I step back to assess my living space for the next month. It looks like a white refrigerator upended and custom-fitted with wheels.
A blue stripe runs along the side and the Backpacker logo screams, “Tourist!” But, it’s home. Locals refer to it as a “whiz-bang” because of the sound the door makes when sliding shut. An iggy, icebox, sits between the driver and passenger’s seat giving my husband, Spanky, and I the ability to store a few perishables, but we will still have to make daily grocery store runs. In the back of the van are a propane cook stove and a small sink for washing dishes. Whiz! Slide the door open, and there is the living room and bedroom all in one. Pull the couch cushions down, lay them side-by-side and the bed is made. Ta-da! Home sweet campervan home for a month in the Australian Outback.
In New Zealand we fly under the radar a bit more in a silver “whiz bang.” I find myself nesting as I prepare for two months in this van amidst the holiday season. I hang my “I heart NZ” stocking in the rear window and string tinsel along the perimeter of the van’s interior, all this as I listen to my Bing Crosby Christmas album on Thanksgiving morning. Spanky is busy jumping on the holiday park’s giant trampoline—because they have those sorts of amenities at RV parks in New Zealand. Seriously? You can hardly find a park with a decent shower in the States.
Four months later, we’re in the car driving to inspect our storage unit back home in Washington. Spanky pops the deadbolt open and scrolls the door upward. The metal vibrates on its way up, making a sound much like the ole whiz-bangs we rented for a few months. I peer inside the 10-by-20-foot space—larger than the living space in both our vans combined—and immediately wish I had one of those airplane barf bags handy.
“I miss just having my backpack,” I say amidst tears. This is one of many re-entry meltdowns upon returning from seven months abroad in Never Never Land, where one never has to work or set an alarm or buy things like sheet sets and soap dispensers. On the road I found comfort in the unburdened, unbridled simplicity of living out of my backpack, hotels, B&Bs, and a pair of vans, so when Spanky and I get home, I am determined to downsize.
We had considered the RV lifestyle early on in our marriage, but back then we weren’t prepared for that kind of close proximity. At times, being in the same state was difficult during the dreaded Year One, as I like to call it. But, after three months of living in campervans in Australia and New Zealand, I think, An RV will be a piece of cake.
So, what was it about those whiz-bangs that changed my mind and made me realize that life on the road was more appealing than life in a traditional home?
Mobility equals freedom. Having wheels means constant movement, something that was so attractive on the road. While living in campervans, we leapt from town-to-town every three days. We saw the sights: Took in the beaches of New Zealand’s North Island; the mountains, glaciers, and sludge-free rivers of the South Island and leaping ’roos of Australia all in a matter of 12 weeks.
We’ve managed the same steady flow in our fifth wheel, beginning in South Dakota and exploring the Midwest in all its bountiful backwoods glory. Then we headed back West like the settlers of old, tramping the old gold miner’s trails along Highway 49 looking for flakes and nuggets. We discovered idyllic towns lush with green fields and abundant wine, as well as towns we’d rather never see again in our lives. Ahem, Bakersfield.
Instability. Where mobility equals freedom, instability can often result in loneliness. I can relate to this Eric Church line:
“Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do; It’s just another song about missing you.”
I miss the normalcy of going to the same familiar grocery store and being a part of a community, but for now the road outweighs those creature comforts.
Besides being mobile, I also learned that living in a van or RV meant having the ability to live more simply. My favorite perk as a gypsy is, well, if I don’t like my neighbors, I can pick up and move; not to mention, there’s no yard upkeep, only so much internal maintenance and grooming, spring cleaning takes an hour tops, and cable and Wi-Fi are usually included in the monthly rent, as is water, sewer, electric and garbage.
Lack of space. During our first van escapade in Australia, Spanky and I got in some knock-down, drag-out fights—and yes, I literally wanted to knock him out and drag him from the van. The only problem was that when we got in a fight, I couldn’t stomp off into the other room. Well, I could stomp off from the “kitchen” to the “bedroom/living room,” but I’d still only be a stone’s throw away. Needless to say, that was even more infuriating. Here’s the thing, you gotta really love the one you love to live in anything under 300 square feet, because there’s nowhere to run.
GETS YOU OUT
And by out, I mean in the outdoors. The limited space can also work in your favor. When the weather is cooperating and the walls are cramping your style, take it outside. Spanky and I utilize our picnic tables to the max. Every chance we get, we are barbecuing, laying down the sarong-turned-tablecloth and pouring a glass of sauvignon blanc (from New Zealand, in homage, and just because it’s damn good) for our evening meal.
It’s not just the stir craziness that pushes you outdoors, but many RV parks just happen to be in scenic natural wonderlands. After all, they were made for campers and retirees who want to rest and relax and get away from the hassles of city life.
Sometimes it rains—for days. This is something I became fully aware of during a return trip to New Zealand in early fall 2014 (which happened to be their early spring, also known as late winter, if you get my drift).
Ultimately, during our time in the South Pacific I learned that home was a relative term. It was fluid. One of my favorite song lyrics is “Home is wherever I’m with you” (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes). It’s wherever you gather with the ones you love, and even that can change. You can love a group of grimy backpackers then come home and love on your nearest of kin. Both places are home. There are definitely destinations that I consider home more than others. Washington State will always be home because it’s where I grew up and where my family still lives. New Zealand is the home I long for deep in my gypsy soul. The Sierra Foothills of northern California came out of left field, but have become our home base while on the road.
Home is wherever your heart is happy, and as us RVers say, “Home is where you park it.”
[bctt tweet=”…as us RVers say, “Home is where you park it.””]
Want to live in a van (or at least test it out?)
**Tip: Prices range from $30 to $150 a day, but increase drastically during the high season of travel for each location. For the best deal, rent your campervan just before or at the tail end of tourist season.