This is my view this morning, as I write from the back of a trailer, parked up in Akaroa, New Zealand, where we stopped late yesterday afternoon. We picked up our trailer just over a week ago, packed up what was left of our former life into it (after we'd sold most of our furniture) and hit the road. Beginning near the bottom of New Zealand's South Island, the intention is to work our way up from Dunedin to Auckland, with lots of stops along both coasts of the North and South Islands. Once in Auckland, the dream (read: intention with lots of obstacles still to cross!) is to build a small 7.8m x 2.4m house, on a trailer.
18 months ago, I was a lawyer - stressed, anxious, and unhappy. I'd been practicing as a barrister in New Zealand's criminal courts, for almost a decade. I was good at my job, cared about my clients and would go into bat strongly, as needed. But I hated my job: I saw a broken system, which served neither victims or defendants. I saw prejudice, ignorance of privilege, and (generally speaking) an astounding lack of empathy for the people the 'justice' system is meant to serve. Lawyers and Judges (as a general rule) are also horrible people - they are trained to separate out the personal, in a way that fails to acknowledge and realise the real lives of the people they are meant to be working for. Having been outside that system for 18 months now, and worked with NGO's since (that do actually help people), the archaic nature of our legal system has also become all the clearer - but that's just my small nugget. Being a lawyer also means high workloads, the unrealistic expectation that work should be your life, along with heavy amounts of anxiety. Put simply, I really wasn't cut out for it, despite 9 successful years as one.
Finding a way out of the rut is surprisingly hard though! We had built a life around this crazy, unhappy job. We had a big house, expensive cars (with debt owing), and way too many possessions (online shopping is not the therapeutic tool I tried to make it!). My husband was a stay at home dad to our new baby and was bringing bub to me to breastfeed every couple of hours between court sessions, (when I wasn't at home in the office). Having hubby at home did mean that he could pick up our two older children from their school buses and ferry them between their extra-curriculars; we also had our groceries delivered weekly and because I was self-employed (as a Barrister), I got to spend time with my kids after-school, on the days I wasn't in Court (although this meant working later in the evenings).
Many looking into our life, would say that we had it sorted - a comfortable life and a workable arrangement for our kids, with one parent at home. I was going crazy though. I resented always being tired, anxious, and not having enough time with my children. I resented that even when I wasn't working, I was thinking about my job, receiving / responding to e-mails, or that even on my afternoons off, a Judge could call me into Court, regardless of the impact that might have on my family (I got mad one day and took my breastfeeding infant with me, just to make a point). I hated that I would still be up at 2 or 3am some nights thinking about my cases; unable to shut-off. I resented that even though we were "well-off", I was still always thinking about money and debt. For the record, I don't mind the struggle, but only if there is a purpose to it. Having a big house, nice cars and lots of debt is not a purpose I subscribe to now. I didn't feel like it was a life that I wanted then either, in-spite of the comforts that we had, but it took a long time to understand why.
We are a close family: discussing our issues, our wins and our unhappinesses is something we do on a daily. Sitting on our oversized family bed one afternoon, I'm not sure who suggested it (probably me!), but the thought was aired that maybe we should just pack up and go travel. Travel had already been a big part of our lives: I did a number of back-packer trips in Asia and Europe, before I met my husband; our first test as a couple, 6-months into our relationship, was backpacking in Indonesia; we then did a 10-week trip to Europe in 2011/12 (I had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour and had needed some time-out from life then too); and in 2014, we honeymooned in Cuba for a month. By July 2016 (when we made the big decision), I had already been itching to travel again. Taking more than a week or two away from my job was difficult though - our month away in Cuba in 2014, had made that clear, and we hadn't attempted to travel outside of New Zealand since then. We knew that my husband's grandfather in Edinburgh was very unwell and we'd already talked about getting over there to see him asap. From there, within a week or so, the plan evolved to my quitting my job, downsizing, and finding another life that would suit better - beginning with a stay in Edinburgh to spend time with family there. And yes, our kids were very much part of that discussion and decision-making too!
It took a little time and organisation, but a few short months later, after packing our house up (pretty much everything still kept - we hadn't got onto the minimisation train yet!), we boarded a flight to the UK and spent the autumn and winter there, with budget-flight trips across to Spain, Eastern Europe, Venice and Morocco. On the way back home to New Zealand, in March, we also did a more extensive month-long trip through Egypt. All very much budget travel, but it was the trip of a life-time. Coming home was more than a little tough! For me at least anyway.
While my husband and our eldest (now aged 14), were looking forward to the return of a little normality, I focused on the prospect of doing the stay-at-home mum thing for a bit and returning to some study. We stayed with family in Auckland for the first couple of months while we looked for our new home. I travelled a little in New Zealand's South Island with our toddler during this period too, using air-points for the domestic flights and to rent a car. Exploring beautiful Dunedin down this way, I also found our new home.
Dunedin is a gorgeous place by the way, and we did actually manage 9-months of "normality" here. Well... sort of. Considered "cold" by most New Zealanders standards (certainly still a lot warmer than the UK), and therefore less popular (read: more affordable than most places here), I would easily name Dunedin, New Zealand's most beautiful city. Our 3-bedroom home was a lovely 1930's original too, with a relatively modern renovation: warm, graceful and with beautiful views down across the city. Considerably smaller than the houses we had lived in before our travels, we did begin selling bits of furniture and other things at this point - although we still stuffed our cupboards and storage areas with an excess of possessions. I'd begun reading about tiny houses and minimisation prior to our move here, but I don't think many of the concepts had really "stuck" yet. To a large extent, we went about re-establishing a "normal home" once more - all of our family pictures up on the walls again.
Our oldest enrolled in a local high school and our toddler started at Montessori a few days per week. I enrolled in a semester of post-graduate courses, intending a warm-up to the PhD I'd always (thought I) wanted to do, having completed two Masters degrees with top honours in my early twenties. Hubby took on some casual work (to pay the bills), with the intention of finding more substantive work in the long-run, which would better fit his skill-set. We began a new life, integrating into the wonderful communities that Dunedin offers: our daughter filling up on extra-curriculars again; hubby joined the local cricket team; our tot went to the local play-centre for a time; I collected and counted votes at a local booth during the general election and began volunteering with an NGO that settles refugees in Dunedin. Did I mention that Dunedin is a simply lovely spot with wonderful communities? For a different time in our lives perhaps though...
Life was far better than it had been when I was lawyering: we were all a lot happier. But there were aspects missing too. What little spare cash we had, was being used for trips to Auckland to see family. My hubby wasn't finding the meaningful work that might have settled us a little further. I loved being back at University and got top marks at the end of the semester, but I was beginning to question whether I would truly find fulfilment down this route either (I still haven't fully decided that one!). The lack of family support was also weighing on us (for a variety of reasons, of which every family has their own!). Come summer-time, I was also itching to get out and explore New Zealand again. For me too, the desire to travel, write-about, and see more of the world, was also beginning to take centre stage.
With a severely limited budget, and also needing to get up to Auckland to see family over Christmas, options were limited. By chance, I found a free motorhome transfer from Christchurch (in the South Island) to Auckland (in the North), which gave us our first real experience of making a home on the road. It was just a 5-day trip: a taster of the experience of sleeping and preparing meals on the go, but prior to that, and a few camping trips aside, our budget travel experiences had otherwise been limited to AirBnB stays, with public transport and rented cars. It was a great trip too, if a little short. Having a bed and kitchen facilities at the ready when travelling, was definitely seductive though.
It might have been about then (or perhaps a little earlier) that I also realised I was beginning to crave slower travel: the time to properly see a place; to be able to relax and soak in the feel of the communities we had often otherwise rushed through on our travels in the pursuit of seeing "the sights". It might actually have been around the time of our trip to Egypt that I really began taking cognisance of the benefits of slow travel, but certainly, by this point, this was the kind of travel I was picturing when I thought about all of the places I wanted to see in the world.
Christmas with family provided that usual lovely connection: grandparents fussing over grandkids and time spent enjoying food, wine and conversation. All the better for having a kiwi summer for Christmas this year too, having been in winter-time Edinburgh the year before. We lingered in Auckland for a couple of weeks, but then it was time to hit the road again. Our daughter had solved the issue of our getting home too: having talked her grandfather (my father) into taking her on a bike trip near Dunedin, later in the summer, it was agreed that we could grab his SUV to drive back down country from Auckland to Dunedin, with his driving the truck back up after the bike trip.
Taking our time, we stopped at numerous campsites and many out of the way places down the West Coast of the North Island and took our time exploring from Nelson, down through Lewis Pass and into Canterbury. Arriving in Dunedin in time to pick up my father from his flight, we then adventured out for an explore of the Otago region, including on and around the Otago Rail Trail. Such a lovely way to spend a summer! Canterbury and Otago are, just by the way, some of the most picturesque places that there are.
Returning home in February (with a very empty bank account), we had determined that there was a better way to live life. A plan had come together around ridding ourselves of a good portion of our possessions; building a small house on a trailer; moving closer to our families; and then using this as a base from which to further our travels. With the bank account empty though, we needed Colin to return to work for a bit and I began the labourious task of selling the bulk of our possessions.
Ridding oneself of ones possessions is an interesting process. At the start, its easy to imbue an overly large amount of sentimentality into items that are really just that: inanimate objects that bring less meaning to our lives than we often think. Many of ours had, in fact (somewhat unknowingly), been weighing us down rather more than they had been adding something meaningful. Western society really is not geared to making us think about the true cost of storing; maintaining; and moving said possessions when we purchase them. When you begin to start thinking about possessions in that way, you gain a different perspective on the true value of your items though - we did at least.
Somewhat surprisingly, as each item went out the door, often for a fraction of what we had paid for it new, the excuses for attaching sentimentality grew less valid and the weight lifted that little bit more. It was fascinating watching people accumulate these items as we once did. Certainly there is a delight in having nice things, but for the first time, I was also properly able to see this process of accumulation as the short-lived endorphin boost that it is too. Such things quickly become part of the status quo and are not valued for the price (the sweat, the effort, the debt), that went into accumulating them.
I'm not saying we got rid of everything either though! We are actually, still, carting around much more than we really need: my husband, for example, wouldn't let me sell my wedding dress (to which, surprisingly, he has the greater attachment); we still have half the (previously) over-stuffed kitchen and an excess of linen and bedding; I also insisted on keeping ALL of our family frames (of which there is a large collection) and I haven't given up my large collection of cook books (despite my husbands implorings). But, our large collection of furniture and many of the nice (but unnecessary) bits that filled up our home, are gone. This will sound strange for anyone whose home is their life (as it was ours, for a long time), but it feels just wonderful! We're still weighed down a little, but we're that much free-er too.
As part of this minimalist plan, we still had to think about getting the remainder of our possessions back up North (along with ourselves), on a shoestring budget. Lots of time was spent researching shipping options, containers and caravans, before we finally settled on an enclosed trailer - pictured above with our old and reliable 4x4. Combining the end of summer, with a love for travel, and a practical need to get our belongings North, we stacked up boxes in the front of the trailer, laid down a layer in the remainder and chucked our mattress up on top. We're already working on tweaks to this arrangement (some interior building intended), but we're on day three and its feeling pretty comfortable. The plan is to be in Auckland by about May - a nice slow journey. Our oldest we sent north to stay with family already (although I'm a home-schooling fan these days, she's 15 and at that age where she needs her own peer-group) and she's already enrolled in school up there.
Drawing on our experiences camping over the summer, power on-the-go was also designated a priority and an investment ultimately made in the Goal Zero Yeti 400 sound-less generator (a stretch to the budget and not quite as big as we would have liked, but what we could afford) and 100 watt boulder 100 solar panel. I will undoubtedly do a write up on these soon too - we've had them for two weeks now and they're proving to be great!
Key tools for sustaining our nomadic lifestyle, are a Goal Zero solar panel and a small (sound-less) generator (amongst our first purchases on this journey, was the Boulder 100 solar panel and Yeti 400 generator). These are really high quality products that we highly recommend. If you are thinking about purchasing one of these products for yourself, do click on one of our links below - it doesn't cost anything extra for you, but we get a small commission. This assists with sustaining our nomadic journey :-)
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