Meeting Dallas & her retro motorhome

By: Maria Hoyle, Photography by: VINCENT SCAMMELL

All work, little play, and scant chance of home ownership on the horizon – for young Kiwis, the future can seem a tad lacking in security, never mind fun. Which is why one 26-year-old has decided to put herself – quite literally – in the driver’s seat. She tells Maria Hoyle about the tiny motorhome that’s changed her life

The ToyoAce ticked all the right boxes for fi rst time motorhomer Dallas
The ToyoAce ticked all the right boxes for first time motorhomer Dallas

Tucked away on a quiet suburban Auckland street is a motor park that is home to caravans and RVs of all shapes and sizes. Among them is a small cream motorhome with brown/ khaki stripes. It’s distinctly retro, decidedly compact, and has undoubtedly seen better days. But for one young woman, this five-metre home on wheels is a vehicle for achieving the lifestyle of her dreams.

Whangarei-born Dallas graduated from Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School in 2018 with a Bachelor in Performing Arts (Management), and landed a job in Auckland as an actor’s agent.

"It was great – the pay was really good, and even though the hours were long I thought, ‘that’s the sacrifice you make’." But then, around a year into the job, came a ‘weird epiphany’.

"I’d get off the bus every day and everyone looked miserable and we all walked in the same direction. I felt I was living in the rat race. I’d also just been listening to Orwell’s 1984," she laughs. "It all came together in this weird way."

Long story short… Dallas quit her job, her flat-share, hunted for a motorhome on Trademe and, six months later, here we are sitting in the cosy interior of her five-berth (at a squeeze) 1991 Toyota ToyoAce.

You don’t need to ask if she’s happy with the choice she’s made; Dallas chats excitedly as she lays out a platter of cheese and dips on the small dining table. It’s a grey, drizzly winter’s day, but she’s the very essence of sunny cheer as she explains how she came to be living the motorhome life.

She initially pondered a tiny home, but was put off by stories of council permit difficulties – and still needing to own a plot of land. "So I thought ’what is the original tiny home on wheels? An RV!’ I said to myself ‘I don’t have a mortgage, I don’t have any debt. I could do this now or wait till I am 65. Why not now?’"

Dallas’ management studies equipped her well for mapping out the next steps.

The space is perfect for two
The space is perfect for two

"I love budgeting and scheduling! I am very frugal; I don’t drink coffee or smoke, but my biggest expense was rent, and I thought ‘I can change this’. I teed it all up on paper and thought ‘wow, this is achievable’.

"Part of the epiphany was I don’t want to work for 48 weeks then have just four weeks’ holiday. I am in charge of my life."

Dallas signed up to the NZMCA before making any purchasing decisions, a move she highly recommends. "All the info on their website is really helpful."

After an ill-judged purchase of a ‘dodgy’ converted ambulance, for which she got a refund, Dallas spotted the ToyoAce on Trademe. As well as being affordable and having just 68,000km on the clock, it ticked two important boxes. It was less than 5 metres long and therefore easy to park; and it was automatic. She bargained the owner down from $18,000 to $17,300, but estimates she’ll need another 10 grand to get it spick and span.

The exterior "needs some love" (she wants to repaint it, with brown, orange and sky-blue stripes along the bottom to honour the retro aesthetic) and a few key things don’t work – like the main fridge, for example. However, she finds her 12-litre mini fridge ample for her needs.

Dallas had saved $30,000 from her actor’s agent job, but opted to get something cheaper and leave money aside for repairs. First up is certified self-containment, so she can dispose of grey waste properly and stay at NZCMA campsites.

She gives me ‘the tour’ – her commentary at once affectionately critical and proud, like the mum of a messy toddler. The Porta-Potti toilet, for example.

"It’s fine for the space, and it came with the van. I was like ‘sweet!". The shower: "It’s hideous wall lino!" She points out the Post-it notes on the switchboard. "It’s a Japanese import so I had to get an app to translate everything."

The 12-litre mini fridge is ample for Dallas, for now
The 12-litre mini fridge is ample for Dallas, for now

One downside is her grey tank capacity, at just 40 litres (fresh water is 150 litres). Until the tank is swapped out for a bigger one – due to happen the week after we speak – she’s using the campsite showers or goes to her gym. The side windows also leak a little, plus she needs to get a reversing camera as the rear window is tiny.

"I thought I would live in it and figure out what needs to be done as I go along. I am tackling the bigger things first," she says.

The van is supposed to be five-berth – it has five seatbelts – but Dallas raises an eyebrow at that. The lounge sofa seat pulls out as a bed, with the table as a base. Then there’s the Luton mattress, plus Dallas reckons the front seat is intended to sleep one, as the gear stick pushes right down.

To see how the space works in reality, she did a maiden voyage with her mum in March, who flew over from her home in Tasmania. The pair had a ball – but the definite conclusion was that two people is quite enough.

"We went to Miranda Hot Springs. Have you been? It’s fantastic! We chilled out in the pool then went down to Taumarunui to see my grandad. We did this crazy trip up and down so I thought ‘I’ll call the van Yoyo as that’s what I am doing. It’s also a play on ‘Toyota’".

Before leaving for the holiday, Dallas booked herself in as a permanent campsite resident, getting in ‘by the skin of my teeth’ before lockdown. 

Dallas is going to repaint her van, but keep the retro palette
Dallas is going to repaint her van, but keep the retro palette

"In some ways, it was the best timing in the world. I could just park up here and I was already self-isolating!"

Even in lockdown, she didn’t once experience cabin fever. Not only is she "a bit of a hermit", she also enjoys being in sole charge.

"Bless my flatmates, they were great, but here I can run things the way I want to."

And there’s plenty of company if she needs it. For meals, she can wander down to the communal kitchen, though she tends to use the van’s camp cooker. She’s made good friends with a few other residents – including two live-in staff and the site’s former manager – who are like her ‘funny little family’. "I feel secure here."

Dallas is currently working in hospitality, until she hits the road in November for her long summer holiday. Saving is far easier now that she’s paying just $200 a week – rent and a powered site included. She finds it amusing that people assume she’s struggling.

"Every time I catch up with friends they give me things because they think I am doing it hard. And I am like ‘no! Bless you, but I don’t need any more stuff! I am doing fine. I CHOSE to do this!’"

Her long-term goal is to "save like a mad person" and get a plot of land to call her own, then build a tiny house. "I can park this on the land while I build."

For now – while she concedes this life isn’t for everyone – she’s loving it.

"The other day one of the regulars saw me doing some yucky job, you know, tipping out my grey water or something, and he called out, ‘Livin’ the dream, eh Dallas?’ And I said ‘You know what? I actually am’."


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