When you’re disconnected from the world (Napier, NZ)

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We ended up in Napier. It was one of my favourite stops to date – especially because it was their annual ‘Art Deco’ weekend, meaning the streets were filled with people decked out in their finest 1920’s garb. 80 year old couples ordered drinks at the bar in feather boas and suspenders. They smoked cigars on the patio in vests and flapper dresses, and rolled home in their old school cars. It was like something out of a movie, and it was weird and lovely.

Our first stop was the info site to see where we could a) finally shower and b) camp for free. An added perk to the info site (more lovingly known as the i-site) is the free wifi, obv. So we walked in and pulled out our phones because we’ve been sleeping beachside and talking to no one but each other and a fisherman/shark wrestler/beekeeper named Tony for the past 24 hours, and we wanted a quick catch up on the world before hitting the town 1920’s style.

The man at the help desk called us over. His name was Richard. And the first thing he said to us was “so do you guys ever talk to each other or do you just look at your phones?”

It annoyed me so much.

Literally all we do is talk to each other. We live in a cocaine van. We wake up on the shore or in a field or wherever we happen to be and cook breakfast. We eat it. We do our dishes and write in our journals and maybe hop in a lake or maybe drive somewhere new and have nothing but a map to get us there. And sometimes we meet people along the way and sometimes we don’t, and it doesn’t matter because it’s just as much fun either way. So I hated that in this moment when we had a 10 minute opportunity to say hi to the fam & catch up on the latest in the Kesha scandal, this man automatically assumed we were stupid lazy lumps glued to our phone screens.

This could easily turn into a rant/moment of self discovery on the importance of not juding people. But I don’t want to talk about that right now. This story was simply a segue into what I really want to talk about: how hard it is to stay connected to the world when you’re living between wifi signals.

It’s really hard.

And even though you may have ten Whatsapp convos on the go, it’s still different. Your convo isn’t the same as it was when you were home and your life had a schedule and you all had a date the next day or were making plans for the weekend. Now there are always details missing. You’ve always missed something because you couldn’t Facetime or because you missed that other message that this one was about. It’s different. And it isn’t bad different, because everyone gets it, and you get it, and it’s worth it, and no one’s going anywhere so it doesn’t even matter.  But you still feel a tad disconnected. And even though it’s kind of a nice feeling to be away from it all, you still need it. You still love those moments of dissecting your friend’s latest Tinder match in your 3-way convo with your best friends. It’s comforting and normal and makes you feel close to something you aren’t a part of right now.

It’s hard to know what’s happening in the world. I mean, I used to spend a solid hour of my day simply catching up. On the news. On who was watching what and what campaigns were making headlines. On who had a new album coming out and the 24 pictures that every 90s kid could relate to.

Now you’re a little out of it. You know the big world events that everyone’s posting about. You know Rhianna has a new album because you saw it on Spotify. But you aren’t in it like you once were. And in a way you like that, but there’s a part of you that feels determined not to fall too far out of it because you still care. It’s just harder now, and takes a conscious effort that you never had to put in before.

And sure, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t actually matter. I’m obsessed with my life right now, wifi signals aside. I’m in love with the fact that I wake up when I want to and have no commitments beyond the bottle of wine we just uncorked. I love that we spent Monday hiking 20k across the most beautiful mountain range I’d ever seen – and I love that we celebrated surviving said walk by ordering both the burgers and  the nachos.

But I also love the moments that no one else sees, and no one else cares to see becuse they’re so normal. Like, today we did our laundry. We found a laundromat and washed everything and it felt so unbelievably good to have clean clothes and sheets and towels. I could honestly write my entire book about how good of a feeling that was.

Or, before van-life I had stayed in Tapuo for 5-ish days with a very wonderful friend. And one of my favourite days of this entire trip was our last day together. We went to the lake. We turned on his tunes and went for a swim facing this backdrop of incredible mountain scenery. But we didn’t talk about our hopes and dreams and fears. We talked about sour cream vs salsa and the anatomy of the perfect taco. We got 70 cent ice cream cones and went grocery shopping. We cooked a feast (that’s a large exaggeration, but it was a feast in comparison to our past few meals). It was the most normal, simple day I’d had yet. But it was SO much fun. And it was a taste of normalcy that I needed and hadn’t felt in a long time. It was comfortable and comforting and weirdly fun to have a day entirely dominated by food.

So my point is that yes. I love the big moments and #NZMustDo’s and big stops that everyone sees. But I also love the stuff in between – including our road trip detours to McDonald’s so we can get a coffee and check our mother fuckinn phones. I love opening Twitter to get the headlines and feel like I’m still part of this other life I have. I love having these brief moments of normalcy in an otherwise un-normal life. And as empowering as it is to be disconnected – to watch the sky instead of Netflix and use the sun as your alarm – it’s just as empowering to know you’re still a part of something bigger whenever you need to be.

So to sum up, fuck you Richard.
Just kidding (kind of).



  1. Phil the Alien says:

    Another great article, Ms. Ruehlicke. I totally understand the glad to be disconnected / wish I was connected in your circumstances. I realized I totally missed the Blabule Uprising – still went on without me, but made for a strange visit back to the home planet. The things that happen on Zontar when one is away!

  2. E.T. says:

    Great pt. about people judging too quickly and how ‘quickly’ we can do that.
    Awesome article and wonderful writing, as per usual!

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