How small can you go?

A man once said bigger is better, but I believe bigger is also easier. Whether it’s a house, a vehicle, or a bag we always seem to fill up, downsizing our wants vs. needs is a bigger struggle for the majority.

When we shrink our lives we really start to understand what we value and what maybe isn’t so important. Also, you start to imagine the multipurpose functionality of some items. For me, this is my Leatherman, as it the most robust tool that I travel no where without!

When I dreamed up the idea of moving to New Zealand for a year and to live in a van, I not only saw it as a cool adventure, but also as a life challenge. Can me and my girlfriend fit everything we need for a year in a van and live relatively comfortable?

Well, we found out in a real hurry once we arrived that this challenge was gonna be a lot harder to complete with the budget we had in mind.

Rule #1 – Research and understand the market.

The reason why it seems like a lot of people are doing something is probably because everyone IS doing it. Whether you have a business degree or not, we all understand the basic principles of supply and demand.

If supply goes up, demand decreases and prices will remain level or maybe even drop. The reverse is supply goes down, demand increases and allows prices to increase.

We did our research, but not enough to realize.. in order to get a van big enough to live in for a year was gonna run us double or triple what a van of the same sort (mid 80’s-90’s with high clicks – 200,000+) was worth in Canada. The demand was high and people were sweeping them up. Ex: 1999 Toyota Hiace with ~300,000km sold the day it was listed for $14,000 NZ (~$13,500 CDN).

Once you understand the market it makes it lot easier to plan financially, which is usually the biggest factor for van travellers.

Rule #2 – Find your inner mechanic!

Because we didn’t want or have the funds to drop 40k on a new van, we were stuck with maybe some not so mechanically fit vehicles to buy.

From a basic internet search, I found an article on how to buy a used car. Check for rust around the structural points, look for leaks or drips, look at drive belts for wear, check oil, and talk to the owner (most important!) so you’ll know if it was cared for or just driven around and gas put in.

When in doubt, take the van in for an inspection prior to purchasing by a licensed mechanic shop. You might, and we did save ourselves from thousands of dollars of repairs!

Rule #3 – Be flexible.

Two weeks had passed searching for a van in the biggest city in New Zealand, and we still hadn’t found anything we thought was right for us. So, we decided to book plane tickets and go searching for a van in another city, which  erupted into one of the most heart pounding days of our trip!

We arrived on a Thursday evening, and woke the early the next morning as we we’re looking at our first van of the day before the owner went to work. We left especially early because we we’re still taking the bus to get around places. When we got to the stop, we asked a local which side of the street we should be on for our bus route. I don’t want to point fingers at anyone, but she told us the wrong side and put us behind schedule.

Luckily, we did make it on time and the owner let us take the van for the day so we could get it inspected that morning. I had already booked an appointment ahead of time and way ahead of schedule. Flawless planning by your very own you would think, but the universe had other plans. After a quick pit stop, we went to jump back into the van and, SNAP! The key broke in the door. We missed our appointment and the only other opening was in the afternoon across town at a different shop. The owner was able to leave work to grab the spare key and on we went again.

By this point, another van candidate agreed he could be at the mechanic shop before the inspection appointment so we now had two vans to pick from. We figured there was no way we were walking away without one of the vans!

Both vans were listed over $10k and appeared to have obvious necessary immediate repairs. The first needed brand new drive belts and the second a full set of tires. Not too bad considering demand was high and most vans didn’t last more than a couple days on the market.

When the vans went through the mechanical inspection they came back with much bigger issues concerning rust, leaking exhaust systems, and brakes that needed replacing.. not exactly what we wanted to hear.

The mechanic strongly advised us to keep searching for a better van, and with our heads in the dirt and just about to give up, we decided to check the online Trade Me listings one more time. To our surprise, a similar van to those we just looked at with half the km’s and half the price popped up: “Listed 5 minutes ago”.

I called it immediately and drove the first van we looked at in the morning over to the owners house to look at as it was still for sale. The owner was in disbelief, because he had no clue about Rule #1. He couldn’t believe how fast I replied, and essentially after a quick look and test drive I told him I would take it for full asking price.

Coincidentally, the sale turned into a close friendship with the owner who was a very nice Kiwi/Scottish local. As we were just heading into the weekend at this point and mechanic shops being closed, our new Scottish friend let us stay at his place for the next 3 days until we dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on the final purchase of our 1989 Ford Econovan Maxi.

Each night he came home, he would tell us about the inedible amount of inquiries he was getting on the van. Maybe it was just us being flexible or maybe it was meant to be, but either way our timing of finding the van we wanted worked out like it was suppose to.

Rule #4 – No van is perfect.

Once you get a van it’s now time to add your own touches to make it yours. We added storage for bike gear on the front, a bike rack on the back, different shelving inside, modified the plumbing to better fit our needs and public sanitation laws, stickered it with some of our favorite brands, and just like any home we’ll continue to add stuff as we see fit.

Rule #5 – Stay radical!

There’s ups and downs like a day adventuring in the mountains, but keep pushing and you’ll always come out on top. Remember to ask questions and that almost everything is on the internet, so ask google if you don’t like talking to people.

I hope you enjoyed the tale of our van hunt, and I hope this helps others along the way to living smaller and keeping your head above water when times get tough.

Posted by Mitch

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