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!