10 Lessons from 100 Days in a Van

1) Put God first and He will provide

Everything on this trip has happened at the right time and in the right place. This didn’t mean it happened when we wanted, but it also means we have to lean on God’s peace. From the very beginning He has been with us. The visas, the money transfers, the vehicle purchase, the locals and tourists we’ve run into. This entire experience has been one God ordained experience after another. How can He not be the one to receive thanks and praise when all the stars align at exactly the right time?

2) Proximity does not equal intimacy
We spend 98% of our time in each other’s company. That’s 30 minutes a DAY out of earshot of each other and that’s usually when we’re showering! That’s a lot of time together!
From Amelia’s Perspective: Somewhere along the way I looked at him as we laid down to go to sleep and realized I hadn’t seen him all day. How was that possible? The routine had taken over. The efficiency of driving, hiking, photographing this amazing adventure, I had lost sight of my husband who never left my side. Living in a 4,000sqft house or a 50sqft van, marriage requires intentional participation. Otherwise, you look up years later, and say “who are you and where have you been?” when they’ve been right in front of you the whole time but you’ve tuned them out. I needed to be more intentional about seeing Jonathan, his needs, his desires, and appreciating the unique flavor his personality brought to this adventure. It sounds impossible but you can still tune someone out of your life, even in 50sqft.
From Jonathan’s Perspective: Gary Jules’ song Mad World takes a depressing viewpoint on life when he sings “All around me are familiar faces. Worn out places, worn out faces.” Our lives have come to be a satirically opposite reflection of Jules’ lyrics. Every day we see new people, new places, we see joy and love in the people around us. To see or experience something that is “awe-striking” is truly rare, but we have the chance to experience it daily, not only within ourselves, but to see those around us experience the awe. It becomes SO easy to only look at what is *new*. To only look away from what is known, becoming absorbed by the “awe-filled” surroundings. It takes a conscious effort to remember that my spouse, my bride, is a diamond that becomes more intriguing with age. Our relationship allows me the opportunity to polish her exquisite exterior to see the radiance within. A radiance that is more “awe-some” than any superficial waterfall or beach. That is something that requires the effort. It is worth the effort. My reminder to myself: “She is worth the effort. Don’t let the “new” distract you from the treasure God has put right next to you.”
3) Life will always have routines
With Amelia’s lesson on the dangers of routine being noted, we have to acknowledge life will ALWAYS have routines. We’re halfway around the world, standing in awe at the edge of a glistening reflective mountain pool… Thinking about taking a shower and doing laundry. Because it needs to be done! Because it’s only socially acceptable for hobos to smell like we do! Because Jonathan’s out of clean socks again, because the washing machines keep eating his socks. The laundry still has to be done. Dishes still have to be washed. The car still needs gas, we still have to make meals, still have to pay bills. Even in the most wildly unstable and unpredictable time of our lives, there are still routine tasks that have to be done. Apparently that’s just life.
4) You really can live and be happy with less stuff
Amelia loves the idea of living in a Tiny House, so living in a van seemed like a good time to test the minimalist lifestyle. We’d long considered the possibilities of what would happen if we just got rid of all our stuff.  The immediate response was always “Well, we’ll have to have some essentials unless we want to be hobos.” So we’ll need a toothbrush, clothes, soap, things of that nature, but beyond that… what is actually necessary?
Do we need a couch? No. Do we need a rocking chair? No. Do we need three boxes of Christmas Decorations sitting in a closet? Probably not all three. Do we need to keep all the books that we’ve already read? No (Amelia thinks this one’s debatable). Do we need wall decorations? No. Do we need a big apartment/house? Not if we are getting rid of all this stuff!
Annddddddd…. Now we live in a van! We have about as much room as our old master bedroom closet. We have a few things, like custom furniture, kept in a storage unit in Houston and there are a few things with family, but we are completely able to live without those things. We do not need them. Our lesson has not hinged on the Biblical values of selling your possessions and giving everything away, but rather our lesson revolves around the more worldly factual viewpoint that when you have less, there is less to care for, there is less to break or be stolen, there is less to distract you from what or who you really love!
5) Fresh air and exercise keeps you healthy
Everybody’s doctor try to convince them of this simple idea. It really works! We’ve tested it out! With the exception of hurting yourself WHILE exercising, there really isn’t much harm that can come from going on a walk outside. Our lifestyles have been drastically altered when compared to our lives in Houston. We’d work all day in a stuffy office with no windows, get home, be tired from brain “exercise”, and as a result we’d stay inside and relax (code for Netflix binge watching) in the evenings. How often would we go outside for a walk? A few times a month (Thank you, Pokemon Go!). How often do we go for a walk now? Multiple times a week, if not multiple times a day! The tremendous back pain (and resulting chiropractic bills) we both ached from on a regular basis is now a shadow of what it once was. We suffer from fewer allergies, cold sores, headaches, infections, anxiety, etc. We’ve not been sick for a single day since we started our trip Our muscles are strong, our brains are active, our imaginations and creative spirits are wild and inventive! Go for a walk!
6) No such thing as plans just changeable intentions
“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.” “Eh, it might not. Let’s go anyway.”
The wonderful country of New Zealand is one of the southern most land masses in the entire world. This means that storms and pressure systems change the daily weather rapidly as the open oceans allow them to pick up speed and move around with no hindrance. This resulted in nearly 100% of 24 hour weather predictions to be WRONG in our first few months here. Okay, so that’s a little exaggerated, a more realistic percentage would probably be about 85%. We learned to only trust weather forecasts that were within three hours of our present time. We have been forced on several occasions to make different plans other than our originals. For example, we attempted preparations for the Tongariro Crossing twice and both times we were forced to change our plans due to bad weather. We no longer have “plans”, but rather we have intentions. Now instead of planning in detail for the following week, we map out a month in advance with things like “We intend to spend a week here, but if it starts to rain, this area has plenty we can do out of the rain, then we’ll make a loop this way and eventually come back to the first area.” Sometimes our intentions work as… intended… other times we have to rapidly change our intentions to meet up with reality. This is a drastic mental change and continuous challenge, especially for Amelia, who’s the lover of itineraries, lists, and schedules.
7) There are times to put down the camera
This has been a lesson on two fronts. On one front we put the camera down to maintain the intimacy of being together. The second front is a learned skill of knowing when the camera is a waste of time. Yes, it’s true. In a journey that we’ll likely never replicate, that we want to capture every moment, there are times when the camera is a waste of energy and time. Thus far, this skill has been learned by exploring the limitations of our camera. Our camera doesn’t have a lens that can zoom in really far, so if there’s a wild animal we either have to get incredibly close or choose to enjoy the experience without the pictures, like the kiwi or penguins. Our camera takes seconds to boot up, so if there is something occurring right this instant, we would miss the moment entirely if we spent the entire time getting the camera ready to snap! Our camera can NOT capture temperature, sound, smell (you’re welcome!), so the whole experience will live only in our memories; the pictures are just a small part so we have learned to enjoy all the other parts in the moment.
8) The world’s a lot bigger than America
This realization dawned on us the first time we traveled to New Zealand and watched the news. Throughout an entire thirty minute news segment there were mentions of happenings all around the world, but not a single mention of the USA. Living in the USA, the local media teaches you that the only thing worth hearing about IS the USA. They never say it directly of course, but entire hour blocks of news get filled with only American happenings, American pop culture, American celebrities, and American politics. Living in New Zealand there are few people who care about anything occurring in America, with one exception. Every New Zealander wants to know your personal opinion on President Trump. Every. Single. One. Jonathan laughed at one point because the first long conversation we had with another couple that didn’t include any mention of Trump was with two lovely Americans. That aside, there is little about America that New Zealanders or other tourists care to know or discuss. Except for that one guy who had been to Texas and LOVED Buccee’s so much that he showed us pictures. Hahaha!
9) Things do not HAVE to smell
One of the things that concerned Amelia about the idea of buying a campervan is that every blog and video she watched assured her of one thing “Your van WILL smell and you WILL smell.” A few weeks into the trip it became apparent that this was a choice. If you prioritize cleaning dishes, taking showers, dumping out the grey water, practicing personal hygiene, doing laundry, etc., then your van won’t smell. Most of the time we shower daily, but there have been about 2 dozen nights that we’ve gone to bed dirty. We just prioritize a shower the next day. It is a choice. A choice that few other people our age see eye-to-eye with us on, but it is a choice. To that one guy that we ran into at Mt. Taranaki that Jonathan could smell from OVER 50 meters away, please! Take a shower!
10) New Zealand’s great!
The people, the culture, the work-life balance, the beautiful scenery. New Zealand is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We’ve mentioned before that the USA has everything NZ has, the difference being the distance between beautiful wonders. Yosemite to New York City is a long way. New Zealand may be small, but man does it pack a punch. Tourism NZ does a great job selling its “World’s Greatest” or “World’s Best”, but there is so much more beyond these pinnacles of world-renowned. The nature and scenery are not the biggest selling point as to why we would stay here long-term. The natural beauty attracted us, but it is the people who make us want to stay. Kids play outside barefoot without supervision; they ride the train alone to school in the country’s largest metropolis. People use honesty boxes. You pay for your gas inside after you’ve filled the tank. They’re sincere when they invited you to “come over whenever.” They’ll give you a lift when your campervan breaks. Kiwis are a breed of honest, kind, down-to-earth people who trust complete strangers and take more value in their families than in their work or the money they earn. There are always bad apples, but this country has a majority of good people that we want to emulate and be friends with!

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