Life on the road: two kids and a caravan

Life on the road: two kids and a caravan

There’s a steadily growing trend around families prioritising experiences and memories, as opposed to churning out the traditional nine-to-five daily grind. Originally from Christchurch, Mark and Kimberlea Turner and their children, Indie and Sienna, have embraced full-time life on the road, now in their fourth year exploring New Zealand with their Swift Sprite caravan.

The couple are no strangers to long hours behind the wheel, as their ‘former life’ was as owners of the iconic Charlies Party Bus – a charter bus and events company that Mark started 15 years earlier.

“While we loved meeting new people, after 15 years of never taking time off, we were burnt out and had a few holidays to catch up on,” says Kimberlea.

“Now we work as we go, parking up for a few months over winter and the busy Christmas period.”

Their time working is most usually spent relief managing campgrounds, which allows them to continue to experience their chosen lifestyle. Most recently, they spent five months managing Anglers Lodge in Coromandel.

“We’ve also tried our hands at a few different jobs along the way. This has been a great opportunity to discover what industry we might like to pursue in the future and learn some skills we might never otherwise have.”

With Indie now aged eight and Sienna six, the family spent much of this summer discovering Abel Tasman National Park, and they’re slowly heading north in the hunt for warmer temperatures before winter sets in.

The family shares their travels on social media, where they’re also educating and inspiring others. You can follow their journey at Two Kids and a Caravan on Facebook and @2kidsandacaravan on Instagram.

MCD editor Lisa Potter finds out more about these intrepid travellers.

Life on the road: two kids and a caravan
Catlins Purakaunui Falls

Q. What sparked the original ideal for travelling as a family?

A. We actually can’t remember; probably too much YouTube. Although travelling families were few and far between back then, the lifestyle has grown exponentially in the last four years. We think the lockdown gave everyone a pause from the fast pace of life and an opportunity to reflect on how they want to spend their lives. We just loved getting away in our caravan at any opportunity, and we have a habit of telling all our friends we’re going to do something, so then we have no choice but to follow through.

Q. Was there anything in particular that made you decide to go for it?

A. Our catalyst was that our eldest daughter Indie was coming up five, and we knew that once we put her into school, we would blink and still be doing the same thing in 10 years, so we made the leap of faith and hit the road full-time, (with the worst thing that could happen was we decided it wasn’t for us). Over the following six months, we sold our business, rented our house, and off we went.

Q. What was your plan when you started this adventure and how has it evolved?

A. We didn’t really have a plan. We had a rough idea around travelling medium- to long-term, eventually finding a new home and business that calls to us. However, we knew people who had been travelling for three to four years and that felt like an unfathomable length of time, yet here we are, four years later, hoping we don’t stumble across our new home anytime soon because we’re not ready to settle down again. We’ve since bought a trailer yacht to learn to sail, doing trips away, and then coming “home” to our caravan, and hope to venture overseas one day (after we’ve finished New Zealand. Even after four years, we’ve realised we’ve barely scratched the surface).

Q. Looking back, were there any challenges you hadn’t anticipated?

A. Honestly, it was really hard to leave Christchurch. We felt like we were leaving behind all our family support, and everything we’d ever known, and that it was all going to fall to pieces in a couple of months. But we waited and waited, and after six months, wondered what we were ever worried about. We probably see more of our family and friends now than we did when we lived in the same city, and it’s definitely quality time. Plus, we now have friends and family all over the country and are making new ones every day.

Life on the road: two kids and a caravan
Wharariki Beach, Golden Bay

Q. What are some of the most unexpected rewards of travelling?

A. The opportunities are endless once you’re able to take them. All of our best experiences so far have been a direct result of our ability to say “we’d love to” and having the flexibility to go on a whim, without the constraints of time and place.

Also, the number of new life-long friends we’ve made. Without insulting our existing friends, we hadn’t made any new friends in years. It takes a huge number of connections to become friends in real life, while on the road. We’ve made at least a dozen new groups of friends who we expect will be life-long friends.

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Q. What are you travelling in and how does it works for you as a family?

A. We have a 2019 Swift Sprite Quattro EW from Nelson Caravans. It has a full bathroom at the back, a double bed for us, and bunks for the girls (which can fold down into a dinette). There’s also a full kitchen, complete with an oven and a large wrap-around lounge at the front (which can also make a large double bed).

Our criteria for choosing a caravan (the girls were one-and-a-half and three at the time) was that it had a full bathroom, permanent beds for everyone, as well as a place to sit without making up beds every day because if our everyday life wasn’t easy, we’d find every excuse not to use it. The joke was on us because we loved it so much that we ended up going full-time.

Q. What are some of the highlights each of you have experienced during your travels?

A. Mark: Biking the Queen Charlotte Track, kayaking with dolphins, and stingrays.

Kimberlea: A couple’s weekend away at Maruia Hot Springs in our caravan for our wedding anniversary.

Indie: Rainbows End and ziplining at Driving Creek in the Coromandel.

Sienna: Biking through the tunnel on the Hauraki Rail Trail, seeing baby quails, oystercatchers, and hedgehogs.

Life on the road: two kids and a caravan
Anglers Lodge at Amodeo Bay, Coromandel

Q. What are some of your favourite places you’ve spent time in?

A. Rakiura/Stewart Island: it’s so rugged and untouched and feels so unique. The pace of life is slower, and it feels like the Aotearoa New Zealand of yesteryear.

Abel Tasman: we’ve explored the area extensively in our caravan, on foot walking the entire coastal track with the girls, and now in our yacht. It’s an area that keeps drawing us back to its golden sands and crystal-clear water.

The Coromandel: for fishing and its remoteness; it’s so close to everywhere yet such a great place to get away from it all and slow down.

Basically, you’ll find us anywhere with water, sun, and a slow-paced life.


Q. What are some of the pros and cons of full-time family travel?

A. Pros: you get to spend a lot of time as a family.  Cons: you spend a lot of time as a family (just kidding).

Pros

Freedom: The freedom to pack up our home on wheels and travel wherever and whenever we want, following opportunities that pop up, catching up with friends, or following better weather.

Healthier lifestyle: Spending more time outdoors, exercising frequently (between chores like lugging water and all our hiking/kayaking/biking/exploring), and eating fresh local produce.

Lower cost of living: We’re much more in control of our overheads and can lower them by travelling slower (reduced fuel costs), parking in low-cost spots (relying on our solar for electricity), catching fish, making the most of free entertainment (after the initial outlay costs of bikes/kayaks, etc.). This allows us to work less and make the money we do earn go further or choose to do some longer hours and splash out on the five-star campgrounds and tourist activities.

Living simply: We’ve realised what we think we need and what we actually need are worlds apart and now live a pretty minimalist and simple life.

Making lifelong memories: We’ve spent more than 1000 days almost 24/7 as a family, and we’ve seen, experienced, and achieved more in those days than we have the rest of our lives. We’re creating lifelong memories with our kids, which we hope will shape them into growing into adventurous, curious, resilient, resourceful, and fulfilled adults.

New connections: We’ve met so many amazing people on our travels we never would have otherwise crossed paths with and now we can travel anywhere in the country and have people to catch up with (or new friends to make), which is a pretty special feeling.

Having a kitchen and bathroom everywhere you go: Honestly, towing your home along behind you and being able to stop anywhere on the side of the road to make a cuppa and use the toilet is not something we think we can ever give up.

Cons

Quality over quantity time: We spend almost 24/7 in each other’s pockets, so it’s important to carve out alone time, 1:1 time with the kids, and couple time to make sure everyone’s cup is topped up.

Team sports: One thing we struggle with is the feeling that our kids miss out on being a part of a club/team and all the good things that come with that because we’re never in one place long enough to sign up for a term. When we are parked up for an extended time (e.g. over winter), we always try to get the girls involved in some extra-curricular activities.

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It gets dirty fast: A whole house of mess crammed into 14sqm definitely shows. On the flip side, it’s equally fast to whip it back into shape.

Lack of routine: When your life isn’t prescribed for you (whether you have a job or business requiring you, or specific times to have kids ready and out of the house), it’s easy to dwindle the day away. A sleep-in, a slow breakfast before deciding what to do for the day – we find we have some pretty unproductive seasons where we feel we should have done more with our time. Isn’t it interesting that the reason we started this journey was to get out of the busy, monotonous routine we were in, and now that we rule our own world, we miss the routine?

Life on the road: two kids and a caravan
The Swift Sprite caravan

Q. How do you manage study and schooling for the girls?

A. In New Zealand there are two main options: one is Te Kura Correspondence via the Itinerancy Pathway, where they attend a registered school with a teacher setting their work. The other is homeschooling, where you build your own curriculum and apply to the Ministry of Education for an ‘Exemption from Attending a Registered School’. This requires at least six weeks to be approved, plus the time it takes you to research and write it, so get started early.

We’ve opted for the homeschooling route and generally do an hour or two of book work in the morning and the rest of our time is spent exploring, catching up with friends, travelling, and generally life-learning. The girls have such a rich education and there’s very little time they’re not learning something.

Q. What are some aspects of your lifestyle people may be surprised to know?

A. It’s not always the social media dream. It’s a lifestyle that definitely takes plenty of sacrifice and a certain amount of grit and it’s not all lounging around in front of beautiful backdrops (although, there certainly is plenty of that too).

Q. How has this journey evolved in ways you wouldn’t have anticipated?

A. It’s changed our perspective on the world and opened up our eyes to what we’re capable of, what opportunities are available, and that we can steer our lives in any direction we choose. We’ve already decided all the whats and whys; we just have to work out the hows and whens.

Q. What have you learned about yourselves/your family on this journey?

A. Home isn’t a place; it’s a feeling. It certainly helps that we tow our home behind us wherever we go, but we’ve learned how close we are as a family and that we can be anywhere in the world and feel right at home as long as we’re together.

Life on the road: two kids and a caravan
Creating lifelong memories

Q. What are some common misconceptions people have about your decision to be full-time travellers?

A. That we’re cold and wet. The number of times we’ve pulled up at friends to stay and they offer us to stay inside where we’ll all be “dry and warm”, and we have to gently reassure them our caravan is our home, and we’re very comfortable in it. We have everything we need, and it sits at a toasty 18 to 25 degrees at the push of a button. We even have hot water.

Q. What are some of your favourite recipes to cook?

A. We eat pretty similarly as we did in a house: lots of BBQs and salads in summer, roasts and soups in the winter, even baking. Plus, plenty of family-friendly one- or two-pot meals, such as curry and rice, nachos or tacos, burgers, pasta, pizza, and stir-fries. We like to try and shop locally from farmer’s markets and side-of-the-road stalls we come across on our travels.

Q. What are some storage trips you can share for others who caravan?

A. Collapsible everything. Storage space in a caravan is at an absolute premium, so anything that can fold down is your friend. Luckily, there are lots of options on the market these days, and we have collapsible storage containers, clothesline, chairs, step stools, and even a collapsible grater.

Secondly, take half of what you think you’ll need, and everything should have at least two uses. There are always shops along the way if there’s anything you desperately need, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you discover how little you use. Which reminds me, we’re due for a clean-out.

Q. What are your most frequently used gadgets?

A. Our breadmaker. Generally, the two things you need to head to the shops for are bread and milk (although we all know you never leave with just bread and milk), so between powdered milk and baking bread in our breadmaker, we can easily head off-grid to some beautiful bay or river for a couple of weeks at a time.

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