Snail tales – on a losing streak

You’d think losing things would be almost impossible when you’re carrying most of your worldly possessions with you. Ha! Wrong! Twelve weeks of intensive research have proved specs can vanish in very small spaces.

And this trick is accomplished with even greater frequency when “Snail” (the Isuzu Fargo that’s become my home for a year) is housing more than one person. It’s all to do with routine – something nomads are no more capable of shunning than committed stay-at-homes.

Whether you’re stream side in a mountain valley or slumming it on a friend’s city-side tennis court, your toothbrush can still be found in the same cupboard.

Habit has its place.

You quickly find that stowing stuff away must become standard procedure if you’re to avoid experiencing a bunch of distracting bangs from the back as you navigate an unfamiliar roundabout. When your pantry has just rolled out to spill its entire contents over the floor for the third time (knew I should have pegged the rice packet), you institute a checking schedule as rigidly habitual as any pre-flight preparation.

So you’ve started establishing some fairly consistent habits when….company arrives.

And company, while entirely welcome, can be distracting.

One of the joys of travelling with friends in a space only a  little larger than your average packing crate, is discovering how to be to be both polite and inventive about normal routines. Cooking can turn into a series of carefully timed pas de deux, bedtime into a contortionist’s challenge and ablutions….? That’s about when campgrounds exert a special appeal.

Snail is self contained. I have a certificate to prove it. But  there’s often a glaring gap between capability and desirability.

Certainly you can squeeze yourself backside first into a small closet and, with the slight risk of ramming kneecaps into eye sockets, close the door for at least a little visual privacy. But all my guests have so far avoided this option. A mix of modesty, thoughtfulness and possibly claustrophobia – fear of small closets – has helped inspire more preferable options.

And no. I haven’t joined the brigands of the motorhome world who treat scenic stopovers as their personal toilets. That’s what gives freedom campers a foul reputation and there’s actually no excuse for it. Public loos are plentiful, timing is all, a plastic bucket offers light relief – and the chemical loo does provide a comfort stop of last resort.

Ablution options are only a small part of the snail proximity endurance test. It’s fair to say that there are things you find out about friends that those holidaying in six-bathroom baches don’t get a chance to discover. You can’t be coy about anything when you’re both using floor space that the pullout bed has reduced to one square foot.

So far, it’s been great. I haven’t lost any friends. But I have come up with a checklist of attributes my ideal campervan companion should possess.

Below average height. Six footers will be unable to either stand or lie straight. Sadly this cuts out about half my family.

Highly flexible. This is vital not only for the aforementioned ablution contortions but for snail’s cab-over bed which could be called double if the would-be inhabitants were matchstick thin with unaturally small noses. The ceiling is very close. This cuts out anyone  not serious about their yoga practice.

Meticulously tidy. People who can fit all their possessions – preferably even their persons – in one small suitcase without disporting any wet, dirty or discarded objects about the cab are totally welcome. Sadly, this cuts out me.

Snore free sleeper. Ideal but a tad hypocritical given my own noisy night time habits.

Mechanically able. Well you may as well go for skillsets that are normally absent.

Sense of humour. An absolute must because the things you can’t fix, you just have to laugh about.

There are other nice-to-have attributes. For instance, the latest visitor to join my snail trail odyssey around New Zealand could light fires with wet wood. That’s a skill with very useful application in the damp, sandfly ridden reaches of the South Island’s Lewis Pass. It makes sitting outside a less slap-happy experience as sandflies stay away from smokey fires.

Which is why we found ourselves still hunched over the foldout camping table one night playing smoke-enhanced headlight Scrabble. As daylight faded and the Milky Way gradually revealed its dense store of stars piled on stars in the great amphitheatre of sky that rules remote campsites, the bright LED bulbs even compensated for my dark glasses.

I wouldn’t have been wearing them BUT … all my ordinary reading glasses had gone AWOL.

So much for routine.


Vicki Jayne is a journalist, photographer and grandmother currently travelling NZ in a camper van. See


Published NZ Herald My Generation March supplement



About vjayne

I'm a writer / photographer usually based on Waiheke Island in New Zealand but currently traveling the country in "snail" - my mobile home and office. Along the way, I'm telling stories about the places I see or people I meet and building up a beautiful library of photos - of New Zealand's coastline and mountains, its walking tracks and wildlife. I'm happy to supply illustrated stories to New Zealand and offshore publications. My work background includes editing business and lifestyle magazines, crafting features on topics ranging from management and marketing to frogs and fashion, creating organisational narratives and promotional literature. Please visit my website for more information.
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