It feels too early to be writing this post. I’ve only been in New Zealand for less than two weeks. I should be writing about the mistakes I made months into my travels when my minuscule errors have slowly revealed themselves, allowing me to quietly reflect on my silly errors.
Nope. That’s not how I do it, I guess. I’m more of the “let’s mess everything up from the get-go” type. Christ, my first mistake was made before I even got close to boarding the plane. (Apparently there’s this big time difference between the two countries? I don’t know. I booked my hostel for the wrong days. Whatever, it happens.)
Part of the beauty and allure of moving abroad is making mistakes. The actual mistake making is extremely frustrating but the accomplishment felt when you dig yourself out of those mistake holes is satisfying and rewarding. In this case, my mistakes left me humbled and in awe of the human race, which rarely happens anymore.
Buying a car when you’re traveling alone can be intimidating. People laughed at me when I told them I was traveling independently by car. They said they were used to seeing couples but not just one person, let alone a single girl. I thought that was weird until I realized oh yeah doing this alone kind of blows and is expensive.
For one, you need to know enough about cars to convince the seller you are not a sucker. I don’t know anything about cars but tried my best to have a crash course in used cars before I left. .
I was eager to get out of Auckland quickly. The Auckland hostel, while nice, was burning through my money and I knew I could be camping for nearly free outside of the city with better views. I had scoured Trade Me (New Zealand’s version of Craigslist) and had my eyes on a few Toyota Rav4 vehicles. I set up meetings to see them both and my new Argentinian hostel roommates were eager to volunteer to accompany me.
The Argentinians, Marcos and Ariana, are also on a working holiday visa. Their English is good, but they still clung to me as their native English-speaking safety net. Almost immediately, they took me under their wing: We went grocery shopping together, we ran errands together, we cooked food together, we drank mate together. They let me tag along to Mount Eden with one of their friends who had a car. I was happy to have met them and welcomed another set of eyeballs at the test drive.
The first car was a 1994 Toyota Rav4. It’s old, but it was in pretty good shape considering the age. The tires were new, only a few scratches on the paint but no glaringly visible rust. The mileage seemed fairly low and it drove fine. I ran through my checklist and decided it passed, but I was really hoping for a 4WD. I don’t know if I really need one, but I’d like to have the option for when I’m in the South Island on mountain roads.
The second car I saw was a 1996 Rav4. This was one was four door so a bit bigger, but the tires were rotten and the paint had rusted off in some parts. The interior was dirtier (although I wouldn’t say that was necessarily a determining factor) and the price was higher. The ad said it was 4WD, but it turned out to be 2, just like the other. I figured a smaller car would be better for mileage so I called up Jaya (the first dealer), showcased some terrifically dismal negotiating skills and bought the car.
Sounds like the perfect process, right? No bumps, no hiccups. Seamless! I thought so too until I realized I didn’t exactly have the cash I needed. I had set up a bank account a few days before and was waiting on my U.S. bank to transfer money. It’d take 3-5 business days, which I knew was not going to be quick enough to get Jaya the money in time.
Jaya was going to be leaving for Australia two days after we made the sale. I can’t decide if he was lying to me or not. He said his mom was sick and needed to get the car off his hands by Monday. Sounds like a classic sleaze-ball lie to close the sale but I guess even if he was lying I didn’t mind so much. My last day in the hostel was Tuesday morning so I was also eager to get the car.
But I still didn’t have enough cash. This was a classic example of my tried and true “everything will work itself out” mantra not working itself out. I tried extracting money from the ATM from my U.S. account but I had a $700 limit per day and not enough days to get the full amount. On Sunday night, the night before I was going to buy the car, I was short $750 NZ dollars. I was panicking and was sure I’d have to cancel the whole transaction. Most of the hostels in Auckland were booked up by then (yes, really) so I was looking at being homeless for a night or a very pricey hotel.
Luckily for me, I made friends with the right people.
My new Argentinian friends refused to let me flounder and fail even though I completely deserved it for my own poor planning. They were headed south come Monday (the day I was buying the car) and I was leaving for the North on Tuesday. We were going to part ways for a bit, which was terribly sad but also inevitable.
Out of nowhere, Marcos offered to loan me the money. Do you know how embarrassing it is to have to borrow $500 US dollars from an Argentinian duo you just met less than a week ago? Not only did he have enough cash on him (smart) but he also had the cash in US dollars. Here I am, on this solo voyage trying to exercise my self-sufficiency and independence and within a week I’m already in hot water. How mortifying.
I shrugged off the offer at first, thinking surely there was another way. As my meeting to get the keys to the car loomed closer, I realized there was no other way if I wanted to get the car and be out of the city on Tuesday, my designated departure day. With my tail between my legs, I sheepishly took the money, promising to make the 2.5-hour drive the day after when I could access my $700 daily allotment from the ATM. He assured me that was not necessary and I can pay him back when I see him again.
I was amazed. I was humbled. I was speechless. How could this person who just met me trust me enough to loan me a considerable amount of money so I can buy a car and drive in the opposite direction of him? Would I have done the same if I was in his position? No, probably not. Does that make me a bad person? Probably, yes.
I hate this cliche conclusion that’s coming, but there’s no way of avoiding it: When terrible tragedies and horrific happenings flood the news streams day after day (See: Oregon mass shooting, Syrian refugee crisis, Gaza Strip), it’s easy to conclude all of the good in the world is gone. It’s easy to be a hermit and stay closed off to the world, but it’s one thousand times more rewarding to engage with strangers, make friends and be humbled by people who owe you nothing. (He was a stranger. Did I stress this enough yet?)
Or maybe not even foreign strangers. Maybe just the person down the street or the neighbor below you. Being open and vulnerable is terrifying and makes for some terrific anxiety ridden rants but when the dust settles, you left with a new perspective and a pay-it-forward mantra. (I hate the pay it forward mantra. How cliche.) But also, how true. Do something nice for someone else and watch their face light up with gratitude.
As for me, I’m off to find Marcos and Ariana to repay my debts.