Eighteen months on the road today! 546 days living in a tiny tin can on wheels. Neither of us ever imagined we would be doing this more than a few months, but it's amazing how adaptable us humans can be. A van may not be everyone's - or anyone's! - idea of a flash home and indeed I always envisaged myself in something a little more respectable and ladylike but as the saying goes, size doesn't matter. You don't need something big to create your own sacred space. It's our nest, our cosy nook, our bolthole. Our little cocoon away from the rest of the world. Even so, we still laugh at ourselves all the time, because while it's completely normal to us now, it still seems such a bizarre thing to be doing.
I still remember the day I left our house, eighteen months ago today. I had never been so terrified in my life and wondered what the hell I was doing, what the future held. I was worried - about everything. I had no one really to talk to about it either. I had never met anyone who had done anything like what I was about to do and I certainly wasn't going to confide in anyone I knew, for fear of looking silly or that I didn't have my life together. All I could do was find out for myself - and hope. At the end of the day that's all any of us can do and none of us will have the exact same experience, but little did I know I was about to become part of a huge community and support network. Whatever the problem, whatever the worry or issue, there is someone out there who can and will help you. These days I don't worry about a thing!
But there are a huge number of people out there who dream of a life on the road and imagine all kinds of obstacles that stop them from doing it. For a long time I've wanted to write about some of the fears people come to me with. There are so many and they are all valid - but there's pretty much none which can't be overcome. Some of them, such as how to make an income on the road and support yourself are going to need a whole blog to themselves as there is so much information and opportunity out there. So forgive me if that's the one you're waiting on! I promise to write that one tomorrow; in the meantime to give you an idea, please take a look at this article I recently wrote for Motorhomes, Caravans and Destinations magazine. It features some of the wonderful people we have met and some of the different things they do to support themselves while living a nomadic life. You can check it out here.
For now, I will do my best to address some of the easier ones. It's just my experience, but I hope it helps someone! We'll start with a nice easy one :-)
How will I feel not being part of a community any more?
This occurred to me too. I lived in a small town where everybody knew everybody, I always knew what was going on and was involved in a whole heap of things. It can be pretty daunting leaving everything and everyone you know behind! But here's the thing nobody realises. When you become the owner of a home on wheels, you instantly become part of another community - an enormous one of thousands! Bigger, busier and friendlier than anything you can possibly imagine. And let me tell you, there is nothing more awesome than being part of such a big group of likeminded people. Nobody back home will understand this new way of life and its joys and challenges the way you do; you can't expect them to, it's just so completely foreign. But it doesn't matter, because from now on you will have a constant support network of people who love to talk, socialise and help one another however they can, while still respecting each other's space. Which is more than can be said of a lot of communities!
What if I get lonely?
Even though there were two of us, I still thought we would get lonely. However I can honestly say I have never once felt lonely, quite the opposite! I know this isn't always the case though for people who are travelling on their own. The thing is, you can be as lonely as you want to be. Some people travelling alone like to keep to themselves and are completely happy in their own company. In fact they thrive on it, like our friend Debra. She is completely at peace just reading, painting and playing her guitar. Others, like our new friend Dan, go out of their way to actively seek company and make an effort to throw themselves into whatever the area they're in has to offer. You can often choose your camping spot to suit how you're feeling. If you want to be around people, choose somewhere which is popular. If you don't, pick somewhere quieter. You soon get to work out which places are busy or quiet from other motorhomers, either in person, in Facebook groups or from reviews on apps such as CamperMate. You can also greatly increase your chance of meeting people by joining the NZMCA which has its own member only campgrounds all over the country and organises a whole heap of events all year round. However, campers will often invite one another for drinkies, or dinner, or just a cup of tea. It doesn't matter if you don't know each other before, you will now!
If you have access to Facebook, which most of us do, there are brilliant groups tailored towards people looking for work on the road, motorhomers travelling with pets, women travelling solo - you name it. You don't have to wait until you actually live on the road to join either; people are always happy to answer any questions you have and it's a great way to learn and get some insight before you set off.
What will I do about showers and toilets? I hate the thought of using public facilities!
You know what? We all do! Let's face it, we all much prefer being able to go to the loo or take a shower without having people in the stalls next to us. There are two ways you can deal with this. The first one is to resign yourself to the fact that you just have to get used to it. We're all in the same boat after all. Saying that, I have still been known to go well out of my way just to get a toilet to myself! The other thing you can do is buy a vehicle with a toilet and shower already in it - or at least one of them. Our van for example is certified self-contained and has a portable cassette toilet. A lot of vans do - but I have to admit we've never used it, we always prefer to stay at campgrounds which have a proper toilet. Caravans, motorhomes and buses usually have both toilets and showers and it's nice to have the luxury of having your own. It definitely makes you a lot more independent and self-sufficient when freedom camping too, as you can park up for days at places other people can't; however many people still prefer to use public facilities if they are available, as it saves your water supply and reduces the need to empty the waste tank, which is nobody's idea of fun!
I'm worried about safety. What if I get hassled, or encounter violence on the road? What if the freedom camps are scary, or full of 'bad people?'
This was without a doubt my biggest fear. It took me a good few weeks to make the step out of a commercial campground to brave my first freedom camp. I was convinced they were going to be full of hoons, glue sniffers and all sorts of scary types, all banging on my window in the middle of the night and doing skids outside the van! While this has never happened to us, nothing of the sort ever has, we have heard of other campers having these kind of incidents, though mercifully they are very rare. However, again this is something you can control by being mindful and selective about where you stay. Before we stay anywhere, we check the CamperMate app and see what other campers have to say about the place. If the reviews are bad, we don't stay there. They will soon tell you if a place is creepy, or is frequented by undesirables. Some people love isolated places and go out of their way to choose a spot nobody else goes, but I don't. The only intimidating behaviour I've ever heard about has been from locals, usually youths or people who are against freedom camping. As a result, I tend to be warier around freedom camps, as they are public areas where anyone can go. Saying that, there is safety in numbers and most freedom camps in the summer have a LOT of people. If you are an NZMCA member you can ensure your safety further by staying at either one of their secure member only campgrounds, or a POP, which stands for 'park over property'. These are usually owned by fellow NZMCA members, who allow others to park on their land in exchange for a small fee. Members enjoy the peace and safety of using these and they are a great low cost option.
What if I fall ill?
It's kind of a good time to be answering this one as this is something we've been dealing with recently, and still are. Obviously there is a big difference between being ill as in having a cold, and really ill, with something serious. I have actually found my immune system is a million times better since living on the road, maybe living in a van has hardened me up or something! But on the rare occasion I am unwell, I've been surprised to find it is actually much easier being ill in the van. Don't get me wrong, it's never fun but I find I recover from things a lot quicker and I think a big part of that is because when you live in a small space you rest up more. There's nothing you really have to be doing and you can just focus on getting better and looking after yourself, whereas in a house you still tend to drag yourself around trying to look after everyone else and keep on top of everything. As for really ill? I can only give so much insight but I've met many people on the road who have had cancer, heart attacks and other game changer illnesses while on the road and are still out there fighting fit. What you need to remember is, if you fall ill, you already have your whole house with you. It's a lot less to look after and organise than a regular house too! If something was to happen to me and I had to go to hospital (which indeed I do soon), Gareth has everything he needs right there in the van, which he can stay in either on site at the hospital or at a campground in the area. He can be wherever he needs to be, and it would be the same for me if he was the one who was unwell. In that respect, it's actually easier than living in a house!
What about health care? How would I manage if I needed regular treatment and check-ups?
As just mentioned above, one of the great things about living a mobile life is that you can be wherever you need to be and plan your parking and campsites accordingly. For example, I currently need two medical tests, which can take between three to nine months. As it turns out, the first one is already scheduled and only took three weeks! But we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to have to stay in the area until both tests had been completed and I had been given the all clear. In cases like this, if you know you are going to have to stay in an area for any length of time, it's best to enrol at the local medical centre. Doing this means my appointments cost me $30 each instead of $80. Considering I had 10 appointments in April alone, that's a saving of $500 straight off! Whether you live in a house, or a van, nobody really knows how they are going to handle these things until they happen. But if they do, you will handle it.
What happens when I get old, or am not so mobile?
This is understandably one of the biggest fears people have. Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask as I like to think I'm a little way off being 'old' yet, but I think a lot of it is to do with state of mind. You can laugh if you want but I swear living this way keeps you young. How do I know? Because I've met a lot of people on the road of retirement age or beyond - in fact most people we meet are - and they don't look or act anywhere near it. In fact, getting 'old' is one of the main reasons people do hit the road, because they have seen too many of their friends leave this earth without getting to enjoy their retirement, or have had a health scare of their own and realised there's still a lot they want to do while they still can. Getting old is just a birthday, it doesn't mean you have to stop living! Many of today's caravans and motorhomes are just as comfortable as any house - and just like a house they can be adapted to make mobility easier. I know of amazing people who can't walk any more but they can drive a bus and can glide from one end of it to the other in their customised chair. Trust me, you see a heck of a lot more in a mobile home that you ever will in a house. If my body ever fails me and I have the choice of living out the rest of my days in the same four walls, or still being able to travel to beautiful new places - even if I could only look out the window - I know which one I would choose. That's not meant to sound judgemental or condescending. I think maybe that's something you can only understand when you live this way. But I have heard that when the time comes, and you really can't travel any more, there is always somewhere you can park up for as long as you need.
I don't know enough about maintenance or mechanics to live in a mobile home. What if I don't know how to work everything?
Nobody goes out on the road an instant expert. Some of us have an added advantage in being a bit 'handier' than others, or have mechanic or engineering knowledge, but just as many of us don't. It's like anything. A lot of people don't know the first thing about computers, or what all the buttons on their microwave do, but does that stop them using them? No, you learn as you go and motorhoming is just the same. We meet people all the time who don't know how to operate their camping toilet, or how to change a tyre, or tune in their TV. But there is always someone out there to help you. You can ask on Facebook, ask another motorhomer (who will be more than happy to help) or call out an appropriate tradesman, just as you would if you lived in a house. If there's something you need to know, just ask!
What if I break down, or get stranded in a scary place?
This is another area where people forget a motorhome is like anything else. Having your motorhome break down or getting a flat tyre, or being stranded in a scary place is no different to the same thing happening in a car. There's never a good time to have something like this happen! You still need to call for a mechanic or the AA or someone to come and help you. The bonus is, unlike a car, when you're in a motorhome you already have everything you need with you! You can go and make yourself some food, or watch TV until help comes, whatever you like! Before we go anywhere off the beaten track I always check the oil and water, make sure my Warrant of Fitness and servicing is up to date and let someone know where I'm going, especially if it is in an area unlikely to have cellphone reception. If your whole life is on the road, it's definitely worth being a member of the AA, or having some type of insurance which offers a 24 hour callout service. We are insured through Camper Care, and while we haven't needed rescuing yet, have found them to be brilliant. Another popular motorhome insurance company is Covi.
I think that's probably enough for one blog, I hope my ramble is helpful to someone! Will answer more of your questions tomorrow, but before I go I must answer just one more quick one. It's the easiest one to answer but is probably one of the most important:
What if I fail?
Three little words I want you to remember. You can't fail. It's YOUR life, you are in charge of it! There is no test you have to pass. Forgive me for sounding all Disney Fairy Godmother-ish but all you need to do is believe in yourself. And even if you don't yet, once you get out there, you will.