When I left the bustling town of Whangamata two years ago for a life on the road, one of my fears was that I would no longer be part of a community the way I had been.
Green as I was, I had no idea just how popular motorhoming was or how many people lived a mobile life. Having never met anyone else who had done it before, I thought we were doing something incredibly daring and different and imagined we would be entering a life of almost complete isolation.
Of course, the reality couldn’t have been more different. From the very first day, I found myself striking up conversations with people from the US to the UK. As Gareth will no doubt vouch, I haven’t stopped talking since.
Leaving both my house and my comfort zone behind opened the door to a whole new world of like-minded people. One of my all-time favourite memories is staying at a freedom camp near Kingston early on in our travels.
There were NZMCA members in buses and motorhomes, young couples with toddlers in rental vans, overseas tourists in cars and, Gareth and me, all standing together at the edge of Lake Wakatipu, watching the most incredible sunset.
We were all so different, yet just the same. I realised that far from isolating myself, I had simply exchanged one community for another, even bigger one.
No boundaries to friendships
When people ask what’s the best thing about our lifestyle, our answer is always ‘the people we meet’. Living on the road expands your horizons and breaks down the social barriers and constraints of regular living.
When you live in a house in the same location, working the same job for years at a time, you rarely tend to meet anyone new. By the same token, you tend not to talk to anyone outside your own age group or small social circle. But not us.
In comparison, we meet dozens of new people a week. Being relative youngsters by motorhoming standards, many people we meet are at least twice Gareth’s age and even three times, but that doesn’t stop us all getting along great guns and socialising. Some of our dearest friends are in their 60s, 70s, and even 90s; friendships that have enriched our lives.
The best of both worlds
The many overseas tourists who cross our paths as they plot their course around New Zealand are both enlightening and entertaining and give us an interesting glimpse into their countries and cultures. Through oversaturation and media hype, many people have sadly learned to make judgements regarding overseas travellers based only on their vehicles, or their nationalities as a whole, and not the individuals inside.
As a result, we have noticed that on the whole, Kiwi motorhomers rarely tend to mix with their overseas counterparts, which is a great shame. For us, however, being in a small vehicle means we get to enjoy the best of both worlds. When we are inside our van, both locals and overseas travellers often assume we are European, until we start talking.
We have been privileged to meet many wonderful people from all over the world and continue to keep in touch and follow each other’s travels long after they have left our shores.
As for us Kiwis, what more pleasant way is there to spend an afternoon than joining other motorhomers for a traditional ‘Happy Hour’? While many of us enjoy the opportunity to share conversation and a tipple with our fellow campers, you don’t have to be a drinker to join in the fun.
It’s about getting out there and meeting the neighbours, learning about people and places, passing on tips, and sharing stories. There’s nothing better than having a good yarn with someone who understands the lifestyle, its joys, and its challenges.
These informal gatherings can be as big or as small as you like, depending on who is around. Happy Hours have led to us making some terrific friends from all around New Zealand, although, we have yet to attend one which is only an hour long!
Many motorhomers like to carry their personalised ‘business cards’ so they can stay in touch with the people they meet. After all, when you live on the road, who knows when and where you could bump into each other again? In addition, motorhomers with home bases are generous, if not insistent in offering a place to park up if you find yourself in the area. When you have friends all over the country, you need never be stuck for a place to stay.
One big happy family
No matter the time of year, you can always find friends on the road. Summer is, of course, the most social time of year. You can meet many wonderful people, but they are often only passing through and are gone the next day.
Winter is quieter and provides the opportunity to form closer friendships as you are parked up together for a decent length of time. Even dogs who travel with their owners socialise and make friends with other motorhomers’ pets.
Everyone we meet on the road has something of value to offer, be it a tip, something practical, or an interesting anecdote. We all have so much to learn from one another. These days, we count people from all over the world as some of our closest friends.
When we got married last December, our guests comprised entirely of people we had met that year. We celebrated Christmas and New Year with people aged between 19 and 70 from Taranaki, Whanganui, France, South Africa, and the Netherlands.
Such special times, spent with so many kind and colourful characters. And to think, if we hadn’t been living this wonderful life, we would never have met any of them.
Tips to getting social
With so many shared interests and experiences, the people you meet on the road can often become some of the best friends you’ll ever make. All you need to do is get the ball rolling.
- Go out of your way to greet overseas travellers. Tourists get a bad rap these days, often undeservedly so. The friends we have made from overseas have been among the most caring and conscientious campers we have met. Rather than keeping your distance, go out of your way to be friendly and helpful instead.
- Get a head start on Facebook. Love it or hate it, Facebook is a brilliant resource for motorhomers. With so many active groups and users, you often become familiar with each other’s names, pets, and vehicles long before you meet. By the time you bump into each other on the road, it already feels as though you’ve known each other for ages.
- Don’t be scared to ask first. Don’t wait for someone else to do the inviting. Be brave and ask your fellow campers to join you. You’ll be surprised how many people love the opportunity for a chat and a drink, or even a potluck dinner.
- Be an open book. You won’t find company watching TV in your motorhome so make yourself available. If you’re feeling sociable, sit outside to eat or have a drink. If you play an instrument, make it known to others. Many motorhomers are musical and love to have a singalong.
- Don’t judge a book by its cover. Even we have been guilty of this but not all young travellers in cars or small vans are rowdy or messy. On the contrary, they are pleasant, polite, and impeccably tidy. Often they have professional jobs back home, and they just choose to travel our beautiful country on a budget and under their own steam—just like the rest of us.