As told to Elizabeth Easther
I grew up on a farm at the bottom of Mt Hutt. It backed on to native bush so I spent a lot of time hiking, and mustering sheep on horseback. Every Christmas, we'd head to Nelson for a beach holiday. As a wee kid I remember camping with my family at Totaranui, toasting marshmallows and playing in the surf. The only bad thing was driving from Canterbury to Nelson, because I used to get terribly carsick.
When I finished school, I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I went on an American Field Scholarship to Paraguay. It was the biggest culture shock of my life. My host family in Villeta — just mum and a daughter — lived in a little house with no glass in the windows, just shutters, no hot water, concrete floors and no one spoke English. I cried every day for two weeks but, because I was there for a year, I knew I had to pull myself together. My dictionary was my lifeline and it never left my side. I also watched The Smurfs and Batman in Spanish and after three months I was fluent.
My host family had no telephone and the only way to call home was at the local post office, so I would write to my parents. I'd give the letters to my host mother, with money for stamps. But it turned out she was keeping the letters because she was embarrassed about what I'd write. My parents didn't hear from me for two months and didn't know if I was alive or dead. Eventually I was moved to a second host family, in Paraguari and they were lovely. One day I went to the bank to exchange money. I was sitting on the bus with my elbow on the window sill when another bus hit it on the way past. The pain was so bad I blacked out and three strangers took me to hospital. The medical facilities weren't that flash and I was lucky not to lose my arm. The pain was excruciating but it wasn't until the cast was on that I was given painkillers. It's fine now and I'm the best weather woman around, because my elbow tells me when it's going to rain.
When I came home, I was so unsettled. My parents didn't know what to do with me, so my mother enrolled me in a travel and tourism course. After that I worked for Air New Zealand in their reservations centre, before becoming a travel agent. When you send people on amazing holidays, you learn so much and you're constantly adding to the list of places you want to go. The list never gets shorter.
In 2008, a girlfriend and I hired a car and drove around Cuba for a couple of weeks, before it got too touristy. I suspect, if I didn't speak Spanish we'd still be driving around today. There were no street signs and the only way to figure out which way to go was to pick up hitch-hikers. Over two weeks we picked up about 13 and there were only a couple of times people tried to take us for ride and point us in a different direction to the one we wanted to go, because that's where they wanted to go.
I went to Turkey with my mother and sister and we all wanted to buy leather jackets. We went to this shop in Fethiye and we had so much fun, drinking apple tea, and joking and laughing with the guys in the shop. It took about two hours and we each bought a jacket but, because we were making such a ruckus, all these people came in off the street to see what was going on. The guys who owned the shop said they'd never made so many sales as when we were there, so they invited us to have dinner with their family. They set up tables outside the shop and out came all these dishes. It was incredible. I love experiencing new cultures and learning about history but it's the people who make a place memorable.
Today I'm the general manager of Mighway — it's like the Airbnb of motorhomes. Owners list their vehicles and people can rent directly from them, or Mighway can manage vehicles on the owners' behalf. It also allows people to rent in smaller towns, not just major cities. Most owners have really personalised their vehicles and you can get everything from an old Airstream to a brand new camper. One owner picked up some guests from the airport, took them home, let them have a shower, cooked them breakfast then took them to the supermarket before sending them out on the road. A big part of Mighway, we give international travellers a chance to meet locals, so it's not just a rental experience, it's much more personal than that.
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Lucy Haslam is general manager at Mighway.