- Maddison Milton, her partner Kyle, and their son Reef moved into a Mercedes van in February.
- As avid travelers, the couple wanted to be able to spend more time together doing what they love.
- Despite living in a tiny space, their connection is deeper and they get to spend time in nature.
Getting woken up by the sun has become almost normal for Maddison Milton and her partner Kyle Markham, who live in a van with their three-year-old son Reef.
Avid travelers, the couple decided to move into their Mercedes Sprinter van full-time in February, after about two years of escaping on getaways when they could.
“We sold pretty much everything we owned and decided to go all in on the van,” Milton told Insider.
“We were just trying to figure out a way where we could keep kind of moving and keep doing what feels good for us,” she added.
Their plan is for them to travel all over Australia.
Milton and Kyle always envisioned living in a van. When they had their little boy, they decided to make it a reality.
“We just spent so much more time indoors when we were back home in a house,” Milton said. “You have all your comforts and you really don’t spend that much time outside, to be honest.”
Milton is a women’s health dietitian, a yoga teacher, and also owns her online business supporting women and couples that are in the preconception period. For her, spending time with nature is important.
So the pair purchased a second-hand van for just under $40,000 Australian dollars, or about $26,000, more than two years ago. And before moving into it, they sold everything they owned.
Kyle was meant to be the “fit guy,” the person who would take care of converting the van into a living space for the three of them.
But with Reef being so young and after taking almost a year to get the floor and insulation done, the couple realized they needed to hire someone.
They found Fleurieu Fit Outs, a startup owned by a local man, and hired him to do “the rest of the fit-out for us. He did all the woodwork and really brought our vision to life, which was really amazing,” Milton said.
They spent about another AUD$40,000 on the renovations, including installing a shower and hot running water.
Moving into the van has allowed Kyle, who used to play soccer semi-professionally in Australia, to be a full-time dad.
Since moving into the van, Milton said they spend more than half of their day outside and Reef has really taken to the van life.
“His toys are, you know, the rocks and all the things that are outside and he loves it,” Milton told Insider.
It was harder to entertain her son when they lived in a traditional home because everything was a lot more structured, she said. “Now, we go to a beach and he’s just so happy. He’s immersed in it. Like, he makes games out of all sorts of things.”
She added: “He only just turned three the other week and he’s already seen like a blue-ringed octopus, which is super-rare, and something that most adults I guess never even get to see.”
The beauty of living in the van, for Milton, is that they are so close to nature. “We’re very exposed to the elements in all ways,” she said. “We just get up early and we all make our coffees. Our little one loves a babyccino. So we all sit down outside and usually drink that together.”
If Milton needs to work, her partner might drop her off at a cafe or she might just sit up in the front of the van, which is her “little office space for the things I need to get done.”
If she isn’t working, then they will go for a hike, go explore somewhere: “We’re definitely in a season right now where we are keen to see as much as we can.”
The couple usually cook all their meals in the van and only rarely eat out. They also stock up on fresh produce from local farmer’s markets. “We just live pretty slowly,” Milton said. “We don’t really fill our days with too much – yet we find the days still go by quite quickly.”
The family of three doesn’t pay rent anymore. Their living costs include food, fuel, and smaller expenses like a phone bill.
They have reduced their spending to about 500 Australian dollars a week.
Milton told Insider that there’s no doubt moving into such a tiny space has reduced their monthly spending. She also prepared herself for a new way of living that she anticipated would be harder to adapt to.
“But I was actually really pleasantly surprised. It’s really not as challenging as you would think, and I think it’s equally as hard being a parent regardless of where you are,” she said.
“You still have all the same parent challenges.”
One aspect of living in a restricted space meant that Reef would also be able to connect more when playing rather than jumping from one thing to another. “We obviously minimized a lot and really simplified our lives.”
“It’s actually been amazing for Reef,” Milton said. “We had a huge toy room set up at home and we’d often find that he would not sit down and spend time on one thing.”
The van meant that they had to get rid of a lot of those things, although they do have a toy drawer. “We’ll pick up some new things, then drop things off at a charity shop when we’re ready to let something go,” she said.
Living in a tiny space with two other people can bring its own challenges, though, Milton said.
“Your communication has to be so clear and concise when you’re in such a small space,” she said. But she also found that their connection as a family grew much stronger by spending their days together.
That connection is what they really craved before they lived in the van. Referring to what truly made her happy, Milton said, “Having my partner home, getting to do our days together and him getting to be there for all of the important things in our little one’s life, witnessing all the milestones he is moving through.”
She also noted how easy it is to adapt to your surroundings. Milton was prepared to get frustrated with how small their living space would be, but despite the communication challenges, she said: “It’s just crazy how quickly you adapt and how quickly a space like this so small can feel so homey and cozy and comfortable.”