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.
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.