converted the ambulance box to a camper with a lifting roof—actually had to import the parts from Australia to Germany…

No way.

Yup. And there’s a diesel cooker, solar power, pressurized hot and cold water, chemical toilet, DC powered refrigerator, and more. It’s basically like gut-renovating a home. On the truck side, we swapped the engine for a more efficient Mercedes turbo diesel with much more power, changed the gearing to higher speed gearing and added some creature comforts so that driving long distances is more tolerable. The G Class is already extremely capable off-road, so it was more a matter of making it comfortable to drive on the road.

The rear wall of the camper open.

When did you start getting into this stuff and why?

We—my wife, Kassandra, and I—built our first camper five to six years ago as an alternative to buying a second home outside of the city.

2016-2018 travels.

Where have you been?

Our original plan was just to do relatively short trips around the east coast, mostly just beach camping in Montauk, NY, where the summer rental properties are insanely expensive. But eventually, that first camper took us across the country, all over the Baja Peninsula, down the Pacific Coast of Mexico and all over the Southwest USA. It’s incredibly liberating when you get really mobile and comfortable enough to live long term. When I found the Mercedes G Ambulance, I was originally going to just import it, but then I started thinking it would be a wasted opportunity to not also tour Europe, and while you’re at it you might as well dip down to North Africa and explore Morocco. It can kind of snowball once you start exploring. If you’re going to go here, you might as well check out there, and so on.

2018-2019 travels

What have you seen that you would not have seen, were it not for your vehicle of choice?

Well, obviously, I could list a bunch of incredible remote places where we’ve been able to spend stretches of time—especially difficult to access surf spots. But another thing I love about this kind of travel is the inconspicuous places that you end up between the destinations. I think that experiencing different cultures is one of the most important aspects of travel, and I love to get an impression of a place just going about mundane daily tasks and using places like laundromats and grocery stores—places you would miss if you just flew in and stayed in a hotel. I think that getting outside of your cultural bubble should be a requirement for everyone.

A series of wrong turns happened to lead us here.

What advice would you give to someone considering getting in on the truck life?

I would say do it! Don’t be scared! People are great and helpful everywhere we’ve been. If you’re a nice, generally likeable person, you’ll be fine. If not, maybe stay home (laughs). Also, if you have time, ease your way into it. Get your basic setup dialled and then do some short trips to figure out what works well and what needs to be re-thought.

Sahara.

Do you miss being out on the road when you’re back home?

Yeah, so much. A lot of people assume that with our rig situation we must be killing it through COVID, but we actually have not left home since it started hitting here (NYC) back in early March. We feel incredibly fortunate to have all of the memories from the last several years on the road, and we can’t wait to get back to it.

Interior of the Mercedes G Class Ambulance Camper.

Five coolest moments on the road.

Okay… The first time we saw the Pacific Ocean after driving across the USA, crossing sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, a special trip with @kanoazimmerman @tearevor and @lebub in a super private zone in Baja, stargazing in Big Bend National Park in West Texas, aaand… sleeping on the deck of a cargo ship crossing the Sea of Cortes. And splurging on one night at the Royal Mansour in Marrakech (one of the top-rated luxury hotels in the world) and realising that, while dope, it paled in comparison to our experiences in the camper.

Dinner / sunset.

Five not-coolest moments of the road.

Sleeping on the deck of a cargo ship crossing the Sea of Cortes. Then that one time in Mexico we accidentally camped by ourselves in a town that had been abandoned due to a crimewave…

Learning to bust dunes in the Sahara.

Oh shit!

We were fine. Number three, being extremely sick in Mexico. And four: driving around into the night trying to find somewhere to sleep where we won’t get kicked out of. In our experience, this is only a problem in wealthy parts of the USA.

What’s number five?

Honestly, it’s difficult to come up with bad memories on the road. We’ve been extremely lucky. I’m sure there is something toilet-related, though, if I think hard enough.

Just text me some photos later.

Okay.

Marrakesh.

What’s your next adventure look like?

We were supposed to take the ferry from Denmark to Iceland and spend a chunk of August driving around Iceland. Really hoping that’s just delayed until next summer, COVID permitting.

Check out Devon and Kassandra’s adventures at @onthroadhome

Sand people.
A Berber village near the border of Algeria.
Stairway to Heaven by Hannsjörg Voth.
Squad.
Small river crossing in Merzouga.

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