Anelise and Tyler Salvo are seasonal dwellers. During the warm months, they live in the Lake Tahoe area where Tyler runs Tahoe Sailing Charters while Anelise runs her design business, Anelise Salvo Design Co. and balances taking care of their sun Costa. During those cooler months, they leave Lake Tahoe and head out for a grand adventure and this year with Costa around half-a-year old they decided they would take a few months living out of a van and traveling around New Zealand as a family. The adventure sounded amazing, but as a mom who also runs a business and had a child at a similar age, watching her experience this trip was incredibly inspiring. It felt wild, brave, and free-spirited in a way as I shared, I struggled to feel in my new role of motherhood.
I knew that when the theme of Wild came up for July, that Anelise’s adventure to New Zealand was the one I wanted to feature. I wanted to hear more about the trip. So, I invited her to contribute this month and since I had so many questions, we decided it was best to do an interview. Below you will find my questions and can hear more about her story as well as some tips on how to do something adventurous yourself.
How did you decide to do your trip to New Zealand in particular? Did you ever think maybe we should do something less extreme? What made you just take the leap beyond any other thought?
We decided on New Zealand for last years off season really because it was convenient and didn’t seem like such a logistically-challenging trip with baby. My husband Tyler’s, relief captain happens to also be a pilot for Delta and he flies Los Angeles to Sydney direct on the daily so he offered us buddy passes in maybe July / August and we left in January (seemed pretty convenient, right?!). We had always wanted to road trip around New Zealand in a van, so we thought, well I guess this is when we are doing it! We never thought about other options or honestly what living in a van really meant because at that point Costa was only a few weeks old so we were just trying to survive. We did think that it was a great idea to travel and live in a van with a small baby because we would be moving around with our home, which would be super conducive to napping, dinners and being flexible depending on his or our moods and most importantly it meant we wouldn’t have to schlep our luggage from place to place – we’d be self-contained (making the logistical challenges basically zero).
We have found that we don’t really plan our off seasons until something comes up that directs us to a certain place in the world. We both have kind of always lived and traveled this way and so far it’s worked out really well! New Zealand van life with a 6-7-month-old was less exciting I suppose than just going as a couple (exploring glaciers and going on 7-hour hikes just wasn’t really gonna happen), but in this case having very little expectations was a blessing. When we ordered our plane tickets one month before we departed, we honestly just wanted to see New Zealand and at that point, we didn’t know what parts we were going to see, what the major attractions were, etc. We did do lots of research into which van rental company to go with and we had our tickets and that was it. Needless to say, we planned our days as they happened, which I know is not how most people feel comfortable traveling, but it works for our personalities and lifestyle. But I won’t lie, we both do envy those that are big planners sometimes because it takes the guessing out of your days, which sounds dreamy.
When you packed what perspective did you take? Big adventures always stress me out with packing especially with a little one. Did you have any technique or did you just figure you could pick things up along the way and figure it out?
Our strategy was we knew that it was going to be summer in New Zealand and we were basically going to be beach-hopping. The beauty of summer is you need very little clothing and we tend to wear the same things over and over anyway, so we budgeted 2-3 outfits per person plus one puffy jacket and one pair of pants per person (plus a handful of onesies and a few books and five toys for Costa).
Going into packing we reminded ourselves constantly that there were laundromats everywhere so we could do laundry once a week and be totally comfortable wearing the same outfits for our whole trip. We were headed to a developed country so we didn’t pack more than 10 diapers and a pack of wipes just to get us there (but we did run out of diapers right as we landed in Sydney, oye. We asked a stranger with a baby Costa’s size if we could have a diaper. The mama said yes, thank goodness). Also when I’m packing I like to go through a visual exercise and remind myself what it feels like to carry around tons of luggage from taxi to airport to car to home and then do it all over again when we head back to the States. That is always my biggest inspiration to packing as light as possible. Tyler and I also love the challenge of packing as little as possible so that makes packing a bit more fun and less like a drag 🙂
I think the biggest packing stress for me was worrying that I would stop producing enough milk for C or I would just stop making milk altogether! To combat these fears, I purchased tubs of formula before hand and we lugged those around on our trip (despite Tyler’s persistence of knowing that New Zealand would have adequate formula). I never needed the formula, but it did bring me peace of mind. You never know what brands different countries are going to carry and I was such a new mom with zero formula experience, so I needed to feel prepared and like I could provide for my child no matter what.
In terms of all the other stuff, you need when you travel that is not clothing, I kind of went all out for this trip since I knew I would be working and living in the van. I did tons of research on the best way to charge my computer, camera, and phone through the van so I ended up purchasing basically all of the Nomad Goods adaptors, converters, inverters and chargers. They saved us SO many times! I also purchased random things I normally wouldn’t have like a portable vacuum, small packets of laundry soap, a portable washing machine (i.e a bag lined with rubber bumps to aid in the hand washing process), clothespins, a hand-crank food mill for Costa, while Ty contributed very practical things like string and tape 🙂
The main to-do item right when we enter a country is to get a hotspot so we can have wifi all the time. I figured I would do the same when we arrived in New Zealand, but come to find out the plans in New Zealand are pretty bad – you pay a lot of money for very little and slow data. So I ended up using my hotspot from my phone the whole time and just increasing my data for my US plan. It was super convenient, easy and worked everywhere!
When you planned the trip what were some key pieces to the puzzle for you guys?
Ha, the key was we didn’t plan it but the main puzzle piece was the van. Once we paid for the van and we knew it would be at the airport waiting for us in New Zealand, we felt pretty calm and content about the trip. We also had no idea what it was going to be like so we kind of wanted the experience of living a slow-paced and unplanned few months. We asked a lot of people who had traveled through New Zealand before what they thought we should not miss so we did have a running list of aspirations and must-sees which was super helpful in creating a driving route once we arrived.
So tell us what was it like living out of a van as a family of three. Did it ever feel like too much? What did you love about it?
Oh my gosh, it was too much so often, ha. We all seriously loved it so much, but once we hit week 3 we were all ready for a major detailing of the interior and frankly we were just sick of living in the dirt (it was nearly impossible not to have dirt and sand all over the place). I think it’s like anything though, once you build up your immunity then it becomes normal so once we got over that hump, we loved it all over again.
I loved how much time we got to spend together as a family doing essentially nothing. I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling of being so content and happy being in the presence of the people I love the most in the world. We got stuck in rain storms a few times and so we would hunker down in the van and just play with Costa, cook and drink wine. We would sometimes stop and look at each other and just laugh at hilarious the situation was because we couldn’t leave the van so we just had to deal. Of course both times we got stuck in the rain we were in the middle of nowhere, so we just had to hang in the van until morning. But the moments of pure joy outweighed the dirt and insanity for sure.
We did try to create somewhat of a routine so it didn’t feel like we lived in chaos. Ty cooked all our meals, I did all the cleaning, we all took naps together, we ate under the stars and read (or worked) after Costa went to bed. When it was time for me to work during the day, I would either find a picnic table to work at, a coffee shop or just work from the bench seat in the van. It was the ultimate anti-work-life balance, but that is our life. It’s completely intermixed with zero separation of work and life and I love it that way. I love that I get to be with Costa basically 24-7 and watch him literally grow up right before my eyes and I love that Tyler and I get to spend so much time together. Yea, it’s challenging and can be stressful, but this lifestyle and this trip, in particular, are such gifts I do not take for granted.
I am sure there were moments that were really tough. How did you and Tyler handle them together? What positives came out of the challenge?
Oh, yea, challenging moments for sure. Tyler and I are pretty used to traveling so we have learned to have zero expectations when flying. We hope for the best, but know that all of the annoying inconveniences have a pretty good chance of happening. This trip was one of those where all the inconveniences happened. From arriving at LAX on the day of a major protest, Delta’s computers were all hacked into so all domestic flights were grounded (i.e the airport was filled with thousands of people with nowhere to go or anyone to talk to), our bags took a week to arrive in New Zealand, the list goes on and on. But I think in those situations we have learned that those experiences are what makes travel. In those moments when we face a challenge, we can choose to be pissed off and ruin our day, or we both put on the “we’re gonna get through this and everything is going to be okay because we have each other” face even if we don’t want to. Just that acknowledgment and being on the same page about accepting what is has helped us get through the craziest and toughest of times. When we look back on those experiences, it makes that story and moment in life so much richer and powerful I think.
Now that we have a child to raise and values to teach him, I think we are hyper aware of how we act and choose to react to situations. I think experiencing challenges as a family is an opportunity to handle them with grace so we can lead by example because we know a little sponge of a human is watching. I’m not saying I didn’t loose it more than a few times and still don’t, but I am now accountable to a little human I created. That is huge.
During the trip what moment shines out as the one made even the hardest moment worth it?
We stopped on the side of the road at Lake Pukaki and we set up camp to cook dinner, jump in the lake and watch the sunset. Mount Cook finally started to appear after days of being behind the clouds and we both just couldn’t believe where we were or what we were doing. Lots of sunset watchers stopped around us to take photos and we chatted and got their stories; how long they had been in New Zealand, where they were from, what was their favorite part so far. I mean it was our dream life in reality. We cooked dinner and took turns eating while we occupied Costa. Once we finished and the sun went down, we decided we would just keep driving to our next stop which was 3 hours away. Costa was passed out in between us, and we talked about life and schemed up future plans while watching the stars appear above us. It was by far my favorite bit of our trip and I hopefully will never forget it.
How did you balance work living in such a small space? As a mom and a business owner finding your space must have been a challenge. Did you and Tyler tag team?
I work year round basically under the same conditions of working around my baby and working from different places all the time, I think working from the van felt pretty normal after a while. That passenger side of the bench seat started to feel like my office and my little place to retreat to when I really needed to zone into work, but that was only after I established work time when I needed it. When I did need to just spend a few solid hours plugging away, Ty would take Costa to the beach or to the grocery store, simple things that we do when we’re at home in Tahoe, but the difference being that we were calling our little van named “Jacko” home.
It’s a constant battle being a mom who works from home because there is no separation between work and family life like I mentioned earlier. I’ve learned that if I don’t set up the boundaries and space to work without distractions then I drive myself crazy, so I am learning to make office hours for myself even when we are traveling. I think originally I thought some fairy would come and take care of the boundaries for me, but I learned the only person who can make it happen is me. Now, even if we are living in a van or at our home in Tahoe, I will look ahead at the week and know how much work is due and how much has to get done and then plan out chunks of time throughout the week to be alone with my computer. That way we all are on the same page about when I have work and when we all can play. It’s a daily practice and I’m constantly trying to figure out better ways to streamline the work so there a plan instead of feeling overwhelmed and chaotic.
If you did it over again what would you relive? What would you do differently?
I would relive the moments hanging out in the van as Costa was learning to crawl and we all were sleeping together in one medium sized bed. Those moments I will never forget and they are incredibly precious to me. I felt and still feel so lucky that Costa was able to have so many firsts in New Zealand! He won’t remember them, but he’ll have some great stories to tell 🙂
We talk about this a lot, what we would have done differently, and we always come back to we would have opted for a slightly nicer van, ha. Our vans were fine, they ran great, never gave us any trouble, they were essentially the cheapest we could find since we naturally didn’t want to spend a lot of money when we didn’t have to, but our second van had a pull out cook stove (think of pulling out a kitchen drawer from the back of an open VW van and that was our cooking situation). In theory is a great idea, but in reality, it is super sketchy and was the reason for the one time Tyler lost it. If there is any wind, rain, snow, you basically can’t cook. We saw so many brand new rental vans that looked completely luxurious and we think that perhaps that would have made our trip just a bit more comfortable, so maybe next time we’ll spring for the newer van.
Months have passed since the trip, what did you take away? What did this new place and a new challenge all experienced as new parents teach you as a business owner, mother, woman, etc?
I think my major take away was a confirmation that we are doing the right thing by committing ourselves to a life of travel as a family; a commitment we made years ago, pre-marriage and pre-baby while living in Spain. We found ourselves in awe of what living a life full of exploration and travel felt like that we promised ourselves we wouldn’t stop even when babies arrived. Leading up to this trip I had thoughts of, oh man what if we do become those people that don’t travel because it’s challenging with a kid. That was my biggest fear, and I was actually terrified that we would let ourselves down because we had expectations that travel with a baby was going to be fine, not the same, but do-able. I think we proved to ourselves that the experience of travel is worth the long hours of not sleeping and inevitable challenges because we know that each trip we take no matter how big or small, we are teaching Costa the value in seeing the world and experiencing different cultures. I also think this trip made us realize we are parents! Ha. It was the first time it was just us, no family or friends support, just us to make sure this little human thrived. We grew up a bit, we became less selfish, we learned better how to make decisions together about what was good for him and how to better handle situations that revolved around him.
I became better at time management because I would get major FOMO and want to be with Tyler and Costa exploring and actually being in New Zealand instead of on the computer in New Zealand. I learned how to work smarter and plan better so I could have more time to play. Those lessons I still am working on as we live in a stable environment in Tahoe.
This trip proved to me that I did make the right choice many years ago when I decided to quit my office job and work for myself. I made the jump because I wanted the freedom to make my own schedule, to decide how long I could travel and when and I wanted the flexibility to be a present mom. It was actually amazing to be in New Zealand thinking so this is it, this is what we’ve been planning, envisioning and working so hard for. It was an incredible feeling as a woman and mother to see the dream and desire for the life and lifestyle I had for my family actually happen. It was all the validation I think we’ll ever need that we are doing something right.
What tips would you give to someone fearful of doing something out of their comfort zone? What would you tell them to encourage them to pursue something they believe is too far off the beaten path?
I think as humans we are all naturally afraid of the unknown and stepping outside of our comfort zone, but when we do face that fear and do something different, I would say nine times out of ten we grow in new and different ways than we normally would. We become more interesting humans, we develop more empathy for the world around us, we prove to ourselves just how expansive, capable and strong we actually are!
I would say if you are feeling fearful of trying something that is a bit off the beaten path, remind yourself of the one thing you did that scared you the most and then remind yourself just how brave you really are and perhaps how brave you feel. We get out of the practice of doing things outside of our comfort zone because of the routine activities that fill our days, but I believe doing new things that push the comfort zone is like exercising a muscle. If you never use that muscle you learn how to live without it, but just think of all the potential that muscle has and how it could benefit you.
Also, try something local that feels off the beaten path. Maybe it’s a hike you don’t think you are ready for. Prove to yourself you can do it, then keep doing smaller, close to home challenges and soon enough you will be surprising yourself with the crazy things you are getting into! Also remember that people all over the world are doing amazing, incredible, superhuman things and having new and different experiences constantly. Remind yourself this to start to normalize travel and what is different. Watch YouTube videos of people doing the things you wish you were doing, read books, articles, and stories and get inspired by their drive and remind yourself that they are human just like you. Surround yourself with people that do things you wish you were doing. Use the people who inspire you as motivation to push your own boundaries. You can literally do anything you want it’s just a matter of determination and perspective.
Lastly, know that heading out into the world is challenging. If you accept that fact before you even take off, you are already on your way to enjoying the difficult moments and taking them in stride rather than letting them get in your way. So go out in the world; explore, see and be immerse yourself in the unknown. If you don’t come back with some major or life-threatening disease, I bet you will get the travel bug and be planning your next adventure on your flight home.
A huge thank you to Anelise for sharing tips and about their adventures to New Zealand as a family of three.