Instagram ‘vanlife’ star tragically dies
A young woman whose stunning travel adventures as one half of an Instagram couple attracted thousands of followers has taken her own life, leaving her family and friends devastated.
Canadian Lee Macmillan - who was known for her road trips in a van along with her Australian ex-partner Max Bidstrup - died last week, their @maxandlee_ Instagram page revealed on Wednesday.
And her heartbroken loved ones have now launched a hashtag #speakupforlee to shine a light on depression and mental illness in her honour.
Lee and Max, who had more than 74,000 people following their epic "Vanlife" trip with Australian shepherd dog Occy from Canada to the tip of South America, saddened fans last year when they split up.
Announcing on Instagram they were going "their separate ways", the pair admitted it was "incredibly difficult for us to talk about on here".
Wednesday's heartbreaking Instagram post about Lee's death reveals that she had for a long time suffered from depression and was an advocate for increasing awareness.
"After living an extraordinary life, and fighting a brave battle with depression, our hearts are shattered to share that Lee took her life on Friday," the post reads.
"She was the brightest light, a magnetic force of nature and was loved by so so many.
"If we can do one thing for Lee now, in the midst of this soul-crushing loss, it's to spread the message that mental health is just as real as physical health.
"And that illness can strike anyone, no matter how unlikely they may seem."
The post reveals that Lee had been receiving help "from professionals, from family, from friends".
"She had support around her," it reads.
"She was not trying to fight this alone.
"And yet she still succumbed to this terrible illness.
"It is more nuanced than we can, or do, appreciate or understand.
"Life is more complex than a single social media post. Things are complicated.
"Let's spread the awareness of this issue, for Lee and every one else who needs to hear this: #speakupforlee."
Lee Macmillan and Max Bidstrup had become a couple after Mr Bidstrup, a university graduate and paramedic from Wangaratta, Victoria, took a working holiday in Canada.
When romance blossomed, they took a five-week trip to southeast Asia together before returning to Canada and set to work building a van for a longer trip.
They bought a 2006 Dodge Sprinter for about $12,300, gutted it and spent about $11,000 renovating it.
They set off on their road trip in September 2016, crossing through North America and countries in South America.
After three moths exploring the US, they spent almost half a year in Mexico, went through Panama and down to Colombia.
Lee told followers about their travelling life versus working for a future.
"Our generation is realising that we don't need to own so many things to be happy," she said.
"We can own less and see more of the world."
While travelling to the southernmost tip of South America, the couple tried to inspire others to explore the world with images and videos they posted on their Instagram page.
"We often laugh at ourselves and question how we manage to keep it all together," a post in April 2019 read.
"We aren't the most organised travellers. We aren't the most efficient vloggers & we sure as hell are not very tech savvy.
"If there is one thing you can learn from us, it's that you don't have to have your sh*t together before trying something new!
"Jump in head first and start. Buy that plane ticket and figure out your travel itinerary on the way.
"Say yes to that new opportunity and find the time to make it work.
"Sometimes it's the fear of starting that is the biggest obstacle."
On November 1, 2019, the couple posted a picture of themselves in Halloween outfits.
"To the most courageous, selfless and caring girl I know," Max wrote.
"You are beautiful inside and out. Happy birthday mountie, you've got this."
Sadly, just over two months later the couple announced their split, sparking responses from their followers.
"It has been a privilege to follow your journey together and I wish you all the best for this next chapter of your lives," one posted. "An ending of one thing is always the beginning of something new."
"It's always hard to let go, but I'm sure you guys chose what's best for you. Thank you for always being so transparent and real," another said.
The pair told their fans they had been "honoured to be able to share the journey with all of you".
"The last month has been one of the most trying of our lives as we come to terms with this new reality," they wrote.
"We both want what is best for each other and will continue to support each other now and in to the future.
"Thank you for believing in us, it's been one hell of a ride."
On Wednesday, the post on the @maxandlee_ Instagram page announcing Lee's death ended, "Hold your loved ones tight. Tell them you love them. Because life can change in an instant."
Of Lee, it said: "We will miss her with every fibre of our hearts."
Originally published as Instagram 'vanlife' star tragically dies