Thursday, 10 May 2018

Questions & Answers Part 2 (a) - Working on the Road

I swear, if I had a dollar for every time someone said to me 'I'd love to do what you're doing, but I don't know how I would support myself', I would have upgraded our van to something a lot bigger a long time ago!  I'm quite accustomed to getting snarky comments from people who read my articles on Stuff too, and say huffily, 'Well it's alright for you, we can't all work from home.  What are the rest of us supposed to do?'  Annoying as it is, their scepticism is totally understandable.  Living on the road is such an unknown, foreign world.  Most people naturally assume you can't (or don't want to) work.  How can you hold down a job when you're always on the move?  It's just impossible.  Except it isn't, not at all.

Would you rather work to pay bills, or work to travel?

It was fear of not being able to support ourselves on the road which initially stopped Gareth and I from taking the plunge.  We both thought it was a brilliant idea and agreed it would be something we would definitely like to do in the future, but we didn't think we would be able to do it now.  Like many people, we thought it was only people who were retired who could afford a mobile home and for us that was still a heck of a long way off.  Fortunately for us, by some amazing stroke of luck it was literally only a couple of days later that we read an article in That's Life! magazine about a woman called Vicky White who had bought a bus and was travelling around NZ.  A year or more on, she was having no problem finding work and supporting herself and was loving every minute of it.  Gareth and I looked at each other.  If Vicky could do it, so could we!  That was all we needed to hear. I think that's all a lot of people need to hear, that it's possible.  In our case, we were just super lucky that we hadn't spent years thinking it wasn't.

In my experience so far, around 50% of people we meet on the road work, maybe even more. Which would surprise a lot of people who assume very wrongly that people who live in vehicles are in it for a free ride and contribute nothing to society!  As for what those 50% of us do for a job?  There are far too many to list, but I'll talk about some of them in the next blog, Part 2 (b), which I'll aim to upload tomorrow, along with tried and true ways to find work.

The purpose of today's post however, is to get the 'Working on the Road' ball rolling by talking about two very important things that people living a conventional life don't consider.  They're really important and once you realise these two things, the thought of supporting yourself becomes a lot less daunting.

1. When you live on the road, your living costs are going to get a LOT less.
This is a no-brainer, but a lot of people are too busy worrying about how they're going to make money to pay much mind as to how much less they are going to be spending.  I can't even remember what bills I used to have back when I lived in a house but I know they were just endless and so many.  In comparison these are the monthly costs I have now:

* Campground Fees.  This depends on where we stay and what type of place we are staying in.  Some are free, some cost $3 per night, or $5 or $10, some are $20, although I can't remember the last time we paid that much, it was over a year ago)  Most people I know pay between $35 and $70 a week, which is a hell of a lot less than the $1500 a month I used to shell out for a mortgage!  However many people who live on the road spend nothing at all on camping fees - ever!  It depends on what kind of set up you have, but if your home on wheels is big enough and you are self-contained, you can definitely freedom camp it all the way.

* Mobile and Internet.  I probably pay a lot more for these than most people, as I need to be online pretty much all the time for work.  Your phone doesn't need to be flash, just something reliable for safety and security.  Most people on the road have at least some Internet access; it's how we communicate with other travellers, find out where good camping spots are, learn new tips.  A lot of us have Netflix and the like too.  Hey, everybody likes a little luxury!

* Life & Vehicle Insurance.  No house or contents cover for me any more!  Our vehicle insurance with Camper Care covers us for $3000 worth of contents insurance should anything in our van get stolen or damaged.  When you live in a little van like us, you don't need more than that!  I was amazed to find that it also costs much less to insure our van than it ever did to insure any of my cars!

* Petrol.  Most people would naturally assume that this would be the biggest cost, and indeed petrol is currently the most expensive we've ever known it.  It's enough to put you off going too far!  But in reality you only go through a lot of petrol when you're travelling.  We went through tons in the beginning because in our naivety we thought we had to keep moving constantly!  However this isn't the case.  When you live on the road full time, especially when you're working you can be parked up for weeks or even months at a time and barely spend anything.  Crazy as it sounds, we have done less than half the number of kilometres in a van than I did in a year in my car when I lived back at the house - and I worked from home!  The difference is, when you travel on the road, you travel with purpose and with a planned route.  None of this wasting money and wear and tear on your vehicle whizzing off to the shop for a bottle of milk every five minutes.  Nobody wants to bother moving their whole house just for something like that!  We have two legs or bicycles for that stuff.

* Food.  This is our biggest expense by a long way.  It doesn't matter whether you live in a house or a van, food in NZ is horrendously expensive.  It's really important to eat well when you live this way.  If you don't you just get sick more often and will end up spending any money you save scrimping on food at the doctor or chemist.  I guess one positive is that we waste a lot less now.  We plan our food shops to get maximum value and use out of the things we buy and because our fridge and food storage space is so small, we can always see what we have so it gets used up rather than forgotten about and thrown away.

I think that's about it.  Sure, we have some of the other circumstantial costs just the same as anyone else when they crop up.  Dr's appointments for us, vet bills for Minnie, vehicle warrant and servicing; but apart from that there really isn't much else.  No power, no crippling rates.  A lot of people who live on the road still own houses as they like the security, but just as many don't.  The ones who do still have the costs associated with owning and maintaining a house, usually rent it out to help cover those costs.  No doubt I've forgotten something but all I know is there are hardly any transactions each month when I check my bank account.

Still, no matter how little you spend, it's always nice to have money in the kitty!  Which brings me to important point Number 2:

2. When it comes to work, people on the road are happy to give anything a go.
For some, working on the road is their bread and butter; for others it's the jam.  Many people take on seasonal jobs and work for three months or so, e.g. picking fruit.  This enables them to get enough money behind them to then go travelling for another three months or however long.  Think about it, what other lifestyle can you afford to take months off work at a time to go on holiday!  Most travellers are not at all fussy what they do and are happy to give anything a go.

When people tell us they're looking for work and we ask 'what kind of thing are you looking for?' the answer is the same every single time - 'Anything!'  They're not worried about finding the perfect job or doing anything highly skilled.  You see, there isn't the pressure of a 'normal' job when you live on the road.  It doesn't matter if it's something a bit boring or repetitive because it's not going to be permanent.  If you start a new job and don't like it, or it's not your forte, it's not the end of the world because it's not like you're stuck there forever.  Before too long you can move on to somewhere else and go off adventuring with the money you've made.  I'm rubbish at waitressing and don't particularly like it but I'd happily do it for three months if it meant I could afford to go travelling for the next six.  On the whole, people on the road have a good reputation for being hard and capable workers.  Age is no barrier, it's not uncommon to see 20 year olds and 60 year olds or older doing the same job.  Another bonus of many seasonal and temporary work places is that you can park up and stay on site for free, saving you a nice tidy sum in campground fees.

I think that's enough ramble for one blog, but hopefully it's provided a little food for thought.  Tomorrow I'll get down to the nitty gritty of the kind of work you can do and how to go about getting it!


  1. Hi, you mention camp ground prices, are these per person and for a powered or non-powered site? thanks, and love the blog, this is soooooooooo useful :-)

  2. Hi Lynn! So glad to hear you're enjoying the blog :) In answer to your question, they vary! Most campgrounds charge per person, e.g. commercial campgrounds, DOC campsites and NZMCA member only campgrounds. But you do also get quite a few places, such as A & P Showgrounds and Town & Country Clubs which charge per vehicle. Not only are they cheap, they are usually lovely places to stay too and have great facilities. The campground we are currently helping to look after charges $5 per vehicle for an unpowered site and people always love it when they realise they don't have to pay per person. As you can imagine, if there are four people wanting to stay in a vehicle, paying just $5 instead of $20 is a big difference! Apps such as CamperMate or the NZMCA member's travel guide are worth their weight in gold for finding low cost places like these. When choosing a campground, unless it's a freedom camp or DOC camp you can choose whether you want a powered site or not. Powered sites are more expensive but often the difference isn't actually that much. The Town and Country Club across the road from where we are charges the same whether you use power or not!

  3. Awesome info! Just found your blog, looking forward to reading more :)