Guest Post: How living in a van in New Zealand changed my life

This is exciting! I've decided to publish guest posts every now and then, when someone has a very special story to tell, that includes both my loves for design and for travel (want to write something? you can get in touch here).


The lovely Skeeter of Happy Travelers is breaking the first ground with her story about how living in a very small (and moving) space for a year changed her marriage and her view on possessions and sunsets.

But first, let me introduce you to Skeeter, a US based travel blogger at She started blogging back in 2009 when she decided to sell everything she owned to backpack New Zealand with her husband. After nearly a year of traveling and blogging, it became her passion and she’s been doing it ever since. She loves experiencing new things, meeting new people, finding reasons to eat gelato every day, and helping others achieve their dreams of travel.


Enough said, presenting Skeeter:

How living in a van in New Zealand changed my life

It all started with the idea to get a visa and move to New Zealand for a year. Going abroad for a year isn’t that crazy of an idea, particularly in places other than the U.S.


Beginning with what seemed like a normal idea; pick a city, find a job and an apartment, have an awesome time. That seems easy enough.


The more I thought about it though, the more that sounded like a terrible idea. The whole point of this trip was to not be tied down and to travel as much as I could in the little time that I had.


Que the idea to buy a van and live in it while exploring every beautiful corner of New Zealand possible. Yes, that’s what I’d do.


So, over the next nine months I sold everything that my husband and I owned (he happily didn’t seem to mind), got Working Holiday Visas, and saved every penny.


Boom! The next thing we know, we’re in Auckland buying a sweet rough 20 year old van that we lovingly named Delilah and we were off on an adventure.

Delilah in all her glory

Let me back up a bit

Before this trip, neither of us had traveled much outside the U.S. and we had never been to New Zealand. For this reason, it was reasonable that people thought we were crazy. They were certain that being cooped up in a van all the time would lead to homicidal tendencies and that we’d regret not focusing on our careers.


It was late 2008 when we decided to do this and the U.S was firmly entrenched in the recession. It seemed like a pointless time for us to focus on our careers and the perfect time to take a time out and travel…and it was.


Living in a van in a foreign country with a finite amount of financial recourses and the knowledge that you’ll have to find a way to get home and live without a job for an indeterminate amount of time makes you frugal. It also makes you realize that you can get by just fine without all that extra crap you’ve got stored in every nook and cranny of your house. Living in a van leaves only room for the necessary.

It also opens up an entirely new world

We got to New Zealand in May which meant it was getting close to winter and the days were getting shorter. We weren’t prepared for what we would do when it got dark at 6:00pm and we didn’t have electricity to keep the lights on.


We ended up laying there for hours playing Would You Rather, and getting to know each other better. It also meant that we feel asleep earlier, allowing us to see the sunset and sunrise Every.Single.Day.


Going back to a time when you’re lulled asleep by the sunset and greeted happily by the sunrise every morning changes you. It makes you lust more for the beauty in the world. It makes you realize how many times you missed an opportunity to see something naturally wonderful, and it makes you realize that you have to change right now.

Pat taking advantage of some daylight and a rainy day to get some reading in

One of our favorite places to camp in the van, Otamure Bay on the North Island

Living in a van isn’t always sunshine and rainbows though

When you’re in a country where the only other person you know is sitting right next to you, your life lines to help get a lot shorter. Somehow I still have a fondness and nostalgia for our van Delilah, despite her breaking down, multiple times, usually in the middle of nowhere, and generally letting us down around every corner. Some of these adventures in car maintenance include:


  • Trying to change a tire in the dark with a crescent wrench, only to snap it in half

  • Hoping that a car would come along with a tire iron despite not seeing another soul for ages

  • Carrying a car battery 5 miles back to the airport parking lot in the scorching sun

  • Realizing the leads for the battery do not fit the van and using your broken crescent wrench to beat them into shape

  • Deciding that you should have just pushed her into the ocean and hitchhiked the rest of the way


Despite these challenges, Delilah and our my husband’s ability to fix most things, we got to where we were going. We couldn’t just call a friend or family member to bail us out of a jam. We had to figure things out. It’s given me a confidence that most things can be worked out if you want it bad enough.

Zen and the art of van maintenance in the dark

You can’t live in a van forever though

I couldn’t think of a better place to live in a van than New Zealand. With that said though, it makes having people over for dinner awkward. It’s not a lifestyle that can be sustained long-term by most people. It is something that I think would be good for everyone to do at some point in their life, and not just for a long weekend.

One of the many cool camper vans we saw in New Zealand

It makes you realize what is most important to you in this life and what you’re really capable of. This knowledge will make every decision you make from that point on easier and more meaningful.


It will even make you sob uncontrollably while you sell your beloved van to a nice Russian lady when “Hey There Delilah” comes on the radio. Damn you universe!


Write a comment

Comments: 8
  • #1

    Skeeter (Wednesday, 08 April 2015 19:03)

    Sarah, thank you so much for featuring us as your first guest post. We are so honored to be a part of your beautiful site.


  • #2

    Sarah (Thursday, 09 April 2015 08:31)

    thank you, Skeeter! I love your story and am so happy to share it here :)

  • #3

    Heather Sinclair (Wednesday, 19 August 2015 14:11)

    Fantastic story! My husband and I fitted out the back of our pickup truck to travel across Canada, and we did it for 5 (!) months. Compared to the low-ceilinged truck, you van looks like a palace!
    You're quite right that it's restrictive, but it really does teach you what's important (not important: rice cooker, important: cast iron pan).
    We've recently made some improvements, and we're tentatively planning another summer road trip. Maybe to the US...?

  • #4

    Anne (Saturday, 26 August 2017 00:29)

    So what happen to you guys now ? Still live in a van ?

  • #5

    Sarah (Saturday, 26 August 2017 08:09)

    no, the two just had a baby! You can see how they are doing here:

  • #6

    Jamie (Thursday, 16 May 2019 11:21)

    Im travelling around nz with my 7week old pit bull caled killer

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