Thursday, 20 June 2019

Inspirational Beings & Kindred Spirits

As you might imagine, living this life among the varied, the weird and wonderful, I get inspired a lot, both as a writer and as a human being.  A complete stranger can totally make your day, and transform it from ordinary to extraordinary. But when they turn out to be kindred spirits, well that's just marvellous!  We don't meet many 'people like us' outside of campground or motorhoming life, but the other day we had the pleasure of meeting Guy and Olive Lloyd, the new managers of Gore Motor Camp.  I was interviewing them for Stuff and felt a little bad for not confessing I was staying at a rival campground but I wanted them to see me simply as a writer, not sussing out the competition or clouding their judgement.

This big, beautiful world and its people inspire me every day!

Besides, the sole reason I was there was to raise awareness of their business and who they are.  You see, until Guy and Olive took over in April, the Motor Camp had been managed by someone who wasn't really all that well suited to the hospitality business.  As a result, Gore Motor Camp had hit the news for all the wrong reasons. Having heard of their recent replacement, I knew whoever took over the place would have a big job on their hands trying to give the place and its reputation an overhaul and wanted to help get the word out there that guests would now be assured of a warm welcome.

Guy, the new manager is larger than life in every sense of the word - in the best possible way.  Huge in stature, with an equally huge personality and laugh and an easy smile that spreads across his entire face.  You simply can't help instantly liking him and his petite wife, Olive. They are an open book and what you see is what you get.  So refreshing!  What we didn't realise, as they invited us into their lounge and we all settled into comfy chairs, was that they were just like us - except on a much bigger scale!  Originally from the UK, Guy spent 15 years as a primary school teacher in Indonesia, where he met Olive, also a teacher.  He also previously managed a camp in Iraq in 2006, looking after 250 people.  No wonder he felt more than capable of being able to run the Motor Camp! 

'I've been to 86 - no, 87 countries', he smiled.  'I'd urge everyone to travel.  You learn so much about the world, about life.  Honestly, I'm like a little boy when I go to a new place.  It makes me feel alive again'.  'You should be the one writing the books, not me!' I laughed.  'I've had a lot of amazing adventures, for sure', Guy replied.  'One of the most memorable however was when I had an encounter with a sea turtle whilst scuba diving.  That was a really beautiful experience'.  'We love scuba diving!  We do it a lot in Bali', smiles Olive.  Ah, that explained the big yellow scuba diving tank in the corner of the lounge.  

As we talked, for well over an hour, Gareth and I were in no doubt these were the perfect people to manage the Motor Camp and turn its reputation around.  'Our travel experience really helps in the hospitality industry.  You get so accustomed to communicating with all kinds of people.  We get such a huge cross section here.  You never know who's going to turn up at the reception desk.  We love having a chat and a laugh with people and take each person as we find them.  I'll admit, we do struggle with having a routine now, after living without one for so long.  And the house is too big, we only live in this one room', Guy said, pointing out the bed in the corner.  Gareth and I couldn't believe it.  Here were people just like us!  People who live in a house always laugh at us when we go house sitting and only ever end up living in one room, camped out in the lounge by the fire.  It just feels foreign and unnecessary to us to be floating around in so much space.  'We don't need it', agreed Guy.  'Right here, in this room is everything we own.  It's more than enough for us.  We've got a little plaque outside the back door which has a quote on it by Ghandi.  It says "Live simply, so that others can simply live".  I look at it every day and remember it'.

We could have happily stayed all afternoon in the Lloyd's interesting and jovial company and listen to all their tales from around the world!  But it was time to go and visit our friends who we are house and pet sitting for next week, so they could show us the ropes.  We met Mike and Irene quite by chance one day when we were still in the van.  We got talking and to my complete amazement they were not only originally from Thames, where I used to live years ago, but they actually used to live on the exact same road as I did, when I very first arrived in New Zealand!  I arrived in April and they left in October of the same year.  To our knowledge, we had never crossed paths but knew a lot of the same people.  'We're getting married in a couple of days!  Want to come?' we asked.  They did indeed and ever since we have stayed in touch.

Me with my eldest, Liam. Nothing beats special times with family!

It had been a while since we had a good catch up and the four of us were having a good chinwag around the dining table.  I'd forgotten the reason for the house sit but soon remembered it was Mike's 60th birthday and a huge crowd of them were celebrating it by enjoying a holiday together in Rarotonga.  All the family, their children, grandchildren, friends - I thought it sounded absolutely wonderful.  To be so loved and to have such a huge network of people who loved one another to celebrate with all together and enjoy such a special time. 'Life's too short', Mike said in his usual matter-of-fact way.  'We're losing friends now, at our age! You never know when your time is up. Gotta make the most of it.  I saw a mate just the other week in the supermarket who I hadn't seen for a while.  We got talking and I told him of our holiday plans.  He'd lost a couple of his friends too and by the time we'd finished the conversation he'd decided he would book an overseas holiday for him and his wife next year.  You've got to do these things while you can'.  He's so right.

Life is one big adventure, if you let it be so!

Gareth and I felt truly inspired and full of warm fuzzies after spending the day in the company of these four warm, wonderful people.  As different as chalk and cheese, yet so alike in their outlook and philosophy on life.  We can't take any of it with us when we go, but whether you go to Rarotonga or Rotorua, Bali or Balclutha, we can all experience and love as much of it as we possibly can while we're here. That's what this brilliant thing called life - this amazing gift we are given - is all about.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Meet TravellingK!

Hard to believe we're almost half way through the year already!  A few months back, we were fortunate to have the delightful Karen Nisbet - aka TravellingK - as a neighbour for a few days.  At 36, Karen is one of a growing number of young motorhomers who are taking to the road and finding creative and effective ways to support themselves in their chosen lifestyle.  Currently busy planning a trip to the UK, we managed to catch up with her for an interview recently before heading off:

Karen Nisbet - aka TravellingK

After two-and-a-half years on the road, you must be an old hand at the lifestyle!  In what ways do you support yourself?

I’ve worked as a graphic designer for over 10 years and have been freelancing since I started caravanning. Sometimes it's just a short contract in an office and sometimes it's online while I travel around New Zealand. I’ve started earning with my TravellingK brand, mainly through Patreon where people who like my YouTube videos can contribute monthly.
I’ve been earning a tiny amount through YouTube ads, selling photos on Shutterstock and selling branded merchandise.

Like us, Karen's home on wheels doubles as an office

Why motorhoming? Was it something you had experience of before?

We stayed in a stationery Kiwi caravan once for a family holiday where I was sick the whole time, but apart from that, I had no previous experience at all. I was saving for a house in Auckland and eventually realised that wasn’t going to happen. I was watching a lot of vanlife and tiny house YouTube videos and started seriously considering this as an option. The more I looked into it, the more a secondhand UK caravan seemed my best solution. It looked like a little apartment on wheels, and had a decent amount of space. I could easily stay at campgrounds or on some land and move around until I found a nice place to base myself. Except I’ve enjoyed travelling so much, I have no plans to stop.

Were you aware of the 'usual' age demographic associated with motorhoming before you started doing it?

I didn’t know a whole lot about the lifestyle before I started. It was just what I saw on YouTube and while wandering around at the Covi Supershow. I was aware that I didn’t know anyone my own age doing this in New Zealand.

Taking in the view at Milford Sound

Do you think there is a stereotype of sorts regarding motorhomers?

Yes, I think there is. It’s generally thought to be the thing you do when you retire or if you are a hippy.

Do you find because of your age that other motorhomers interact with you differently?

Sometimes, yes. I’ve had a few older members assume that I need help because I’m a younger female on my own… but I soon show my competence. There have been a few surprised faces when I first turn up for campground group drinks, but people are welcoming and soon I’m in the thick of things talking about motorhoming issues! I’m currently at a campground with a great community which never happened when I lived in a city. I’m the youngest by far, but made to feel welcomed.

Karen loves chatting with the people she meets, both in person and through her
online following

Do you wish there were more people around your age on the road?

Yes. But I’ve started a Facebook group called ‘Young RVing Kiwis’ and the numbers are growing. A lot of people are either weekend warriors or are strongly considering this lifestyle themselves. I know there is a lot of interest and as house prices increase and make it harder for people to get onto the property ladder, more will start this lifestyle.  There is a movement in America where it’s becoming more common for people my age to have a home on wheels and I’m hopefully more in New Zealand will decide to join. There is a great group of Americans sharing their permanent RVing experience on social media.

How do your family and friends view your choice to live in a) a caravan and b) a life on the move?

Most of my friends and family weren’t surprised at my choice to live in a caravan and thought it suited me better than a mortgage in Auckland. I’ve done quite a lot of overseas travelling and have lived in London and Melbourne. I think they could more easily imagine me in a caravan than with a mortgage in Auckland. My father was imagining a run down caravan that would devalue quickly like a car. He also wasn’t keen on it sitting in his driveway. But once he actually saw the caravan, he’s changed his mind and is proud of what I’m sharing on YouTube.

As for living my life on the move, I was working, saving and travelling solidly for eight years to places like Europe, Russia, India, Iran and South America, so the idea of travelling around NZ in a caravan was actually a little tamer. My parents were wanting me to settle down and buying some land or a property instead of travelling overseas and I’m not ruling that out… I just need to figure out where!

Wherever she goes, Karen has a window on the world

Would you encourage others to take up the lifestyle?

Yes.  So many New Zealanders haven’t even seen their own country. There’s still plenty for me to explore, but I feel like I know the different parts of our country now. I enjoy being at a great location and experiencing the different light and weather throughout the day from the comfort of home. It’s also a good idea if you want to lower your costs and try a new business or finally have the time to write that book.  

I’m now more aware of my water and power usage and how much stuff I actually need. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel the need for a large house after living in my small caravan. A caravan is a comfortable home and is affordable. It gives me a lot of flexibility with my location and is perfect for slow travel.

Can she fix it?  Yes, she can!

What do you like best about the lifestyle?

Always doing something new and learning new skills. I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt about maintaining the caravan and giving it a go when something breaks.

Seeing our beautiful country and being more aware of my surrounds. I find when you’re in a house, you don’t experience sunrises and sunsets as much as when you’re in a caravan out in nature. You just close the curtains and turn on the TV. I find when I am living in one place, I stop noticing my surroundings, but moving locations all the time makes me more aware.

Meeting different people and the sense of community. Before this, I always lived in a city. There are some campgrounds that have a great sense of community. This current campground, people keep an eye on things and I comfortably leave my windows open. I’ve met so many different people as well, that I would not have talked to while living in a city.

Freedom to develop a business. Because my expenses have dropped, I’m able to work part-time and have the time to focus on my ‘passion project’ – TravellingK. I don’t think I would have progressed this far if I was still living in Auckland.

Where to go, what to do?  Decisions, decisions!

Are there any downsides to living this way?

I’m not a huge fan of my combination toilet / shower. The shower just isn’t the same as a house shower. And emptying the toilet is a new chore that I’d happily avoid!  I’ve also learnt that if something breaking in the caravan, it’s not always easy to fix because the parts come from the UK.

I was travelling intensely for a while and that can become tiring. The continuous decision making with finding shops and facilities in your area. But the great thing is, you have control and can decide when to stay in one place for a while.

Sometimes I’ll suddenly want a garden or wish I had a large work area with a sewing machine or an arts and craft cupboard. With a caravan, you’re always aware of the weight limit and lack of space which can be restrictive with some hobbies.

Do you have a best and worst campground which stand out from all your travels?

The best have either been the most welcoming community or the most scenic location:

Gore A&P Showgrounds with its sense of community, very relaxed atmosphere and easy facilities.

Glendhu Bay Motor Camp. I’ve already stayed twice and sure to be back. It’s a huge campground outside of Wanaka. The best views out onto the water, an easy drive into town but plenty of impressive hikes and views nearby.

And a couple of POPs (Park Over Properties) that I might keep to myself!

My two worst are both in larger towns with semi-permanent RVers.

Beach Road Holiday Park just outside on Invercargill. There were a lot of run down vehicles that had obviously been there a while and it didn’t have a friendly feel.

Also Beach Grove Holiday Park in Tauranga. Lots of permanent caravans, also with a run down feel. I felt trapped in my caravan.

Can you imagine going back to a house?

Maybe more of a tiny house rather than a traditional house. I daydream about having a little cabin next to my caravan with an amazing bathroom / laundry and an office with a bit of storage space.

It's a wonderful life

Do you have a favourite tip you've learned in your time on the road?

If something goes wrong, you can deal with it. I think I’ve personally become more self-confident.  And that we live in a beautiful country.

What advice would you give to others considering making the switch to a mobile life?

Do it. Don’t overthink it.

To follow Karen's adventures, check out her regular blog posts and videos at: