I met Hannah while I was living in Kitsilano, Vancouver. She moved to Canada at the same time as me, and she was my neighbour. Once, I saw her in the driveway, painting her van, and I thought, “That girl is doing cool things.”
She is the kind of person you want to sit with and chat with for hours. And that’s what we did while I interviewed her about her adventures.
Hannah experienced the van life for the first time in New Zealand, where she lived for one year and a half, and she fell in love with that lifestyle.
An adventure with Hannah: exploring New Zealand with a van
Hi Hannah! You’ve been on an adventure in New Zealand where you experienced van life for the first time. Can you tell me about this adventure?
Yes! I had never moved abroad before. I was 26 at the time, and my best friend had moved abroad and lived abroad many times in her life. One day, we were on Skype, and she said to me: “Hannah, why don’t you just come to New Zealand?” and I was like, “oh god, okay.” Then, on that skype, I decided I would hand in my notice in my career in England, which had gone really well. I was running my own business and working freelance for several companies. It seemed like a crazy time to cancel all of that and cancel my career, but the idea of going to New Zealand was very persuasive. So I did it!
As soon as I landed, I lived with my cousin for a bit, and she had the campervan. She let me borrow it for 10 days, and I thought: I can’t believe I’ve never done this before! This is for me! Living in a van, waking up on your own schedule, seeing beautiful things every day. It was just amazing. In the first month in New Zealand, I thought, “I’ll work as much as I can for a year, and then I will convert my own camper van, and I will live for six months in it” – and I did it.
I worked 60 hour weeks. I worked many different jobs, mostly in Hospitality, so I had some social life to speak to people and make friends. One week I worked 80 hours, which is crazy. That was the worst week but also the best I had a good time. And by the end of that, I’d saved up enough money to convert my “soccer mom car.” I converted it into a campervan and lived happily in it for six months touring all over New Zealand’s, the south island, and the North Island. It changed my life. It definitely made me realize that I like being by myself. Until that point, I had always been quite codependent, and that free feeling made me independent. It was life-changing for me in that sense because I realized I like my own company. I like doing things on my own schedule. So yes, van life is brilliant.
While you were adventuring, did you have any moments of doubt? Or any challenging moment?
Definitely a few. There was one time in a place where nobody really goes. It’s not a tourist attraction, but I saw it on a sign while I was driving, a tiny yellow sign, and I thought, “I’ll go down there” It sounded scary because it was called Earthquake Valley, but it wasn’t really.
When I got there, I realized it was quite a treacherous sort of hike, and at one point, I slipped, and I fell. I had no signal on my phone. I thought to myself, in this situation, nobody knows where I am, and I can’t contact anybody even if I wanted to or needed to. It looked like nobody had walked down this path for maybe a year, and I thought, “okay, this could be a bit silly.” My ankle hurt a little bit from the fall, but I was fine, and I ended up finding one of the most impressive spaces in a crevasse of a rock. There were carvings all over the rock, and the earliest carving that I found was one from 1902. I’m not sure the date was actually real, but they had written it in oldie English style writing. When I eventually got to signal, I looked for who those people were and tried to determine if they were real people. This moment was mildly treacherous and a bit scary, but pushing myself out of my comfort zone led to a great reward, and I was happy about it.
There were definitely other times of van life where you feel a bit lonely, and you feel like you want to speak to somebody and be with people. In that situation, you just really have to put yourself out there and maybe spend a night in a hostel. Go and speak to somebody and say, “Hey do you want to hang out tomorrow?” After every negative situation that happened, I learned to adapt, and I found a way out of it. My mental health was very happy.
How did you feel when you came back to England, after living all those things?
Going back to England was tough. I think that was the biggest challenge. Once you fall in love with a lifestyle and a country, well…I fell in love with New Zealand so much. It’s, to this day, the best country I’ve ever seen. I’d say, It took about a year for me to feel mentally stable again. It was like a heartbreak. A heartbreak from a country, from the people of that country, and from the lifestyle that I learned to love. New Zealand in itself is just so accessible. You can drive from a wet and mysterious forest straight into a sunny white sand beach, and it takes you a maximum of three hours to find something new. You can be in all the seasons whenever you want. Then you go back to England, which is pretty gray; everybody knows it’s gray and miserable. It was tough, but I felt like that’s what pushed me to want to do it again, and I came to Canada, so that was another learning curve. I did it again.
When you look back at your experience, would you have done things differently?
I think hindsight is really great. But it’s also terrible because, with hindsight, you think, oh, I wish I had done this. But it also teaches you that you can still do that. Your life didn’t stop because you didn’t do it that first time. I think hindsight is: I would have spent more time for myself. You know, I was by myself solo traveling, but I did have a partner at the time. So I think I would have evaluated that relationship a little bit better and perhaps stepped back from it a bit sooner. We ended up breaking up, so I think I would have taken more time for myself in that sense. But it also taught me a lot. With a relationship, there are swings and roundabouts. It taught me that I was trying to be codependent when actually I wanted to be independent. So it made the relationship more negative than it needed to be. That relationship taught me a huge lesson.
If I were to do it again – and I will definitely go back to New Zealand- I would do more of the great hikes. There are 9 great hikes in New Zealand, and I didn’t do a single one. So I would like to do all nine of those hikes and do them by myself or with strangers that I meet in a hostel.
You went back to van life in Canada. Can you tell me about it?
I got lucky when I moved to Canada. I had been looking every day for a camper van. Then, I stopped looking, and suddendly found the perfect one! There was this van, relatively cheap. I loved it instantly. It was blue and white with a small red stripe around, so cute! Two german girls were desperate to leave the country. I got an excellent price for a fantastic campervan, a bigger one this time, compared to my soccer mom’s car. It was one that you stand up in, with a built-in kitchen, a double bed, and a solar panel on the roof. I luckily got to buy that and went on many trips with it. The lesson I learned from having done it in New Zealand is definitely nicer to have everything, so I had a solar shower. I had batteries I could plug in my appliances and things like that. I’ve definitely learned I would upgrade my van life experience from now on. Having electricity is a huge plus. I sadly had to sell it because of covid-19, because obviously you can’t go on many trips, but the time I spent in it was amazing.
Do you think about getting a new van someday and getting back to van life?
Absolutely. I think I could live a van life permanently, with the right van. It’ll be something that I work towards once I can spend my holidays around Europe, England, and Wales, when I eventually move back to the UK. I could also get a dog.
Did you have any mechanic issues? Did you fix some things by yourself in your vans?
There are a few things I fixed myself. I learned how to change spark plugs in New Zealand. I had a lovely mechanic. He was amazing. He was like a friend, and he told me lots of things when he was fixing my car. So I took some of his knowledge with me to Canada. There are a few bits I definitely couldn’t fix myself when I got my camper back here.
There are definitely some mechanics that will try to make you spend more money than needed. Especially if you’re a woman – this needs to be said – they will try and figure out what you know and what you don’t know. It’s definitely worth acting like you know more. This mechanic guy here in Canada said to me, “you need this and this done.” I researched it, and I reached out to people I knew who were good with mechanics. They would all get me to look at the areas of a van, and we went through it. Then I went back to the mechanic and said: “hey, I actually don’t need that done.”They suddenly do a 180, and they turn around, and they say, “oh, okay. Yeah, maybe you’re right. We can leave that”. You don’t end up spending as much money as they were trying to charge you, so it’s definitely worth doing your own research.
On this topic, many women want to experience the van life but are a bit afraid to be by themselves. What would you say to them?
I would say, “do it.” Obviously, you just want to be alert. You want to be aware of who is around, of who you have camped up next to. Don’t be too free with what you’re doing. Always be aware. But at the same time, don’t let something put you off because some situations you might instantly judge as bad could actually turn out to be great.
In New Zealand, there were places that didn’t have many spots. So you have to get there really early, and I parked up next to this group of boys who were loud and drinking. I was just by myself, and initially, I was like, “do I really want to be next to these guys?” I felt a little bit nervous. I was scared to go to the bathroom. I’d stepped out of my car, and I decided to say hello to them. So in a way, I showed my confidence and said, ‘hello, I’m your neighbour for the night, Hannah. What are your names?” They ended up being super respectful and asked me if I wanted to join them. And I think just putting myself out there made them aware that I wasn’t going to take any bullshit. I wasn’t gonna take them being loud and noisy and annoying and making me feel uncomfortable.
I would definitely say to girls who do it by themselves: make sure you have access from the back of your van to the front, so you can jump through to the driver seat if you need to. There have been times where I had to drive away from a situation.
Once, I was in a car park with smashed bottles on the floor. I was the only car. I turned off the engine, and I started to hear some noises from cars coming towards the car park, and it sounded loud. In that situation, I just knew that I was not going to be safe there by myself. I jumped through from my bed to the front, turned on the car, and drove past three cars full of young lads – and I’m not generalizing here. I’m sure that it’s not always men that make women feel uncomfortable. But in a situation like that, just use your senses and sensibility. I drove off. It was a good decision; I found a lovely place by a waterfall. I was surrounded by families, and I felt very safe and had a really good sleep.
Always trust your judgment and your intuition. Definitely still try van life, even with those moments, those tiny moments of feeling a bit scared. The good outweighs the bad ten times over.
The adventurer Hannah
Can you introduce yourself quickly?
I’m Hannah, 31, and I’m British English, unfortunately. Other countries in my mind are much better than England, which some people would disagree with because England is beautiful. I have lived abroad for four years now. I lived in New Zealand for a year and a half and now in Canada. I’ve pretty much been in codependent relationships for most of my life up until three years ago. So I’ve been single for three years now, and they are the best 3 years of my life. I love reading, hiking, walking and yoga. That’s pretty much me.
What are the things you love the most in life? What are you passionate about?
I love trees, sunsets, and vegan food. Those three things combined make me very happy. Also, I really like building women up. I enjoy having conversations with women and making them feel like they can do whatever they want to do. That makes me very happy. I offer my time to listen to women talking about their struggles and then try to relate or just to listen if they want me to listen. I like offering advice if they want the advice. I think we women are underrated as humans, and we are incredibly powerful. “The proof is in the pudding,” as my mum would say. When you see some women leaders in the world doing amazing things, like Jacinda Arden in New Zealand, you know we need more women in power. Because we are compassionate, we are caring.
What is your definition of adventure?
Adventure for me is stepping out of my comfort zone, waking up and not knowing what the day will be, how it’s going to go. Taking a risk and then enjoying the difficult parts of that risk.
I see many people get anxious and worried about the risk they’re taking, which I can understand. I completely understand anxiety. I sometimes think a deep breath is all that’s needed to make you feel present. I actually have a tattoo that says be present. There’s that saying if you’re living in the past, you’re constantly depressed. If you’re living in the future, you’re constantly anxious. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen or what has happened. Try and focus on that now. If you’re going to do an adventure, you’re focusing on the current minute. If you are having a bad day, you might need a small adventure, it could be an adventure to the shops, maybe you are adventuring to go and get your biscuits or rice or noodles or whatever it is you go get. That could be an adventure, or it could be waking up and going on a beautiful hike or going skiing for the day. Doing something new, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone or doing something brave. Yeah, that’s an Adventure.
What adventurer are you?
I’d say a bit of a risk-taker. I do like repeating adventures. I would go back to certain places that I really fell in love with, but I love experiencing somewhere new. I like hiking. I like really long walks and getting lost and then figuring my way out of that situation. In New Zealand, I did that a lot. It’s safer in New Zealand than in Canada, I suppose, because there are no bears, but I would just go on a hike, not knowing which way I would turn, and then I would always find my way back to the car. I did do one that took me eight hours, and it was supposed to be three hours because I did get very lost. But it was terrific. I saw some beautiful things. So I’d say, I’m a bit of a risk taking wanderer Adventurer.
What are you experiencing now? Do you feel you are living an adventure?
Yeah, I think so. I think living in Canada is incredibly adventurous. It’s easy to adventure whenever you want. There are so many hikes, so many walks, so many waterfalls, and mountains. It’s beautiful. Obviously, covid has stopped many people from doing everything they want to do. But I would say I’m adventuring because I’m still exploring a completely new country. Even if I’m exploring the areas of Vancouver town. I find that quite exciting. So there are areas that I haven’t seen as much as I prefer hike in the forest and nature. I do also like urban areas, and I think it’s fun to find graffiti spots and remarkable architecture. So yeah, I’d say I’m adventuring at the moment. I’m just exploring within the parameters where we’re allowed to go, and it’s good.
What do you do to keep adventuring every day?
As silly as it might sound, I really like the area I live in, Kitsilano in Vancouver. It’s beautiful. As I said, I love architecture. The houses are nothing like houses in England. Sometimes I walk the streets and look at houses, and I take pictures. I hope people in the houses don’t mind. I imagine when they see me, they are like, “why is she taking pictures of my house?” Every day I try to go for a walk. Today we are in Lynn Valley, it’s beautiful, and if I can get out to somewhere local that is allowed, then I definitely do that. Also, I’m trying lots of vegan restaurants in Vancouver. So that’s been an adventure for me. It’s an adventure for my taste buds.
Is there anything that kept you away from living your adventures or experiencing new things?
Yes, I think codependency for sure. This is again personal, so people might completely disagree. Still, for me, the sign of knowing when you’re not in a particularly good relationship is when you feel you have to change what you want to do for that person. I felt as though I had to change the path of what I wanted to do during the six months of living in my van because I needed to be near him or do something he wanted to do. I think in hindsight, I would have not. I probably would have discussed with him either ending the relationship or telling him, “look, I want to be able to do anything here. This is a one-off opportunity for me, living in New Zealand, and I’m not going to get a chance to do it again.”
I’m a bit of a people pleaser, which isn’t good. I think you need to pick yourself first for sure, at all times, which is much easier to say than it is to do. If you are empathetic and think about people a lot, you will always want to consider what they want. I would definitely try to tailor my adventures to what I want to do, and if somebody wants to join me on that journey, then that’s great. Looking back, I would have had a lot more communication with my partner at the time and said, “let’s come to either a happy middle ground,” or I would have freely done my own thing. I think it’s essential, especially if you only get one chance like the visa in New Zealand for British people; we only get a year. I would have tried to do things more for myself for sure.
What do you think is your biggest next adventure?
I’ve actually got something quite exciting possibly coming up that I’m really hopeful about it. There’s an artist in Vancouver called Ania Jane. I’m her biggest fan. She’s incredible, she does fantastic art. She is actually British. I met her recently. She’s recently moved from down the road from where I live to the Island, and she is setting up a community. She needs volunteers to go and help. I would love to do that, just taking a month, giving my time. I think it would be so freeing. Working with the Earth and cooking would be amazing. So that’s a possible Adventure. It’s not definitely going to happen, but I would love for it to happen.
The next change in my life is moving from Kitsilano to East Vancouver. If people don’t know, it is like moving from “Yoga pants Ville” to a bit more hippie and grungy place (which I’m very used to for being from Brighton in the UK). I’m excited about that move, it’s what I wanted to do since I’ve moved here. It’s a different but part of Vancouver to live in. I’m doing that probably in the next month.
What would be your advice to women who want to be more of a badass adventurer like you are?
I think, “talk to your girlfriend’s.”
As women, we are lucky in the sense we do communicate a lot. Society says to guys that they don’t need to talk as much as we do. We get to have a constant open dialogue with other women. Talk to your females in your life. They could be mom, sister, best friend, and if you don’t have that many, maybe reach out and go to groups on Facebook. Say, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about doing this.” There is a really great Facebook group called Girls Love Travel, and that is a very inspiring group for me. Those women are doing badass things by themselves – Solo or with their other female friends. They give each other advice and build each other up. Lots of people are terrified to take that first step. I’m a big believer that the universe will give you back once you put it out there. Start a conversation with somebody and say, “I think I want to do this,” and it will eventually come back to you. It will eventually happen. We just need to start the conversation about anything. It’s underrated, and people try to deal with stuff themselves. They feel like to be a solo badass woman, as you said, you have to do it all yourself, and I just think there is an element of doing it yourself. But having a chat is really helpful.
Read another women adventurer’s story: Justine, à l’assaut du Mount Triglav