We are over twenty one months into our life changing decision to give up our jobs, rent out our house and travel around Europe in our motorhome. It may seem a bit odd to be writing a blog post about our reflections at this stage in our journey as twenty one months isn’t one of those milestone figures. Six months, twelve months, eighteen months, two years, five years, yes. Twenty one months, well, no. The truth is that I had planned to do updates every six months or so but I simply didn’t get around to it. Better late than never as they say. So, I thought I’d give you those reflections today. Just because.
Twenty one and a bit months is a long time and yet it seems that it has passed by in no time at all. Time seems to speed up as we get older making me realise that we only have just the one chance at life. Over the last few years during what I like to call as my ‘mid life crisis phase’ I’ve read several books on such things as mindfulness, simplicity, happiness and the like. My twenty or even thirty something self would have scoffed at such a reading choice but as I’ve got older and (hopefully) wiser it’s dawned on me that life is short and we need to try to make the most of it. I read Gretchin Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ late last year (downloaded from the library when I wasn’t even in the UK…just another bonus of living in the digital age) and a quote that she uses over and over ad nauseum, but which is so true is ‘The days are long, but the years are short’. Life passes you by if you let it. We are trying to not let that happen.
Living in and travelling in a small space no bigger than a single garage with one’s spouse would maybe seem like hell on wheels to some but we muddle along just fine. We’ve had a lot of time to perfect our routines now and can go through them practically blindfolded without getting in each others way. It also helps that we are both a bit slimmer now and find it somewhat easier to squeeze through small gaps! In terms of the stuff we carry in the van I think we’ve probably got it about right now after our final purge of clothes, shoes and bits and bobs almost a year ago. Everything has its own place and can be got at without too much rummaging. On the who does what front I have my jobs and Tim has his. It’s best to keep it that way. When we don’t stick to our allotted tasks the outcome is never a good one. Twice recently we have driven off leaving the water cap behind after I have replenished the van with fresh water. It’s not normally my job so how can I be expected to remember something difficult like that? Equally, I’ve learnt that watching Tim struggle to change the duvet cover is really not good for my mental health. Repressing the urge to snatch it off him saying ‘oh just give it to me’ is just too much. Getting into bed with the innards of the duvet scrunched up and doubled over and not reaching each corner of the cover can make me feel a bit, well, murderous. Therefore, even though our jobs are a bit genderist (is that a word?) we know what we are good at and we generally stick to that.
We’ve truly settled in now to a life on the road and enjoy the freedom of having no rigid plans. Occasionally we think it might be nice to be back in a house with more room to stretch out a bit, be a part of a community and see friends and family more but the financial benefits of renting our house out far outweigh those feelings at the moment. Maybe in time we’ll feel differently but we’ve no plans, as yet, to return to a more conventional life.
When we left the UK again to start our second year of travels I did feel a bit overwhelmed and unsettled for a while. For our second year we’d planned to travel further and all the countries were new to us. I just didn’t know where to start in planning a route. After struggling for several weeks to get to grips with it all I decided to change my mindset. I told myself to just deal with where we’d go the following day and leave it at that. That change of mindset has definitely made a big difference. It’s got us as far as Greece anyway. My little brain can’t cope with too much information at once so I try not to over stress it!
The minor niggles we’ve had with the van such as the recent demise of our water pump have been just that, minor niggles which, although inconvenient, aren’t enough to send us into a downward spiral of ‘woe is me’. Tim, if he’s honest, has quite enjoyed flexing his practical skills from time to time and has felt satisfied at tackling repair jobs that we would have previously left to a garage to sort out. Fortunately we haven’t had anything fail that has needed us to leave the van with a repairer for more than one day thus we haven’t, as yet, faced the dilemma of ‘where do we live’ whilst it’s sorted out. Oh we know that will happen at some point but we’ll no doubt find a solution if we need to. We have, though, spent more in repairs in the last two years than I think we had in the first six years that we owned the van. Living in it all the time does take its toll and it has come as no surprise to us that certain things are at about their life span and will fail at some point. Modern appliances and gadgets just aren’t made to last in this day and age. The one thing that has been fine has been the fridge which seems to be the bane of the motorhomers life if speaking to other people is anything to go by. Of course the fridge will be on death row tomorrow after having now written that.
Nothing much has changed on the internet side of things. At the six month stage in our travels we’d (that’ll be me) just about learned to live without unlimited internet access………..and I’m still learning. We still generally try to find wifi when we can but we have relaxed a bit on using our mifi in the van and now that we are able to buy data cards loaded with up to 12G of data that are valid for twelve months it has made life a bit easier. I still update the blog using wifi as my pictures take up so much data (I am compressing them now via Google, which also takes up lots of data, as they were taking up way too much space on the blog too). In terms of getting a signal on our mifi the only times it has let us down has been when we really needed it! Like when I hadn’t written down the address of a Helpx we were going to and on the morning we were due to arrive there we had no signal so weren’t able to look it up and ended up driving around for an hour or so trying to get a signal. Something we could have done without but if I’d been a little more organised and written it down in advance it wouldn’t have been a problem. Note to self: the internet is an excellent tool but don’t completely rely on it.
We’ve done seven weeks on two different Helpx’s this year, both in Germany – one a Dairy Farm and the other an Alpaca Farm. The two experiences were very different and we enjoyed them both. Having the opportunity to learn about and work with different people and animals has been one of the highlights of our travels. It’s fair to say though that volunteering in this way doesn’t come without some frustrations. The two Helpx’s we did this year we found a little trying at times mainly because we didn’t have the autonomy we would have liked and the number of hours we worked did push the boundaries of the ethos of what Helpx is all about. Every opportunity we have done has been different though and it hasn’t put us off doing some more in the future but we’ll just try to be a little clearer with our hosts about expected working hours when we apply.
One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog so far is whether either of us has missed conventional work. The answer to that question for both of us would be ‘NO’. Tim has settled into this early retirement thing with aplomb and doesn’t miss his previous job and doesn’t think about it at all. In his words ‘not one bit’. I haven’t missed working for an employer at all but do sometimes think about what my purpose in life is and feel a little guilty about bumming around Europe with no set plans. I’ve learnt to deal with it though! We are never bored and it never ceases to astonish us that time just seems to vanish when living a life on the move. We try to get into a good routine balancing our time between reading, our own projects, exercise, sightseeing and general everyday stuff like laundry, shopping and driving. When on an extended tour like this sightseeing everyday quickly becomes a going through the motions affair and isn’t sustainable. Less is more as they say.
I do find it a constant battle trying to live in the moment and try to stop myself thinking too far into the future. I’ve said it before that the truth is we just don’t know what our future is going to look like and I’ve found that constantly thinking about it detracts from what we are doing in the here and now. But it’s a hard habit to break as that has been my default thought process for such a long time. I mean, all we need to do really is check in with each other every so often on whether we are still content to continue this vagabond life and whether either of us has had some revelation about what they want in the future. Surely that can’t be too hard? We are fortunate and grateful that we do have choices though. I really need to get over myself, lighten up and enjoy the present moment more. It’s a work in progress! Tim doesn’t seem to have any problems living in the present which is probably why he is a happy bunny 99.9% of the time.
The other thing that has changed since the last time I reflected on our travels is that we no longer have our stuff stored in a container. When we left on our journey in April 2016 we’d held onto a large part of our possessions. Even though in the run up to our departure we’d purged more than half of them we still had a container full of stuff. On returning to the UK in April 2017 we made the decision to give it all away to a charity so we no longer had the associated costs of storing it all. It wasn’t the easiest decision we’ve made and I did spend time afterwards wondering if we’d made the right decision. For a time, I felt like the security rug had been whipped out from under me. I felt, oh I don’t know, like I’d lost my connection to a home if that makes any sense. That feeling has worn off and I feel differently about it now. We have a clean slate without the mental drag of our stuff getting in the way of what decisions we make in the future. If we decide to move back into a house then we are completely free to start afresh. If we don’t then we no longer have to think about our stuff. One thing is for sure though we definitely won’t be accumulating as much stuff again.
Part of our decision to do this trip now, instead of waiting until we got to a traditional retirement age, was that we both still have the physical capacity to do the things we enjoy like walking and cycling. And that is something that will change as we get older. Another ten years sat behind a desk wasn’t going to improve our physical abilities. After nearly two years away from an office environment we feel that way more than ever. We are far more content, far more active and far more in control of our own destination (pun intended). Obviously living this kind of lifestyle isn’t all hunky dory all of the time but then neither is life no matter what your status, financial position, family situation etc etc. Things will go wrong or not quite as expected and acknowledging that makes it easier to deal with when it does happen.
To wrap up this rather rambling blog post then our travels so far have exceeded our expectations and we are thankful that we have had the opportunity to take the plunge to try a different kind of life at this stage in our lives.
For now, then, the journey continues:)