Wanderlust: a strong desire to travel, to break out of one’s mold, to explore not only new places but new ways to be. We all get it from time to time, whether it’s after we see a captivating photograph of nature or hear stories about our friends’ recent vacations.
Australia’s Rich East felt that natural tug of wanderlust as his life at home grew more and more unfulfilling. So with a van — and an unexpected traveling partner — Rich hit the road in a life-changing journey that earned thousands of online followers…
Rich East is a twenty-something-year-old, adventurous Australian with a go-getter attitude. In 2013, the young man felt unsatisfied with his typical suburban life in Hobart, Tasmania, an island state off the continent’s south coast.
“I used to have a career,” Rich said, “a house with a garden, lots of stuff, but what I didn’t have was happiness. I had felt over-stressed for a while, kind of stuck in a way, so I decided to make some changes.”
In 2013, sick of being trapped in the city, he began going on small off-roading and hiking trips around Tasmania in the company of a small stuffed lion — and another interesting companion.
He was in the company of his best friend Willow! While most cats wouldn’t make for the easiest travel companions, Willow loved to explore Australia with her human and didn’t mind the long drives at all.
“Willow is very curious and loves to explore,” Rich said. “She spends most of her days snoozing on top of the roof rack, under the van, or sleeping in her cat carrier. On cold days you will find her snuggled up in my blankets.”
“Willow and I have an unspoken agreement,” Rich continued. “She will always come back to the van, and I will always wait for her. She rarely wanders more than 100 meters from the van, but when she does, I can find her with her tracking collar.”
With his company sorted out, he started traveling a bit more on his days off from work; on those trips, he found a new passion: photographing all that Tasmania’s natural beauty had to offer.
“For the first time I felt free,” he said. “Free to design a new life for myself,” (and Willow!) In 2014, Rich quit his job, sold his house, and bought a van. “I threw away everything that didn’t bring me joy. The premise was simple: build a new home in which I could travel.”
Camera the ready, Rich documented the renovation of the van installing a ready-to-go bed in the back, a small kitchen in the middle, and a front seat that could turn around to make the most of his living space. Oh, and of course, a surfboard on the roof.
Once the van was completed a year later, Rich bought a map of Australia, on which he drew the route he planned to take. He would have to take a ferry from Tasmania to the mainland and follow the coast all around the country. With everything packed up and ready to go, it was time to hit the road.
“It was hard to think about all the things that I was leaving behind,” Rich said, “so instead I thought about all I was taking with me and all that I would gain. I left my town and everything I knew for a new life and the unknown.”
The first few weeks he saw as many places as he could, surfed at different beaches, explored a variety of landscapes, and of course, met a kangaroo or two. “People travel for lots of reasons,” he said. “For me it’s simple: go somewhere I’ve never been before.”
As the journey continued, Rich slowed things down, staying in places for longer periods to truly take the time to appreciate his surroundings. He and Willow bonded on the road — and this gave him an idea.
Rich invested in several cameras, tripods, and drones to film their adventures. He dabbled in photography and put together short videos. Perhaps it was his creative skills that earned the adventurers so much online attention.
On the journey, Rich grew as a photographer. Aside from filming everyday tasks like driving, cooking, and hanging out, he captured all the breathtaking scenes that he and Willow stumbled upon almost every single day.
And of course, Rich’s favorite subject to capture was Willow. Every once in a while, he could easily snap a photo of her lounging around, but other times it took a long and careful set-up — and a whole lot of patience.
Once Rich started to post these photos and videos on social media accounts under the name VanCatMeow, the two gained thousands of fans. The public loved the photos so much they wanted to buy prints. Thus VanCatMeow began sustaining itself financially.
Rich’s other hobbies include surfing, reading, and woodworking, the last of which was another way he made a little extra cash for gas and MeowMix.
By 2018, VanCatMeow’s Youtube Channel gained over 2,000 subscribers. People were absolutely in love with Willow and Rich. With his photography skills ever improving, VanCatMeow will surely continue to grow as long as the duo is up for more adventures.
At the end of 2018, after touring the whole coast of Australia, Rich and Willow were driving inland, even going off the grid for a month in the Outback. What the future holds is unclear: will Rich settle down again or continue his travels in other countries?