To Be Left Alone: Living with Autism – 6

New Zealand


I went to New Zealand for six months and spent most of the time camping out in the bush, sleeping in my car, completely alone, only venturing near a town if I needed food. 

When I got back I still wasn’t sure what to do and went on the dole again for six months but got to the point where going to sign on was causing really severe anxiety and distress and I simply had to think of another way to live.

In the meantime someone had bought the derelict cottage next to mine and was doing it up, so there was no peace there. 

The only place I had had any peace was the New Zealand bush, so off I went back there again for three months. I realised that that was what I needed – no house and to be in nature.

It was while I was sitting in a forest by Lake Hawea that I decided that when I got home I would sell my house, buy a campervan and live in that. I reckoned that my house should be worth enough that I would be able to live on the interest of the money, therefore not needing a job or benefits, as long as I only wanted vital necessities. 

New Zealand lakeside

I immediately started making plans of how I would accomplish this and had everything straight in my head when I arrived back. I had a plan! 


I immediately set about looking for and buying a suitable van and started emptying out my house in order to sell it.

I sold as much stuff as I possibly could and took the rest to the dump. All my life and possessions were now in one small van and the de-cluttering process was wonderfully freeing.

So I set off around Wales and England in my new life of freedom from the machine. I felt like Neo when he was removed from the Matrix! 

Emma’s wheels

My only previous experience of this sort of life was in New Zealand where it is encouraged. They have very remote, extremely rural and isolated unmanned campsites with just a pit toilet and a cold tap, and these sites were where I had largely stayed.

Of course we have nothing even remotely similar, the nearest equivalent being certificated sites belonging to the caravan clubs, which I joined two of in order to use these. But nowhere here is really isolated, our population is massively larger than New Zealand and there are people absolutely everywhere.

I also spent a lot of nights sleeping not on these campsites, sometimes literally parked on a street, but more often in town car parks or laybys. After a while it became apparent that I was not achieving my goal of being left alone because people were terribly interested in me, parked mysteriously somewhere in my van, often for days on end.

I realised that I needed somewhere where nobody could see me or knew I was there, where I could hide away and enjoy total privacy and isolation. I needed my own land to park on so that nobody would need to ask me what I was doing there.

While driving around I had noticed signs at the side of the road saying “Woodland for sale” and I decided to investigate the possibility of buying a plot. I looked at absolutely loads, all over Wales, but none was quite right; either they had no phone reception or there was nowhere flat to park or the entrance was right by someone’s house or there was no vehicular access.

Eventually I found one that matched all my criteria while I was looking at two others in an area, but the one I wanted was not for sale. I kept on looking and then the one I wanted… came back on the market! The sale had fallen through and I wasted no time in making arrangements to buy it.

The agent seemed to take an instant dislike to me and made it as difficult as possible, in the end even refusing to hand over the keys to the main gate and then refusing to take my calls, but I triumphed eventually.

The only thing remaining to be done was make a hardstanding to park on as I knew the ground would soon turn to mush with constant driving on it.

Many, many phone calls later I managed to get some lovely people to come and build me a track so I could drive down a short way into the wood and be out of sight of the main track going up to the other plots. 

Emma Wishart

Emma was born in Brighton at the start of the 1970s. She spent most of her childhood in a tree, watching the trains pass on the London-Brighton railway line. School was a trial that she managed to escape at 16, embarking on a series of short-term, menial jobs in order to fund her insatiable music habit. She spent most of her teens and twenties following bands around the UK on an aged and unreliable motorcycle (now deceased). She was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 45. She now lives in Pembrokeshire, working hard to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism. 

Please note that since posting this series from Emma Wishart she has been published in an anthology from Editor and writer Mair Elliot, From Hurt To Hope- Stories of Mental Health, Mental Illness and Being Autistic. @Jessica Kingsley Publisher 2021

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