I wanted to do this lovely big blog post a few days ago, when it was THE actual anniversary of our first year on the road. As it turned out though, we did spend almost the whole day on the road, travelling up to Queenstown to pick up our first van, Batty. Massive thanks to our new friend Murray from Southern Campers for giving these two friendly 'hitch hikers' a lift and saving us a fortune in getting both us and the van from A to B! If you're ever planning a self-drive tour of the South Island, Murray has beautiful camper vans in various sizes and can pick up and drop off to Queenstown, Dunedin, Gore and Invercargill. Can't recommend this guy highly enough, and thanks to him, we were able to mark our special day by visiting one of our favourite spots of this past year, the massive and stunningly beautiful Lake Wakatipu, and in particular Kingston. We never thought we would be going back there any time soon but we couldn't have picked a more fitting place to be on the day, or indeed any place we would have liked to be more. The warmth and generosity of the people we have met over the past year still never ceases to amaze us.
The meaning of life. Or something like that...
I always thought when the time came; when our first year was up, that I would have everything planned in my head of what I wanted to say and all the things we have learned during that time. So many thoughts have run through my head and I've thought to myself 'I must remember that!' But now it's here, I really don't know where to begin. I'd love to write something terribly impressive and profound but all I keep getting is one recurring theme. It may not be the kind of thing you expect or hope for me to pass on after spending an entire year in a van; after all, I must have learned a squillion helpful tips or camping tricks, surely? But here it is anyway. This is what I've learned, this is what it all boils down to.
What this year has taught me, is that we have just three main jobs in life:
1. Respect our health
2. Respect each other
3. Respect the earth
It is up to us to make sure we do those jobs and do them well.
When Gareth and I first hit the road, we didn't really respect our health at all. We were fairly fit and active due to Gareth's physical job and the fact we didn't have a car meant we walked around 15km every day on average. But we still took our bodies for granted. We ate too much crap and drank far too much alcohol and fizzy drink. We didn't think we were eating badly; we actually considered ourselves to be 'foodies' and thought that we ate very well but a huge percentage of what we ate was fat. As a result we got sick fairly often; in fact our travels were delayed by two weeks right at the start because we both got the flu and had to wait until we were both recovered before we could go anywhere!
It took us around four months before our eating and drinking habits started to really catch up with us. Back when we lived in Whangamata and walked for miles every day we could get away with it; but now we were spending most days either driving or doing sedentary work, we had no chance of burning it off. Most people report putting on around 5kg when living on the road but I knew for a fact I had put on at least 10kg, if not 15kg and Gareth even more. We didn't have any scales to know for sure but our clothes were telling us all we needed to know! By the time winter was over, we were officially getting fat - hang on, did I say getting fat? We WERE fat. I'm not going to bore you with the hows or whys of how we went vegan but we ditched the meat, dairy and eggs (there goes most of the fat, right there), bought a water filter jug to have on our tiny bench and kicked the fizzy. We also try to have as many alcohol free days as possible. Whilst we're not back to our previously slim selves yet, we feel amazing; the healthiest we have ever felt in our lives. It's awesome to feel so genuinely healthy on the inside. Hopefully the outside will catch up soon too!
We're so healthy now it's ridiculous!
That's one bonus we have definitely found of living this way; you become a lot more in tune with your body and what it needs to keep happy and healthy. Although we were putting on weight, we were still able to look after our bodies to a far greater extent and with the exception of having the measles back in August and an awful stomach bug which was attributed to poor quality drinking water, we haven't been ill since that first bout of the flu a year ago. I'm not sure why but I think a lot of it is down to being able to look after yourself and rest as necessary when your body tells you it needs to. For most people, when you live in a house and always have others to look after, you don't get the time to do that. Indeed, it was a worry of Gareth's before we set out on our travels that my immune system was too weak to cope with this way of life. To be honest, it was a worry of mine too. Instead, I have never felt better or been sick less! Even Liam was surprised when he came to visit us in September and said he had never known me to be so healthy.
After making so many positive changes and feeling the difference, no way will we ever go back. It's one of those things, you know? It's like, we all KNOW that we only have one life, one body and that we have to look after it. Yet still, we don't. I think living with so little stuff has made us more aware and appreciative of that. At the end of the day, our bodies are really all we have. If they don't work properly, well you really do have nothing.
As for respecting each other, people always laugh when I tell them that I think I'm a kinder person now. Apparently they reckon I was kind already, which is nice. But I have more time to be kind, to talk to people, to be helpful, to go out of my way for others. It brings me even more joy now than it did before and I definitely feel a difference. This year I'm looking forward to sending Christmas cards for the first time in probably almost 15 years. When I joined Simple Savings I stopped doing that, for the sake of saving money. But some things aren't about the money. This year I want to take the time to do something so lovely and traditional and write a few lines to the people we care about to let them know we are thinking of them. This year I have the time. Now we feel truly part of the community here, I also want to give something back and am thinking of ways I can volunteer. I suggested the local SPCA to Gareth and he thought it was a great idea - as long as I don't try and bring all the animals home to the van!
Our laundry is safe with Casper - alas, not the veggie plants!
As for relationships, most people wouldn't be daft enough to even think about living this way with someone they didn't feel they could get along with and I'm not kidding when I say we have never had an argument, either before living in the van or since. We respect each other's space and appreciate that it's not going to be lollipops and rainbows all the time. When one of us has a blue day we do our best to look after the other and if one of us is grumpy or stressed, we take the time to explain why so that the other understands and can try and help each other feel better. This may not sound like much at all, but when you live in such a small space you can't go stomping off to the next room in a huff if you're upset or your nose is put out of joint! I think we're definitely more considerate of one another, I would like to think I am far more so now than I was when we lived in the house. We spoil each other in simple ways and have never needed to shower each other with gifts but do so even less now; which is just as well as we have nowhere to put them!
Wherever we go, we leave no trace
Which brings me to the third 'job' - respecting the earth. I'm pretty sure I've already talked about this before but it goes without saying we consume so much less and appreciate our surroundings so much more. Not just resources such as power and water but surprisingly enough fuel as well. You're probably thinking 'how the heck can that be?' Simple, really. We only ever use the van when we are actually travelling. When we are parked up we always walk to the shops or anywhere else we need to go that's within several kilometres walking distance. It's good for us to stretch our legs but we never realised just how much we were saving in fuel and wear and tear on our vehicle. When we picked up Batty the other day, I was amazed to see that she had done just 17,000km in a whole year of travelling, despite going from one end of NZ to the other. In comparison, I used to do an average of 50,000km a year in my little Mazda when I lived back in Whangamata - and I worked from home! Think about it; how often do you just hop in the car to do five minute jobs? For a lot of people it's several times a day, every day. All that money and fuel, wasted just going nowhere. It really goes to show how much these little needless trips add up.
All this and more awaits those who are willing to go and find it!
I think to really appreciate what an awesome planet we live on, you have to get out and see it. Too many people are only every concerned with what's happening in their own backyards. New Zealand is an amazing, unspoilt country - but only if we don't spoil it. We try to never leave a trace of where we've been and pick up other people's litter as well; something which I may only have bothered to do occasionally before, not made a habit of it. It's just another small thing I have time for now, which makes me feel good.
I guess that's life for us in a nutshell. We're kind to everything. Other people and creatures, the planet and ourselves. When we first left the house last November, we dreamed of a life of self sufficiency. A tiny house in a place where we could grow our own food, enjoy space and peace and have animals roaming in the back yard. Once we made the decision to keep living in the van however I thought that this would never be possible. But I realised the other day, to my surprise and delight, that this is exactly what we DO have. Our van is our tiny house, we are growing our own food and have a menagerie of animals to feed, walk and share the same space with. We'll make a video soon, talking about some of the other things we've learned, as some of our favourite highs and lows of the past 12 months. But on a personal level, those are the things we've learned. They're probably the biggest really, aren't they?
Even if you don't know where you're going, you'll get there in the end!
Last Christmas I got a tattoo on my arm which says 'Not all those who wander are lost'. It was my way of reassuring myself that I knew exactly where I was going (even though I really didn't and was actually quite scared), as well as putting it out there to others who doubted me that I knew exactly what I was doing, thank you very much, and was definitely not lost. Even though I actually was. But that's another thing I've learned. You have to get at least a little lost before you can find yourself. I can say with all happiness and certainty, I have done that now.