Growing up in Tassie, Jess Bonde has spent much of his life outdoors. It was only when he started studying outdoor education that his love of nature flourished. Now he’s rigging up his Land Rover Defender to road trip from Tassie to Iceland.
Jono Tan: What’s the make and model of your adventure rig?
Jess Bonde: It’s a Land Rover Defender 2003 Td5.
When did you start converting the camper to put on the back of the Defender?
So that started in November last year, though I’d done a tonne of research on it all beforehand. Initially, I was going to try and get someone to build the shell and I was just going to do the interior fit out, but I was getting quotes of up to $65,000 for a shell which seemed absolutely ridiculous.
So I looked into if it’d be possible to build the shell myself. Though it was going to be a massive challenge, I realised it was going to be a lot cheaper doing it this way. So I gave it a crack! The cost at the minute of the entire camper build is just shy of $20,000, so I definitely saved a few pennies there.
Land Rover Defender & Campervan // WildbondePLAY VIDEO
What was the biggest lesson you learnt during this build?
I’m usually one for winging it and hoping for the best, but this one took heaps of planning. When it came down to the actual engineering of the camper, it was much more pertinent to get that right. For instance, I had to be so careful with weight. Every item I included was assessed for its use, longevity, and weight. Whereas in vans you can just load it up and it’ll be fine but the camper is a completely different story. So I guess it was the importance of actually planning rather than winging everything my entire life.
So I guess our primary school teachers were right in the end, planning is key.
What’s one tip that you’d give to someone looking into getting a mobile home but haven’t made the jump.
Go and rent a camper or borrow a friends van for a couple of weeks because so many people love the idea of it but the reality is very different. Try before you buy. Then if you’ve passed that test and are ready to take the plunge and buy your first vehicle, really think about the amount of time you want to spend in it and the number of luxuries that you want to have inside. Doing this will be the key in either helping you sustain the lifestyle or turn you away from it.
There are heaps of good things about living on the road, what’s the worst thing about it?
Cleanliness can be a bit of a challenge sometimes. As soon as I get in the vehicle, I’ll happily lick plates clean sometimes because it’s just a pain in the ass to wash stuff up completely. Things just get so dirty, but it’s a part of being on the road and something you have to accept.
Are there any other mobile homes or adventure rigs that you’d recommend people check out?
I’ve got three recommendations. Expedition Earth are a Kiwi couple travelling all over the world in their Jeep and I think what they’re doing is pretty inspiring. GrizzlyNbear are another couple with a Defender and a camper who have great YouTube content. The Way Overland are an Aussie couple who were imprisoned in Iran and are due to get back on the road soon. I think it’s pretty epic that they’re still keen to hit the road after everything that happened and I’m happy they still have the stoke for it.
Do you have any outdoor memories when you were growing up in Tassie that has stuck to you?
I grew up on a farm so I’ve always spent a good chunk of my time outdoors, but to be honest, I only really fell in love with the outdoors when I was at university studying Outdoor Education. The turning point came while we were doing a climbing course down in Freycinet National Park. I remember looking around while we were learning to climb these huge steep cliffs and just had one of those moments where I thought ‘How good’s nature and how good’s Tassie!’ It’s insane that this is all here and is free to access.
Tell us about that massive trip that you had to put on hold due to COVID.
When a friend of mine once mentioned the idea of buying a vehicle in the UK and driving it back to Australia, I thought it was a great idea. So I bought the Defender and built the camper in Australia with the goal of doing the trip the other way, and driving from Tasmania all the way through to Iceland. There are so many amazing places to see on the way through Australia, South East, and Central Asia. The trip was also designed as a way to ramp up the content creation, storytelling, and help me to build up my brand along the way as well.
You’ve currently got the Jeep Defender and campervan, what happened to the last couple of vans you owned?
So I actually gave my last two vans away through Instagram in North America. So basically anyone who bought a print, went into the draw to win a van. In the end, the winners got a van for 25 bucks and left with a print as well. I’ve also had two other vans even before that which I sold a long time ago.
What’s your favourite piece of photography gear?
I have this clip that carries my camera on the front of my backpack by Peak Design. That is something I use every single day. It’s so easy on hikes and is the coolest photography accessory you can buy.
How did you find your way into the travel content space?
For a start, I’ve always done things that I wanted to do before worrying about how the money comes into it. The first paycheck I ever got for a photography job was with Corona in Australia. At the time, I was doing a road trip with my van and tagging them in my photos.
Eventually, they reached out and ended up doing a blog piece for them which was a pretty big deal to me at the time. At the same time, the whole van life side of things started to grow and these little jobs along the way weren’t really paying the bills, but they were helping me stay on the road just a little longer. Eventually, I got to a point where business picked up enough for me to continue doing my thing. Its been a really long journey though.
Is it wrong to say that living van life in a way created the major spark in you to pursue a career in photography?
Not at all. Having such a photogenic thing to take pictures of at the very start really helped a lot. I truly do love inspiring people to get out for a road trip on their holidays rather than staying at home and to be honest, I don’t think I would have the number of followers or business without van life.
Out of all the places you’ve travelled to, what country takes the cake for the most picturesque landscapes?
Iceland or Arctic Norway. Both of those places are so insane that it’s hard to pick one or the other. Though Iceland has more diversity, there’s just something about Arctic Norway that’s so mindblowing.