Unexpected Road Trip


It’s road trip season. After house sitting in Hawaii for two months, I thought we would fly to Utah, visit our daughter, Karina, and road trip home to New York City. That was Plan A. Erik and I were content with Plan A.

Road buddies about to embark

Road buddies about to embark

We were also open to an alternative route. Plan B was New Zealand. We have dear friends in New Zealand, which makes it high on our list of places to visit. It’s winter in New Zealand, which means tickets from Hawaii were inexpensive—cheaper than a domestic flight in the U.S.

Our youngest, Lily, is happy everywhere.  We weren’t worried about her. We wanted our teenagers, Eli and SJ, to feel some measure of control over their destinies. We let them decide between Plan A and Plan B.  

Eli, does not like warm, sunny weather. Hawaii is not his happy place. Every time it rained, he put on his shoes and enjoyed a chilly walk. The promise of overcast skies, coats and gloves temperatures, and regular rain in New Zealand appealed to him. SJ doesn’t like Utah. But she does like kiwi accents. Seventeen-year-olds sometimes generalize like that.  

They picked Plan B. We got one-way tickets to New Zealand. We don’t know where our journey will take us, which airport we’ll want to leave from, or precisely where we’ll go next.

Low cost tickets, but comfortable seats and friendly flight attendants for the first 10.5 hours.

Low cost tickets, but comfortable seats and friendly flight attendants for the first 10.5 hours.

 I wasn’t sure we would be allowed to enter New Zealand with one-way tickets. The immigration website was unclear, so I called. The immigration agent said it would be up to our individual border control agent and recommended we at least print out a bank statement proving we could afford to leave.  

 Once we decided on New Zealand, we had to figure out lodging. We used kiwihousesitters.co.nz to find a house sitting opportunity near our friends. We found a wonderful match and sealed the deal with a Skype interview.  We’ll be caring for two horses, eight sheep, and a dog.  We’ll be chopping wood to fuel the daily fire that will keep us warm.

 Sometimes housesitting includes transportation, but not this time. Erik recently wrote about people who make things sound easy. Some of our new friends made it sound easy to buy and sell a car in New Zealand. They told us, Lots of people buy a vehicle for their vacation, drive all over New Zealand, and sell the car when they go home. We decided to try it when we arrived.

 When we checked in to our flight in Honolulu, the first thing the airline agent asked us was, “Do you have exit tickets?”  

 “No.  Immigration told us to bring a bank statement.”

Five-hour layover in Sydney, Australia - watching a  Taco Sketch  (some cursing)

Five-hour layover in Sydney, Australia - watching a Taco Sketch (some cursing)

 Seventeen hours later, our border agent didn’t ask for exit tickets or a bank statement. Once he made sure we didn’t have weapons or drugs, he only asked us to enjoy New Zealand for less than 90 days-the max allowed on a US passport.

That was easy.

 We arrived at our Airbnb in a clean safe suburb of Christchurch at 2 a.m. Monday morning. We heard cars would be cheaper than in Dunedin, where our friends live. We hoped to find one there, but no guarantees. We hedged our bets and bought refundable bus tickets departing Christchurch at 2 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

 I didn’t wake up until 9 a.m. on Monday. Erik had already been to the grocery store, purchased three meals worth of staples, and cruised trademe.co.nz looking for a car for us. He even sent some queries. We all ate Milo (chocolate) cereal for breakfast. 

Erik and Emily Christchurch river.JPG

 The kids, ages 11, 14, and 17, chose to stay warm inside together while Erik and I layered on most of the clothing from our duffel bags. We ventured two and a half miles into town looking for beanies, gloves, and thick socks to augment our family’s Hawaii wardrobes. We found the New Zealand equivalent of Walmart – The Warehouse.  Seven pairs of socks, three pairs of gloves, and two beanies later we emerged.  

 That was easy.

 We used the store wifi to download the app for Lime scooters. New Zealand, like most British Commonwealth countries, drives on the left side of the road. This was my first time driving on the left side, and my first time riding a motorized scooter. We power-scooted through the neighborhood at eighteen miles per hour. The scooters made it feel more like a date than an errand—a six-and-a-half-minute date. Wahoo!

 Erik’s car queries were fruitful. We focused on a twenty-year-old minivan. The ‘buy it now’ price was less than what it would cost to rent a car for three weeks. Erik and I walked to the ATM to withdraw cash—in case we liked it. Then we hired an Uber to the seller’s home.

Erik considers the van

Erik considers the van

 First, we got to meet a cool kiwi family. It never fails. All over the world, people are working hard, playing hard and taking care of their families. Then came the test drive. It was the first time Erik had ever driven a real car on the left hand side of the road. 

 That was the most awkward loop around the block of my life.  Erik flipped on the windshield wipers every time he meant to signal for a turn.  I held onto my door handle going left around the roundabouts.  My brain kept telling my stomach that we were in the wrong lane and would probably die soon.

 We were not in the wrong lane. We did not die. The van worked perfectly except the windows didn’t roll up and down. Who wants their windows down in the winter? Not me. 

Win-Win van exchange.

Win-Win van exchange.

 The sellers wanted the old minivan out of their driveway. We had one day in town to find a vehicle. We gave them cash and they gave us keys. There is five minutes worth of paperwork to fill out.  

 That was easy.

 Monday night, we had spaghetti and broccoli for dinner. Tuesday morning, Erik and I took our morning walk through the local cemetery. We all showered or bathed. I like to start a road trip smelling fresh. Erik cancelled our bus tickets and packed our new-to-us van.

 We had downloaded music, all the ingredients for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a five-hour drive ahead.  We made one stop at Cookie Time, New Zealand’s number one cookie factory, to buy giant bags of discount broken cookies.  

Cookie Time  - New Zealand’s favorourite cookies.

Cookie Time - New Zealand’s favorourite cookies.

 Then we eased into the left hand side of the road and Erik flipped on the windshield wipers. He was going for the turn signal but it worked out because it started raining.

 “Are you happy about this weather, Eli?” Erik asked.

 Eli smiled.

Ecstatic arrival in Dunedin, New Zealand

Ecstatic arrival in Dunedin, New Zealand

Monday, we entered New Zealand with one-way airfare, a summer wardrobe, and five bus tickets. Past me would have been too panicked to move forward with so little in place. I worried like it was my full time job. As a Mom, I felt it was my job.  

 Experience has taught me that worry is wasted energy. Worry muddies my thinking. Worry leads to bad decisions.  Worry holds me back. I still worry.  

 Now, I recognize worry as that nervous energy telling me that whatever I’m about to do is really interesting or really important to me. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t worry. Worry tips me off that the possibility presented matters to me. Then I lean into wondering how I will answer the questions and solve the problems that arise.

Good morning, Dunedin.

Good morning, Dunedin.

 Sometimes our journeys take us across a geographic distance.  In my experience, every kind of journey is internal, creative and risky. Elizabeth Gilbert, world-famous author, personified her worries and wrote, A Letter to Fear.  

 This letter helps me stay calm in the face of Fear.  And Fear is always showing up no matter where I go.  Fear is not going away.  Maybe this letter will help you on whatever road trip you’re taking this season.  


Dearest Fear,

 Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together.  I understand you will be joining us.  Because you always do.  I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life and that you take your job seriously.  Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I am about to do anything interesting.  And, may I say, you are superb at your job.  So, by all means, keep doing your job if feel you must.  But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused.  And creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There is plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us so make yourself at home.  But understand this—creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way.  You’re allowed to have a seat and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.  You’re not allowed to touch the roadmaps.  You’re not allowed to suggest detours.  You’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature.  Dude, you are not even allowed to touch the radio.  But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive. 

                                                                        --Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Christchurch International Airport

Christchurch International Airport