ARTICLE : How We Quit The Rat Race

Kuala Lumpur, Bukit Bintang
photo credit SammyKhoo

The process of creation starts with thought, an idea, a conception, a visualization. Thought is the first process of creation, next is the word. The courage to speak it. Everything you say is a thought expressed. Next comes Action. If you can see it in your mind, you can hold it in your hand. What dream or vision do you want to turn into reality?  If you’re going to try go all the way!

Disclaimer : We are not financial gurus nor are we experts in financial planning etc – this article is about the steps we took towards being able to change our lives when we were unhappy. We hope it helps you if you’re in a similar situation.

It started with a thought. What would it be like to live with enough?

Van life is not our personal creation, it is a way of life that exists all over the world. It is not an “escape” from hard work as some might think it is. We didn’t run away from our careers in order to live in a van.

We just didn’t enjoy the work we were doing anymore and things needed to change in order for us to be happy. In order to explore new options, we needed to first get our overheads at a minimum.

Many times people say to us, they too dream of this freedom life called “Van Life” but they have too many commitments. We understand this and although we may not have children – we have commitments from A to Z just like everyone else does.

The process towards a simple life began with a thought. If that is something you really want out of life then there are many sacrifices to be made. This article is about that – the changes we made in order to start doing what we loved and live a more simple life.

The only thing constant in life is change.

Prior to this change, over the years, we put aside savings for a rainy day and when we decided to embark upon this change our savings came in handy. In order to execute something as drastic as this, we needed enough money put aside to accommodate no work income for at least 2 – 3 years in order to build new business opportunities. So the only way for us to make our savings last was to bring down our monthly expenses.

Rene in deep thought at Sam’s Studio in Damansara Perdana 2009- 2019

We simplified our lives in order to spend our time doing what we loved.

STEP 1 – Downsize and consolidate offices to home base

We both wanted out of our office space commitments and this meant letting go of two studios (we both had our own businesses, Rene’s was for audio production and Sam’s was Photography).

We put Sam’s photo studio up for rent as we owned that unit and we put Rene’s studio up for sale as a “takeover the lease”. Instead of just moving out of a rented office space, we wanted to be able to make back some money from the renovation and decor costs even though the studio was more than 11 years old. Rene placed an ad in Mudah and within a month, someone took over our lease for the price that we asked for. That sum of money covered our moving costs and then the months ahead for when we had no work income.

The results of the above two downsizing moves meant our monthly overheads was more than halved, this was a good thing. Our goal was to go from Rm50,000 a month down to Rm5,000 a month. Sound crazy but that was how much it took to live our lives back then. (Different strokes for different folks, some of you may say heck Rm50K? That’s nothing – but for us that is a lot of money.)

After we got rid of our offices, we moved our production back to our home. We kept the equipment necessary to still create videos, music and photos. By moving everything to one location meant saving a ton of money on commuting, we also saved ourselves the stress of traffic jams and driving. We gained extra time in our day to do other things.

STEP 2 – Sell whatever we did not need and clear all debt

All our office equipment, furniture and decoration we sold. Instead of throwing everything away, we did our best to sort through stuff and put them into piles of recycle, sell and give away. Whatever that couldn’t be sold, we moved back to our home in order to sell them slowly in online platforms. We realised we had spent too much money buying too much stuff that we did not need. This process was very overwhelming and it brought into light just how wasteful we had become. After this, we became more mindful about what we bought.

A good thing – our home mortgage was paid within the first five years of its purchase. This was something Rene set as his personal goal in life as he did not want us to ever be in a situation where we would lose our home to the bank by repossession.

Not having a giant house mortgage to pay monthly really helped us a lot especially during this period of change. So now, with lower overheads, we had time to educate ourselves. We were able to use our time wisely and learnt new skills in order to create new business models for our future. In terms of debt, we had a couple of other property investments that required clearing. That’s what we did next – cleared more loans until we were officially debt free.

The benefit of being debt free meant that whatever income we could bring in was enough. It was never enough before.

Changing Lanes

STEP 3 – Cut unnecessary expenses

This was a hard step because it required us to really focus on what was important in our daily lives. We had to change how we spent our money.

We cut all the fat! That meant cut our cable TV Astro (we had 3), the main reason we had it was for the sports channel, to watch football matches – here’s what we mean by focusing on what is important. How important is it really to watch our favourite team play? For Rene, this was a big sacrifice lol but his team was losing for years anyways no biggie to stop watching them play lah!

We also cut streamyx and our phone landlines because we already had handphones – we got ourselves the best value package and used their hotspot for our internet usage. We also disciplined our internet usage. So from having so many bills to pay monthly, we saw huge progress as we were cutting it all down to just the basic necessities. We used to always hire help for everything, someone to clean the house, cut the grass, plumbing, fix things etc – we started doing everything ourselves. This included servicing our cars. We learned new skills with the time we had gained and made sure we didn’t have to outsource all services.

  • Phone landlines & Wifi (limit to using just handphones)
  • Electric, Syabas, Indah Water (3 places to just 1 place)
  • Quit Rent & Security Fees (no choice)
  • Insurances (home, health, car also no choice)
  • Transport expenses (petrol, toll, parking, car loans – cut down)
  • Maintenance of house and cars (we sold our cars and kept only our vans)
  • Cook own meals (helped save us heaps!!)
  • Grocery shop at wholesalers & wet markets

This list is just endless and we remember how scary it was opening the post box daily – it use to give us heart attacks. Bills, bills and more bills. Executing the above steps took time and to this day, we are still monitoring it because we are still minimizing. Rene is still selling our stuff online and because our expenses now is much much lower than before, the cash we bring in goes a long way.

To live and work from home has been the best move in life for us – we gained control of how we spend our time.

We are not yet full-time “vanlifers” but we do have a simpler life now as compared to before. We now have time to chase our dreams and we are careful to pace ourselves out so as not to rush things, because learning from past mistakes – taking our time is crucial during big changes.

VANHALEN DIY Campervan 2017 (Our First Layout)

For example, let’s say we wanted to execute vanlife fast, quickly sell it ALL and live in a van full-time. This sounds great but in reality – it would mean selling our home below market value in order to get a sale. It would also mean selling everything else really cheap for a faster sale. If we were in our twenties with nothing to lose maybe possible to speed things up, but we are in our forties and we don’t want to lose everything we worked so hard to build.

Slow and steady. We have a plan at hand and execution is in progress.

Step 4 – Online platforms & new business collaborations / opportunities

We knew we wanted to do something with YouTube. Our intention was to migrate online (not to another country) We wanted our own YouTube Channel as a brand. (Facebook and Instagram too) We did a Creative Live course to learn some basics about YouTube and we even pitched ideas to franchise companies locally. One of the pitches was to a private hospital chain and for them to have an inhouse children’s channel. We got the job, but that was when we questioned ourselves – wait a minute here, is that what we really want to do? Jump back into the rat race? Or do we want to build something for ourselves? We turned the job down.

After consolidating offices to our home and slowing down the pace of life, we were finally able to ask ourselves what exactly we wanted to do for the next 10 to 15 years of our life together?

So, we bought VANHALEN. Building a Campervan was not common in Malaysia, Sam’s late Father did it in the 1970s with his VW Kombi but it was not at all common here. We are not the first in building a campervan in Malaysia but we are the first in building our own YouTube Channel about Vanlife. Like Gary Vee says – “Either be the best at what you do or be the first.” (We are huge Gary Vee fans)

Sam playing her Bass in Home Office 2015

We are almost at 30,000 Subscribers on YouTube. For all the hard work we have put in, this is our reward. It’s not a monetary reward, yet. Again, quoting Gary Vee – “Building a brand is not a sprint, it is a marathon.”

The knowledge we gained since we began Van Life we share through our videos and what we want is to see that Malaysia is on the map for campervan holidays alongside countries like New Zealand, Australia and Europe. Many times comments come in saying “AHHHH Malaysia will never be like the west, is too small to bother travelling in a campervan, it is too hot, too many insects too this too that.” Patience and persistence.

1979 Cameron Highlands Malaysia, Sam’s Late Father’s Kombi
In Photo Left to Right – Sam’s Uncle, Sam’s Brother, Sam’s Mother
Sam’s Father shot this photo (He loved Cameras)

Taking our time to participate in building a campervan community using our YouTube channel, Facebook, Instagram and this website has been a great joy. The love and support from our Subscribers and Followers, receiving positive messages from people saying we inspired them makes all our effort worthwhile.

Kampung Cherating 2017

This entire experience has been a humbling one. Had we not made the change in our careers we would never have mixed with people outside of the existing industry we were in for two decades. Van Life has brought us many opportunities where we make new friends (of all ages, races and different backgrounds), we get to create campervan awareness, we get to educate ourselves and fellow Malaysians about Van Life, we now collaborate with brands, we build affiliate online marketing and much much more.

At the same time, we spend our days always creating and that’s what we love doing. Creating content, creating campervans, creating new paths in our lives together.

Rene and VANHALEN 2019

Our latest creation will be our Campervan named Mama Bear Grizzly and she will take us on our road trip to the UK as well as serve as our tiny film production home on wheels.

Thank you all for emails, messages, comments and reaching out to us. We love hearing from you.

(Photo below was taken when she arrived to us in July 2019)

Building MamaBear Grizzly from Scratch
(She used to be a government Spy Van)

To end this article, we dedicate our journey to UK to Sam’s Father Khoo Kay Suan. He was her hero but passed at 60 years young (Sam was only 19 when he died) – his retirement dream was to travel to Europe in his Campervan, sadly he never lived that dream but he did live a good life with a great attitude. He is dearly missed by all of knew him.


  1. Waw, realy πŸ–’πŸ–’.

    Btw my name is Ahmmad near KLIA. Retaired fm airline last 2 years and this comeing 23feb my 63yo. My nick name is Haba mean my complete name.

    I’m planning to convert my Myvi to campercar soon to alowed me travel around Malaysia. I will video it when my Myvi start to convert. And will share to both of u.

    My contect nbr is 011-2388 2449 and e-mail is

    Thank you


  2. Nice one Sam/Rene,
    I should start to this also la…
    Astro, Unifi, handphones, electricity…all this better to downsize.
    Thanks guys for sharing info

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congratulation for what you have achived, may all your future plans come smoothly as plan, by the way my name is CK, I m planning to get a camper van myself ,what size of van do you recommend base on a low budget .thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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