So that’s it. Our prolonged stopover in Portugal came to an end last weekend. We’re back on the road. We moved out of our rental house and back into the van almost a week ago. It’s time to take stock methinks. I wrote in the blog at the beginning of our stay that after nearly four years we felt we needed a break from travelling and van dwelling to relax, recharge, regroup, reset, reflect and reboot. Over the last four years we’ve had breaks from the van of between three weeks and two months whilst we’ve been volunteering through Helpx where we’ve worked in exchange for accommodation and food. The last four months, though, was the first time we’d a) stayed in one place for more than two months and b) done so on our own terms without any undue commitments. One of the reasons we treated this period as an experiment was that we were curious to see how we would feel living in, what is effectively someone else’s house, for a significant chunk of time and whether it would be something we would be happy to do again (and again) in the future.
When we started our travels in April 2016 we considered three options when deciding what to do with our house in the UK: use it, sell it or rent it out. We chose the latter as that made more financial sense to us. Leaving the house empty for a large part of the year would cost us money in bills and if we sold we’d have to consider what to do with the cash. There was also a bit of fear in there that if the house price train were to gather considerable momentum then we would have just fallen off the back of it and would maybe struggle to scramble back on to it if we wanted to buy again in the future. So we rented it out. And all has been well.
So getting back to my point we wanted to see whether, if we needed a break from travelling and vanlife, renting and living in a fully furnished holiday let would suit us. We don’t have possessions now other than what is in the van so it’s not like we have been missing the creature comforts of our own home. All the things we use on a daily or weekly basis (other than kitchen equipment) came with us into the house so we weren’t without anything that we constantly use. There are other things to consider though. Feeling at home isn’t just about the bricks and mortar you’re living in. It’s also about where it is. Community. That sort of thing. It’s one of the reasons why we chose Aljezur for an extended stay as we have connections there.
Having spent some time in 2016 and 2018 helpxing at Donkey HQ we already had a few connections. And, of course, the donkeys were a huge draw for me as I love spending time with them. Tim was looking for some musical connections and was fortunately welcomed into the Aljezur Bombeiros band with open arms. In the time leading up to Christmas he was extremely busy with not only the Bombeiros band but a choir and the occasional jam session. Since the New Year things calmed down considerably as he felt the choir and the jam sessions weren’t really for him so he let those go. He would have liked to start a small group, and did try to get something going, but it’s difficult for that sort of thing to gain momentum especially when you know you are only going to be spending four months somewhere before moving on again. After the first two months, where he’d been busy with the band things became very quiet and he felt like he needed more to do. He did a few jobs like fencing at Donkey HQ but would have really liked to get his teeth into a project that involved tools of some sort.
And that’s the rub really with this lifestyle. Everything is a compromise. You can’t have it all. It’s difficult to maintain strong relationships within a community if you aren’t there for much of the year. We can’t have hobbies like growing our own vegetables or have animals or a man cave for whatever men do in man caves. It depends on your interests really. Our only transport is the van and our bikes. It wasn’t a problem to drive the van off for an afternoon or two but there were times when we thought a car would have been great to have. Tim would have maybe found some music further afield. The bike isn’t ideal for transporting instruments and the accoutrements that go with them. I suppose we could have hired one but we decided not to. Perhaps we will in the future.
Staying put for four months, however, allowed us to focus on our respective interests. For me I focussed on my language learning whilst Tim spent a big chunk of time honing his skills on the electronic saxophone he bought last year.
So, in the end, was our extended stay a success? Apart from a couple of quiet weeks in January, four months for me was fine but it was a little too long for Tim. For me, if we rented somewhere without the donkeys and the dogs to occupy me then one or two months at a time would be just about right. The idea of a bolthole is extremely attractive but I don’t think we are there yet in making a commitment to it. We still like the freedom we have. We still want to travel and experience new countries so even if we had somewhere to go back to we wouldn’t really be there very often. Renting somewhere for a period of between a month and four months is the best compromise for us at the moment if we feel we need a break from travelling or the van.
So all in all our experiment was a real success. We also like change. Change is good for us. Change challenges us. Gets us outside our comfort zones. Four months ago we immediately settled into our little house on the hill. Last weekend we immediately settled out of it and back in to our van. We’re happy to be back on the road and eager to see where life takes us next.
Até a próxima!