I want to start off this post with a HUGE thank you to everyone who has shown an interest in my blog since being shared on Business Insider. When I first started theminiretirement.com I had very few expectations on where it would take me. What started out as a way to share photos with my loved ones back home has become a platform for connecting with other travelers from all over the world. In the past few weeks I've received countless emails from people scattered around the globe asking me questions, giving me travel suggestions and sharing stories of their own mini retirements. The fact that so many people have been able to relate to this experience or feel inspired by my journey is truly amazing and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
This is the first trip of any substance that I have taken in my life. I’d left the country on holiday from time to time but was a total newbie when it came to backpacking. I’d never stayed at a hostel, never had to navigate bus/train routes in a foreign country, never had to hitchhike to get from A to B and definitely never had to carry everything I owned in an overstuffed backpack. But like they say, the journey really is better than the destination and learning how to enjoy all of the ups, downs, bumps, and overnight buses that are traveling has been pretty incredible.
Once my blog started to gain some traction, people began reaching out to me with all the same questions that I'd asked myself while scrolling through travel accounts on Instagram just last year. At first, I was shocked that anyone was even reading my blog and then I was elated that anyone felt intrigued enough to reach out and chat (besides my mom). The more emails I received the wider my smile became because hello - I had all the same questions and just never found anyone to ask. Below are a few that I’ve received thus far:
1: How did you decide to quit your job and mini retire?
- I actually loved my job and was really happy living in California but realized that I had so many other dreams, outside of “normal life”, that I wanted to cross off my bucket list before being ready to settle. Once I started thinking about going to New Zealand for a year there was no turning back…I was hooked.
2: How much did you save and how?
- I was able to save about $14,000 USD which was more than enough for the first leg of my trip. I worked overtime at my full-time job and picked up numerous freelance gigs to make sure I hit my savings goal.
3: Do you work there, and if so was it easy to find a job?
- Once we had traveled around NZ for a few months we began looking for work. I got a job as a nanny for an amazing local family and Josh worked as a bartender downtown. Neither of us had to spend much time searching because there is always a need for seasonal help. Since I was a live-in nanny, we didn’t have to pay rent which was extremely beneficial. Josh was responsible for 10+ hours of work around the property per week in addition to my full schedule to make this possible. Had that not been the case, we would have found a nearby hostel and worked in exchange for free accommodation. This is an awesome way to stay and explore an area for an extended period of time while traveling without spending any money. I have also been fortunate enough to establish a freelance/remote position at my US based company which allows me to work on the go.
4: What is the best and worst part about living in your van?
- I thought about this question a lot before responding because the list of things I love about Lucy is pretty long but when narrowed down, I enjoy being mobile. Finding a beach, making lunch, having a fire and then sleeping comfortably in a cozy little van has shown me what true happiness can feel like. Every night I look up at my twinkling fairy lights that hang from the ceiling and think about my day which helps remind myself how lucky I am to be here. The worst part about living in the van would have to be the shower situation. With the help of camper apps it’s usually pretty easy to find one while traveling through bigger towns but as you can imagine, most public showers are not so nice. In my next van, I will definitely be investing in an outdoor shower unit.
5: Will you take another mini retirement?
- Definitely. I can’t be sure when or for how long but when you get the urge to do something different I think it’s important to listen to that. The era of the digital nomad has made working remotely so much more accessible and I think that will lead to an increase in mini retirements and an overall shift in the traditional work week.
That question has really had me thinking lately. What’s next for me after my retirement's over? What will it be like re-joining the workforce? Will I enjoy having a routine again or will I crave flexibility? Will I become restless sitting at a desk or will I slide back into the groove that is “normal life” fairly easily? I could spend hours trying to assume how I'll feel but at the end of the day only time will tell and this will make for a pretty epic story.
6: Do you have any tips for someone planning on traveling around NZ in a van?
- Oh my gosh do I ever! First of all, New Zealand is breathtaking and should definitely be on every persons bucket list. I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things but here are my main suggestions:
1) Spend the extra money on a high-top van. Having the ability to cook inside, especially when it’s raining, has been a total game changer.
2) Get the apps CamperMate and WikiCamps. They show you where all of the campsites, bathrooms and showers are.
3) Try to install a solar panel if possible. It has made life so much easier.
4) Buy all of your food at Pak n Save – unless you want to spend $9.50 on an avocado.
5) Buy your eggs and honey from the street stalls - so yummy. .
6) Invest in Damp Rid products to keep out the mold – check them often as we had a pretty bad mold infestation at one point.
7) Make sure you have screens on all windows and vents – you’ll save yourself a million sand fly bites.
8) Need plates? Go to Warehouse. Need warm socks? Go to Warehouse. Need a blanket? Go to Warehouse. Need fishing gear? Go to Warehouse. Need literally anything? Go to Warehouse because they HAVE IT ALL. Be prepared to spend at least an hour…it’s a trap.
9) Check the weather before driving anywhere super remote…we often get stuck in the rain.
10) Do all the things, see all the beaches, pet all the animals, and take all the photos because this place is so special.
In other day to day news, we've crossed the Cook Strait and said our goodbyes to the South Island. It’s hard to believe that 8 months has flown by so quickly but the number of things we were able to do and see was nuts. Who knew being retired would be so productive? With about 3 months left on our visas we are excited to begin touring the North Island and nerding out over some geothermal activity. It's only been about two weeks since we boarded the ferry and headed north but the difference in vibe between the two islands is staggering. When we arrived in Wellington it was honestly a bit overwhelming. We hadn't seen buildings taller than two stories or heard sirens blaring through the streets in almost 9 months. Naturally, my first mission was to find a proper sushi restaurant that served anything besides fried chicken wrapped in rice but apparently that's normal here too. Real disappointment is ordering what looks like Unagi to then find out you're eating American cheese over fried chicken wrapped in seaweed with a soy sauce glaze...true story.
Other than "expanding" my culinary palette I've been hiking volcanoes, abseiling into caves and lounging in natural hot springs scattered throughout the forest. You know, just the usual. I never would have labeled myself as an adrenaline junkie before this trip but somewhere along the line (probably while I was throwing myself over a bridge or out of a plane) I got hooked and now I can't seem to stop. Yes - attempting to summit a volcano is more appealing than doing my daily set of squats but that's not the only reason I enjoy it. When you’re standing at the base of a massive snow-capped glacier or dormant volcano, the idea of climbing to the top seems like a monumental task. The ascent is long and difficult but every step is rewarded with a better view and a bit more sweat. At first, I didn't really notice the silence but now it’s my favorite part. When I take that first break to sip my water and catch my breath the sound of absolutely nothing sends shivers down my spine. I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well so finding moments of stillness to calm my mind has become extremely valuable to me as of late. I would try to explain what it feels like to reach the top of one of those mountains but there aren’t words to accurately do so.
Now that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time among the peaks it only felt right to take a look at what’s underneath them. In order to do so I abseiled down into a 100-meter cave along the Mangapu river and wow…what an experience. The 20 or so minute descent takes you into a lost world full of fresh water creatures and stalactites that you never knew existed just below your feet. Once inside I looked up and kissed the light goodbye before switching on my headlamp and traveling further into the pitch-black. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much life in the caves but that’s because its inhabitants thrive in the dark. It feels a bit eerie turning off your flashlight in such unfamiliar territory but the darkness doesn’t last for long. Within seconds the walls and any ceiling like structures are illuminated by hundreds of little glowworms. Their soft blueish glow resembles a starry night sky on a crystal-clear evening…there honestly isn’t much else like it.
Looking ahead, Josh and I will continue to travel around NZ but this time we’re not alone! As mentioned in my last post, we’ve met up with Josh’s brother and his girlfriend as they tour NZ on their own super mini retirement. Whoever said Canadians are too nice definitely hasn’t played an intense hand of Monopoly Deal with one because these three are ruthless. However, if losing means I get to watch Josh do the worm and Alexia twerk to Big Sean then I’m totally okay with it. When we’re not hanging out in the vans playing cards or climbing volcanoes in the rain we get to build fires, drink wine and share stories from home and abroad. Yes, having the extra company gives us a reason to make espresso martinis more often but It’s also just been nice to have more people to chat with. Living in our van together with no one to laugh at besides each other has come with a lot of challenges and spending time with friends, new or old, can honestly make all the difference.
I’m not totally sure where our travels will take us next but I just found out that zorbing is quite popular here and therefore I have to try it…. sorry mom!