Monday, 13 November 2017

Not all those who wander are lost...

I wanted to do this lovely big blog post a few days ago, when it was THE actual anniversary of our first year on the road.  As it turned out though, we did spend almost the whole day on the road, travelling up to Queenstown to pick up our first van, Batty.  Massive thanks to our new friend Murray from Southern Campers for giving these two friendly 'hitch hikers' a lift and saving us a fortune in getting both us and the van from A to B!  If you're ever planning a self-drive tour of the South Island, Murray has beautiful camper vans in various sizes and can pick up and drop off to Queenstown, Dunedin, Gore and Invercargill.  Can't recommend this guy highly enough, and thanks to him, we were able to mark our special day by visiting one of our favourite spots of this past year, the massive and stunningly beautiful Lake Wakatipu, and in particular Kingston.  We never thought we would be going back there any time soon but we couldn't have picked a more fitting place to be on the day, or indeed any place we would have liked to be more.  The warmth and generosity of the people we have met over the past year still never ceases to amaze us.


The meaning of life.  Or something like that... 

I always thought when the time came; when our first year was up, that I would have everything planned in my head of what I wanted to say and all the things we have learned during that time.  So many thoughts have run through my head and I've thought to myself 'I must remember that!' But now it's here, I really don't know where to begin.  I'd love to write something terribly impressive and profound but all I keep getting is one recurring theme.  It may not be the kind of thing you expect or hope for me to pass on after spending an entire year in a van; after all, I must have learned a squillion helpful tips or camping tricks, surely?  But here it is anyway.  This is what I've learned, this is what it all boils down to.

What this year has taught me, is that we have just three main jobs in life:

1. Respect our health
2. Respect each other
3. Respect the earth

It is up to us to make sure we do those jobs and do them well.

When Gareth and I first hit the road, we didn't really respect our health at all.  We were fairly fit and active due to Gareth's physical job and the fact we didn't have a car meant we walked around 15km every day on average.  But we still took our bodies for granted.  We ate too much crap and drank far too much alcohol and fizzy drink.  We didn't think we were eating badly; we actually considered ourselves to be 'foodies' and thought that we ate very well but a huge percentage of what we ate was fat.  As a result we got sick fairly often; in fact our travels were delayed by two weeks right at the start because we both got the flu and had to wait until we were both recovered before we could go anywhere!

It took us around four months before our eating and drinking habits started to really catch up with us.  Back when we lived in Whangamata and walked for miles every day we could get away with it; but now we were spending most days either driving or doing sedentary work, we had no chance of burning it off.  Most people report putting on around 5kg when living on the road but I knew for a fact I had put on at least 10kg, if not 15kg and Gareth even more.  We didn't have any scales to know for sure but our clothes were telling us all we needed to know!  By the time winter was over, we were officially getting fat - hang on, did I say getting fat?  We WERE fat.  I'm not going to bore you with the hows or whys of how we went vegan but we ditched the meat, dairy and eggs (there goes most of the fat, right there), bought a water filter jug to have on our tiny bench and kicked the fizzy.  We also try to have as many alcohol free days as possible.  Whilst we're not back to our previously slim selves yet, we feel amazing; the healthiest we have ever felt in our lives.  It's awesome to feel so genuinely healthy on the inside.  Hopefully the outside will catch up soon too!


We're so healthy now it's ridiculous!

That's one bonus we have definitely found of living this way; you become a lot more in tune with your body and what it needs to keep happy and healthy.  Although we were putting on weight, we were still able to look after our bodies to a far greater extent and with the exception of having the measles back in August and an awful stomach bug which was attributed to poor quality drinking water, we haven't been ill since that first bout of the flu a year ago.  I'm not sure why but I think a lot of it is down to being able to look after yourself and rest as necessary when your body tells you it needs to.  For most people, when you live in a house and always have others to look after, you don't get the time to do that.  Indeed, it was a worry of Gareth's before we set out on our travels that my immune system was too weak to cope with this way of life.  To be honest, it was a worry of mine too.  Instead, I have never felt better or been sick less!  Even Liam was surprised when he came to visit us in September and said he had never known me to be so healthy.

After making so many positive changes and feeling the difference, no way will we ever go back.  It's one of those things, you know?  It's like, we all KNOW that we only have one life, one body and that we have to look after it.  Yet still, we don't.  I think living with so little stuff has made us more aware and appreciative of that.  At the end of the day, our bodies are really all we have.  If they don't work properly, well you really do have nothing.

As for respecting each other, people always laugh when I tell them that I think I'm a kinder person now.  Apparently they reckon I was kind already, which is nice.  But I have more time to be kind, to talk to people, to be helpful, to go out of my way for others.  It brings me even more joy now than it did before and I definitely feel a difference.  This year I'm looking forward to sending Christmas cards for the first time in probably almost 15 years.  When I joined Simple Savings I stopped doing that, for the sake of saving money.  But some things aren't about the money.  This year I want to take the time to do something so lovely and traditional and write a few lines to the people we care about to let them know we are thinking of them.  This year I have the time.  Now we feel truly part of the community here, I also want to give something back and am thinking of ways I can volunteer.  I suggested the local SPCA to Gareth and he thought it was a great idea - as long as I don't try and bring all the animals home to the van!


Our laundry is safe with Casper - alas, not the veggie plants!

As for relationships, most people wouldn't be daft enough to even think about living this way with someone they didn't feel they could get along with and I'm not kidding when I say we have never had an argument, either before living in the van or since.  We respect each other's space and appreciate that it's not going to be lollipops and rainbows all the time.  When one of us has a blue day we do our best to look after the other and if one of us is grumpy or stressed, we take the time to explain why so that the other understands and can try and help each other feel better.  This may not sound like much at all, but when you live in such a small space you can't go stomping off to the next room in a huff if you're upset or your nose is put out of joint!  I think we're definitely more considerate of one another, I would like to think I am far more so now than I was when we lived in the house.  We spoil each other in simple ways and have never needed to shower each other with gifts but do so even less now; which is just as well as we have nowhere to put them!


Wherever we go, we leave no trace 

Which brings me to the third 'job' - respecting the earth.  I'm pretty sure I've already talked about this before but it goes without saying we consume so much less and appreciate our surroundings so much more.  Not just resources such as power and water but surprisingly enough fuel as well.  You're probably thinking 'how the heck can that be?'  Simple, really.  We only ever use the van when we are actually travelling.  When we are parked up we always walk to the shops or anywhere else we need to go that's within several kilometres walking distance.  It's good for us to stretch our legs but we never realised just how much we were saving in fuel and wear and tear on our vehicle.  When we picked up Batty the other day, I was amazed to see that she had done just 17,000km in a whole year of travelling, despite going from one end of NZ to the other.  In comparison, I used to do an average of 50,000km a year in my little Mazda when I lived back in Whangamata - and I worked from home! Think about it; how often do you just hop in the car to do five minute jobs?  For a lot of people it's several times a day, every day.  All that money and fuel, wasted just going nowhere.  It really goes to show how much these little needless trips add up.


All this and more awaits those who are willing to go and find it!

I think to really appreciate what an awesome planet we live on, you have to get out and see it.  Too many people are only every concerned with what's happening in their own backyards.  New Zealand is an amazing, unspoilt country - but only if we don't spoil it.  We try to never leave a trace of where we've been and pick up other people's litter as well; something which I may only have bothered to do occasionally before, not made a habit of it.  It's just another small thing I have time for now, which makes me feel good.

I guess that's life for us in a nutshell.  We're kind to everything.  Other people and creatures, the planet and ourselves.  When we first left the house last November, we dreamed of a life of self sufficiency.  A tiny house in a place where we could grow our own food, enjoy space and peace and have animals roaming in the back yard.  Once we made the decision to keep living in the van however I thought that this would never be possible.  But I realised the other day, to my surprise and delight, that this is exactly what we DO have.  Our van is our tiny house, we are growing our own food and have a menagerie of animals to feed, walk and share the same space with.   We'll make a video soon, talking about some of the other things we've learned, as some of our favourite highs and lows of the past 12 months.  But on a personal level, those are the things we've learned.  They're probably the biggest really, aren't they?


Even if you don't know where you're going, you'll get there in the end!


Last Christmas I got a tattoo on my arm which says 'Not all those who wander are lost'.  It was my way of reassuring myself that I knew exactly where I was going (even though I really didn't and was actually quite scared), as well as putting it out there to others who doubted me that I knew exactly what I was doing, thank you very much, and was definitely not lost.  Even though I actually was.  But that's another thing I've learned.  You have to get at least a little lost before you can find yourself.  I can say with all happiness and certainty, I have done that now.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

You Can't Take It With You...

You never know who you're going to meet on the road.  Over the past year we've had the privilege of meeting some truly special people and one of my favourites is Keith.  Every day, for as long as we've been here and weather allows, Keith has walked a circuit of the campground with his tiny white dog.  Whilst the dog was always in a tearing hurry, straining at the leash, at 90 years old, Keith wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere and would always stop to say hello, with a big smile.  For a long time it was nothing more than a quick chat about the weather and for our dogs to sniff noses, but more recently he would stop for longer and we got to learn more about each other.


Keith would always come by here with his dog for a chat

One morning he stopped by the van, being pulled along by his little dog as usual.  'I didn't quite hear you properly the other day, did you say you were a writer?' he asked.  'That's right', I said and told him briefly about some of the work I did.  'I taught people how to save money for a long time', I smiled.  'Really?  I used to be an accountant!  I even worked at The Ensign for a while', he said, referring to the local paper.  'You know, moving to Gore years ago was the best thing I ever did', he went on.  'Everyone's so friendly here, there are so many opportunities, so many things you can get involved in.  It has everything a big city has, in a small town!'  'Yes, we love it here too', I agreed.  In fact, I've never met anyone living here who doesn't!  It really is a beautiful town, with a wonderful, warm community.

As we talked, we found that we had still more in common, such as an involvement with Lions, where I had been a charter member of our local club in Te Kauwhata years ago, and of course a love of dogs.  'I have to find a new home for this one though', he said, nodding down at his tiny four-legged friend.  'I'm selling my house and going into a home.  It's getting a bit much for me, walking around here', he said, looking about him.  'I can imagine, it's no small walk!' I said.  'How long have you got to find her a home?'  'A little while yet', he replied.  'I won't let her go to just anyone though!  They'll have to be kind, like you', he said earnestly.  'Ah, I would take her tomorrow if I could - but I really don't think we have any more room in the van!'  I laughed.  'I'm sure you'll find her a lovely home.  Do you have any family members who could possibly take her?'

'Yes, well I haven't had too much luck with my children, unfortunately', he said.  'I lost one daughter when she was 39 and my other daughter developed an incurable condition out of the blue, where one side of her brain doesn't work properly.  She was a surgeon, an excellent one.  She won a scholarship to San Fransisco.  Her children are all Yanks', he laughed.  'But she had to stop, just like that.  She can still ride a horse though, she loves her horses'.  I felt honoured that he opened up and told me so much.  'My son lives in Australia, he's coming over in two weeks to help me with the move', Keith smiled.  'Oh, well that will be wonderful!'  I smiled back.  'Well we'll be seeing you before then I'm sure.  Do let me know how you go finding a home for your little dog.  Maybe I can help if you get stuck'. 

At 90 years old, Keith looked nowhere near it; his eyes still sparkled.  He had had an amazing life and raised an exceptional family.  His wife had been in a retirement home for several years and now the two-storey home they had owned for the last 25 years was getting too much for him to look after.  Both Gareth and I liked him a lot and it always made us smile to see him doing the rounds with his dog, so when Bevin the caretaker asked us if we would mind going along to Keith's house yesterday to help with clearing things out for the move, we agreed straight away.  'His son's over from Australia now, but they've got a hell of a mission on their hands!' he warned us.

We arrived to find Bevin's wife, Amy and a group of other ladies crammed into the kitchen, methodically going through cupboards and shelves.  Now we could see why they needed the extra help, this was going to be no small task!  Seeing as Keith was going to be moving into the retirement home, there was no way he was going to be able to take everything with him; not even a fraction of it.  We had to sort everything into boxes, bags and piles.  One pile for the local foodbank, another for the Hospice charity shop, another for Keith to take with him, and one more for rubbish.  As a 90-year-old former accountant, it was no surprise that Keith lived a very 'waste not, want not' lifestyle. Everything was recycled, and put away to be used again.  Nothing was ever thrown away, from spare milk bottle tops to food items and he had meticulously continued to buy the same items he had always bought, regardless of whether he needed them or not.  If there was ever a zombie apocalypse, Keith should have technically been able to live off his stockpile for years!  The problem was, all the time he kept saving what he had and buying more, he hadn't been USING any of it.  As a result, we had to throw away hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of expired food, dating as far back as 2001!  It felt criminal to dispose of so much, but there was nothing else we could do.  Rather than 'waste not, want not', he still wanted for nothing, but so much had been wasted.  On the positive side, none of us were ever going to need to buy cling wrap or ziplock bags ever again, we found enough rolls and bundles to supply the whole town!

'I never thought last time we met that next time I saw you, you'd be standing in my kitchen!' Keith smiled, as he came in to find Gareth and I had joined the cleaning crew.  'I tell you what Keith, we'd have a heck of a job fitting all this into a camper van!' I laughed.  The food wasn't the hardest part, however.  Because literally nothing was ever thrown away, we had no way of knowing what was important and what was just clutter.  Being very aware that Keith and his wife had lost a daughter, we were terrified of throwing out or giving away anything which was important or sentimental.  But we were also aware that he could take precious little with him to his new place.  Years and years of memories were in that house, souvenirs, awards and mementos of a long life lived, three children raised and more grandchildren.  And we had no idea what to do with it all.  My heart really went out to Keith as he sat there in his lounge chair, watching the whirlwind of activity all around him as we went through all his possessions, deciding what was fit to keep and what had to go.  He had been around the house with his son the day before, picking out the things which were absolutely not to be left behind, but even so, it must have felt incredibly overwhelming and out of his control to have everyone going through his possessions like that.

By the time we finished clearing the kitchen, there were rubbish bags piled up in the drive, waiting to go to the dump, boxes and boxes being taken to the hospice shop and still more boxes to go to the foodbank.  From one room!  And just three medium sized boxes put aside from it all for Keith.  I wondered how much more of it he would take with him if he could.  'You wouldn't want to go doing this every day, would you!' I grinned at Keith as I grabbed another box.  'Never again!  This is my last move', he smiled - and I realised that it really would be.  No new adventure to look forward to, not like my mum when she had to sort out her belongings to emigrate from the UK to NZ after my dad died.  Not like us when we had to downsize all our possessions from a house into a van to go travelling.  It was indeed the last move, and I realised sadly that just like the old saying goes, you can't take it with you.  But I realised something else too, as I spotted the glass coffee table covered with medals, that here was a man who had lived a very long, full and rewarding life.  That was nothing to be sad about.

Yesterday also made me realise something else.  We are never, ever going to have to do that living in a van!  Just like we said in our recent video, your priorities, your ideals of what is important completely change when you live with so little.  You know the old question 'if your house was on fire, what would you save?' Perhaps it's worth thinking about it another way.  If you had to move all the years of your life into a retirement home; a tiny, one-room unit, what would you - or rather, what COULD you - take with you?  If there's one thing I learned from yesterday, it's this: If you don't hold on to it all, you don't have to say goodbye to it all.


One of the few precious things we'll have in our van now :-)

It will be sad not to see Keith around the campground any more; his little dog went to its new home a couple of days ago.  But I like to think we will go and visit him in his new digs once he's settled in.  And thanks to him, I have a lovely and much-needed salad bowl!  I've been on the lookout for one for ages and now I have a beautiful pottery one to remember him by.  I have a feeling it will get used an awful lot more now than it ever did before!

Friday, 3 November 2017

Dead Wood & Shiny New Doors


I woke up this morning to the birds singing and the sun coming up and as I often do, started thinking about what an amazing year it's been.  And then I realised something else.  Have you noticed how much my blog has changed from 12 months ago?  I didn't even notice it myself - but I think it has.  I'm still the same, but life is so different.  I don't mean in the 'hooray for me, life is such a great adventure', kind of sense either.  It's just not hard any more.  Before, there was always some drama, some adversity I was battling, some crisis I was trying to overcome.  Sometimes I won, sometimes I didn't.  There was plenty of good stuff, plenty of triumphs and always a positive to come out of the bad times.  But still, for years life was just so bloody hard.  And now it isn't.  It's not me against the world any more.

So why is life so much simpler now I'm living in a camper van?  I guess there's just no room and no reason to make it complicated.  Sure, it's a lot easier when you don't have a load of stuff cluttering up your house, but this isn't about physical stuff so much as emotional stuff.  I have so much more time to stay focused, to be grounded.  Time moves fast but life moves slower.  We have no schedule, nowhere we need to be, no reason to rush.  Not rushing is a biggie.  It stops you from making stupid decisions that make your life harder, such as wasting money thoughtlessly, buying more things you don't need, over committing and over stretching yourself, not saying 'no' when you really should, constantly worrying about how to be better, happier, prettier, thinner, more successful and all those other things society tells us we need to be.  Always being pulled in a dozen different directions, squeezing yourself into as many different roles and trying to be perfect at all of them.  Life isn't like that when you live on the road.  Life just is. 

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as the saying goes.  I wouldn't change a thing about my van life - but if I ever did; if I ever went back to living a conventional life I would do my best to be mindful of all those things and never let it get so complicated again. Twenty or more years ago, my auntie gave me a peace of advice I've never forgotten.  Someone was making me so deeply unhappy that I didn't know what to do.  She told my mother over the phone from the other side of the world that I needed to literally think of them as 'dead wood', and simply cast them out, along with their hurtful jibes and nasty behaviour.  It made me laugh to think of that person as a bunch of dry sticks, but I did as she said, and it worked!  Whilst I couldn't avoid them, change them, or prevent them from being in my life, their words and behaviour no longer got to me.  To this day, they will always be dead wood to me!


Let that dead wood go!

It would be wonderful if everyone could simply pack up their lives and travel around in a campervan in search of a simpler life.  I highly recommend it.  But if that isn't possible - at least not yet - and you wish things just weren't so darn complicated, I reckon you can apply the 'dead wood' tactic to all sorts of things.  Over commitments, possessions, bills, even social circle.  Most people's lives need whittling down in some area or another, even if they don't realise it.

Now, I don't know if it's coincidence or what, but once you get rid of the dead wood in your life, shiny new opportunities start to present themselves from out of nowhere.  Maybe it's just serendipity, who knows, but I reckon when your life is less cluttered it 1) makes these opportunities easier to spot, 2) gives you time to NOTICE them and 3) enables you to DO something about them.  This applies to anyone whether living on the road or not!  Certainly one of the questions we get asked most is 'so what do you do?' and indeed the fear of not being able to find work or come up with a way to support and sustain themselves is one of the things which stops a lot of people from making that leap and living the dream.  But believe us, the opportunities are out there; so, so many.  We could literally get a new job every day if we wanted!  It's just a case of keeping your eyes open. 

We'll talk more about some of those scenarios in our upcoming video, where we'll be answering some of your questions about life on the road.  But you never know where and how they are going to turn up.  The last week alone has brought us some wonderful new opportunities, and we haven't even left the campground!  Believe it or not, for someone who uses it incessantly, I really don't like social media.  Really!  But as dreadful as it is in many ways, it is also incredibly useful and informative.  It enables me to connect with likeminded people and share simple joys in the same things.  And for many years it has allowed me to follow my passion and actually make an income from writing about the things I love.  Which is very cool.  The thing is though, when you really love something, or are truly interested in it, you don't do it for the money.  Just like this blog!  Even though I've tried to stop blogging a few times over the years, I've always gone back to it because I love it so much.  Every time I feel happy about something I can't help myself from wanting to share that happiness, and this is how I do it.  Call me weird or egotistical or whatever I may be, but that's just me.

Since we've been living on the road, we have had a lot more time to focus on keeping good health and filling our bodies with amazing food has become another one of my passions.  I read about it voraciously and throw myself wholeheartedly into all kinds of interesting discussions.  I've learned a huge amount already and love to be able to help other people by sharing it with them too.  So when I saw a tiny post on Facebook a couple of weeks ago asking 'Are you good at reading labels?' I responded.  I didn't even really know what it was for; only that you needed to have a good knowledge of plant based whole foods.  I figured I had nothing to lose and plenty of time to help out, so I took a test, which I passed.  I was then invited to send through a CV and a bit about myself, which I did.  I had no idea if this label reading thing was paid or voluntary or what, I just thought it would be interesting! 

To cut a long story short, the request came from Naked Food Magazine, which is a highly respected healthy living magazine in the US and Canada.  I knew the publication and loved it - but that was all.  I had no idea what an incredible woman the editor was, or the inspiring story behind the magazine's creation.  As soon as I read it, I would have happily read labels, licked stamps, whatever she wanted!  Fortunately for me, I get to do so much more than that.  As of yesterday, I learned I will be joining the team as a writer and PR assistant!  I'm still pinching myself.  But there's more!  What I also didn't know about the magazine is that my absolute heroes, the physicists and nutritional scientists who have had me riveted to their writings and documentaries this whole time - are part of that team!  Honestly, I've literally been jumping around the place and squeaking with joy!  All that ginormous opportunity from one tiny post.  I could so easily have missed it, or have thought it wasn't important enough, or that I was too busy already and someone else who didn't have anything else to do could do it, but I didn't.  Sometimes opportunities come to you; others you have to chase, but either way don't let them pass you by.  You just never know.


Happily homeless, and very busy!

It's just as well we've decided to stay put for a while, as we're in for a busy old time!  When people ask us 'so what do you do?' which happens most days, we usually just say 'oh, we work from the van'.  It sounds a bit vague and wishy washy, but if we gave them the full story it would be something along the lines of 'Well, we write a travel blog, manage two Facebook pages, have just started our own YouTube channel, write articles as well as doing photography and filming videos for Motorhomes, Caravans and Destinations magazine, are in the middle of writing a book, provide content for a nutrition and lifestyle magazine in the US, are looking into a new business opportunity and also do a bit of freelancing'.  Not bad for a couple of hobos! 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Van Life - According to 'The Professionals'



Almost a year on, we DO know what freedom feels like!

One year ago today we became the proud owners of our first van, Batty!  I remember driving her for the first time and thinking to myself 'so this is what freedom feels like'.  It felt wonderful, but I still had my doubts - as in, was this really what freedom felt like, or was I just telling myself that because I was actually scared to death about the enormous lifestyle change I was about to make?  I think it was probably both!  What a long way we have come this past year - me, Gareth AND Batty!  Even though we upsized to Ken back in January, Batty has still been busy travelling with our friend Tom and has taken him everywhere from surfing in Raglan to skiing in Wanaka.  We're hoping to catch up with them both here in Southland over the next couple of weeks and are really looking forward to hearing all about how Tom has been enjoying van life!


Our first van, Batty.  Still travelling NZ with Tom!


When this is the only home you have, you adapt pretty quickly!

It goes without saying that living on the road isn't for everyone; but I do think when it's the only option you have, you adapt a lot more quickly.  Before leaving her home of 24 years behind, our neighbour Debra used to have a pop-up camper but found she never went away for more than a day or two before feeling it was all too hard and returning back home.  Once she no longer had a house to return to however, she had no choice but to get on with it and we were the same.  The first week or two was incredibly challenging but life today couldn't be easier.  'We're professionals now!' Debra laughed earlier this week, as the three of us sat and enjoyed a nice cold cider together in the sunshine.  Indeed, we get a lot of people coming to talk to us these days, saying 'Wow, you guys have got a great set-up!' 

I've read several different accounts of van life from other people around the world and we all have quite varying perspectives.  I have to say that our experience is probably the most positive!  Saying that, this is life for us; most other people we read about are just doing it for a few months, travelling around a particular country on a budget before returning home to their previous lives in a regular house.  Sure, once you get back home to a conventional life with an organised wardrobe, unlimited hot water and a heap of gadgets to make life easier I can imagine how some people would wonder how they ever managed to survive so long in such a small space!  But there are also plenty of weirdos like us who thrive and wouldn't swap it for the world.  If I had read those other people's articles on van life before doing it ourselves, I would probably have written it off as an option right there and then!  The thing is, don't be put off by anything you read.  Everyone is different; the only way you'll ever know is to get out there and try it for yourself.  But for what its worth, here is my perspective on a couple of things others have said:

1. 'Personal space is no longer personal'.  Apparently when you live in a van 'your personal bubble will be popped several times a minute'.  I have to say, Gareth and I are yet to find that - and we have a none-too-small dog in the mix too!  If anyone should have a problem with this it would normally be me; as an only child I am very used to my own space, indeed I HAVE to have it - yet I have never once felt smothered or too cramped.  We both have our own little areas that we work comfortably in during the day and relax together at night and it works really well, we both have plenty of room.  As I've mentioned before, we're both creative types and are quite happy occupying ourselves with our different interests, or together on the same ones.  We're also respectful and supportive of each other's work and just plan our day around whatever needs to get done.  I get cabin fever easier than Gareth so make sure I go for a good long walk every day whenever the weather allows.  This also allows Gareth to indulge his love of computer games to his heart's content!  We also keep abreast of the weather and plan our day's activities accordingly.  It's really not rocket science.  Seriously, if an only child, a burly Welshman and a rotund spaniel can co-exist happily in a few square feet without getting in each other's faces, anyone can!

2. 'Your consumption is visible'.  This is a really good one, and in fact something which hadn't occurred to me.  I mean obviously we consume less of everything than we did in a house, but I just never thought about the difference being actually visible.  For example, our on-board rubbish bin is tiny, not the 40 litre or whatever ridiculous size rubbish bin I used to have in the kitchen.  We also used to have smaller rubbish bins in each of the bedrooms and the bathroom!  Hence it goes without saying that the amount of rubbish we throw away is now very small.  One of the best things about being vegan is that our food waste is now nothing but vegetable scraps, which get turned into vegetable stock first before finally being thrown away.  No mess, no smell.  You wouldn't believe how much easier it is to keep our little kitchen clean and sanitary now!   The amount of water we conserve now is also crazy compared to our previous life.  Every drop you use that you don't drink has to be disposed of somehow, bucket by bucket, rather than countless litres disappearing down a plughole every day.  It's an amazingly eco-friendly way to live!

3. 'Normal things become luxuries'.  As we have both found, and demonstrated through several stays in posh motels, we really don't find this at all.  The ONLY thing I can honestly say I miss is having a hot bath as I was a real bath person before.  And when we didn't have a fridge for five months we really appreciated opening a cold bottle or wine or beer compared to a warm one!  Apart from that, we really don't feel that we are in any way deprived. I guess it all depends on the kind of person you are but if there is one thing that van life teaches you, it's that you can actually live quite easily without a lot of things that you never thought you could. 


It's a long road.  But only as long as you make it!

4. 'Travelling with your home is exhausting'.  Umm, really?  Who's the one in charge of that?  The person behind the wheel!  It's only exhausting if you drive too far!  When we first hit the road we agreed that we wouldn't drive more than three hours a day.  However a few months down the track we somehow found ourselves driving six or seven hours in a day in our attempt to see as much as possible.  Try doing that for a few days and yes, you will be exhausted.  The great thing about travelling with your home is, you are in charge of your own schedule.  You can go as fast or as slow as you like, and stop wherever you like for as long as you like too! 

5. 'You'll need to make sacrifices'.  I was actually quite gobsmacked by this one and didn't really know what to make of it, as I honestly can't think of any sacrifices we've had to make at all.  If there have been, we certainly haven't thought of them that way!  Again I guess this depends on the kind of person you are.  Most people who contemplate living in a van are already quite aware that they won't always have access to a hot shower or have Internet available.  But that's one of the best things!  Learning to live without all the mod cons we take for granted encourages people to make better uses of their time and realise that the best things in life; the best feelings, the best views, the best memories, the ones you want to keep in your mind forever - are all free.  That's not a sacrifice, that's a blessing!  I think our one and only sacrifice has been of a different kind and that's been moving away from our families.  When you go from living under the same roof or seeing them every day to not seeing them for months, it can be really hard.  Some days that really sucks, it just pulls at you.  But on the positive side, it has also made us appreciate everyone so much more.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say!  And as I've said before, we can be wherever we need to be. 

6. 'You'll have more control over your budget'.  Absolutely - but this part is very much up to you.  It's wonderful living a life with no bills, but there are still a lot of other things to consider.  People think that living on the road is all freedom camping.  I did too, and if you live in a large motorhome then it most certainly can be that way.  When you are living in a mobile home where you have your own toilet and shower, you can park up somewhere free and be completely self sufficient for as long as you like - or at least until the tanks need emptying!  But most freedom camps do not have toilets, or running water, or rubbish bins, which is why they require vehicles to be self contained.  I'm not sure of the rules in other countries, I've read several articles from people travelling around Australia who simply carry a spade and use Mother Nature as their toilet but if you so much as think of doing the same in NZ, your 'number two' will turn into a $200 instant fine.  Despite its dead cool and trendy sounding name, in the great majority of cases a freedom camp is quite literally just a bit of ground to park on, and for a night or two at most.

Although our van is certified self contained in the loo department, you can only realistically go so long without having a shower, or the dog might throw up on the only blanket you have and hand washing just isn't going to cut it or get it dry in time for bed (yes that did happen).  At some time or another, for whatever reason you're going to need to stay at paid campsites, and depending on the time of year, they aren't always cheap.  Most are between $20 and $40 per night even if you're not using their power and the most expensive one we've found was $66 in school holidays!  We didn't stay there!  It really pays to do your homework but at the end of the day you still have some control.  We just refuse to pay those prices and plan our travel time and route accordingly, as explained a couple of blogs ago.  Also, when you are accustomed to living so simply and spending so little, you soon wonder why the hell you used to spend so much money on buying food and drink out when you can just make a drink and a bite to eat for yourself!  It's much more of a 'make do and mend' lifestyle too; it's much easier to fix or cobble a solution together yourself rather than pay for someone else to do it.

7. 'Be sure to ask your partner these 20 questions before moving into a camper van together'.  Yes, there is even an article on this.  Seriously - if you don't already know what your partner's most annoying habit is, or how good they are with money, or whether they are a morning person or not, or what their hobbies or favourite bands are, you really shouldn't be contemplating shacking up in a camper van with them!


We've woken up next to rivers, lakes, mountains, by the sea...


Wherever we go, the view is never too shabby!

I would say that living on the road is by no means a glamorous existence - but that depends on your definition of glamour.  Earlier this week it was raining and after an unexpected cold snap for a few days, the underside of our mattress cushions had once again become wet.  Putting them outside to dry wasn't an option in the rain so I somehow managed to dismantle the bed with everyone still inside the van and sat at one end of the van, calmly drying the mattress with a hairdryer, whilst Gareth and Minnie perched themselves at the other end, eating breakfast.  I remember laughing to myself thinking 'if only people could see me right now!' It certainly wasn't my idea of glamour!  But waking up to the sun coming up over the mountains, or watching it go down over a lake, or spending all day playing in the snow simply because you have all the time in the world and there's nothing else you need to be doing today?  To me that's a pretty grand life indeed.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Living the Dream

Before Gareth and I met so spectacularly over the potted herbs in Bunnings, I genuinely thought I was going to be on my own forever.  I was quite accepting of that and had the rest of my life pretty much worked out, so I thought.  The plan was to spend the next 20 or 30 years watching TV on my own every night, just like I already was, dividing my time between Come Dine With Me and My Kitchen Rules.  After that, with a bit of luck I would have saved enough money to be able to travel around the country in a little motorhome, just me and the dog, for the rest of my days, living on pretty much nothing and doing lots of crosswords.  As we all know however, fate had another very different say in the matter!  Which is most fortunate, as I wouldn't have missed any of this for the world.


There's so much more to life than watching Come Dine With Me!

As a writer and blogger of many years now, I'm used to people knowing a lot about me.  That's always been fine and I've felt safe sharing among certain groups of people.  The people who read my blog or articles, and have come to know me and my lifestyle have predominantly done so through either a shared enthusiasm for saving money and frugal living, or an interest in travel and are planning to live on the road, if not already, or most recently veganism.  So it was a totally different experience at the weekend when I found myself under national scrutiny via the Sunday Star Times and one of NZ's largest news websites, Stuff.co.nz.  After a year of enjoying such a sheltered, anonymous existence, surrounded by others peacefully doing the same, it made me feel extremely vulnerable and indeed rather uncomfortable to have thousands of complete strangers casting an eye over my life choices and decisions!

The reporter, Rob Stock did a wonderful job as always and the response was huge, invoking an enormous about of feedback and discussion.  I was amazed when I read the comments however to find that they were nothing like I had anticipated.  I had been steeling myself to face a barrage of negativity for having exchanged something large and sensible like a house, for what I thought would be widely perceived as a 'foolish move' or 'an uncertain future'.  What I got instead was the complete opposite.  I lost count of how many comments had the word 'dream' in it, as in 'That's my dream!' or 'Living the dream'.  Wow, is that really how people see the way we live?  We've been living this way for so long now, it's just becomes normal and you forget how many people are still out there dreaming of doing the same thing, just like we were 12 months ago.


If there's one thing I hope to come out of that article, it's that we may inspire somebody else to do the same.  After all, that's what happened to us!  We had been dreaming about living on the road, but never thought we could actually make a go of it.  Until literally a couple of days after we had talked about it and put it in the 'too hard' basket, we read an article in That's Life! magazine about an NZ woman who waved goodbye to stress and bills and instead bought herself a 12 metre bus and had been living and working all across the country ever since.  It was her who made us realise that what we dreamed of really was possible and didn't have to stay a dream.  If she could do it at her age, we could sure as heck do it at ours!  For us, living on the road made perfect sense because we had no idea where we wanted to be.  Luckily for us, it was the best decision we could have made.

There are only two things which hold people back from living the life they truly want.  One is fear; the other is worrying about what other people think, which I guess also comes down to fear.  As I learned very early on when I met Gareth, he is absolutely 100% himself.  He doesn't give a hoot about conforming and when it comes to the big things in life; the things that really matter, he isn't scared of anything.  It's one of the things I love most about him.  His motto in life is 'Just do it!' and it's become mine too.  You can waste a lot of life being scared and a lot of people are scared of change, which is natural when you have no idea what the future holds - but change is good!  Not only that, sometimes change is necessary.


Who's got time for negativity these days?  Not me!

Even so, when you change your life so completely,  you need to be aware that not everyone is going to like it.  It's a bit like going vegan - nobody ever cared about what you ate before but when you deviate from the norm, all of a sudden everyone has an opinion and is an expert on what you should be doing!  Over the past year I have been subjected to a considerable amount of abuse from people who knew me in previous stages of my life and do not like the fact I am no longer living in a regular home, paying regular bills and doing regular things, the way they think I should.  I have been accused of 'running away from my responsibilities' and even told to 'grow up'.  It has been very hurtful; at once stage I thought it was going to break me, but I got through it.  The fact is, sometimes in your life, no matter how much we have been conditioned to always put everyone else first and for how long, and no matter how guilty others may make you feel - SOMETIMES - you just have to do something for yourself, for your own wellbeing.  And you know what?  It's the best thing I ever did. 

I didn't respond to any of the comments I read following the Stuff article; I thought it was best to just sit back but if I had said anything, I would have said 'just do it!'  You don't have to settle for a life of My Kitchen Rules, or spend the next 20 or 30 years dreaming.  To use another motto, 'where there's a will, there's a way' and there are plenty of people out here finding a way.  You may remember Debra, the lady I've written about a couple of times who lives in her car.  Like us, she didn't know where she wanted to be when her circumstances changed so decided on a mobile solution so she could find herself a new home in her own time.  I admire her hugely, as indeed I admire any female living this way on her own.  It's a pleasure watching her grow in both confidence and experience; every new thing she learns, every triumph over adversity.  I also loved watching the young Asian couple who stayed for a few days recently - the ones I face planted in front of in my last blog post.  The two of them are travelling around in a tiny hatchback, without so much as a tent!  Most people who travel around in their cars at least go for something bigger like a station wagon but these two don't care at all!  They're just so happy to be out there doing it and are always so excited about everything.  They never stopped smiling the whole time!  It's only when you leave the constraints of 'normal' life that you realise that there are actually no rules.

I'm not sure how the new freedom camping rules are going to affect them and others like them travelling NZ this summer; there are not too many campgrounds like ours.  I don't think they're going to have an easy time of it, which is sad.  Freedom campers get a hell of a bad rap.  Sure there are a few who spoil it for everyone else and we hate being tarred with the same brush.  But those people are not country or age specific the way people think.  There are also a lot of people like us, who still work and pay tax - in fact as a freelance writer I get taxed 25c in every dollar, more than most people living in a house and paying rates!  People like us just want to live a simpler life and consume less.  Surely that's a good thing? There are also a lot of New Zealanders staying in freedom camps who have worked their entire lives and want to enjoy their retirement touring around the country.  They deserve every bit of their freedom and should be able to without being made to feel bad about it! 

I got another surprise yesterday afternoon when walking through the grounds and a couple I hadn't met before jumped out of their bus.  'We know who you are!' they grinned, waving their copy of the newspaper at me.  By the time we finished talking about everything from trout fishing in the Mataura River to fly fishing courses in Mosgiel I'd made some lovely new friends, who I look forward to bumping into again in the future.  I've said it many a time I'm sure but there's nothing more enjoyable than meeting other people who live the same lifestyle and love it as much as you do.  Come to think of it, I've never met anyone living this way who doesn't!

Friday, 13 October 2017

The Good Old Days

Good grief our campground has been busy this past week!  We're not used to having so many neighbours after the peace and relative solitude of winter but everyone's really coming out of the woodwork now.  There's a lot of people in cars, a couple of brave tenters and it can take an awfully long time to take Minnie for her morning waddle by the time we've chatted to everyone on the way round.  It's cool though, I really enjoy watching people living life so simply.  Our set up is so luxurious in comparison after almost a year's experience that I feel almost guilty watching them standing outside cooking on impossibly tiny stoves on the ground and constantly packing and unpacking everything into overcrowded car boots.  It's a fantastic way to see the country on a budget though, I wish I had thought of doing it years ago! 


Living the old fashioned way is easy when the weather is this good!

My dad, God rest his soul told me before he passed away to keep it simple - life, that is.  He's been gone 20 years and it's taken me this long to truly achieve that but I think I'm finally getting there.  Life IS simple, if you let it be so.  We live on so little these days it's crazy.  To be honest I've forgotten a lot of the things I used to do when we lived a regular life, it's been so long but I liken it to going back to the good old days of our grandparents.  I wash by hand whenever I can (which is a hell of a lot easier now the water is no longer freezing!).  We have a sink which works perfectly well but I prefer to do my dishes in a bucket outside and leave them to dry in the sun.  I also wash my hair outside over a bucket and pour a jug over my head, like my mum taught me when I was little.  We save all of our vegetable scraps to make stock and even make free fertiliser from banana peels to water our vegetable plants with.  We make all our own cleaning products, same as I have done for years (incidentally it made me chuckle this morning to read a news story which said a recent test by Consumer magazine on the country's most popular cleaning products revealed that plain old water did a better job than most of them!) and despite having a working vehicle constantly at our disposal we choose to walk everywhere.  Sometimes it makes me wonder how much of the things I do today stem from my years at Simple Savings, or whether I would be doing them anyway.  I do think Simple Savings has a lot to do with it; it taught me always to think outside the square and to look for a smarter, cheaper way.  I don't know too many other campers who do all the things we do!

Both Gareth and I got through the entire winter and beyond with no more than four changes of clothes.  We wore our snow boots until we had to throw them away and with bikini weather already here we'll be dragging our summer clothes out for the next six months.  So far I've worn make-up just twice in the past year; once at Christmas and again recently when we went to see Liam. On both occasions Gareth said 'What are you doing that for?  You don't need that stuff!'  to which I replied 'I don't want Liam to think his mother has gone completely feral!'  Life is simple and we spend our days doing simple things, just like people used to do years ago before they all felt they had to be doing fifty-million things at once, and before the media started bombarding us with articles telling us what we needed to do to be happy or successful. 


It's a simple life for all three of us!

It's a rare thing these days, having a truly simple life.  A lot of people never manage to achieve that; or if they do, not for very long.  I thought I was going to be one of those people, yet now I live the simplest life of anyone I know.  It goes without saying that once you have that, you want to hold onto it for as long as you can.  Which is why we have decided to stay put for a while, rather than travelling back up north for summer as we planned.  There are several reasons for this which I won't bore you with now but the main one is that it will be a lot more comfortable and economical for us to stay in the South Island over peak holiday season than up in the North.  As we discovered last summer, finding places to stay in the North Island which are a) dog friendly, b) not overcrowded, c) don't cost $50 a night and d) offer more than two nights' freedom camping can prove very expensive and stressful.  It's no fun living in a camper van on a scorching hot day when you can't take your dog to the beach to cool off for the biggest part of the day, or for a bush walk in the shade when so many areas don't allow dogs.  It's even less fun when your poor dog is sweltering for hours in a hot van whilst you can be driving around for hours, searching in vain for a suitable place to stay!  Nope, all things considered, we would rather wait and make our way back up the country when we can do so for $20 a night rather than $40 or $50!


Minnie's already feeling the heat!  At least here we can keep her cool.

In comparison the South Island is so much more laid back.  We can stay here for as long as we like for $5 a night (and have MORE facilities than the other campgrounds charge ten times as much for!). We have 40 acres we can wander around on with Minnie, lots of shady trees for us all to keep cool and there is far more space for fellow campers than there is at any other campground we have come across.  Plus it's beautiful here, it's like living in a park!  Much as we want to see our loved ones, it just doesn't make sense to travel up that end of the country at the most hectic time of year.  Better to wait until the hordes have gone and we can make our way up in comfort and for far less cost, when the campgrounds aren't all full.  I guess it goes to show how much we have learned about this lifestyle after four seasons!


'It wasn't me!' says Dudley the lamb!  Who is in fact a girl...

Don't worry though, just because we will be based in the same place, doesn't mean we will be resting on our laurels!  We both have a lot of work to do, and new opportunities cropping up, which will mean plenty of road trips and checking out new places here in the South.  Our to-do list of places to visit is still very long!  We'll keep you posted as we go along.  For now we are still busy playing farmers and greeting fellow campers.  Although the two unfortunately don't always go hand in hand.  Last night we met a young Asian couple as we were going to feed Casper and Dudley, the two orphan lambs.  'Did you say you have baby LAMBS?' they said, excitedly.  'Yep, do you want to come and see them?' we said.  They were beside themselves when we gave them a bottle each to feed them and took a heap of videos and photos.  'Time for bed fellas!' Gareth said when they were done, and we each picked up a lamb and carried them to the barn for the night, followed by the young couple.  Casper is the smaller of the two and is 'my' baby, who always snuggles into my neck when he's being carried.  Unfortunately when I went to put him down on the ground, he wriggled out of my arms, causing me to fall on a large wire gate leaning against a wall.  The gate came crashing down with me on top of it (mercifully the lambs had the good sense to run out of the way in the nick of time) and caused me to do a spectacular face plant in the straw, right in front of our very concerned new Asian friends.  Aside from a few bruises and grazes the only thing that was hurt was my pride.  I'm just glad they didn't manage to video THAT too!

Friday, 6 October 2017

'Space Problems'

As you can probably tell from the last few blogs, we had a brilliant time in Dunedin.  Even so, we were happy as always to get back to our beloved van.  Call us weird but we're far more comfortable tucked up in our little Ken than in a luxurious motel room!  Neither of us got any sleep the whole time we were there as we simply weren't used to having such an enormous bed with such plumptious pillows.  It was too quiet as well, without the hum of the dehumidifier and Minnie's comforting snores!  We really missed not having a hob to be able to cook our own food as well and found it quite frustrating having to eat out all the time, not to mention expensive.  That said however, it is always nice to see the team at the Aurora on George Motel.  They are so friendly and helpful and provide really top quality accommodation at an affordable price, right in the centre of the city, so if you ever need somewhere to stay in Dunedin, we can highly recommend them.  In fact we never stay anywhere else!


You never know who you're going to meet from one day to the next when
you're staying in a campground!

We're coming up to 11 months in our little home on wheels and are happier than ever.  As you may have gathered by now, we meet a LOT of people and that's one of the things that you need to be prepared to do when undertaking this lifestyle.  You need to be happy and willing to chat to people at any time, whether you like it or not - and you're not always going to feel like it.  Don't get me wrong, it's also one of the very best things about living on the road.  It's lovely to meet new people and often they can make your day.  But other times all you really want to do is zip to the loo for two minutes, not stand and swap yarns for half an hour with your legs crossed!  Even so, it's one of the most wonderful things about this lifestyle; it makes you get out of your comfort zone and talk to people you never normally would.  I remember saying to Gareth before we first set off, 'You can do the talking, I don't want to talk to strangers!' to which he willingly agreed, being the lovely, social chap he is.  But from the very first day at our very first campground,  somehow I found myself chatting merrily about travel with an Australian, talking politics with an American (not that I knew what he was talking about, I had never understood politics my whole life!) and later showing the same chap how to work the communal microwave whilst listening to him extol the virtues of the Paleo diet.  Days like that are pretty typical.  The people you meet are always interesting, you have a lot of laughs and everyone goes out of their way to help one another.


It's a pretty rough start to the day, having to eat your breakfast in the sunshine!

If there is one thing we hear more than anything else from our fellow travellers however, it's 'I don't know how you do it', in reference to living in our van.  Naturally this comes from people living in large motor homes or caravans; for your average overseas traveller our vehicle is really nothing unusual, in fact we're bigger than a lot of them but I guess for most people a van like ours is a short term arrangement, not something they envisage doing long term.  Hey, we never planned to either!  The thing is, as we've said before, it's not the size of your mobile home that's important, it's the set up.  If you get that right, life is a breeze no matter how small it is.  We saw a seven-metre bus in a car yard the other day that wasn't half as well set up as our Ken!  We did think about upsizing to something bigger a while back but we're not even worried about that any more.  We've got Ken pretty much perfect now and would rather stay happy and content as we are and have money in the bank so we can enjoy our simple lifestyle for years to come, than spend thousands of dollars on something bigger when there's nothing wrong with what we have.


Space problems?  Not us!  A place for everything and everything in its place :)

Which means I guess we'll be hearing 'I don't know how you do it' for a long time to come yet!  But that's fine, we don't expect others to understand.  As we tell people, it's what you get used to.  If you're accustomed to living in a huge dwelling then you can't imagine being able to live with anything else because that's what you're used to, it's all you know.  People genuinely believe they NEED that much space and that much stuff.  They also can't believe we can seriously be warmer in our van than they are in their house or motor home, which is really funny.  One chap in a large caravan this morning recognised us from a few months ago and was amazed we were still here, in the same van.  'How on earth did you survive the winter down here?' he asked in disbelief.  'Easy!' I grinned.  'We have a heater and a dehumidifier.  We were warm as toast!' 'Yeah, right!' he laughed.  'No, really!' I insisted.  'It's much easier to keep a small space like this warm than a big one'.  'Yeah right', he laughed again.  'Small space alright!'  I couldn't fathom for the life of me why he couldn't comprehend that a small space would be warmer and easier to heat than a big one but smiled sweetly and let it go.  Just as I did to another chap who we talked to at length about making an awning, the same as he had done on his vehicle.  'It's an easy solution to space problems', he said.  'And you've got space problems!'

'I don't think we've got space problems!' said Gareth, after the helpful man left.  'We don't.  It's just everyone else thinks we do', I laughed.  And that's just fine, each to their own!