Ever thought about selling the house, and everything in it, buying the motorhome or caravan of your dreams and just hitting the road … permanently? You’re not alone. More and more Kiwis are choosing to rid themselves of their mortgage and jobs to enjoy the freedom and simplicity of life on the road. To wake up and go wherever the mood takes you, to live simply without schedules and routine, and to have a home that is actually affordable. But is it as idyllic as it sounds? In this issue, we meet with a few Kiwis who share the rewards and challenges of living full-time in their RV.
If you’ve ever come across Linda and Scotty’s blog site or Facebook page, ‘Kiwis Fly the Coop’, you’d likely be immediately inspired to follow their lead. Their pages are brimming with gorgeous shots of the couple enjoying some of New Zealand’s most stunning locations. The couple, now in their 50s and with the kids all having left home, have been ‘roaming on rubber’ as they say, for about 18 months. Having watched family members endure cancer and dementia, the couple realised they didn’t want to leave it too late to experience everything they wanted to. “We didn’t want to look back on life and say ‘what if, we should have... we could have... if only’. There are no guarantees in life and we didn’t want to have any regrets,” says Linda.
The couple imported their caravan, a 7-metre JB Milano, from Melbourne in February 2019.
“We have loads of storage space in our caravan and I am pleased to say that some of our cupboards and drawers remain empty,” says Linda. “We have to justify everything we carry – and what is interesting is that we want for nothing. Everything has to have a use and be a ‘must-have’, not a ‘nice-to-have’. It isn’t until you have to live a minimalist life that you realise how little you can do without.”
Making the move
Having lived in the same town she was born in for 52 years, Linda never imagined being ‘homeless’ and living full-time on the road was something she could do.
“I mean, everyone has to belong somewhere, right? The moment we sold our family home and put everything (well, what we didn’t donate to charities) into storage, we were free to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. Defragmenting our life both physically and mentally made us so much more aware of how precious it is to live life without the added burdens of the nine-to-five grind and the stress of all the added pressures that go along with it.”
The journey so far
The couple crossed the Cook Strait to the South Island in May of 2019 and have been there ever since. “We can honestly say that we have only just scratched the surface. There are many gaps in the map that we want to explore.” Linda and Scotty base their travels around ‘small town New Zealand’. “Those places which often are just a ‘pee and tea’ stop for travellers,” says Linda. “Time and again, we’ve discovered it is all about ‘peeling back the layers’ of these places. We have time to stay and play in some of these towns and, goodness, there is such a lot to discover in these little gems!” Their off-road, high clearance caravan is on air bags, which means they can adjust the suspension depending on the surface conditions. “This takes away the burden of worry when getting to those unspoilt destinations. There is nothing better than the feeling of remoteness, to walk out the door and not see a soul and to only hear and see mother nature.”
The best bits
“I never expected how liberating it would be to say, ‘no fixed abode’,” says Linda. “Seeing the look on people’s faces when you say that you don’t actually have a home base!” “The other big bonus is not having to save those special destinations for a weekend or during those four short weeks of annual leave that any normal working person would have to do. Our motto that we live by is ‘rushing it slowly’. It is amazing how much that mantra means; it makes you realise just how lucky we are to stop, breathe and enjoy the moment. “Fellow road ramblers (either full or part-timers) are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. We have had the pleasure of getting to know so many new friends, both young and old, from all different backgrounds. “Life on the road is such a wonderful ‘leveller’ for us. It doesn’t matter what your postcode is (or was), what label clothing you wear, what your home on wheels is like or what job you do (or did). We are all wanting the same thing – to make the most of the life we chose to live. “When you meet these ‘like-minded’ travellers, there’s always an instant connection, lots of stories told and lots of laughs. Even when there is a story where something hasn’t gone to plan or there has been a ‘whoops’ in someone’s life, it is met with knowing nods – usually someone else has been through the same drama.”
Linda and Scotty started documenting their travels right from the get-go. They created the website kiwisflythecoop.com, not only so they would have a permanent record of their journeys, but also to help others who may be considering visiting an area, or who are trying to decide whether this is the type of lifestyle they are able to achieve. “We thought that when it is time for us to sit in a rest home in years to come, we will be able to watch and read and remember the amazing life that we have created.”
Linda says one of the biggest challenges of travelling as a couple is learning compromise. “Not all couples can do it.
You really have to be on the same page, want the same thing, share the same dreams and both commit to the same lifestyle. We’re lucky in that we tick all of these boxes.”
She also says that while the lifestyle is all about freedom, and that they try to ‘plan not to plan’, they do always have a Plan A, B and C.
“There can be myriad things that can come between you and your best intentions. For example, during the lockdown, we had to become ‘driveway dwellers’ and stay put like the rest of the country.”
But it also was a good reminder for the couple to not take their lifestyle for granted. “We are incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy this wonderful country in the way that we do and hope to continue to live this way for as long as we can.”
LINDA AND SCOTTY’S TOP TIPS FOR WINTER TRAVEL<
- Apart from the obvious, like great heating (either LPG or diesel), a generator and insulation, the next very important thing is investing in good quality, warm clothing. There is no such thing as bad weather, just a bad wardrobe.
- When wintering over (especially in the deep south), ‘comfort food’ has a whole different meaning. Think about good, hearty, warming meals that are easy to prepare in all weathers. Don’t always presume that it is a good idea to get out the barbecue, especially when there’s snow, sleet or rain in sub-zero temperatures outside. Oh, and it’s really important to take the bottle of red wine out of the cupboard early in the day, so that it can warm to room temperature or else it feels like it’s come out of the fridge!
- Keep an eye on the weather forecast and plan your activities accordingly. Don’t expect to conquer that mountain climb, hike or relaxing lake loop trail when there is an incoming deep freeze forecasted. Keep your plans flexible so that you are not frustrated by the limitations of the climate outside.
- Make sure that you find something to hold your interest when you’re stuck indoors such as books, jigsaws, puzzles or games. For Linda, blog writing and video editing keeps her busy during the long winter days.
Mark and Donna Bradford, both 58, decided in 2018 to retire early and discover the freedom of life on the road. Mark has been a self-employed mechanic for 25 years, and Donna worked with him in his business. “We figured we may not be able to do it if we waited until we were 65,” says Mark.
The couple searched long and hard for the right motorhome, and eventually settled on a 6.8-metre six-berth Roller Team.
“We wanted something with plenty of storage and that could be driven on a car licence,” says Mark.
“It didn’t take too long to adjust as we’d done quite a few motorhome trips overseas, and even a month in Europe in a small Peugeot station wagon with a tail-door tent to cook in! It was a fantastic holiday and great training for living in a small space.”
Mark says the best thing about living on the road is having the freedom to do what they want, when they want.
“We wake up to the most fabulous vistas outside our bedroom window almost every day. We have tea, coffee and breakfast in bed, once again almost every day.”
As time goes on, they’re also enjoying some unexpected benefits. “It took a while to wind down from our busy lives, but once we did, we got to know ourselves so much better,” says Mark. “Another benefit is that you meet fantastic, positive, like-minded people – there are not too many sad sacks doing this!”
And of course, there are the financial benefits.“We find life on the road much cheaper than we expected. The longer we stay and explore an area, the less it costs!”
Keeping in touch with family has been important, technology makes that easy. “We have Sky TV and wireless internet so we can FaceTime our children or friends anytime.”
There are challenges too, like getting used to not always having power, and the solar being stretched over the grey or rainy days. “Laundry was also a challenge until we found the Liquid Laundromat network (a fully automated self-serve model where you pay with an Easy Key or Liquid Card); they make things much easier.” And of course, there are some things they miss from being in a house, “like having a Nespresso when you want one, and a shower you can stay in for as long as you like without running out of water,” says Mark. “But we treat ourselves to a powered campground now and then, which makes a difference.”
The pair plan to spend summer in the south and winter as far north as possible. “I love telling our mates I’m still wearing shorts in July. We almost never have the heater on.” One of their favourite places to stay in is Kaiteriteri. “We spend two to four weeks there every year. But there are so many amazing spots in New Zealand to enjoy. We drive around a corner somewhere in the country and say ‘Wow!’ almost every day. Our country is full of fantastic surprises.”
Vince Gardner is well-versed in RV living. He began travelling with his parents from the age of 12 in the family campervan, and then moved out of home and into a caravan at the age of 18. Now 37, Vince lives in a bright yellow 1977 J3 Bedford bus that he bought in 2005.
As a pilot, Vince travels around the country to wherever his career takes him, from flying skydivers over Fox Glacier to following whales around Kaikoura. “I love the freedom to move, to follow my flying career around. I’ve had 15 flying jobs in 18 years, none of which pay a lot, so motorhome living makes my lifestyle affordable with low wages by keeping costs down.”
Vince says his old school bus can move at a fair clip, taking around 10 seconds to reach 90km/hr. “It was hard working driving up hills and long distances with the old worn-out engine. So I installed a big 2008 Chev turbo-diesel V8 and a six-speed transmission.”
The bus is pretty comfy over winter too, thanks to a potbelly fire, sheep wool insulation batts and heavy curtains. “The fire is a godsend in the deep south. The ambiance and romance of having a fire just can’t be beat by a diesel heater. And the wood-fired marshmallows are divine!”
Although Vince has no desire to go back to living in a house, he admits the one thing he does miss is having long hot showers.
“But not having to do lawns and housework, or pay the rent and power bills makes up for that!”