Do you want to follow a different path in life? The non-traditional interviews showcase people who have chosen to make up their own rules and do something different. Today’s interview is with Karen who decided to give up a permanent address and instead she’s living in a caravan in New Zealand.
Where are you from?
Auckland, New Zealand
Where do you live now?
I call the whole of New Zealand home.
What do you do for a living?
I’m a graphic designer and blogger.
What do you do for fun/what do you love?
Hiking, photography, travel, reading and I love having spare time – time to do anything I want.
What do you hate?
Right now, I hate Auckland traffic. I’m freelancing in Auckland and there are not many campsites in the city, so it’s a long commute.
Tell us about traveling full-time and living in a caravan. What’s that like?
It’s been a steep learning curve. I knew nothing about the processes before buying the caravan. I was stressed about driving it, with visions of side swiping cars and nervous about reversing. After buying it, I learnt all about the chores involved. How often I needed to full the fresh water tank and empty the grey water tank. How to empty the toilet cassette. How to use the gas. How to set up and pack up the caravan. How to attached the caravan to the car.
Living in a caravan has really made me appreciate the things I took for granted, like water and power. It’s also made me realise that I don’t actually need a lot of space. Just a place to sleep, cook and lounge.
I’ve always flat shared with other people, so I love that I no longer need to share the kitchen. I can cook whenever I like, with no interruptions. The kitchen has limited bench space and cupboards, but a normal gas stove top, grill, oven and microwave. I cook exactly how I always have. I’m just more cautious about water use.
I really love being able to stay in beautiful locations, like Karamea, and see tree covered mountains from inside my comfortable and warm caravan. It feels like an apartment that I can move to any location I want.
How long have you been traveling through New Zealand and living in your caravan?
I bought the caravan 6 months ago. For the first 3 months, I travelled around the south island of New Zealand. Since then, I’ve based myself around Auckland, working and saving.
OK, I’ve got to ask – what’s the bathroom situation like?
A question I had too. I have a combination toilet / shower. There is a shower door for separating the areas and stop everything from getting wet.
The toilet is clever – it looks like a normal toilet. Waste just goes into a cassette, or tank. You pump a handle for water to clean the toilet. When it’s full (after a week) you take the cassette out and empty it into a dumping station most campsites have. Not my favourite part, but less gross than I expected. Strong chemicals neutralise everything.
The shower doesn’t have great pressure and it’s a bit awkward within the small space. Plus any water I use means more chores with fulling and emptying water tanks. I’ve been using the campsite showers, as I love a long strong shower.
How do you get internet in the caravan?
At first, I went on the maximum mobile monthly phone bundle and made my phone a hotspot. But I was racing through the data too quickly. I joined NZMCA, and started using Wireless Nation who are specifically for mobile homes. I now have a modem that I can use around the country and has the same speed and data as a home modem.
What inspired you to leave your traditional life behind and drive around New Zealand in a caravan?
I had moved back to Auckland after 9 months in South America and Europe. I was tired of living out of a backpack and had dreams of buying a house. I quickly realised that house prices had gone insane and having a crippling mortgage wasn’t appealing. I was also curious about the Tiny House movement, plus realised I didn’t like Auckland. So the idea of buying a caravan and exploring New Zealand was formed. It meant I could have the best of both worlds – travel with my home.
I’ve lived in London and Melbourne, and I don’t know how many flat shares. This has meant the idea of ending my traditional life wasn’t as big a deal as it would be for others.
From the time you got inspired to live in a caravan, how long did it take you to actually leave your home behind, and what were the steps you had to take?
It took me about 7-8 months from forming the idea to buying the caravan.
I had been saving for a house deposit before that, so just swapped to saving for a caravan instead.
I visited most of the caravan dealers around Auckland and went to a yearly motorhome and caravan expo. I started looking at caravans for sale on the internet and get a feel for what I wanted and how much it would cost.
I then did things a little backwards – I quit my job and left my flat, but ended up freelancing at my old job, as they needed help, and stayed at a friends house.
I upgraded my car to one that could tow the weight of a caravan.
Then I quit my job, for the second time, and went on a road trip, stopping at all the caravan dealers along the way.
I eventually found my caravan in Nelson, which is at the top of the south island.
Did you get any resistance or negative feedback when you announced your plans? How did/do you deal with that?
Oh yes! My dad was against the idea. He thought it was throwing money away. That the caravan would devalue quickly. I think he envisaged a derelict looking caravan rather than my fancy home. I can be very stubborn on occasion so I went ahead anyway. And he’s come to understand why I decided to buy a caravan.
Plenty of people asked why and I had a pretty good argument. None of my close friends were surprised, which was actually really reassuring to hear.
What’s the best part of traveling around New Zealand with your own home on wheels?
Being able to comfortably stay at places with such impressive scenery is fantastic. We have such a variety for a small country. Parts of it are moody and wild, with mossy forests, black sand and dramatic mountains. My favourite part of New Zealand is at the very bottom of the south island – Milford Sound.
I also like the idea that I can lock’n’leave. That I can travel overseas and not pay for rent at the same time.
What have been the biggest challenges or problems you’ve faced along the way?
Reversing took me a while to learn. At the very first campsite, I asked for a spot where I could drive straight through, with no reversing required. The second campsite was empty, so I started practicing, and my caravan was zig-zagging all over the place. Glad no one was watching. Through practice, and getting my head about how the caravan moved, I improved. And I’m quietly proud of my reversing now.
I’m learning that the campgrounds in Auckland are not great. They are either crazy expensive and cramped, or seedy, or way out on the edges and take forever to drive into the centre. This is just another motivation to leave the city.
How do you afford to travel and live this way?
I don’t! I am still in a transitional stage of finding a system. I’m a graphic designer with over 10 years experience and have worked in Auckland, Melbourne and London. I’m currently freelancing in Auckland, to save up before travelling around again. I’ve started finding some online clients but need more to be able to survive.
What’s the weirdest or most common question you’ve gotten about traveling full-time or living in a caravan, and how do you answer it?
‘Do you need help reversing the caravan?’ No, I’m fine, I can reverse my own caravan, thank you. I’ve realised that it’s more usual in New Zealand for an older couple to own a caravan where the man drives. I’ve received more than a few surprised expressions when people realise it’s just me.
Do you have any tips for those thinking about traveling full time and living in a caravan?
Driving and reversing with a caravan seem scary, but it’s possible with no experience. You really will learn as you go.
When looking at caravans, factor in the cost of modifying the caravan to get your self containment certificate, adding solar panels and putting water tanks under the caravan. I recently got solar panels, and they were more expensive than I expected. I’ve also realised that most second hand caravans are sold with small external water tanks, but most people have them fitted under the caravan. I’m the dork dragging the grey water tank through the campground.
Also, if you are working, really have a look at the campgrounds in the area first. Go and visit them. I had assumed it would be easy in Auckland, but there are some seedy and expensive options. Definitely not the setting I want for my home.
What’s next for you?
I need to pay off my solar panels, but then I’m leaving Auckland… again. I’m planning to head south, back to enjoying New Zealand nature and sort out work. Wish me luck!
Bio: TravellingK is a kiwi travel blogger who has eagerly travelled off and on for the last 8 years. Her latest adventure is living permanently in a caravan and travelling around New Zealand. She has the travel bug and visited South America, Iran, Russia, India, Turkmenistan, Japan, Morocco, Italy, Spain, Norway and more – her travel wish list keeps growing. Follow her on TravellingK to learn more about her caravan adventure around New Zealand and overseas travel, and follow her on Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Read more non-traditional interviews:
- Round the World Travel and Living in Cairo
- Full-Time Travel with a Dog
- Full-Time Travel at Any Age
- How I Live a Non-Traditional Life