It’s been 29 days since I looked in the mirror. Nearly a month without a lick of deodorant, makeup or shampoo. And I’ve been washing in a freestanding cold shower for weeks now.
It all sounds pretty dismal on paper, but the reality is that the shower overlooks a patch of New Zealand scenery that is picture-perfect, surrounded by towering pine trees and a white sand beach.
The long drop, sadly, isn’t blessed with such views.
I’ve been roaming freely with my husband and 16-month-old son since the start of December, swapping our $800-a-week (£455) Sydney rental for a $250 (£142) tent, pitching where we fancy, eating when we need and forgetting any trace of routine.
It was supposed to be your run-of-the-mill road trip to combat our mutual burnout. Instead it’s somehow spiralled into a scene straight out of Eat Pray Love.
That’s the thing with plunging yourself into nature – you really do become the person who says things like, “I feel like I’ve really found myself out here in bum-fuck nowhere”. It’s all rather cringeworthy really, but the reality is, it’s true. We’ve swapped champagne for warm ciders on the beach; eating meals in fancy restaurants for catching our own; and a bathroom full of products for one without walls.
Our former life was highly Instagrammable but exhausting beyond belief. I was a full-time working mum, wanting to be successful in my career, at parenting, in maintaining a healthy body and preserving an active social life.
Some days I’d wake at 4am so I could get ahead of my never-ending to-do list. I’d laugh, probably manically, about how, “We’ll sleep when we’re dead.” I’d been promised that as a modern woman I could have it all. Sadly, no one tells you about the disclaimer – having it all is attainable, but it can leave you a weary, wiped-out mess.
I worked as an editor for an Australian TV station and, like anything you submerge yourself in, over time it all becomes rather normal and un-glitzy. Over the years, I’ve interviewed Nicole Kidman, compared bums with Kim Kardashian West, shared a bag of grapes at a film screening with Johnny Knoxville, and gossiped with a rather squiffy Geoffrey Rush at an awards ceremony.
Each evening, there were these fabulous events. Endless parties, put on to promote anything from hair products to a brand of gin, with each night trying to outdo the one before, getting monstrously bigger and better.
And in between all this, I’d Botox my face every three months and spend my well-earned cash on creams and potions, which was my money-wasting consumerism of choice. Shoes and clothes never gave me the same buzz.
When I became a mum in 2016, I scaled back the lifestyle but I was defiant I wasn’t going to nip it completely. I was going to balance it all and I was going to do it perfectly, fuelled by espresso martinis and Instagram likes. Fast-forward to June 2017 and I was so burnt out from having it all that I no longer wanted any of it.
Many think that big life decisions come after lots of rumination, lots of discussion and the scribbling of endless lists of pros and cons. But really, when the feeling is right, the decision is easy.
When I told my husband I wanted to quit this life, leave our jobs and live in a tent in New Zealand, I knew he’d agree. He’d been waiting for me to throw in the baton on our city life for a while. He’d overlook no running hot water and taking a dump in a hole full of sawdust if it meant that he didn’t have to listen to my increasingly complex coffee order when we brunched. But let’s be real, this is the decision of the privileged. We had savings, and I can write as I roam to ensure we keep afloat. Not everyone can walk away from their life.
Our friends proved that point. They weren’t miffed by the sudden decision to escape, but voiced their jealousy. We had an escape plan. We were getting out. We weren't going to have to pay sky-high rents anymore.
We descended upon New Zealand in early December, and not once since we’ve been away has doubt reared its ugly head. In fact, with every passing day, it’s affirmation that we made the right decision. Not just for us, but for our son, who is relishing the adventure. He’s finally connecting with his parents on a level that was unattainable when we were full-time city slickers, both desperately maintaining a slither of the life we had pre-baby.
These days, we wake when we’ve had enough sleep; we eat when we are hungry; and we spend our evenings watching the sun go down, not wrangling a bathtime routine. Away from the daily grind, living this off-the-grid lifestyle means that those things that were once important to me – like only ever drinking a certain brand of soy milk – seem absurd.
But that’s what we do when we are busy. We reward ourselves with things. We collect endless stuff to shove into every space of our jam-packed world. But when you have very little, you realise how little you need. And watching my son feel free, running naked down the beach, is definitely more satisfying than having it all.