Jackie’s Journey: Ken the Campervan

There’s a standing joke with every fisherman I’ve ever met in that, every time they buy a new boat, they always swear that this one is absolutely the last one and they couldn’t possibly wish for any more from a boat, only to upgrade to an even bigger one not too much further down the track. In my experience, it seems to be the same with motorhomes. Even the people we purchased our first van from were on their third motorhome—or maybe it was their fourth?

Either way, buying a large vehicle was something we only ever briefly considered. When we first announced we were going to be living permanently on the road, people naturally assumed we would be buying a bus or motorhome and were surprised when we packed up our lives and the family dog into a Nissan Elgrand. Even now, after recently upsizing, people can’t believe we have opted for such a small vehicle for full-time living, and wonder how we manage. The answer is—quite easily! It’s not the size that is important; it’s the setup.

In saying that, I was also far too stingy to buy anything much bigger. Having just sold my house and becoming joyously debt-free after years of struggle, I wasn’t going to spend a single cent more than I had to. If it didn’t work out, we could always go bigger but we were determined to start small and see how truly compact our lives could be.

The Nissan Elgrand we bought at the start of our journey was brilliant. It was luxurious, a pleasure to drive, compact, and completely sound proof. I hadn’t slept so well in years. The problem with the Elgrand was not the size, but the setup. While it was perfectly suited for someone travelling on their own, or going away for a couple of weeks here and there, it just wasn’t set up for permanent living­—not for a couple, an overweight spaniel, and all their worldly goods anyway.

Although we vowed to stick to the original plan and kept telling ourselves it was nothing we couldn’t live with, the stress of living in permanent chaos was soon starting to get to us. 

It was completely by chance that we met a couple from the UK through a mutual friend. Like us, they had also been travelling around New Zealand in a camper van—for about the same length of time—in a 2008 Mazda Bongo affectionately known as Ken, thanks to his number plate. Having a good old chinwag with other people who live the same way as you is always interesting and a pleasure, but this lovely young couple were seriously savvy.

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We thought we were already living on a shoestring but these two were next level! Unlike us, they had obviously done a lot of research before setting out on their travels and put in a lot of effort to make sure they did everything right.

Neither Gareth nor I were prepared for what we saw when they opened the door of the plain-looking, white van. Ken was beautiful! He had custom-made kitchen cabinets, a fridge, a stove, and a sink with a drip tray—everything you could possibly want in a house on wheels. Hannah and her partner Ollie had purchased Ken as an empty shell and then filled and furnished him themselves.

Every little detail had been thought of and had been done well while still being on a budget as much as possible. Anyone could see that Ken was a labour of love, so much care and hard work had gone into making him their home away from home. And, he was also for sale.

“Imagine what it would be like, being able to cook inside? We could cook so many more things and it wouldn’t matter if it was windy or raining,” we said wistfully. In comparison, we were currently trying to cook outside every day on a Weber Baby Q, which we either had to chain to the wheel at night to avoid it getting pinched or sleep with it right behind our heads, which was far from ideal. Even trying to make so much as a sandwich was a nightmare in bad weather, with the wind blowing the bread and everything else everywhere.

Rain was something we dreaded on the whole, as even something as simple as opening the sliding door could result in sodden bedding in seconds, not to mention a hefty laundry bill.

In comparison, Ken’s bedroom was at the back, way past the door. If the rain came in, it would simply go on the kitchen floor, which was vinyl.

Ken also had fly screens, meaning we could keep cool at night without getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and had his own power source. It was becoming more and more obvious that a vehicle like this would save us a lot of money long-term. No more paying for power, no more wasted food (we were currently struggling with a hopelessly inefficient chilly bin), no more having to cook outside in awful weather. No more having to climb on the roof every time we needed to grab something we didn’t have room for inside and tether it all again securely. When you live on the road, it’s all the little things, which make life easier that are actually the big things.

In the end, buying Ken was an easy decision. We’ve already driven thousands of kilometres together and couldn’t be happier with the set up. Life on the road is so much easier these days and we have no plans to upsize again anytime soon. Just goes to show, you don’t need to spend a fortune on a big motorhome to live in comfort.

At the end of the day, all you need is all you need!

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