Building your own mobile home is a dream to many, but a reality for only a select few. I’ve known Rhiannon Phillips (aka Rhi Rhi), since we lived together at uni, just before she decided to kick it on four wheels, so it was time to catch up with her and her journey on the road.
JT: What’s the make and model of the bus?
RP: It’s a 1990 Nissan Civilian. Her name is Mintie.
How’d you get Mintie?
I bought her privately off a high school for $3,150, drove her home and started converting it with my Dad and grandfather.
How long have you had her now?
I’ve had it for coming on three years. The build took about two years so I’ll have been in it for a year now, coming up next week.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to convert a bus?
When I started realizing that the housing market was going to be very expensive to get into and I wouldn’t be in a position to get into that for a long time. So, I started thinking about bus/van life a lot, probably only a few months before I bought the bus. Then the bus sort of just popped up and became a thing very quickly.
What have you done to modify the bus and what are you most proud of?
Well to make it livable, there are a few things I suppose. Firstly, taking all of the passenger seats out except the driver and the passenger driver’s seat. Then doing all of the little interior things that I really like to make it a home, like the wood roof and the white and hardwood benches in the kitchen. Installing gas and solar electricity were also major jobs in the conversion.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during the build?
I learned so much just because I had no tradie skills. I’ve always been relatively hands-on and always picked things up from my Dad. But, I learned every aspect of how to run wires, how to drill pilot holes properly, how to think about countersinking and not splitting wood and structures, and how to fasten structures properly. Yeah, there’s just so much.
What’s one piece of underrated gear in the bus that you need to have?
Oh my God, a dustpan and broom.
You’re such a mum.
It is so handy. Everyone asks me that and I’m always like, you need a fucking dustpan and broom. Don’t worry about a vacuum. Just get a dustpan and broom. And the other thing I would say would just be a head torch, a decent head torch.
Do you have a recommended make?
No, I’ve just got a Petzl one and I don’t even know what make it is. Its’s the same colour as the bus though, so…
You’ve got to colour coordinate.
Yeah, exactly. Oh, also a Bluetooth speaker. Definitely need that.
What’s your favourite feature of the bus?
I’d say my bed. I love my bed and I love the sun. I’m literally laying in it right now, and the sun’s shining in on me. It’s so nice. I spent just that little bit more and instead of getting a foam mattress, I got a spring mattress and it’s the best thing ever.
What’s your favourite place you’ve parked up?
That’s a huge one. I’d say either Bawley Point or Tathra on the South Coast of NSW.
If you just up and left, how long could you live off the grid for with everything you have in the bus?
Well, you still need access to water. But if it’s a rainy area, I can collect water off the roof of the bus with some channels. I can easily pack a months’ worth of food into here, so if I have enough water, I can stay off grid for as long as I want. Otherwise, if I fill up on water, I can hold 110 liters which lasts…
So what’s the longest that you’ve gone without restocking supplies?
Without filling up or anything, two weeks. That’s comfortably too. In saying that, I don’t shower. I’ll go to a river or whatever to bath, wash myself.
Yeah, you’re a grub.
Yeah, I’m a grub.
How do you make your living while you’re on the road?
I sell my art on Native Colours, where I hand-paint Australian flora as a side gig and then I work in agriculture while I’m travelling.
What kind of gigs do you work in agriculture?
In Cairns, I worked in the horticulture sector. So I was doing the potatoes and pumpkins. And then I went out to Alice Springs and worked as a Jillaroo for six weeks, but I would usually look for slightly longer contracts than that. I also worked with sheep and cattle for six weeks, while I was in Bega as well.
What’s the best road trip you’ve done in Mintie?
Yeah, that’s a good one. Either the far South Coast is awesome, just hopping along both slightly inland and along the coast. I would start rating it quite highly from Bermagui, all the way down to Mornington Peninsula. That whole section is awesome. But I haven’t done the Great Ocean Road yet.
Oh, that’s a must!
That’s a must, but I feel like if you want somewhere to not as busy, that section of coastline is stunning. And I had so many people say the Mornington Peninsula and if you go right to the tip, is better than the 12 Apostles.
How much of your build was DIY and how much was bought from a shop? Are there any resources for people looking to do the same?
Well, I mean I’m an amateur, but I did have a lot of help. I would say it was 85% DIY and 15% pro. In saying that, 100% of it could have been done DIY. I just was wanting it done faster than my Dad, and my brother and all of my friends could help me.
So I ended up just forking out the money to get the gas and the solar put in professionally, though I really think my Dad and my brother could have done a better job. So, I would not recommend finding the cheapest plumber you can to do it, because you pay for what you get and you get what you pay for.
Yes, definitely. Also, people will take you for a ride if they think you don’t know what you’re talking about, which I don’t. They will be like ‘Oh no, you definitely need this’ or what they’ve put in doesn’t fit the regulations of motor homes, things like that.
For rookies and amateurs, utilize all of the advice that your friends give you. There’s a girl that I’m following on Instagram at the moment who’s doing a van build and she just said that everyone is helping her on Instagram. She’s literally getting through it with tradie’s advice over the internet. So, it’s doable. Definitely doable. Just be willing to put in the work!
So, you’ve found a good little community of van-lifers?
Definitely! I mean, you can see people that you’re going to click with straight away through their social media, and then can see the others that on a different sort of adventure to me. That’s awesome. I want to follow their adventure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean I want to follow them in real life on their adventure. I don’t want to go and hang out with them, but what they’re doing is awesome.
Do you have any future plans?
Yep. I can not wait to do South Australia, the coastline and all the way around Western Australia. I am hanging out for that, once all this COVID stuff’s done.
Can you sum up your rig in three words, your bus? Come on, this is easy for you to surely.
Living the dream… that’s so normal, classic.
Oh true! Eat, play, bus is totally me. I mean that’s why I named my Instagram that. I was also thinking, Mintie Phresh with a P H. But I feel like I’m not that gangster, I can’t say that. Yeah, no. Eat play bus, totally.
Are there any other van lifers you recommend people check out on Instagram?
Okay. Well, I froth these guys – The Good Life Griffiths. They’re sort of from a different van angle to me. I’m solo doing my thing and enjoying it. They are more, hey, we are high school sweethearts, we got married young and now we’ve got three kids and they’re awesome. They are living bus life and they are the ultimate adventure couple. And he free dives and hunts all their food and she home schools the kids and all that sort of stuff. And it’s just awesome. I would 100% recommend checking them out.
Feature Image by Loic Leray