Vanlife Pt.2: Q&A with Kenjiro (Ken)

It seems every van traveller we’ve come across has a unique way of vanlife. While hanging out at the bike park in Rotorua we bumped into a fellow van traveller, Ken from Japan, and asked him a few questions about his #Vanlife.

To start things off, tell us about yourself.
My name is Kenjiro Ono from the mainland of Japan. I moved to New Zealand when I was 15 to continue my school from abroad. After high school, I studied mechanical engineering for a year in Auckland and decided it just wasn’t for me and instead to chase my dream of travelling the world and riding my mountain bike.

What’s the van you’re currently living in and how long have you been living out of your van?
I live and travel around New Zealand in a 1989 Toyota Liteace. I designed and built the inside layout of my van to fit around my two mountain bikes. I’ve lived in my van now for half a year, and will be leaving it in Auckland with my friend until I’m back next summer. 


What was your reasoning for leaving Japan to come travel New Zealand and live in a van?
While I was growing up in Japan, I always dreamed of going overseas and fortunately my parents were supportive of it. When I finally decided which country to travel to, I pictured New Zealand and at the time nothing came to my mind other than lots of sheep!

An initial reason why I started living in a van was simply, because I don’t have to pay rent.  Now its a personal choice as I’m really starting to enjoy the van lifestyle. It’s quite satisfying to realize that everything I really need to survive fits inside my small van.

How do you budget for expenses such as food, gas, vehicle maintenance, activities and other personal spending?
I’m not good at managing my wallet, but I just stick to whatever cheap deals are the most inexpensive. My meals consist of pasta or rice dishes with skinned chicken breast (peeling chicken skin can save a few bucks!).

If I’m doing long distance travel, I make sure I have a friend to come along so gas money can be shared! My van is fairy old, so I tend to check my oil regularly and water levels before I head out for a long drive. Drive like grandma and everything will hopefully run smoothly!

Popular activities like bungy jumping in New Zealand are too expensive for me, but I’m travelling well-equipped with my two bikes, a skateboard and a surfboard!

Where have you travelled around New Zealand and primarily what have you been doing?
I’ve travelled both the north and south islands with my oldest friend from high school.

This summer while travelling to the very south, money was running low so I worked in Queenstown for awhile. My friend who is a professional mountain biker from Japan flew into Queenstown later in the summer. I decided to quit my job and bike with him everyday. We spent the majority of our evenings camping within the city with other travellers like ourselves (some areas technically illegal, where we got kicked out and featured on a local newspaper). Every night  we circled our camping chairs, listened to music, drank beers, shared shisha, and continued the evening usually by heading to town for a game of pool. The atmosphere in Queenstown consisted of many nationalities, ages, passions, and ideas of lifestyle… it was a truly great time!

By the end of summer, it was time to drive back-up to Rotorua for Crankworx and spend my last few weeks biking on the north island.


What’s your next plan?
I’ll be heading back home to Japan this month to catch up with family and friends. My plan is to work for a few months in order to save-up cash for my next journey, which begins in Scotland around the middle of June!

I’ll be going there to support Japanese riders at the downhill world cup and continuing races around Europe. I’ll be travelling/ living in a van again, this time with a group of friends! Then I’m off to Whistler to catch the Canadian summer. I’m hoping to get sponsorship support over the next year, so I’ll definitely be putting my best effort in all my races this season!

Best of luck with your journey Ken, and we will see you next summer 🙂


Posted by Marisa

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