7 life lessons from a Kiwi campervan
This is where we used to live. It wasn’t a mansion, but at 1500 square feet it felt a tad bigger than the home we swapped it for recently on a 7 night campervan trip in New Zealand. And whilst we love our old home, and whilst we miss our old home, we won’t be forgetting our time spent sleeping in the great outdoors anytime soon. You could say it was a test of sorts; to live simply, to eat well, and to not kill each other by the 7th day. Here are the 7 life-affirming lessons we learnt when we downsized our square footage by a casual 95%, rented this big green moving machine (which the kids affectionately nicknamed "Wiesel") and felt more alive than ever.
1. You don’t need a masher to make mash
Having only ever made mash potatoes with a masher, we felt so incredibly alive the day we discovered mash made without one. Like Mandela being freed from prison or Jesus being raised from the dead, making mash with only a fork is life changing. As mash featured more than once on this 7 night trip, we can share that chopping the potatoes into smaller yet uniform sizes and allowing them to simmer that bit longer, say 30 minutes in our case, heightens the experience to new levels.
2. The people that eat the most rice are the worst at making it
If you’re from a primarily rice-eating country there’s a pretty strong chance you own a device devoted entirely to the making of one thing, and one thing only - rice. If this is you, it’s probably also fair to say that if someone were to take your rice cooker away from you, your chances of making rice without it would be about as good as ours were before we did this trip. Once you’ve spent 7 nights in a campervan though, you’ll emerge like a rice-making butterfly from its chrysalis, emboldened by your new life skill and perfectly capable of smashing out bowl after bowl of perfectly cooked rice in no time (or 19 minutes precisely in our case).
3. Hiring 4 outdoor chairs when you have 2 children is optimistic, and stupid
No one hires a campervan without paying extra for the outdoor chair and table, obviously. This is about nature. This is about adventure. This is literally about THE OUTDOORS for heaven's sake. We can’t sit on the floor like savages! We need chairs to sit on, outdoors, and we need 4 of them, because there are 4 of us. Once you’ve spent 7 nights in a campervan though, you’ll realise that placing children in said outdoor environment and then expecting them to sit on said outdoor chair is about as likely as them choosing the fruit option in a happy meal.
4. Zip lock bags can save your life
When we had 95% more space, we owned another device that served one purpose and one purpose only - storing the worst that children are capable of in the house until the stench became so unbearable that we were forced to begrudgingly traipse outside to store them there instead. 7 nights in a campervan do not allow for such luxuries though, so we invented this parent hack that we’ll happily share with the world for free - the humble ziplock bag. We’re still not sure why we didn’t think of this before, but keeping just one ziplock bag for the duration of the trip allowed us to store ungodly nappies in perfect harmony with our nostrils until the bag became full, at which point we simply emptied “Zippy” at the bins. You’re welcome world.
5. Roald Dahl was right, go throw your TV set away
Like most life-affirming experiences, 7 nights in a campervan confirmed what the Oompa Loompas sang about a long long time ago. With no TV, we had to find different ways to entertain ourselves. Pillows became the walls to dens, sticks became fishing rods to catch giant whale sharks and pebble beaches became the battlegrounds for endless games of chase. And books. Many, many books.
“Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don't climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink --
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
IT ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND
HE CAN NO LONGER UNDERSTAND
A FANTASY, A FAIRYLAND!
HIS BRAIN BECOMES AS SOFT AS CHEESE!
HIS POWERS OF THINKING RUST AND FREEZE!
HE CANNOT THINK -- HE ONLY SEES!”
- excerpt from Charlie and the chocolate factory by Roald Dahl
6. The best eggs are scrambled with less
We stayed at a number of sites during the 7 nights, some good, some terrible, and some breathtaking. This example of the latter was the perfect scene for breakfast with a view; rolling pasture, white crashing waves and jagged cliffs. If we could go back and do the campervan trip again, we’d stay at Solscape a lot longer, it was stunning.
Anyway, breakfast. This calls for scrambled eggs. We love scrambled eggs. We’ve scrambled many. But in all honesty, as much as we love food and cooking, we’ve never quite cracked... (sigh) this classic. Then we tried cooking them in this campervan kitchen, complete with minimalist equipment and paltry pantry. This was day 7 of the trip, the grand breakfast finale. Where’s the butter? Pardon? We have no more butter? That’s it then, call off everything, throw the eggs away, breakfast is ruined. This went on for some time, but like Moses in the desert, we pushed on and found a miracle waiting at the end of our 40 years in the desert. Scrambled eggs without butter is actually better! We used the only thing we had, canola oil, which didn’t bubble up at the beginning like butter does, leaving a lovely texture and colour. Don’t worry though butter, we still love your luxurious nuttyness and will happily brown some seperately to mix in at the end.
7. The best things in life aren’t always part of the plan
We booked some of our stays for the campervan ahead of time, but we felt that part of the appeal of having a mobile home was also being able to just go where the moment leads, to close the Booking.com app and see where we wound up. Then we wound up here, almost by accident, and as we parked up on this secluded beach-front freedom camping spot for the night, with the orange glow of the sunset sky peeling away around us, we sighed a gentle sigh of relief for having found another one of those unforgettable moments in this adventure that we’ll forever look back on and smile about. As the kids raced off to throw stones into the South Pacific ocean, and as we cracked open a bottle of wine from the Hawke's Bay vineyard down the road, everything in that small moment in time felt right, even if it was completely unplanned, and therefore completely unexpected. In that moment, we felt truly free, and for that, we thank you Wiesel.