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The (First) 28 Keys to Van Dwelling

I’ve been doing this van dwelling thing for almost a month now and here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Your home is never going to be as tidy as you want it to be.
  2. It will smell.
  3. You will smell.
  4. You have to make an executive decision between mosquitoes and sweating in your sleep–in other words: window open or  window closed.
  5. You get to sleep somewhere new each night, without moving your bed.
  6. A 2.2 liter diesel doesn’t hill well.
  7. Your most basic needs can occupy a full day.
  8. Prepare not to shower often, unless you are willing to pay for it.
  9. It’s O.K. to sleep in the same clothes you wore that day, then wear them again the next.
  10. No matter how wild your hair and beard look in the morning, no one in public really seems to care.
  11. In the bedding game, the thicker the better.
  12. Charge EVERYTHING before going off the grid.
  13. Be open to random strangers approaching you (really, your home) and trying to peddle drugs, buy cigarettes, see what your van looks like inside, or borrow a light.
  14. Be open to baby wipe showers.
  15. The city (Auckland) brings out the worst in you.
  16. Hand rolling cigarettes is a legitimate hobby.
  17. Life goes on without the internet.
  18. Far fewer people actually seem interested from back home.
  19. Don’t inflate your air mattress during the day, then expect to sleep soundly at night. Especially on the beach.
  20. McDonalds is still shit for food, but who can argue with four hours of free internet and people watching?
  21. If there is one thing the Navy taught you that applies now: Secure all gear. Trust me, the combination of learning to drive a manual van, stiff suspension, back roads, and that untethered bag chair, do not make for a fun drive.
  22. It’s a lonely experience, at times. No matter how bad you want to, leave past relationships in the past and realize this is all part of the process.
  23. Talking to yourself and laughing at your own jokes is not a sign of losing it.
  24. When in NZ, barefoot is more fashionable at times than shoes.
  25. Kingfisher “Strong” beer, water, and instant coffee will keep you going.
  26. Science (Google) has taught us that just because you eat Swiss cheese three times a day for a week straight doesn’t mean it gets to be the scapegoat for YOU smelling like Swiss cheese. (Gross I know. It’s the new deodorant.)
  27. Contrary to automatic thoughts as a result of 12 years of military conditioning; you do not need to have a plan for every second of your time.

The First 13 in New Zealand

Has it really been 13 days since I arrived to New Zealand?! You could say I’ve fallen a bit behind on blogging, but the truth is, I’ve had to tend to basic needs, but I’ll get to that later.

The journey started on Sunday in Wellington, which go figure, was windy. Having been there before, it wasn’t anything too exciting; rather a place to crash for the night, as my flight arrived at midnight.

Monday, was spent driving to Havelock North, where my friend Tom and his partner offered up a spot to crash. After having left the right-hand drive region of the world (Pacific) three years prior, getting back into a rental brought a slight feeling of anxiousness. Fortunately, New Zealand is fantastic for accommodating their foreign tourists and the glaringly large red and white arrow which read “Keep Left” was enough to sort me out.

Tuesday through the following Monday was spent meeting Khalif’s crew and checking out the restaurants, pubs, and breweries in the area. As he made abundantly clear, Hawkes Bay is flush with craft restaurants, breweries, and wineries, and that’s where they spend most of their time. Tom being a wine-maker and chef, was surrounded and connected to anyone and everyone in the hospitality trade. As much as I felt welcomed into his circle, I didn’t get the feeling this was my tribe.

Monday was ‘drive to Auckland’ day. The mission was and had been to find a van to turn into a home. After searching out Hawkes Bay, I had only found two suitable vans, but didn’t want to settle there. Since most of the online postings for caravans originated out of Auckland, I figured it would be worth my while to drive north. After a six-hour drive, I decided to bed down at the Orere Top Ten holiday park, just south of Auckland. Taking a step back here for a moment… Before leaving the U.S., I had this beautiful vision of sleeping in a hammock to both conserve space in the van AND as an alternate sleeping option. After doing a bit of Google Recon, it seemed feasible to tie one end to a tree and the other through the B-Pillar of my rental car. After everything was rigged up and the obligatory Instagram picture was taken, I tested out the nest.

Unfortunately the 2016 Ford Ecosport wasn’t worth of holding my roughly 120KG (265LB) American ass. It wasn’t the 550 cord that snapped– actually, nothing snapped. It was the slow creaking of the plastic and metal of the Ecosport, which after I was quietly reminded, was a rental. It would have been just my luck to snap off the spare tire cowl or permanently tear the window seal… Alas, I had to fold and sleep inside. This would be the first of three nights to-date in which I slept in a compact vehicle. As ‘holy-fuck-was-that-terrible’ uncomfortable as it was trying to fit all 6′-4″ of me into a car meant for 4-5 average sized Asians, I considered it “all part of the experience.” My only first world complaints: Mosquitos and back knots.

Tuesday to Friday I spent at the Brown Kiwi backpackers in Auckland. This 19th century house-turned-hostel was actually pretty chill. Not sure how they got this place passed through city ordinance, but I’m glad they did. Most of the guests were either German or French, sprinkled in with Swiss, American, Irish, and even two babies. This place felt like a big family home. The kitchen was often busy with someone cooking their native meal and the back garden, especially in the corner, was occupied by Europeans chain smoking rolled cigarettes and drinking cheap beer. I, as usual, spent my time on the fringes, avoiding the expected and superficial conversation topics of ‘where are you from’ and ‘you speak funny,’ in exchange for a show-and-tell with a 60-something German named “Peter” highlighting how many times he had to cross the border between Argentina and Bolivia while driving north. Seems like no matter how often I try to stay away from people, I do tend to run into someone worth conversing with– usually their much older than me.

After only a half day of sussing out a few different car dealers in Auckland, I decided to proceed with the 2001 Mazda Bongo (see next post) from a dealer in Napier, which happened to be the second van I test drove. On Friday, I turned in the rental and took a flight back down to Napier. Unfortunately, the Bongo wasn’t ready, but the dealer hooked me up with a (even more compact) spare car to use for the night. Once again, I opted to stay in the car, vice go a step further and pay for a hotel. I’d like to say that this stay was better than the first, but it was worse. However, the mosquitos left me alone, lose-win.

Saturday brought my new(ish) van. After finalizing the handover and getting a bit of diesel, I headed off to the Napier Non-Self Contained Freedom Camp. Directly on the ocean, the freedom camp is an organized location for travelers to spend the night, with little amenities. The non-self contained means vehicles that don’t meet the NZ standards for off the grid camping for up-to three days. For the first night of crashing in a van, I could not complain about the view. A couple of points I found note-worthy: The Mr. Whippy ice cream truck visited out park and I saw kids come out of the god-damn wood work. No shit, music and all. The second, while waiting outside of the two single bathrooms, I ran into a Frenchman who needed to shit. While we were both waiting, I said “might as well go use the trees,” to which he replied, ” you’re a man! Go over on the beach, look up at the moon and pee!” To which I most certainly obliged. I gotta tell ya (or whomever reads this) that it was fucking majestic. Just me, the ocean, a full moon, and the waves crashing on a beach made of perfect skipping stones.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:32 a.m. shivering and wrote a note on my phone:

It’s 5:32 a.m. and I am cold. The air mattress was filled with warm air and it is almost flat now. The single blanket isn’t doing much more than keeping hypothermia at bay. I almost pissed the bed, but fortunately woke from that dream. My upper body is pretty knotted from poor sleeping (tonight) and sleeping in two different cars over the last week. I can see why people spring for foam bedding. I’ll need to get a fuck off good blanket and see if foam is available today. Is winter almost here or is because I’m at the beach? Data doesnt last long when using my phone for GPS and throughout the day. Even if I’m using free wifi at stores, it’s just not long enough. FUCK I’m COLD. 

I ended up getting up around 6, after debating whether to leave or not.

Curious Case of the Woo-Woo Bird

Alright folks, here it goes. Hopefully I can keep these thoughts in order and coherent, post mini-holiday.

This past Thursday was Australia Day. My gracious hosts decided to celebrate with a long weekend down on the Southern Coast of New South Wales, in the village of Tuross Head. The weekend coincided with a very much needed experiment in determining whether or not Nomophobia would effect me.

Quick segue here on the topic of phone addiction. I’ve been striving for separation from, well let’s just say “people,” for months. In fact, i’ve romanticized the notion of going dark and disappearing for a while. Since leaving the U.S., I’ve found myself glued to either my computer or phone– sometimes both at the same time. Maybe it’s the need for attention or I am truly running away from something.  Hypocritically so, I want both at the same time: disconnection and connection. 

Alright, back on topic. 96 hours without any electronics other than a kindle and camera. Oh yeah, no internet either. The drive down was rough and even before we left Canberra, I could feel a slight uneasiness. What would have normally helped expedite a 2+ hour drive through the bush, was replaced by naps, polishing a Timorese worry stone, and conversing. Nothing too special, yet nothing too arduous. I know, first world problems, right?

The house we stayed in was simple, bright, airy, and opened to jungle, mountain, and the Tuross River views. Once I found the back deck hammock, I spent all of Friday reading (finished) I Forgot to Die by Khalil Rafati. The simplicity of having so few artificial stimuli, combined with the amazing Australian summer, opened the door to relaxation and clear thoughts. It’s amazing how much time I have spent trying to distract myself from the lulls between activities in everyday life, as if I cannot spend one single minute just to watch the world go by.

Come 5:00 a.m. Saturday, I was rudely woken by sounds of the jungle. First, it was what I could only guess to be birds on the corrugated steel roof, pecking and hopping around. Honestly, it sounded as if  rats were scurrying through the ceiling above me– it was unnerving. But that didn’t get me fully out of the sleep hangover. Enter the Eastern Koel. What our trio initially referred to as the “Woo-Woo-Woo-Woo Bird” and seemed to posses such an innocent and child-like call on Friday, turned into “WOULD YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?!” bird on Saturday. Fortunately (not) for me, it wasn’t just the backyard which was blessed with their mating call; Nic and Mick must of had the distant mate in the front of the house returning a call. Digging down another layer, the laughing Kookaburras were in unison and sounded like distant Orangoutangs. Add that all together and the sounds I came to fondly remember Australia by, became the soundtrack to my nightmare. Needless to say, I was in a shit mood for the better part of the day.

By Sunday, I’d learned to use earplugs. Full disclosure: they didn’t do shit. Alas, it was time to go back to Canberra. Before we left Tuross Head, we hired a boat with a wicked fast 6 horse engine and patrolled the waters of the Tuross Lake and River. Being brackish, the water was a beautiful turquoise green and quite clear. As I motored the yacht, Nic and Mick were free to spot a fur seal on Tuross Lake Broadwater. We were all pretty astonished how close the seal allowed us to get (a few feet) while it cleaned itself, dove for fish, and played peak-a-boo. Pretty enchanting. After two-hours on the water, it was time to head back. For anyone who has visited this part of the world, you know how extreme the sun’s intensity is here. Fortunately two hours was enough to get a quick look at the lake and river, spot wildlife, and have one more chilled out session before heading back.

In conclusion, I didn’t miss too much by not having my phone. Sure there were a few important messages and emails to attend to, but in all reality, it was worth it. As this blog is called “Your Quiet Voice” the intent is to document ways to gain access to the guiding voice, I believe, we all have inside and hopefully inspire others to find the same connection.  A four-day weekend off the grid helped to minimize the white-noise associated with too many tabs open on Google Chrome and a constant ping from social media and restore my connection with the voice. Finally, spending a weekend with great friends is never a waste. With both Nic and Mick’s work schedule, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to spend four consecutive days together. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to stay with them and spend a cheeky weekend off the grid.

 

 

Society! Society! Society!

Well, it’s the day after the U.S. Presidential Inauguration here in Australia. The only news we get of the public’s reaction is what is posted on Facebook or the local news. The latter is concerned. One quote about “America First” put one news anchor into a position of worry as “what does that mean for its [America] allies?

Fortunately for this writer, it doesn’t particularly move me. As I told friends prior to leaving the U.S.: I’m leaving just 7 days before Trump takes office and it wasn’t planned. I just hope that in the coming months, America’s international relations don’t get fucked to the point of denied entry internationally.  But that’s my two-sense on the matter.

Moving on. Soon, I’ll cast off Australia and start a 12-month work and holiday visa in New Zealand. This has been a long time coming and taken roughly 2 years to coordinate. From the day I decided to follow the Quiet Voice, in February of 2015, to actually ending my contract with the Navy earlier this year, it’s been a hell of a journey.

Many worry I’ll take a page from Christopher McCandless’ book and go Into the wild— disappear to reach fate in Alaska. Honestly, I do resonate with some of his ideals: Leaving society (SOCIETY! SOCIETY!  SOCIETY!); casting off the expectations of family and friends; search for inner direction and purpose. In fact, I romanticism his intent, not his execution.

Part of this trip was meant to break away from all I knew and decompress somewhere foreign, but not too foreign. To be frank, I’m coming at this alone, not 100% healthy, and directly after leaving a career and lifestyle I knew since age 18–why add completely un-fucking-known territory? Fortunately, this region is like my second home. The friends I left behind have been supportive of this decision, to the extent of putting me up for the month. Coming to Australia wasn’t about seeing new territory; it’s a staging area for a great adventure. What shouldn’t be neglected though is most of my gracious hosts along the way expressed their fears on the subject. Fears like: When will you come back? Do you have a job lined up? Where will you be next month? What if it doesn’t work out? You know you can come home if things fall through, right?

These fears and concerns collected on my day-to-day thoughts like a snowball. It’s been growing. Day after day, country after country and I’ve allowed it to effect me. But why wouldn’t I? If every person in your life is given a different degree of impact and influence in your life, wouldn’t close friends and family be the most impactful? Don’t get me wrong, I value their opinion, but in a way, I’ve allowed them to have ownership on the matter. Maybe it’s time to go dark for a while and get the much-needed space and room to think.

Couch Surfing

The luxury of having a worldwide network of friends and family is, there are a plethora of places to crash.

Having started this journey in early December, I’ve cast off having any sort of permanent residence. Starting in Virginia, I’ve stayed between Long Island, NY and kept going west to now, Australia. Every stop (count is now 9) offers a different living arrangement. Some offer a house with Lego and children who think you’re there to be their week-long personal train layout guru, others a hot-rack style sleeping arrangement in a busy city. Most of these friends I had not seen in years. Some were former military friends who deployed together to Afghanistan, others close friends met while on travel.

What I’ve learned is, it’s incredibly personal to allow someone else to stay in your home, all-be-it on your couch. No matter how low-impact you intend to be, you cannot get away from the fact that a houseguest changes the dynamic of the household. Earlier last year, I was fortunate to rent out a spare room in an old friend’s house that he and his wife had purchased. I say fortunate because this was their first house, we all moved in at the same time, and they didn’t bitch about my truck load of personal belongings that occupied their garage for 9-months. I did my best to offer skills in renovating their house or watching their dogs while away, as a gesture of appreciation for the opportunity. Even though we were long-time friends, their space wasn’t completely their own.

In the coming weeks, I will be moving to New Zealand to start a one-year Work and Holiday visa. This has been a dream in the works for over two-years now and is gaining momentum. My friends and family–who have been generically listed above– have supported my decision to quit life and wander. They understand the desire to roam the world and they too, have destinations of their own they *dream* of visiting one day. I cannot speak to what it will actually be like to carry out the plan; only the experience preparing.

How do you express the conflict of wanting to wander the world and elusively call nowhere home, yet feel the desire to find a place that is? On average, I’ve moved every 1-2 years, for the last 11. New Zealand has been the only country outside of the United States I felt could be home. As one friend suggested, “you are looking for your tribe and just haven’t found it yet.” Maybe. Is it a deep uneasiness in oneself that creates an internal environment which doesn’t want to settle or is it merely part of life?

I’ve told friends who own their own homes, that I live vicariously through them. Seeing them build a life within their OWN space is exciting. However, something pulls me back to reality and reminds me that would be settling. The only way to find out if the nomadic lifestyle is for me is to take the leap.

 

Sydney to Canberra

Reserved a seat yesterday on the 9:15 am Murray’s bus to Canberra. After missing last night’s bus, a quick night at the Rydges Sydney Airport was welcomed after roughly 30 hours of flight. Granted when I arrived to Sydney International, I was tired, hungry, and rushing to deplane, clear customs, grab baggage, and get on the bus to Canberra. The quiet voice reminded me that trying to shove 15 pounds of activity into a 45 minute sack, was damn-near unrealistic to expect. But, I did put forth a valiant effort.

Unfortunately, the universe wouldn’t allow for it, and the voice of reason was right again. First, the e-passport machine didn’t like me–it was probably the cave man look–and rejected my attempts to pass through, three times. When I was redirected to an actual human, the partially filled customs form was rejected for missing a flight number. In my compressed timeline narrow field of vision, I jotted down a Bahrain phone number in the “vessel number” section, was rejected and quickly pulled aside by a second Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) agent.  The professional, yet judgmental looking agent questioned what visa I had applied for. “I thought it was a tourist visa.”

At this point, I must have looked shady as shit. Thinking back, the anxious and hurried behavior I most likely displayed must have been a rational explanation for his body language. Apparently I had put the wrong date of birth on my visa application and when they discovered it didn’t match my immigration card, nor passport, it raised a flag. He quickly passed me over to another agent who had to take my passport to a back room to confirm my DOB and told me to stay put, in the purgatory between post immigration and pre-baggage. Thank Jebus I didn’t get brought back there too…

For what was roughly five minutes, I paced to and fro, checking the time… 9:00…9:01…9:02… knowing my window to Murray’s was quickly closing. Eventually the agent returned confirming prior visas and activity in the country. Of course, only two years prior I was visiting the same lines, just with a diplomatic passport. She quickly cleared me and I was off on a mad dash to “baggage reclaim #6.” Ironically, it wasn’t the short intermission with DIBP that caused me to miss the bus, but rather the 200 weary fellow meat puppets  also trying to grab their luggage, at the same fucking magic orifice, with little regard for others.

Thoughts going through my head: “You are probably the only person in the world at this very moment who needs their shit so they can go grab a smoke, right?” and “Do you really expect that as soon as your bag drops you will beat out how fast both the belt turns AND everyone else who is trying to grab their shit around you?!”

Alas, my bag dropped and I had to accept that 9:36 p.m. was probably a bit out of the realm of possibility to catch a 9:15 p.m. bus. Customs let me go without a hitch and thank fuck a hotel (Rydges) was directly across the street. Even more of a miracle was the management decided to free up and sell me their last room. After a quick shower, I made my way to the bar for a well deserved Bundy and Coke and a few smokes; the world was right again.

Jumping back a few paces here. It’s worth acknowledging a passing moment of clarity during the aforementioned moment of panic.

This wasn’t my first time in Australia, but it was my first time without anyone backing me. Now I was a vagabond with no income stream, permanent residence, nor any government backing. Coming back to Australia post-Navy was strategically picked to allow for the least negative mental health impact, which is quite similar to leaving left-overs in the fridge which you come home to after a long night of drinking. Thank-you sober self!

Parting note: This is my first ever blog post. I grew tired of editing and decided to just call it a day. Not my best work, but hey, it can only get better from here, right?