Karen Nisbet, 35, is a woman living in a caravan in New Zealand. She works as a freelance graphic designer and her lifestyle allows her to travel and explore the country. She writes about caravan life on her blog TravellingK. You can keep up with Karen by following her on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.
Where are you based in New Zealand?
I’m from Auckland and that’s where a lot of my friends live. I am currently in the sunny Hawkes Bay for work. Who knows how long I’ll be here for!
Why did you choose to live in a caravan?
I was desperate to live on my own, have my own space and not compete for kitchen space with other flatmates. I considered renting a flat on my own but felt paying more than double the rent was a waste of money.
Originally I planned to buy a house, but the idea of owing a crazy amount of money to the bank for a basic house on the outskirts of Auckland was discouraging. I also realised I didn’t want to live in Auckland, but wasn’t sure where else in New Zealand would suit me. A mobile home seemed like a logical step.
I started researching, looking for options with a fixed bed and seating area. I quickly realised I couldn’t afford anything with a motor. Being able to leave the caravan somewhere and drive around in a car was a bonus too.
How long have you been living in your caravan for?
I’ve just reached one year! I really don’t know where the time has gone. It’s been a combination of travel, attempting to live and work in Auckland, lock’n’leaving the caravan at my dads, and now staying longer at one site in a small town.
How has your lifestyle helped you travel around New Zealand?
I’ve been able to travel around a large part of New Zealand in the last year. Parts of the North Island are still on my wish list. I’ve travelled a lot in the last eight years and have visited South America, Iran, Russia, India, Turkmenistan, Japan, Morocco, Italy, Spain, Vietnam, Australia and more – my travel wish list keeps growing! One of the positives of living in a caravan is not paying rent and the ability to lock ’n’ leave. I plan to travel more overseas further down the track, but for now I’m happy exploring New Zealand.
What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had while living in your caravan?
The sunrises I’ve seen in the past year. I’m usually fast asleep for feeling too lazy, but when the caravan is located right in the middle of stunning scenery, all I have to do is step outside.
The best sunrise I’ve ever seen was a couple of months ago. It had been raining solidly for three days and I had cabin fever. I’d already found a great lookout 15 minutes away and decided to go just in case. It was breathtaking.
What is the most difficult challenge you’ve faced living in your caravan?
I’m always struggling with water! It’s a hassle filling up the fresh water tanks and keeping an eye on the waste water. In New Zealand, they are strict with where you dump the grey water. I have a shower in the caravan, but it’s not great. I want to eventually fix it so I can wash my hair. A motor home at the place I am staying has been piping grey water straight to the drain. This is a set-up I might consider in the future. I’m always learning!
What are your tips for staying warm in your van?
Luckily I own a UK caravan which is built for a cold climate. It’s well insulated and has double glazed windows. There is also a built-in heater that runs on power or gas. For particularly cold nights, I have a hot water bottle.
Have you had any bad experiences living in your caravan?
Yes- towing the caravan up a steep hill and getting stuck behind a slow moving truck. My engine started steaming and there was no place to pull over. I was wondering if I was damaging the engine. Luckily I reached the top and cooled the engine on the way down the hill.
What is your favorite product you have purchased for your van?
I sewed my own curtains and am so proud of the results – I smile every time I look at them. The previous curtains were very beige and were not my style at all. I hadn’t touched a sewing machine in years, but gave it a go with a friends machine. I now want to update my seating fabric and have already purchased some fabric.
How much money do you think you’ve saved by living in a van?
I sometimes think I’m spending more! After my first three months travelling around in the caravan, I calculated that I was spending about NZ$2,000 per month. A huge cost was petrol and campgrounds.
Since then, I’ve had solar panels added to the caravan and I’m trying to find cheaper or free camping spots.
My biggest ongoing expense has been my car. I’ve spent about $3000 in the last year on mechanical issues. A tip would be to get a car that hasn’t done 200,000 plus miles!
What would you say to other women who are thinking of living in a caravan solo?
Do it! People are scared about towing and reversing with a caravan, but after that initial learning burst, it’s not so scary.
One tip when you are learning is to ask for camping spots that don’t require reversing. When I found a campground with nobody around, I started practicing and was going all over the place. With perseverance, I improved.
I was worried about emptying the toilet before starting this adventure. But the cassette is well designed and it wasn’t as gross as I feared. The chemicals destroy everything!
Safety in the caravan is great. I actually feel safer in the caravan with the door locked than I ever did in a hotel room where the owners have spare keys. If you don’t like the feel of a place, you can re-attach the caravan and move on.
Tell us about your travel blog, TravellingK.
TravellingK is about my experience as a solo female living in a caravan and travelling around New Zealand. I’m a 35 year old kiwi who got fed-up with flatmates but didn’t want a massive mortgage or wasting all my money renting. Buying a caravan seemed like the best solution! I’ve been traveling a lot over the last eight years and having the caravan feeds my travel bug while still being at home.
Why did you start your travel blog?
I’m a graphic designer and was feeling creatively frustrated in my job at the time, so I took a blogging course and went for it! It’s very satisfying being my own boss and making all the decisions.
What does your travel blog focus on?
I initially started as a general travel blogger, but have focused more towards mobile home travel. In my blog I share the highs and lows of this nomadic lifestyle, as-well-as sharing practical tips. I focus a lot on video and enjoy showing people how beautiful New Zealand is. I’ve also started interviewing other travellers and businesses I meet along the way.
What are your future plans in regards to caravan living?
I plan to keep modifying the caravan – getting a better battery, internal water tanks, generator and an awning- until it’s exactly how I want it. I want to keep exploring New Zealand and would love to explore Australia in a caravan too.