Wednesday, 20 December 2017

A Little Christmassy Village!

I read in the news the other day that this person called Halsey is being heralded as the voice of a generation.  This was rather a revelation and it made me chuckle as I have no idea who they are.  Gareth didn't have the foggiest either, but then we have no idea of a lot of things any more.  We haven't heard a single song in the Top 40 since we left the house and we have no idea what's on everyday TV or who is famous any more.  I didn't realise just how far removed from everything we actually were until a couple of weeks ago, when I was sitting in the waiting room of the local medical centre and a large television screen loomed above, playing daytime shows.  'Ooh, that was exciting last night, wasn't it?' a woman sitting opposite me smiled.  'I'm glad that couple from Wanaka won!'  'Oh, that's good!' I smiled back.  I figured she must have been talking about Masterchef or some similar show, which she was, and I thought I had got away with it until she kept on talking about not only that, but a heap of other shows on TV which were also apparently very exciting.  In the end, I had no choice but to admit that I hadn't watched television since 2016.  She stared at me quite literally open-mouthed and neither of us knew what to say next.  Mercifully I was called in to my appointment at that moment and I didn't have to explain!  Whilst it was a rather awkward situation, it made me incredibly glad that I had been out living my life for the past year and doing real stuff, instead of sitting in front of the gogglebox.  Ignorance really is bliss, as they say.

Even so, unless you live on a desert island, there are still some things you can't escape or ignore, and Christmas is one of them.  To be fair, it's only really made its presence felt the past week or so; in the supermarket, where the carols are blasting 24/7 and the Post Office, where the queues stretch for miles with everyone trying to meet the Christmas postage deadlines.  For the most part, Gareth and I decided we would pretty much ignore Christmas this year.  We were in the perfect spot to escape all the commercial hype and would spend the day exactly as we wanted, just the two of us.  We got all our Christmas shopping done in one day and breathed a sigh of relief.  Now that was done, we could just get on with work and all the other things we needed to be doing!  But then things started to happen that made me change my mind...

The sun goes down on another peaceful day

You see, as I look out the window right now, I can see a little Christmas village happening.  Our campground is surprisingly quiet at the moment and I think that's due to the fact that almost all the overseas travellers are working further up the country at the moment, picking fruit and doing other jobs to support themselves and fund their travels.  The campers we have here right now are almost entirely Kiwis, looking for a quiet place to spend Christmas and New Year in their motor homes away from the crowds.  There's Debra, who has been here on and off since May.  Sandra and Valentine, the fishing mad young French couple we met a couple of months back, who come and go.  There's Ron and his wife, our nearest neighbour, another lovely friendly couple in a bus with their enormous chocolate Labrador, Glenn in his caravan over the other side and the most delightful Maori chap with a white, fluffy wee dog who loves nothing more than a good yarn.  We don't know all their names, despite talking at length on many occasions but they all seem to know ours!

I realised how much I enjoy seeing these people every day, how kind they are and how much they make me smile, and it made me so happy that they were all here for the festive season.  But then it got even better.  We began hearing from people we had met throughout the year, who had been to stay months before and were coming back for Christmas and New Year!  'We'll be here for Christmas, must catch up for a drink!' one message read.  'See you at New Year for a wine!' said another.  It made me so excited that all these special, memorable people who had taken the time to get to know us previously were coming back again.  To think we had originally thought our first camping Christmas might be lonely!  That's the thing about this place though; it's a special and unique place people love to come back to.

We may not have much room for Xmas decorations - but we'll make room!

Before I knew it, I was downloading all my favourite corny Christmas albums on Spotify and sticking up our Christmas cards and decorations in the van.  For the first time in 15 years I wrote Christmas cards and sent them.  It was fun to do and made me feel good to let the special people in our lives know that we were thinking of them, but the best thing of all was the lovely messages we got in return from the recipients; a lot of them were so surprised and chuffed to receive a card from us.  In a world full of technology and instant messaging, it's a rare thing these days, to receive hand written communication you can keep.

To top things off, I went to the Hospice shop yesterday to take back my wedding dress, along with some other bits and pieces.  'Your beautiful dress?  Oh surely you'll want to keep that?' said the lady behind the counter, whose name was Wilma.  'I live in a van!  I don't really have room to keep it!' I smiled.  'Besides, it's not like I'm going to wear a dress like this again, I thought if I brought it back, someone else could wear it too'.  'I'll take the rest', Wilma said, ferreting through the bag, 'But I'm not taking that dress!  You hang on to it my dear, that's precious.'  'OK, well I was feeling a bit torn about it', I laughed.  'You win!'  So I still have my dress - at least for now, and while I was there I picked up two Christmassy hats for us to wear around the campground!  If you would like to read more about our special day, more details are in this month's Motorhomes, Caravans & Destinations magazine.  Thank you to everyone for all your kind well wishes and lovely messages!

The $30 medieval wedding dress I wasn't allowed to part with!

This Christmas is going to be our first Christmas ever without our families.  It's going to be hard and I know there will be a few pangs of sadness; but as long as they are happy, we are happy.  We didn't make any plans to eat with anyone, as we didn't think anyone would want a couple of vegans around on a day when everyone traditionally stuffs themselves with turkey and ham!  However, Bevin and Amy, lovely as they are accept us for all our weirdness and have invited us to a Christmas BBQ in the evening, with home made vegan burger patties!  I have a feeling our first Christmas as nomads is going to be a very happy and special one after all!

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Bestest, Most Perfect Day Ever

I'm not very good at keeping secrets, as a rule.  No doubt you've guessed that already, seeing as I've been documenting every minute detail of my life for the past 13 years!  But when it comes to BIG secrets; really important stuff, well that's different.  I'm very good at keeping those.  Which is why we hardly told a soul that we were getting married last Friday!  Being the minimalists we are, we wanted to keep things very simple and low key and that's just what we did.  Even so, it was still every bit as perfect as any large scale, big budget wedding!  The whole day cost us just over $700 and included everything from food and drink to wedding outfits, hair and make-up.  Here's how we did it:

The secret's out at last!

THE VENUE: When it came to planning the wedding, Gareth had only one stipulation - it HAD to be in the South Island.  The question was, where?  The answer as it turned out, was simple.  'Why don't you get married here?' said Bevin, our campground caretaker, looking around the 40 acres of park-like surroundings.  'The trees will all be out, the roses will be in bloom and there's plenty of room for everyone'.  As soon as he said it we realised he was right; we already had the perfect venue!  Our friends were here, our hearts were here - and unlike the other places we had checked out it wasn't going to cost us $500 just for the two of us to turn up.  From then on, for weeks leading up to the wedding we walked past 'our' special spot and smiled to see how the bare trees were indeed transforming into enormous shady canopies and the multitudes of rose bushes were becoming a beautiful backdrop of colour.  This was the place, no doubt about it!

The perfect wedding venue - our campground!

THE CEREMONY:  This was something we gave a lot of thought to.  Had we been married in the North Island, I would have asked a friend of mine who is a celebrant to marry us, but we didn't know any down here.  What we did learn however on doing our research was that they are expensive!  Now call us unromantic, but we felt that we really didn't need to pay $600 or more to get someone to come and stand under a tree just so that we could say some flowery words to one another!  Our solution was a lot more practical but just as lovely.  We went to the registry office in the morning for the ceremony, with Bevin and his wife Amy as our witnesses, and invited everyone else to the reception at the campground that afternoon.  I'll admit, I did have my misgivings about being married at a registry office.  I was worried that somehow we would be 'missing out', or that it would be too plain and not as special.  But it wasn't like that at all!  The lady who married us was lovely and the whole ceremony was very informal, we had a lot of fun.  The basic exchange of vows cost us just $240 in comparison to a celebrant and we figured we could say whatever flowery words we wanted to say to one another that afternoon in front of our guests for free and it would be just as special.  And you know what?  It was. I even got a bit teary! 

Us after the ceremony, with Bevin and Amy

HAIR, MAKE-UP & OUTFITS.  My wedding dress was one of the most awesome wedding bargains.  From the outset I had dreamed of having a sort of Celtic, medieval style gown; however despite intensive searching online, I was looking at around $3,000 for the style I wanted!  So I decided to try the local op shops for a suitable alternative.  I figured that would do me just fine as I was after all only planning to wear it once and being in a van I was hardly going to be able to carry it around with us forever more!  'Are you looking for something in particular?' the lady in the Hospice Shop asked me.  'I'm looking for something that will do as a wedding dress, actually!' I said.  'Come with me, we might have something upstairs', she smiled, leading the way. 

At the top of the stairs there was a rack with a dozen wedding dresses on it.  Some were too big, some were too small, some were too puffy and not my cup of tea at all - and at the end, to my amazement and delight, there was a green and gold medieval style gown!  'Can I try that one?' I asked the lady.  It wasn't the kind of colour or fabric I would have normally chosen and it didn't look much on the hanger.  I could tell the lady felt the same, but I HAD to just try it on and see.  'My goodness.  It looks as though it could have been made for you!' she said.  I had to agree, it looked so much better on than it did on the hanger!  Despite trying on others just to be sure, we both agreed, there was no question, this was the dress.  I didn't even know what the price was but was willing to pay it anyway.  'Would $30 be OK?' the lady asked.  OK, are you kidding?  After seeing almost the exact same dresses for $2,770 more, I just about fell over!  To top it off I picked up a nice pair of heels for $4, seeing as the only footwear I have these days is jandals or snow boots.  Possibly the favourite part of my outfit however was the floral hair wreath Gareth made for me from a couple of dainty $2 headbands.  It looked so effective and everyone commented how pretty it looked.  I'm sure we can find a safe place in the van to keep that!

Us in our glad rags, complete with flowers after all!

Gareth had his heart set on wearing a kilt, and we found him the perfect one online, plain black for $70, with a smart black button shirt to go with it for $25 from The Warehouse.  Seeing as I didn't want to wear a full length medieval gown to the registry office, particularly when we still had to do all the setting up for the reception afterwards, I wore a plain white summer dress which I already had.  As the temperature hit 30 degrees as we emerged from the registry office, I was very glad of it!  Seeing as we were going to be surrounded by flowers at the reception, not to mention the small issue of where to keep them afterwards, I chose not to have a bouquet; however on seeing I didn't have one, Amy brought me a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from her garden, full of peonies, roses and other beautiful blooms which would have cost an absolute fortune from a florist!

Some of our guests enjoying plenty of food, drink and shade 

DECORATIONS:  With so many stunning flowers all around us, we didn't feel the need to go overboard with decorations, so went with a couple of simple church candles.  As for the table centrepieces, this was an easy decision for us.  Instead of flowers, we had little vases of parsley, in reference to how we met, when I was buying parsley in Bunnings!  We decorated plain little milk bottles with green ribbon and some leftover white flowers from my hair wreath and popped fresh parsley into each one.  They looked so simple but adorable and effective!  Our entire cost for all the decorations, tableware, tablecloths, serving spoons, platters - everything - was just $112 and purchased from a local discount store.  Obviously we made sure as many items as possible were disposable as we couldn't store them afterwards and anything which wasn't, we donated to the local pavilion so that others can use them in future.  We were very fortunate in being able to use tables and chairs for free, thanks to Bevin at the campground.

Our gorgeous surprise wedding cake and dessert

FOOD & DRINK: This is something we were very proud of - with the exception of desserts we did all the catering ourselves and the whole feast was completely vegan!  We told all our guests that they were welcome to bring meat if they wanted to for the BBQ but not one person did, telling us that they were looking forward to trying new things instead.  Gareth and I made heaps of lists of what we were going to make and buy and everything went like clockwork.  We were super lucky to be allowed to use the kitchen at the showgrounds and it was actually really nice and relaxing to shut ourselves away the day before the wedding and cook and prepare everything together.  We made a great team and being so organised meant we had very cooking and preparation to do on the day.   The only thing that we were a little sad about was that we hadn't been able to get a wedding cake.  We had asked around locally but nobody was game enough to try making a vegan one and we ran out of time to try and have a go ourselves.  As a wonderful surprise however, Amy single handedly provided all the desserts, from fruit skewers, to a beautiful panna cotta made with coconut milk - and our very own vegan wedding cake.  Everything tasted just as good as it looked and we were so chuffed to have a wedding cake after all!  Our entire bill for food and drink was $260 and there was enough of both left over that we haven't had to cook or buy another thing since, almost a week later! 

Us looking and feeling dead posh in the Thomas Green 

PHOTOGRAPHY: This was one of the most important things to us.  Living the way we do, we were well aware that the photos of our special day were going to be the only thing we had that we could really keep, and share with our families who were all far away.  Gareth is a great photographer as we all know, but how was he going to be able to photograph his own wedding?!  We thought about hiring a photographer but again it was a huge expense and one we didn't really feel was necessary for such an informal and low key reception.  So we agreed we would just have to content ourselves with a few happy snaps outside the registry office and with a bit of luck someone would take a few photos at the reception.  Armed with a selfie stick we arrived at the registry office and thought with a bit of luck we would have time to take a few photos of ourselves before having to rush straight back to the kitchen to get ready for the afternoon's celebration.  Our witnesses, Bevin and Amy, had other ideas however.

'Come on, I'll shout you a drink to celebrate', said Bevin, as the four of us left the courthouse.  He took us across the road to the historical Thomas Green Public House, which is quite possibly one of the grandest and most beautiful places you could ever imagine.  There we sat and enjoyed a drink together before Amy jumped up and said 'let's take some photos!'  In all my days I could never have imagined a more glamorous place for our wedding photos!  We had a ball climbing up and down stairs, hanging over balconies and admiring ourselves in the impossibly enormous mirrors.  Our photos were going to be so much more special than either of us had ever imagined.  Amy was far from finished, though!  A talented photographer with a wonderful eye for detail, from there she took us all around Gore, from the Public Gardens to the Eastern Southland Gallery, taking hundreds of photos as we went.  It was honestly the most precious and wonderful thing anyone could have done for us and still makes me fill up with tears thinking about it!  We had so much fun as we went around, hamming it up for the camera and smiling until we could almost smile no more.  To think we thought we were going to be spending the morning stuck in the kitchen! 

With some of our wedding party in front of the rose garden

The temperature continued to climb that afternoon but us and our guests were all comfortable in the shade of the enormous trees.  That was another thing we loved about our wedding, was the diversity of our guests; all ages, backgrounds and countries.  Some of them were from Gore and we had known them for a while, others were from as far away as Germany and France and we had only recently met, but each and every one helped to make the day extra special.  Everyone mingled, the atmosphere was so informal and relaxed and although we may not have had our immediate loved ones with us, it felt as though we were among family.  It truly was a perfect day and best of all, unlike many newlyweds our choices meant that we were not going to be starting our married life in debt or under financial pressure.  We could have had a big, expensive wedding, but decided that we wanted to save our money for more important things, to be able to travel and maintain the lifestyle we love for years to come.  The money we saved on a celebrant alone amounted to almost the cost of the entire wedding!

To everyone who took part in our special day, a sincere and heartfelt THANK YOU.  To the few people who did know our secret and sent gifts, cards and well wishes, thank you too, for your thoughtfulness.  We received some truly beautiful gifts and all of them were absolutely perfect for a couple who live in a van.  We even have some gorgeous Christmas decorations to hang in Ken and make him look festive! 

We received such gorgeous and appropriate gifts!

So what's next for us?  No more secrets, at least not for a while!  We have a book to write, more videos to make and hopefully many more exciting things to bring you over 2018.  This time, however, we'll keep you posted!

Sunday, 26 November 2017

You Get What You Give

Crikey, has it really been two weeks since I last wrote?  I apologise, although there are two fairly good reasons for that.  Firstly, I can honestly say I have never been so freaking hot in my life - and it's not even summer yet!  Even the water in the outdoor taps is running hot!  Hence I've been trying to spend as little time inside as possible as even with a huge fan right next to our faces and the whole van opened up, the heat is still crazy as there is no breeze.  Still, we can't complain really; we could be in Central Otago!  Several of the campers we've met around here were supposed to start fruit picking work in Roxburgh today but have had to stay put until the flooding has abated and water has been returned back to the town.  As for the second reason for not writing?  That's a bit of a secret, but we're busy getting ready for something rather special.  All will be revealed soon enough! 

With Christmas just around the corner and the weather really hotting up, our campground is getting busy as expected.  I know I say this a lot but we are truly privileged to have met so many wonderful people this past year.  When you live the way we do, your fellow campers quickly become like family.  Everybody sees each other at their worst and despite being from countless different countries and backgrounds, we all have, or have had at some stage - the same challenges.  We laugh, we sympathise and most of all we try and help one another.

Us with Scott, Serena, Conner & Neillidh.  Will miss these guys!

Most of the time people only stop for a night or two passing through, but sometimes you get people who stay longer.  This morning we just bid farewell to Conner and Neillidh; a delightful young Scottish couple whose adventures got put on hold for a couple of months when Conner broke his hand and needed surgery.  Later on this week we'll be waving off Scott and Serena, two lovely and very quick witted New Yorkers who come and spend three months here every year.  Well, we THINK they're moving on this week, but when you're a keen fisherman like Scott and you're staying in the home of the best brown trout fishing in the world, it can be a little hard to leave!  We know just how he feels!  Then there's Margaret and Ivan, who have recently left but have been coming to this very campground every autumn for the past 18 years.  They'll be back in April but in the meantime we have been fortunate enough to take over the care and maintenance of their extremely fertile and productive vegetable garden!  Honestly, we couldn't feel any more fortunate than we do at the moment.

Just some of the vegetable garden we have been lucky enough to take care of!

Every day starts with us 'doing the rounds', and depending who is here, this can take a long time, often a couple of hours or more!  The actual objective of the mission is simply to get to the bathroom in the morning before everyone else does and take Minnie for a quick walk, but you meet so many people along the way, all wanting to stop for a chat, that there is nothing quick about it!  Still, this is one of the best and most enjoyable parts of the day; this is what this lifestyle is all about.  Most people have all the time in the world to talk and even if they don't, they'll still talk anyway!  The difference between us and people living a 'normal' life is that the majority of the people you talk to when you live in the same street, or work in the same building in the same town each day are always the same.  You see people that you already know and rarely meet new ones.  In our case however, we make new friends every day!  Some of the people we have met are among the most treasured and special in our lives now - to think we would never have met any of them if we hadn't started this journey.

Life really IS a bowl of cherries!

Just this morning we were coming out of the shower building when we were stopped by a young French couple asking if we would like a free mini camping fridge as they didn't have room for it in their vehicle.  It couldn't have come at a better time, now Batty has a lovely new little fridge!  Then yesterday we were given an ENORMOUS bowl of cherries, freshly picked and brought down from Alexandra by Margaret and Ivan, along with the sweetest strawberries you have ever tasted.  We ate as many as we could and still had three bags left to share with other campers!  The day before that, our lovely Scottish friends presented us with a bottle of Prosecco and a few days earlier we met a man in a bus who did knife sharpening.  Not only did he enable me to rescue the knife I had dropped down a drain a week or so before with his telescopic magnet, when I explained the knife was useless and had been blunt for years, Scott and Serena insisted on letting them get it sharpened for us and now it's the best knife we have!  So many things to be grateful for, every single day.  In return we do our best to give back wherever possible too; for example whatever we harvest from Margaret and Ivan's garden, we replace with new seedlings so that when they return they will have plenty of nice, new produce to come back to.  It really is a special place we have found here.

We all love this place!

Just a quick one today as we have stacks to do but wanted to share how happy and blessed I was feeling.  You probably won't see or hear much from us this week but we promise to be in touch next week with a whole heap of news!

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,  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!