What’s behind those curtains?

Now that you’ve met Philben, I bet you’re wondering what it’s like inside. Well, here’s your chance.

A little background

We bought the van from a Hungarian couple (hey Szabo!) who converted it themselves. They bought it from a carpet company, if I remember correctly. Anyway, it was definitely a company vehicle that was taken care of well. Regular check ups and oil changes and all of that.

They initially were planning on converting it here and then shipping it back to Europe, so they could live and travel around in it there. As it turned out, shipping it back to Europe was going to be a nightmare… uh, duh? So they ended up selling. They used beautiful materials and you can tell it is meant to be a home, not just a van. It has a great vibe, which is what we were drawn to.


He’s got a lovely white exterior. It would be great for stealth camping, except for the fact that none of the windows are tinted. So, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a camper with two people hanging out inside.

As mentioned before, he’s a Toyota Regius. Other stats: 2004, automatic transmission, power steering and functioning aircon! Basically he’s the best. Philben even has these handy mirrors on the front and back so we can get uncomfortably close to the cars flanking us when parallel parking.

The Car Part


This is how I will refer to the front of the van where we sit while we’re (Jason is) driving. That is pretty much the only time we’re up there. The seats are comfy and have a decent little faux suede slip cover… so, super luxurious. There is also a little built in shelf above our heads, which is handy for keeping jackets, beanies and anything we may need whilst on the road.

Incredibly important is the auxiliary feature of the stereo.

Living Room

Getting to the good stuff now.

I love the set up that the previous owner/builder used. We open the siding door to, essentially, our living room. It is a nice open space that is multi-functional. We have a car mat where we can wipe our shoes and keep the rest of the van floor clean. We use the step as a catch-all for dirty shoes. It’s our little mudroom.

We also store our daypacks in this space if we are driving around during the day and need quick access to cameras or chapstick. When at camp, we are able to pull out the stool that nestles under the countertop. Which brings me to the kitchen.


You may notice that we have no sink or fridge. When we began our van search, these were critical components of our “must have” list. After the Shitbox debacle, our “must have” list got whittled down to the following:

1. must love it

That’s it.

Coming out on the other end of that process we definitely learned a few important lessons. Applicable in our travels and for our lives in general. Patience. I have generally always thought of myself as a patient person. Something I learned at an early age having perpetually tardy parents. When you are regularly having to wait on your mother – to pick you up from school, to be finished talking to everyone after church, and to even get ready to leave the house (sorry Mom!), you learn more than a modicum of patience.

Somehow, I lost that in this process. We were both so ready to “start” our journey in our camper, we lost sight of our aim and ended up with a van we both hated. Aside from all the troubles it gave us at the start, there really isn’t anything wrong with it now. The constant frustration tainted it, and when we saw Philben, we knew it was exactly what we wanted. Even though it didn’t have a sink or a fridge, it isn’t self contained and neither of us can stand fully upright inside. That didn’t matter. It felt like the right decision.

The other lesson learned is that sometimes compromise turns out better than if you’d gotten your way. I think from the outset we should have been willing to compromise our comfort in order to find the right fit. Because, honestly, I don’t really miss the sink, the fridge, the toilet. New Zealand is rife with public restrooms, so access to sinks and toilets is no problem. People have been living without refrigeration longer than with, so it was just a matter of altering our view of what we can eat.

I eat very little meat as it is, so cutting that didn’t matter. I have powdered milk for my instant coffee, we eat our produce quick enough that any that would benefit from refrigeration doesn’t actually need it, and, BONUS, Kiwis don’t refrigerate their eggs, so they’re still on the menu. If you’re wondering how that’s possible or why, check out this article, and know that most people don’t refrigerate eggs. It can go on the list on dumb shit the United States does, along with the imperial measurement system and Fahrenheit.

Kitchen Goods

We have a handy little shelf above the counter that holds some of our dry goods, and the rest are stored in the right hand cabinet (although a few canned items hang out in the stool, along with our butane burner).

Our pots, pan and dishes are kept in the cubby on the left, and flatware resides in the right hand drawer. The left hand drawer acts as our junk drawer.

We have a 20L collapsible water tank that sits wherever is convenient at the time.

New Zealand’s budget tourist infrastructure is incredibly well set up. There are several apps that direct you to the closest amenities – whether that be a free campground, public toilet, clean water supply or even wifi.

When meal time rolls around we either set up inside on the counter and crack the window to vent, or we use a panel at the back of the van that pulls down like a desk.

Powder Room slash Laundry Room

This is really just two wooden boxes that sit behind each seat at the front of the van, respectively. The box behind the passenger side holds water bottles, our laundry line, laundry detergent, some soap and our tp. Kind of like the smallest makeshift laundry room ever.

The one behind the driver’s side is our toiletry box – it has both our toiletry bags, soap, shampoo, sunscreen and medicines… and a ton of cotton balls.

Master Bedroom

This is where the bed is. Obviously.

It is actually really comfy. Its your basic platform bed with ample storage underneath. The two cabinets house four cubby’s each, where we store our clothes. There is some extra space flanking each side above the wheel. The facade of the cabinets pulls up at the bottom and legs pull out to stabilize it, then an extra piece of foam mattress folds over onto it to make a full size bed.

It is a very quick conversion and offers up a lot of extra space in the van when it isn’t made up.

There are handy little shelves at the back of the van, just above our heads where we sleep, as well as one on the left side of the van. It’s perfect for storing books and keeping our phones (and my glasses) close by.

Garage (?)

Or maybe basement? At the back of the van we have a little table that pulls down, as I mentioned before. It also reveals a very large drawer for storing anything we don’t need on a regular basis, like our big packs and camping chairs. And again, it’s got extra space flanking each side where we can shove non-important stuff.

Basically, this thing has a ton of storage.

It wouldn’t be that hard to switch it to self-contained, but I’m not sure we will. As of yet, we haven’t run into any issues, touch wood.

This is Billy Bear, our van mascot… he’s been with it longer than we have.

The best part of van life?

Jason’s newfound tidyness! We have done a total role reversal in our domestic duties, and I’m digging it.

When we lived in a house, I was always the one cleaning up. Even when we were both working, I shouldered that responsibility and it was like pulling teeth trying to get him to help out. For some reason, though, he is now obsessed with keeping the van tidy.

I think it might be because his father instilled in him an earnest responsibility for his vehicles. Jason takes so much pride in taking care of the van, so… thanks Jeff!

Photo by J. Howell Photography

Did I forget to cover any aspect of daily life? Have any questions about van living in New Zealand or in general? Leave ’em in the comments!



  1. Daniel Szabo 26.04.2017, 11:07

    So glad you like it.
    Billy Bear was already in the van when I bought it from the carpeting company guy (“Mike” from Russia :D), so I think he’s Russian. Just you know…if you want to address him properly…probably Comrade Billy Bear or something. 😛

  2. I love the little home on wheels, it looks mighty cozy! I know y’all are having fun exploring New Zealand!


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